There is one very simple way of determining whether or not you will like a wine before even opening the bottle – discover the grape variety from which it is made.
KNOW YOUR GRAPE
If you know any wine’s predominant grape variety (and there almost always is one) you can latch on to particular taste characteristics that will be consistent no matter which country the wine comes from. The current thinking is that 60% of a wine’s flavour comes from the grape variety, and only 40% from the soil, yeasts and the way in which it is made. The only major exception to this rule is Beaujolais, because of the macération carbonique technique that is used to produce it.
OLD WORLD, OLD SCHOOL
In France, Italy and Spain, it is still comparatively rare to see the grape variety listed on the label although many other countries now show it. And in recent years more and more producers worldwide have realized its importance. When the New World countries like Australia, California, and New Zealand jumped on the modern wineproducing bandwagon they quickly saw the attraction in marketing terms of stating the grape variety on the label. Wines made from single grape varieties are known as “varietal” wines. Thanks to them the different grape varieties are now marketed internationally and it’s easier to work out which ones are to your taste (and those which are not), making wine buying safer, yet more enjoyable at the same time. Instead of simply sticking to the same old favourites, you can experiment with wines from around the world, secure in the knowledge that you like the general flavour of the grape.
REGION TO THE RESCUE
The only problem with this is that many of the more traditional European wines from France, Italy and Spain simply do not state on the label the grape variety of which they are made. For instance, virtually all white Burgundy is made from the Chardonnay grape, and all red Cote d’Or Burgundy is made from the Pinot Noir. On the other hand, red Bordeaux can be made from a mixture of any two, three, four or five of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, and Malbec, although one grape variety (normally Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot) will be the most important. You can very easily overcome this problem as every region in Europe grows its own favourite grape variety. All you need to do is remember that white Burgundy, for instance, is made from the Chardonnay grape, meaning that if you like the character of the Chardonnay you are likely to enjoy a good white Burgundy.
In the wine-producing world, there are literally hundreds of different grape varieties, here the countries and areas produce them successfully, will be discussed. See below for a complete list of grape varieties, a brief synopsis of each variety’s characteristics for quick reference.
Oak-ageing, whilst not a characteristic of the grape itself, has such a profound effect on the wine’s character that it has to be included here.
With this varietal knowledge at your fingertips you, too, can follow the grape trail. Without further ado, here