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What's in a Grape? - New York Wine Tasting

[ NEW YORK, NY - NYC - 10/17/2003 - www.Littleviews.com ]

Andrew Harwood, Wine Tasting Editor


>>  When it comes to wine, I always want to know people's preferences. When I pose the question simply as, "What wines do you like?" the answer is invariably, "Oh, I love Syrah," or "I like white wine, but I hate Chardonnay."

Somehow almost everyone seems to squeeze the name of a grape into their answer and it is understandable why this happens. In the US, we label most of our wines by the grape varietal used. We can buy a Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley, a Chardonnay from Monterey, or a Pinot Noir from the Sonoma Coast.

So where did all these grapes originate?

Almost all the wine grapes we know of come from the same species, which is Vitis vinifera. Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir -- these are all essentially sub-species of the vinifera vine. The vinifera species is a European variety and any plantings in the States are the result of importing vines from Europe. So how did all these varieties come about?

Going back thousands of years, the Vitis vinifera was a wild vine. If left to its druthers, it grows like a tree and wraps around anything it can find, like ivy on walls. Over the years, different sub-species were created through natural selection, resulting in mutations of the vine. Further changes were introduced due to cross-propagation by people, bringing about the differences between different grape varieties.

But does the grape tell the whole story about a wine? No. The grape is only part of the equation.

Each grape has its own genetic code. All grapes exhibit varying levels of acid, fruit flavor, tannins, and so much more. That said, the final wine is a product of not only the grape, but the climate, soil, and production method used to make the wine. If, for example, Sauvignon Blanc is grown in a warm climate and then aged in small oak barrels, it will taste quite different from Sauvignon Blanc grown in a cool climate and then aged in stainless steel. You might taste these two examples and love one, yet strongly dislike the other.

So what does this all mean?

No wine labeling system is perfect. The purpose of the label is, of course, to give the consumer as much of an idea as possible about what is inside the bottle. One never really knows, however, until that cork is popped.

Questions or comments?
Andrew Harwood
LittleViews' Wine Tasting Editor
and President of NYC Wine Class, New York

Article by Andrew Harwood, photo by Jason Friedman, Managing Director of NYC Wine Class. First published on 10/17/2003. All rights reserved by www.Littleviews.com.

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