It's flowering in Napa vineyards.

It's flowering in Napa vineyards.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Wine Style - It's not that complicated

Other than proprietary wines, there are two ways to label and identify wines that are available in the marketplace. They are the European (Old World) Appellation System and the Grape Variety (New World) Method. The former, which guarantees wine’s origin and authenticity, is founded on the belief that where a vine is planted, combined with the grapes from which the wine is made, is the best way understand a wine’s inherent personality. Bordeaux, Burgundy, Rioja and Chianti are well known appellations.

The Grape Variety method—a 20th Century American development—later emulated by other New World producers, labels the wine with the name of the predominant grape(s) from which it is made, irrespective of its birthplace. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay (incidentally, all originally from France) are classic grape varieties that underlie wines with the same name.

Depending on one’s commitment and desire to learn about wine, either or both is reliable for making informed wine purchases. However, if one is indifferent or otherwise intimidated about the defining characteristics of the liquid in the stemware, then it is likely that either or both might be somewhat taxing when it comes to purchasing wine.

To overcome that angst, there has been a movement afoot to classify and describe wines by yet another method—Wine Styles. This method, which attempts to categorize how one perceives a wine’s overall profile and sensory qualities—its defining taste descriptors—is the most recent approach to guide the consumer through the circuitous, wine buying labyrinth.

One retail wine franchise (Wine Styles) sells its wines in the following stylistic classes: Crisp, Silky and Rich for whites; Fruity, Mellow and Bold for reds; Bubbly for sparkling and Nectar for dessert. One Internet web site (savoreachglass) proposes their own and somewhat different classification for white wine styles: Breezy and simple; Pucker up; Sleek and nutty; Toasty with tropical fruit; Perfumy; Succulent and sweet.

Ray Isle, Wine Editor of Food and Wine magazine, proposes the following as a road map to discovering your own, very unique wine personality: Wines with a sense of place; Smooth, fruit-forward wines; Lean, mineral wines; Substantial wines; and Food-friendly wines.

And an excellent book from a few years ago, Wine Styles, co-authored by Mary Ewing-Mulligan and Ed McCarthy, offers the following enlarged classifications: Fresh unoaked whites; Earthy whites; Aromatic whites; Rich oaky whites; Mild mannered and subtle red; Soft and fruity reds; Fresh spicy reds; and Powerful reds.

Notwithstanding the lack of uniformity in the above recommendations, or any other classifications that you might encounter, all that you need to discover your own, very unique wine style preference resides in and beneath the skin of that fermentable orb. With a just a modicum of focus, commitment and mental note-taking, it isn’t overly challenging or complicated to perceive how one wine (and the underlying grape(s) from which it is made), is similar to or differs from another.

Grapes—where they are grown, and the wines into which they are vinified—contain inherent personality traits. And they are revealed by their color, aroma and flavor, but also quite importantly, by their tannin, acidity, dryness, and alcohol levels. (Additional nuances are derived from local microclimate and any discretionary winemaking procedures like, say, oak seasoning or sur lie aging.)

Finding the wine style you prefer, involves little more than comparing a group of whites against each other and paying attention to the relative differences in the aforementioned structural aspects. Follow the same procedure for reds. Also, be sure to browse the wine bottle back label for any comments from the winemaker.

Beyond that, a brief review of the producer’s web site, including if you’re so inclined, an email to the winemaker, often yields additional details. And finally, it makes no difference by which method wines are labeled and marketed—grape variety, appellation or proprietary—once you have discovered and developed your own wine style preference none of those will present a challenge to you.

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