Wine’s popularity has exploded in recent years as more and more consumers discover the surprisingly large and varied wine choices in the American marketplace. Listed below are the descriptions of the most popular varietals, and also some information on imported wine from some of the most popular regions in the world.
Cabernet Sauvignon is the number one choice for those who are interested in aging their wine, often improving with age into a truly great wine more than any other single varietal. With age, its distinctive black currant aroma can develop bouquet nuances of cedar, violets, leather, or cigar box and its typically tannic edge may soften and smooth considerably. Typically, Cabernet Sauvignon wines smell like black currants with a degree of bell pepper or weediness, varying in intensity with climatic conditions. Cabernet Sauvignon has emerged as America’s most popular varietal red wine. Cabernet Sauvignon has replaced “burgundy” as a consumer’s generic term for red wine (as Chardonnay is now the equivalent term for generic white wine). This popularity was based partly on the flavor appeal of the grape and partly on its status or snob-appeal as a “collector’s” wine.
Merlot is the most widely planted red grape in France’s Bordeaux region, although it is eclipsed in stature by cabernet sauvignon, the grape with which it is routinely blended. In recent years, Merlot has enjoyed a explosion in popularity, especially in the United States, South America, Italy and Australia. In California, plantings have risen from 4,000 acres in 1988 to over 50,000 today. A thin-skinned variety, merlot ripens earlier in the season then cabernet sauvignon and is less hardy, prone to a variety of ailments from shatter (the loss of potential fruit during flowering of the vine) to rot and mildew. It is more adaptable to cool climates than cabernet sauvignon, but similarly prefers a relatively warm growing environment. Merlot’s popularity is due to the fact that it is softer, fruitier, and earlier-maturing than cabernet sauvignon, yet displays many of the same aromas and flavors – black cherry, currant, cedar, and green olive – along with mint, tobacco and tea-leaf tones. Although enjoyable as a varietal wine, it is probably most successful when blended with cabernet sauvignon, which contributes the structure, depth of flavor, and ageability merlot lacks.
Like cabernet, merlot is a good accompaniment to simply prepared beef and lamb dishes.
Chardonnay is America’s most popular wine, red or white, and also the world’s most widely planted white wine grape. This is a recent phenomenon, just 30 years ago there were just a few hundred acres planted in all of California; today there are tens of thousands of acres. There is no tangible way to determine what natural fruit flavors or aromas will develop in a Chardonnay. Most believe the flavors are present because of the soil and climate in which the vine grows. Chardonnay can be classified into four taste and aroma categories. There are three fruit flavor and aroma categories. The most prevalent of these is the tree fruits consisting of apple, pear and even orange. Citrus fruit is not quite as common in Chardonnay but there are the exceptions. Lemon, grapefruit and orange seem to dominate the citrus category. The last flavor and aroma category is the marvelous tropical fruit including pineapple, melon and banana. There are also three distinctive styles in which Chardonnay is made. The winemaker largely influences the style by the choices he or she makes during the vinification process. The first style is crisp. A crisp Chardonnay has little to no oak influence and for the most part, has not gone through malolactic fermentation. These Chardonnays are fresh and the fruit and acidity speak for themselves, often clean and sharp on the palate. Conversely, there is the oaky style, where the Chardonnay has been aged in oak barrels and the influence is apparent in the aroma and on the palate. These Chardonnays are rounder and fuller on the palate with additional flavors integrated by the oak. The elegant style is apparent from the moment the Chardonnay coats your palate. These wines are most often complex and buttery with finesse and lovely acidity. The oak does not overpower the fruit and the entire experience is harmonious. So, the next time you are drinking Chardonnay, try and classify which of the styles you are drinking. Do you love oak, do you prefer the cleaner, crisper style or are you fanatical about smooth and buttery Chardonnay? This will make it easier to describe to a wine associate during your next visit to our store. Chardonnay thrives in the cooler climates of the Russian River Valley in Sonoma and the Carneros Region in Napa, within California as well as the Columbia Valley in Washington State.
Pinot Noir is considered the most sensual, seductive red wine with its exotic, inviting, perfumed, spicy, earthy, vividly fruity flavors. If Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are the structured, conservative buttoned-down wines, then Pinot Noir is the lavish, artistic, sensual wine. The reference point for Pinot Noir is in Burgundy’s Côte d’Or, where the grape has been cultivated and recognized for its quality for a thousand years. Winemakers in California, Oregon and Australia emulate the top domaines in Burgundy and the results, while mixed even 10 years ago, have been dramatic. California’s best success with Pinot Noir has been the cooler climate areas of Carneros and the Russian River Valley. Oregon has prevailed, especially in the Willamette Valley with soils and temperatures most similar to those in Burgundy.
