The History of Wine
Wine has been produced for thousands of years, with the earliest evidence coming from the eastern Mediterranean approximately 6000BCE. Wine is made when yeast consumes the natural sugars in grapes and converts it into ethanol, in a process called fermentation. The soil that the grapes are grown in affects their taste, and that, when added to the wide variety of wine making grapes and different strands of yeast, is what produces the enormous variety in both wine types and flavors. Whereas an overwhelming percentage of wine is made from grapes, wine can also be made from other fruits, such as plum, cherry, pear, and elderberry; and even rice and honey.
Wine grapes are grown almost exclusively between 30 and 50 degrees latitude north and south of the equator. The world's southernmost vineyards are in the central Otago region of New Zealand's south island, and the northernmost are in Flen, Sweden.
Italy currently produces the most wine, at just under 4.8 million tonnes annually. Spain comes in second at 4.6 million tonnes annually, and France and the United States come in third and fourth with 4.3 and 3.3 million tonnes annually, respectively. Wine production drops off fairly sharply after that, with only fifteen countries in total accounting for 92.6% of all wine production.
Cabernet Sauvignon is the most prominent wine grape of the 20th century, only briefly being eclipsed by merlot in the 1990s. The grape was first produced in France during the 17th century when Cabernet Franc grapes were crossed with Sauvignon blanc grapes, and has since spread to nearly every wine producing region on the planet. The grape first gained it's fame through its prominence in Bordeaux wines, where it is often blended with Merlot.
Cabernet Sauvignon tends to be full bodied with high tannins and a notable acidity that contributes to the wines aging potential. The climate that the grape is grown in has a major impact on the flavors produced.
Cool Climates- Blackcurrant notes accompanied by notes of fennel, cedar, and green bell pepper.
Moderate Climates- Blackcurrant notes accompanied by notes of black cherry, plum, and blackberry.
Warm Climates- Currant flavors that veer towards an "over-ripe" and "jammy" taste with notes of raspberry, vanilla, and oak.
Cabernet Sauvignon pairs well with nearly all red meats, including beef and lamb; as well as being great in sauces or reductions.
Merlot is the most widely planted grape variety on the planet, even outpacing the more well-known Cabernet Sauvignon. This abundance is due to the popularity of mixing it with other grape varieties to make wines such as Bordeauxs, as well as straight Merlot wine composing a sizable portion of the world's wine market. Merlot comes in two main styles:
International Style- Emphasizes late harvesting to gain physiological ripeness and produce inky, purple colored wines that are full bodied with lush, velvety tannins.
Bordeaux Style- Earlier harvesting to maintain acidity and produce more medium bodied wines with fresh red fruit flavors.
The climate that the grape is grown in has a major impact on the flavors produced.
Cool Climates- Notes of red fruits and berries, with hints of ceder and tobacco.
Moderate Climates- Notes of black fruits and berries, with hints of cherry and plum.
Warm Climates- Deep, rich flavors with hints of chocolate and fruitcake.
The diversity of Merlot can lend itself to a wide array of matching options. Cabernet-like Merlots pair well with many of the same things that Cabernet Sauvignon would pair well with, such as grilled and charred meats. Softer, fruitier Merlots (particularly those with higher acidity from cooler climate regions like Washington State and Northeastern Italy) share many of the same food-pairing affinities with Pinot noir and go well with dishes like salmon, mushroom-based dishes and greens like chard and radicchio. Light-bodied Merlots can go well with shellfish like prawns or scallops, especially if wrapped in a protein-rich food such as bacon or prosciutto. Merlot tends not to go well with strong and blue-veined cheeses that can overwhelm the fruit flavors of the wine. The capsaicins of spicy foods can accentuate the perception of alcohol in Merlot and make it taste more tannic and bitter.
Malbec is a thick skinned grape that tends to have a inky dark color and robust tannins; and requires more sun and heat then many other grape varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Malbec ripens mid season and can bring a very deep color and ample tannin to blends. As a varietal, Malbec creates an intense, inky red or violate colored wine with a rich plum flavor. Malbec is infamous for the astonishing range of alternate names; as there are over one thousand documented names for the grape. Malbec originated in France but has suffered a major drop in popularity, but is still grown in the south west. Argentina however, has piked up the torch and is now home to 70% of the world's Malbec vineyards.
With an overwhelming majority of Malbec being grown in only two regions, Melbac is often divided by the country it was grown in.
French Malbec- More structure, firmer tannins, and a dark, inky quality.
Argentinian Malbec- Plummy and fruit forward, with a velvety soft texture.
