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Mythbusting: Wine Style - Part One

What is it about wine that average Joe public are happy to be ignorant about? I'm sure people don't follow the same philosophy when it comes to buying clothes or cars. In my experience consumers go out of their way to have some understanding of these. Why not wine?

What is it about wine that average Joe public are happy to be ignorant about? I'm sure people don't follow the same philosophy when it comes to buying clothes or cars. In my experience consumers go out of their way to have some understanding of these. Why not wine?

Can you imagine me telling Jeremy Clarkson that a car is just a car?

So you walk into your local wine store, approach the assistant and ask "Do you have a Malbec?"

The assistant replies "Which country?"

After a puzzled look, you stare back and state "Argentina of course!"

This is a very simple example of a conversation I've had hundreds of times over the years. Two problems I see with this dialogue are, firstly, requesting a Malbec as if there is only one type, secondly, the thought that Argentina is the only country that produces Malbec. I'm going to kill two birds with one stone here. Malbec originates from South West France. It was one of the original grapes used in Bordeaux, and is still permitted as part of the blend. Nowadays you will primarily find it as the backbone of wines from Cahor, France. Argentina may have adopted Malbec but, as well as France, it is also produced around the world, Australia and Chile being two notable producers.

So what other pieces of everyday wine thinking stems from ignorant bliss?

The first is an obvious choice, Chardonnay. This variety comes from Burgundy in France. It's also the only grape used in Chablis. No other variety is permitted. Chardonnay does have a long association with oak barrels, something that the UK public doesn't appreciate or get, in particular Australian wines from a decade ago. These styles have been disappearing from our shelves. So don't be put off by Chardonnay. Reconnect yourself to the clean fresh styles coming out of new world countries like Australia, Chile, New Zealand. A quick tip, if you read a wine label that states it's from a cool climate region, buy it. Just take my word for it and buy it. Come back and tell me what you think.

Another grape misconception is that of Pinot Grigio. Pinot Gris, to give you its proper name, doesn't come from Italy. Its origins are from Alsace, France. The grapes grown here, like Gewürztraminer and Riesling, are known as aromatics. They are big on the palate as well as the nose. This minor description doesn't really fit the everyday consumer's notion of Pinot Grigio. The normal thinking is very light, lacking in fruit and body, or as I describe them, Evian with alcohol. This is a generic style that seems to dominate supermarket shelves. These wines are mass produced, totally lacking any real substance or style. So dig around and you can find some great Pinot Grigio. Just avoid the mass produced stuff!

Ever heard the somewhat obvious solution to what makes red wine red? Everyone's immediate answer would be that it comes from red grapes. True but the colour of juice from virtually all grape varieties is clear. A wines colour is determined by the amount of contact that the juice has had with the grape skins. Two examples, In the EU, Rosé wines are produced by leaving the clear juice in contact with the skins for a relatively short period of time. The length could be anything from 8-24 hours, maybe longer. The other example is that of Champagne, the most famous white sparkling wine producing region in the world. Most commercially made Champagnes are produced using up to three grape varieties. Chardonnay, which we know is white, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, both of which are reds. In short, the colour of a wine comes from the skins and not the juice. Take the skins away and you are left with a white wine.

In the US, California to be exact, they like to think that Zinfandel is 'their' grape variety. The theory behind this is more in line with what I scribbled up the top regarding Malbec. Zinfandel has had more commercial value as an American wine but the truth is the origins of this variety come from Croatia. In Europe you will find Zinfandel under its Italian name of Primitivo.

Here's a misrepresentation which I read the other day. Whilst reading a wine review on someone's blog I noticed they had made a reference to wines, high in alcohol, are all full bodied. Utter nonsense! Wines with a huge dollop of alcohol will give heat to the wine but they do not govern a wine's weight, full, medium or light body. The weight of a wine is a mix of depth of fruit flavours, acidity and, in reds, tannins. When drinking most reds, tannins are indicated by the furry feeling you get around the gums. I've drank wines with alcohol levels approaching 15% and they have been relatively easy drinking wines.

One of the problems I've found with consumers is the ability to distinguish the difference between fruity and sweet wines. Because a wine may taste fruity it doesn't make it a sweet. When you taste something sweet, be it food or beverage, the level of sweetness carries thorough from the tip of your tongue to when you swallow. Fruity wines may initially taste sweet on the front of your palate but when you swallow you will find a dry finish. The back of your palate or throat will simply dry up.

Moёt is probably the most recognised Champagne in the world and yet very few people pronounce it correctly. The name is Dutch, marked by the diaeresis (two dots) above the 'e'. This makes the 'T' at the end of Moёt audible. Unlike the common pronunciation of 'Mo-ay' it really should be 'Mo-et'.

If you have any queries or would like some explanations regarding wines then leave your comment below.


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