We received a handout on “Popular Grapes.” I won’t replicate that here, but the lightly annotated list is this:
White Grapes from Light to Fuller Bodied:
Sauvignon Blanc: Grown everywhere but especially Loire valley of France and New Zealand. Fresh acidity, bright citrus fruit, and sometimes a grassy, herbaceous smell.
Pinot Gris (includes Pinot Grigio): Grown in the French region of Alsace and in Northen Italy. The wines from Alsace are ‘rich, fat and have flavors of honey.’ The wines from Italy are crisp, slightly more acidic than the French version.
Chardonnay: Grown in the Burgundy region of France, California (particularly Sonoma, Carneros, and Santa Barbara), and Australia. French style is fresher, and citrus, zesty, nutty; California style is richer and ‘physically thicker on the palate,’ and tropical, with more butter and pineapple to them; and Australian style is brightly tropical but lighter than the Caifornia chardonnays. Usually aged in oak barrels.
Chenin Blanc: From lower part o Loire valley in France, and used to make Vouvray, Savennieres, and Anjou wines. Also in South Africa and California. Makes a full-bodied wine with ‘lots of acidity and a rich creaminess.’ Some French versions are sweet (moelleux) rather than dry (sec). Flavours of honey, wildflowers, nuts, and apples.
Riesling: German grape. (Also grown in Alsatian France, northern Calif. and Australia.) Wine can range from fresh, tropical, juicy, to deep, sweet, complex and spicy.
Red Grapes from Light to Fuller Bodied:
Pinot Noir: Finicky and hard to grow. All red Burgundy is made from Pinot Noir except Beaujoulais. These can be ‘very bright and raspberry dominated or dark, brooding and earthy.’ California makes a jammy Pinot Noir. Oregon’s Willamette Valley has a good climate for Pinot Noir, too. ‘It is very hard to find good inexpensive Pinot Noir.’
Grenache: Grown in southern France, central coastal California, and Australia. The best ones comes from the southern Rhone valley of France, where it’s the main ingredient in Chateauneuf du Pape. Nice acidity, peppery finish.
Cabernet Franc: Grown in Bordeaux, central Loire valley, and California. Similar to Cabernet Sauvignon but makes a lighter, less acidic and more peppery wine. Blended with Cab. Sav. and Merlot in Bordeaux to give it more structure. Dry, dusty, earthy, peppery and ‘very expressive.’
Merlot: Grown everywhere, with the best in Bordeaux, and Napa and Sonoma counties in Calif. Rich juicy red berry, a little peppery, not too tannic or acidic. Two Calif. styles: table wines that are soft, jammy, easy to drink, and big Bordeaux-style blends ‘that are opulent but still carry a tight curranty and dry structure.’
Zinfandel: Grown in California, with the best from northern Calif. (Sonoma and Napa). Juicy, earthy, medium tannins, rustic quality, fairly full-bodied.
Syrah (Shiraz): Grown in France, central coast Calif., Australia and Spain. In France, it’s the main ingredient in Chateauneuf de Pape and Cotes du Rhone. Calif. version has white pepper and tobacco notes; Australian version is ‘juicy, sticky and very concentrated;’ Spanish version blends Grenache or Carignan to make a drier, earthy, more rustic wine.
Mourvedre: Grown in Southern France (Bandol in particular), Spain (called Monastrell there), central Calif., and Australia. Blended with Syrah and Grenache to make Cotes du Rhone more earthy. French and Calif. versions are acid, earthy, dry, rustic with blackberry and cooked cherry flavours; Spanish Monastrells are drier with more cooked fruit flavours.
Cabernet Sauvignon: Grown everywhere, in Bordeaux, California, Australia, Spain, Italy, Washington State, and Chile. The grapes have ripe berry fruit, good acidity, strong tannins, ‘and the better ones have cassis, licorice, tobacco, cedar, and other earthy flavours.’ Age-worthy thanks to tannins and acidity. Bordeaux wines vary by vintage; 2000-2002 were good years. Calif. Napa and Sonoma varieties are richer and drunk earlier than French counterparts.
Malbec: Grown in southwestern France (esp. Cahors, Madiran) and in Argentina. French version is dark, tightly structured, with ‘ample tannins, acidity and good aging potential.’ Argentinian versions are fleshier, with riper tannins and with more vanilla from oak barrel aging.
I noticed that most of the Spanish and Portuguese grapes I like so much are absent from the list: Albariño/Alvarinho, Tempranillo, Jaén, Macabeo, and the Tintos. And one of my favourite American grapes, Chambourcin.
Tonight was Sauvignon Blanc and Merlot night.
Cinquante Cinq Sauvignon Blanc 2006 from France. 12.5% alcohol.
Fermented in stainless steel.
Visual: Intense, young, green
Aroma: grapefruit, honeydew melon
Taste: Acidic to fresh, not especially minerally, weak to vigorous structure
Pretty so-so wine, I thought.
Rain Sauvignon Blanc 2006 from Marlborough, New Zealand. 13% alcohol.
Visual: Greener in tint that the Cinquante Cinq
Aroma: Grapefruity! Apricot.
Taste: Tasted more like a fruit spritzer to me than a wine. This one had more structure than the first one.
Loved it. I bought a bottle of this the next day. The bottle says it has “floral overtones.” Wine Enthusiast says: “hints of stone fruit accented by jalapeno pepper. It’s plump and a bit soft, with flavors of melon, fig and peach.”
Note: Marlborough NZ is known for its lack of rain.
Château de Bonhoste Rouge Bordeaux (mostly Merlot) 2004 from France. 70% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Cabernet Franc. 13% alcohol, I think.
Aroma: Pepper, leather, cherry, roses, spicy woodsy,
Taste: Dry, more acidic and tannic than fruity, fairly balanced but not harmonious — too young! The components are still separate. Try again in a year or two.
>> We had a discussion about how to tell if a wine is just bad or just young … will age help or not? A (red) wine is flawed (‘just bad’) if one of the three elements is not there at all: tannins, acidity, fruit. If all three are there but the balance and/or harmony is out of whack, try the wine again in 3 months or 6 months to see how it’s improved. <<
Lockhart Merlot 2005, frm California, made from bought grapes. 13% alcohol.
Visual: Clear to veiled, ruby red
Aroma: raspberry jam, cranberry; aroma lingers, fairly robust
Taste: Has fruit and acidity, not much tannin; pretty well-structured.