Malbec pairs well with dark turkey meat, roasted pork, and lean red meat; as well as creamy mushroom sauces and strong cheeses such as blue cheese.
Pinot Noir is a thin skinned grape grown around the world, however mostly in moderate to cool climates. This finicky plant is notoriously difficult to grow, as it is sensitive to wind and frost, cropping levels (it must be low yielding for production of quality wines), soil types and pruning techniques. The grapes are also susceptible to bunch rot and similar fungal diseases, as well as the vines being susceptible to to powdery mildew and some strains of viruses. The troubles continue in the winery, as the wine is sensitive to fermentation methods and yeast strains, which is further complicated by the fact that Pinot Noir is highly reflective of it's terroir. (the soil that the grapes ar grown in) All of this lead Andre Tchelistcheff, a man known as "the dean of american wine makers" to say: "God made Cabernet Sauvignon, whereas the devil made Pinot Noir."
Due to Pinot Noir being highly reflective of it's terroir, it is difficult at best to assign flavor profiles by climate; so instead, here are some of the most well known Pinot Noir regions.
France- Tart cherry and earthy flavors with a green stem note.
Oregon- Fruity and light, tasting anywhere from cranberry to pomegranate and dark cherry.
California- A hot area for growing pinot noir, these wines get black cherry and raspberry flavors. The higher priced wines from Sonoma tend to experience longer time in french oak which adds a vanilla flavor.
Pinot Noir's light nature means it pairs well fish, such as salmon, as well as roasted chicken or light pasta dishes. Some more tannic Pinot Noir's are ideal with duck and other game birds.
Zinfandel grapes are thin, black skinned grapes that typically produce a robust red wine. Zinfandel's taste depends on the ripeness of the grapes from which it is produced. This is of particular note because Zinfandel grapes do not ripen at the same speed, even between grapes of the same bunch. Some wine makers choose to vinify the bunches when a majority of the grapes reach the desired ripeness, whereas others prefer to hand harvest the bunches, grape by grape, in multiple passes through the vineyard, over several weeks. This extensively laborious hand picked method is one of the major contributors in the high cost of some Zinfandels. These grapes also have a relatively high sugar content, resulting in a wine with a relatively high ABV; often at or exceeding 15%. In the United States, a semi-sweet rose style, called White Zinfandel has six times the sale of it's more traditional red counterpart.
Zinfandel is a bit of a tricky grape to grow, as it fairs best in warmer climates, but if it gets too hot, the grapes can wilt.
Red Zinfandel- More bold and flavorful then something lite like a Pinot Noir, but lighter and less tannic then a Cabernet Sauvignon, with often jammy flavors of plum, cherry, bluberry, and black pepper; as well as notes of vanilla, tobacco, and chocolate.
White Zinfandel- Light, fruity, and sweet, with notes of orange, strawberry, and raspberry.
Due to it's "in the middle" nature, red Zinfandel can be paired with essentially anything from the meat aisle.
White Zinfandel can be paired with creamy pastas and light seafood.
Sauvignon Blanc is a green skinned grape that originates from the Bordeaux region of France. The grape often buds late but ripens early, preferring cool, yet sunny climates. Sauvignon Blanc grapes are susceptible to powdery mildew, which often shows up faster on roses, resulting in vineyards often planting rose bushes around the perimeter as a simple method of early detection. Along with Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc was one of the first wines to be bottled with a screwcap in commercial quantities, especially by New Zealand producers. Sauvignon Blanc wine does not benefit from aging, as the wine tends to develop vegetable aromas of peas and asparagus.
Cool Climates- Acidic wine with flavors of grass, green bell peppers, and nettles.
Warm Climates- Tropical flavors such as passion fruit, grapefruit, and peach, but can lose much of it's aromatics from over ripeness.
When slightly chilled, Sauvignon Blanc pairs well with fish and light cheese. It is one of the few wines that can pair well with sushi.
Syrah, also known as Shiraz, is a dark skinned grape grown throughout the world. The origins of this grape were once, not too long ago, steeped in mystery, with numerous theories as to it's origins. Recently however, with the aid of genetic testing, it is almost certain that Syrah originated in the south east of France, near the Rhone region. Syrah should not be confused with Petit Syrah, as Petit Syrah is an offspring of Syrah with it's own flavor profile. In fact, it is only known as "Petit Syrah" in the United States and Israel, with it's actual name being Durif. Syrah grown in cooler climates tend to have high tannins and high acidity, making them ideal for aging. Syrah traditionally was mixed with other grapes to make blended wines, however in the early 2,000s it broke into the top ten chart of most grown varietal wines and has continued to grow in popularity.
Cool Climates- Highly acidic and tannic, with notes of blackberry and dark chocolate.
