Veraison - Grapes are ripening !!

Veraison -  Grapes are ripening !!

Friday, December 14, 2012

A Quick Review of Wine's Wide Variety

Wine really is a cool drink. It is totally pleasure giving, and is one of mankind’s neatest discoveries. It comes in red and white and various salmon-like shades in between. It is enjoyed chilled or at room temperature—anytime of the year—and if it’s ordinary and inexpensive, it can be lightened up with a few ice cubes. When fizzy or sparkling, at which time the “Queen of Whites” appears, it becomes the classic, special event celebration beverage. And when it’s still, without that shimmering effervescence, it assumes its traditional, tabletop, food-friendly form, including the perfect sweet, after dinner wine with fresh fruit, nuts and cheese.

It can be quaffed moments after the harvest crush, or in the case of Premier or Grand Crus, it can be cellar-aged to be savored and discussed ten or more years after its bottling. But more likely, if it’s a standard, varietally labeled wine, it can be enjoyed within a year or two of its vintage date. To be sure, some wines are simple and one-dimensional, offering not the slightest hint of varietal character—that defining quality of how a wine looks, smells and tastes. They aspire to nothing more than being an anonymous vinous pour, making no pretense of being anything other than that. On the other hand, other wines can be attention-grabbing, complex wines of promising structure that reveal the heart and soul of their provenance as well as the underlying grapes from which they are made.

Simple wines—those that seldom trigger scrutiny—typically are priced at single digit levels and are, more often than not, situated on the bottom shelf of your local supermarket. Complex, high-quality wines—reflecting the cost of select vineyard locations, costly procedures and expensive new oak barrels—are priced in the three digit level or higher and more often than can only be found in high quality wine retailers or at the producer level on their very limited, very exclusive waiting list. In between those two options lie the bulk of very drinkable, well priced wines that are conveniently available at numerous outlets.

White wines offer a wide range of choices. In the dry category, one style is the rich and buttery, fruit cocktail richness of the richly oaked California and Australian Chardonnays. At the other end of the spectrum are the edgy, herbal and food-friendly, oak-free Sauvignon and Fumé Blancs. Coming down a bit from the “green” aspects, you can enjoy the zesty pleasures of Pinot Grigio, Chenin Blanc or Austria’s Grüner Veltliner. And if you’re attracted to aromatics, then you can treat your olfactories to the delights of Gewürztraminer, Riesling, and Muscat to mention the more well known, perfumed whites. However, if you’re a seasoned wine geek with a preference for minerality, the White Burgundy model is the quintessential Chardonnay for you; it delivers harmony, finesse and subtlety, all in the same glass.

In the off-dry or semi-sweet category—with its distinct perception of residual sugar—Chenin Blancs and Rieslings (especially German) offer the widest range of palate pleasing choices. Lastly (and certainly not the least), the very sweet and often viscous dessert wines (pricey and otherwise) are typified by port and other fortifieds, late harvests (whites mostly), Germany or Canada’s Ice Wines, or the decadent and syrupy wines made from shriveled grapes, courtesy of botrytis cinerea a.k.a. the “noble rot”.

The range of red wine options, like the whites, is just as extensive, and they also have their share of economical, but varietally indistinct offerings. In the middle range, the look, smell and taste of the reds in the last two decades has pretty much been driven by the demand for approachable, now-drinking wines that require no shelf-time ageing. As such, ripe, fruit forward, aromatic, low-tannin reds are pretty much the norm, no matter which varietal you prefer or from which country it originates.

Your decisions will be dictated by the cherry/strawberry silkiness of Pinot Noirs and the plummy, low-tannin smoothness of Merlots, versus the blueberry/blackberry richness of the larger scaled, fuller bodied Syrahs, Cabernets, and Zinfandels. However, well structured, age-worthy Grand Crus from Bordeaux and Burgundy, and Reservas from Italy and Spain, and similar rich, full bodied New World Cult Cabernets and blends, are still available for those who prefer to lay their wines away for further evolutionary upticks.

In closing—though the above “flash card” summary is, at best, suggestive—it is obvious that wine is a beverage (and something more) that, quite frankly, has something for everyone’s palate as well as everyone’s pocketbook—for every occasion throughout the year. As we lurch forward into another New Year, now may be the perfect time to thumb through one or more of your dusty, under-accessed wine books and home in on something new and different for 2013.

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