Uniquely American, this exuberant red wine is capable of producing top quality red wines that can rival Cabernet Sauvignon. It offers an array of flavors including black and red fruit, spice, pepper, tar, licorice and wood. Zinfandel is produced in three distinct styles. The first is the fresh and fruity, easy-drinking style that offers charm and balance with light tannins, followed by the medium-bodied, fuller flavored Zinfandels with noticeable spiciness and ripe tannins. This is followed by the big, concentrated and powerful style with intense fruit and unbelievable richness. Zinfandel is exclusively grown in California and is the most widely planted red grape variety.
Syrah(or Shiraz in Australia) is relatively easy to grow and produces wines from the easy-drinking, fresh style to the intense, full-bodied and highly concentrated style. The traditional flavors of Syrah include dense red and dark berry, violet, tar, pepper and spice. Syrah is widely planted around the world, although it seems to flourish in Australia, Washington State and in Rhône Valley of France. Most consumers are not aware that Syrah dominates the northern Rhône, producing the renowned and lush Hermitage, Saint-Joseph and Crozes-Hermitage.
This dry white wine grape offers distinctive flavors of citrus fruit, melon, fig, herb and sometimes grassiness. Sauvignon Blanc can also offer vanilla and creamy flavors when introduced to oak. Typically light, crisp and full of fruit, and thrives as the white wine of Bordeaux and is used to produce the delicious Pouilly-Fumé and Sancerre of the Loire Valley. It has also proven extremely successful in California, New Zealand and Chile. Although wonderful with food, it is also the ideal selection for an aperitif.
Chianti is a major DOCG that extends through most of Tuscany. It is also the name of Italy’s most popular and widely available red wines. It can range from light to full-bodied and displays aromas and flavors of cherry, often roses and violets mingle with fairly high acidity. This is a wine that is made for aging and will typically mature between year 5 and 10. For around $10 a pop you can enjoy a delightful Chianti, add another $10 and you’ll be well on your way to experiencing a quality Chianti Classico.
First off, in order to earn the name “meritage” the wine can’t be a mass-marketed wine. The winery’s release of Meritage must be under 25,000 cases. It has to be a “high-end” wine for the winery – it can’t be their bargain basement offering. A Meritage tastes just like Bordeaux, since it’s made with the same grapes!! There’s a rich, full aroma to it. Depending on the particular blend, it can be blackberry, black cherry, spices, chocolate, and vanilla. Most Meritages have the Bordeaux signature flavors – cigar box, rich fruits, with a hefty feel. It’s great with a steak, or with game meats – venison, pheasant, or so on!
As a long time resident of Piedmont, the Moscato grape (Muscat Blanc) is one of Italy’s most eager wine ambassadors. Moscato tends to be a popular white wine among new wine lovers and enjoys a significant following with seasoned wine enthusiasts who enjoy a lighter-styled wine with brunch, dessert or on its own as a capable aperitif. This unique wine is often labeled simply as “Moscato” or if it’s bred and born in Italy’s Northwest region of Piedmont, it’s seen sporting its full name of Moscato d’Asti (named after the grape, Moscato, and the Italian town of Asti). A close relative of Piedmont’s Asti Spumante, Moscato d’Asti is generally produced in smaller quantities and in a more delicate style than Spumante.
Riesling originated in the Rhine Valley in Germany, and it continues to flourish here as well as in the neighboring Mosel region. German producers are selective about where they plant their Riesling. It accounts for only 20% of the total plantings in the country, but has priority on steep, slate hillsides, where the soil imparts steely minerality. Here, in Europe’s northernmost vineyards of any significance, microclimatic conditions are especially influential to the final product, for the Riesling grape is especially transparent to terroir. In each vineyard, the exposure to the sun, shelter from wind, proximity to water, and other factors contribute to the distinct qualities of a given wine. The timing of the harvest is just as important to the finished wine: on any given site, producers will make multiple passes to collect grapes at differing degrees of ripeness. This allows Riesling to be bottled with different levels of residual sugar: from dry, to semi-dry, to sweet. The residual sugar content also determines the suitability of these wines for cellaring, as sugar and acidity both aid in their preservation. Because of its combination of sweetness and acidity, Riesling is an especially versatile wine with food. It works well with fish or pork and is one of the few wines that can hold its own again spicy cuisines like Indian, Chinese, and Thai.
Currently the most popular white wine produced in Italy, Pinot Grigio [Pee-noh GREE-gee-oh] is mostly grown in the northeastern regions of Italy. It thrives in Valdadige and Veneto, where these crisp, dry and refreshing white wines gain more body and substance. Most Pinot Grigio is dry with fruit flavors of pear and apple with hints of lemon and mineral. They range from light to medium body and should be consumed when they are fresh and young. Pinot Grigio is the same grape as Pinot Gris, which is grown in a medium-bodied style in Alsace, California and Oregon. Our Pinot Grigio/ Pinot Gris [Pee-noh GREE] wines are set in three separate locations in our store: Italy Pinot Grigio labeled wines are in the Italy white section, California and Oregon Pinot Grigio wines are in the Other White area, and Alsace Pinot Gris are in the Alsace section.
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