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February 17, 2013

A co-worker has shown a new interest in wine and has asked me for alot of advice.

Thinking about what makes wine good I have to say that terroir has the largest impact on how the wine tastes.

Well what is terroir? To me its all the things that the winemaker/vineyard cannot control. It’s the soil, the weather, the rainfall, the slope of the land and all that good stuff.

Even if the land is perfect the weather has to be within a certain range. Grapes do not like cold and do not like to hot either. Some grapes do better in the heat than others and some just do not do cold.

Lets look at the current fav grape: Cabernet Sauvignon. It comes from Bordeaux, and is a descendent of Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc. Both also Bordeaux grapes.

Just an aside, in Bordeaux, there are 4 main red grapes which are blended: Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Malbec. Depending where you are there are more or less of each grape but rarely are there single grape wines. Quite different from the new world.

Bordeaux is basically on our latitude and is a cool climate area. Not hot, not cold but the area definitely is not hot.

That s why a Bordeaux is so different from an Aussie or California wine.

Lets look to Australia. Most of Australia is hot (ok there are some cool regions, but go with me here). The wines are big and jammy and high alcohol.

California is everything, cooler, hot perfect. A Napa is a Napa because Napa is perfect for Cab. But they are bigger more luxurious wines than Bordeaux.

Why is this? Well three things happen to a grape when it ripens. At veraison, the grape starts to change color and the acid reduces and the sugar increases.

In a cooler area, this is later, and the acid/sugar tetter-totter stays in the acid camp. The acid is still there and the brix (sugar level) is lower and as a result the alcohol is around 12.5%. The third leg is the ripeness of the grape. The grape must mature and be ready to harvest, It may have enough sugar, but if it is not mature the wine will be awful. This is the “green pepper” taste. This is why they do not do Cabernets in Germany, the grapes couldn’t mature. When you hear the term “hanging” they are waiting for the grapes to be ready.

I unhappily remember a Cab I bought from a very respected Niagara producer. I partnered it with a great local steak and oi, the wine was green, not ripe and the steak was tough…a twofer of badness. And the wine was $28 so it should have been good. It wasn’t faulted but he used non mature grapes…oi…btw I forgive him and now avoid the Cab and drink the Riesling and Pinot….goood

In a hot climate, the Brix climb, the acid falls and the grapes are not mature yet, so the acid falls too low and the burnt fruit tastes come forward in the extreme event. These are the famous “Fruit Bombs”. High alcohol. big wines which tend to be fruit forward and heavily oaked.

Ah oak…why heavy, well in the hot areas the acid becomes too low and acid must be added to the wine. If done right you really don’t notice, but there are big flavors, so heavy oak. Bombs, not subtle but they have their place.

In cooler areas there may not be enough sugar so sugar is added. This is called chaptilization and is legally controlled. Ok alot of people cheat so they get high alcohol

So cool climate wines tend to be more delicate and complex. The subtle flavours haven’t been burnt out by the sun and they are not as big.

Its all what you like. Me I like delicate reds, and big whites…ok I am crazy…but i really like the subtle flavours that come from the cool climates versus the fruit bombs.

I think they go better with food (it may be the natural acid which cleans the palate). But Sir Rod likes his BIG ZINS….the are too big for me.

All I can say is drink what you like. you are right for you.


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