Moderate Climates- Balanced, with notes of mint, eucalyptus, and black pepper.
Warm Climates- Jammy, with notes of cloves, liquorice, and espresso.
Syrah pairs well with wiled game, grilled and or smoked meats and vegetables, and hard, aged cheeses.
Chardonnay is the second most grown white wine grape (with only Airen being more produced) and is the fifth most grown wine grape in the world. Chardonnay grapes are extremely reflective of their terroir and are also have the most genetic variations, known as clones. Most of these clones were produced at the University of Burgundy in Dijon, France, and so are called Dijon clones. Each Dijon clone accentuates certain aspects of the grape and is best suited to different kinds of terroir. Dijon- 76, 95, and 96 produce less grapes, but concentrate more flavor into their clusters. Dijon- 77 and 809 produce more aromatic wines with a grapey perfume. Dijon- 75, 78, 121, 124, 125, and 227 produce far more grapes, but at the cost of less defined flavor.
Chardonnay popularity peeked in the 1980s, with a "chardonnay-mania" swept the world, causing some wine makers to tear out their older vines and plant more Chardonnay in order to cash in or, in some cases, stay afloat. This caused the market to become flooded with new, cheap Chardonnay, which helped fuel the Chardonnay backlash in the mid 1990s. Another reason for the backlash was that Chardonnay was seen as a symbol of the globalization of wine, in which local grape varieties were torn out in favor of the big names demanded by international markets. At the turn of the millennium Chardonnay grew in popularity as the stereotypical drink of young urban women, however by the early 2000s Chardonnay once again crashed as it became more associated with unsophisticated, suburban tastes. Despite Chardonnay's waxing and waning, it is considered a rite of passage for most wine growing regions due to it's versatility, as it can be grown just about anywhere and is often on of the first grapes grown in a new wine region.
Creating flavor profiles for Chardonnay is nearly impossible due to the number of variables involved in it's production and just how powerful an impact those variables can have on the resulting wine. These variables include, but are not limited to: Terroir, climate, weather, and if the wine has been "oaked" or not, and to what degree.
IN GENERAL however:
Cool Climates- Lean, crisp, with high acidity.
Warm Climates- Sweet and tropical with less acidity.
Chardonnay's variety means that it can be paired with a wide spectrum of foods, however it is most commonly paired with white meats and other light foods.
Pinot Grigio is a white wine grape that is a mutated clone of Pinot Noir. The two plants are in fact so physically similar, that the only way to distinguish the two, outside of genetic testing, is by the color of their grapes. Pinot Grigio originated in the Burgundy region of France, and in the late 1300s became a favorite of Emperor Charles IV, who had the grape brought to Hungry where it became known as Szurkebarat. From there the grapes moved north into modern day Germany, where it became known as Rulander. Pinot Grigio is one of the so called noble grapes of Alsace, along with Riesling, Gewurztraminer, and Muscat. Pinot Grigio is best suited to cooler climates, but has, relatively recently , started to be grown in warmer locations like California and Australia.
Pinot Grigio is often divided into two major groups:
Alsatian- "Spicy", moderate to low acidity, higher alcohol levels, and a "oily" texture that contributes to the full bodied nature of the wine.
Italian- Lighter bodied, more acidic, with more tropical fruit notes.
Pinot Grigio pairs well with seafood and vegetables, particularly fried or in antipasti, as well as with light pasta sauces.
Riesling is a white wine grape originating in the Rhine region of Germany and is used to mike dry, semi-sweet, sweet, and sparkling wines; as well as a popular desert wine: ice wine. Riesling grows best in cold climates such as Austria, New Zealand, Canada, and most famously, Germany. Riesling is often consumed young, when they make fruity and aromatic wine, however it's naturally high acidity and range of flavors means that it is suitable for extended aging. Lower quality Rieslings can still be aged from 5-10 years, and many high quality Rieslings can peak at ages exceeding 100 years. The sweetness level of the Riesling also affects it's aging potential, with dry Rieslings ranging from 5-15 years, semi-sweet Rieslings ranging from 10-20 years, and sweet Rieslings ranging from 10-30 years. The most expensive Rieslings are made from grapes that are left on the vine well past the normal picking time, where they often freeze and are turned into ice wine, or develop "noble rot", giving the wine more flavor and complexity.
Rieslings tend to be very aromatic, with notes of apple, nectarine, and pear, as well as honeycomb and and lime peel.
Because of Rieslings balance of sugar and acidity, it pairs well with pork and fish, and is one of the few wines that can be paired with the strong flavors and spices of Thai and Chinese cuisine.