I’m a planner. My family used to tease me because I would write an itinerary for family vacations. I mean, we want to make sure we get to see and do all we wanted to see and do, right? Normally, when I write a blog post, especially one as significant as a Monthly Wine Writing Challenge, I like to start several weeks early, so I can take my time to ponder, refine, and polish my work.
I am aware that not all people are like me. Some people thrive under the pressure of a deadline. They procrastinate until the bitter end, and then crank out whatever comes, and hope for the best. My son is one of those people. In high school he used to drive me insane! Up until all hours the night before a major paper was due, he produced some amazing work. My blood pressure would rise as he sat calmly reading his books, instead of writing his college application essays. Yet, he got into a great school, and always got good grades. Procrastination works for him. It does not work for me.
Nevertheless, my life has been crazy busy these past few weeks. So when I checked my email yesterday morning, and Jeff the Drunken Cyclist reminded me that entries for #MWWC32 are due Monday, my stress level rose. For this piece, I will have to channel my son, and try to crank out a worthwhile piece at the last minute! Working under the pressure of a deadline is foreign to me. So it is my hope that by writing in this unfamiliar method, I am able to adapt and produce a quality blog post. Will I be able to create a decent translation? We’ll see.
As an international product, wine is interesting and confusing. In the United States, and many other New World wine producing regions, the label lists the dominant grape variety in the bottle. Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Sangiovese, Tempranillo – consumers have a pretty good idea of what they are getting themselves into when they by a New World wine. This cannot always be said of European, or Old World, wines. Although some producers are starting to list the varietal on the bottle, tradition dictates that the label contains the name of the region, rather than the grape.
This difference between Old World and New World labels can cause no small amount of confusion for wine consumers. There is, one could say, a loss in translation. Many wine lovers who favor wines from the U.S. simply don’t understand European labels. This is not limited to newbies. Many experienced wine drinkers I know mistakenly believe that Bordeaux is a grape variety. It’s not. Bordeaux is perhaps the most famous wine region in France, characterized by wine blends made predominantly from Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Much confusion surrounds Old World wine regions. Sometimes all that is needed is a simple translation. Many famous wines from regions in Europe are known by their regional names. However, many people do not know the grape varieties from which these wines are made. Allow me to help with the translation of some of the more notable regions.
- Barolo: An Italian wine from in the area around the city of Barolo, in the Piedmont region located in Northern Italy. Barolo is made from Nebbiolo. Pricy and age worthy, it is often known as the “Wine of Kings.”
- Bordeaux: Perhaps the most famous wine region in the world, Bordeaux is located in southwest France. The region is bisected by the Gironde estuary. A number of different grape varieties go into these blends, but they are dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Wines from the left bank are typically Cabernet Sauvignon based, whereas right bank wines are predominantly Merlot.
- Burgundy: Another famous French region, Burgundy produces some of the most expensive wines in the world. Don’t fret, though; not all the wines from Burgundy are from Domaine de la Romanee-Conti. Burgundy is most famous for its red wines, produced from Pinot Noir. However, the region also produces spectacular white wines using Chardonnay grapes. If you’ve had a bottle of Chablis, you’ve had a Chardonnay from a sub-region of Burgundy.
- Champagne: One of the most widely misunderstood and misused wine terms (in my opinion.) Everybody knows what Champagne is, but many don’t seem to understand what Champagne is not. California Sparkling wine is not Champagne. (Yes, there are a handful of California producers who are allowed to use the term, but that does not make them true Champagne wines.) Prosecco isn’t either. Nor is Cava. Champagne is a sparkling wine produced only in the Champagne region of France. It is typically made from Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier.
- Chianti: Everybody knows Chianti! Those quaint straw-wrapped bottles found in Italian restaurants, often used as candle holders. Yet Chianti is so much more than kitschy decorations. Well-made Chianti is spectacular! Chianti is an Italian region in Tuscany. The wines from here are predominately made from the Sangiovese grape.
- Rioja: From sunny Spain, Rioja is perhaps the country’s most famous wine. Located in the northeast part of Spain, Rioja is made mainly from Tempranillo and Garnacha (Grenache) grapes. Classifications on Rioja wines mean something, so a little study can help you find what you like. Wines labeled simply “Rioja” are young, and spend less than a year in the barrel. “Crianza” wines are aged at least two years, including one year in oak barrels. “Rioja Reserva” wines have aged three or more years, including one in oak. “Rioja Gran Reserva” wines see at least three years of age, of which two are in oak. As one might expect, the longer the aging, the higher the price.
Speaking of Tempranillo and Rioja, I recently had an opportunity to compare a local, California Tempranillo and a Rioja Crianza. Out to dinner one evening a couple of weeks ago, while perusing the wine list, the Wise Villa Winery Tempranillo caught my attention.
Deep purple color in the glass. Aromas of ripe blackberry and raspberry. On the palate, juicy blackberry, dark cherry, black plum, and soft oak notes. Soft, smooth tannins with nicely balanced acidity. The long finish is dark berry and soft spice. Great on its own, and pairs nicely with a variety of foods.
Then, about a week later, I selected the Carlos Serres Rioja Crianza 2012 from the list at a favorite wine bar. The difference in styles was interesting, and a great illustration for a New World versus Old World comparison.
Medium purple color in the glass. Aromas and flavors of fresh raspberries, Bing cherry, red plum, and baking spices. The tannins are smooth, and the acidity is bright and lively. The long finish is dominated by red berry, spice, and white pepper notes. This is a great wine for sipping with a special someone, and would also pair very well with tapas or other regional foods.
There are dozens of other wine regions worth exploring, both Old World and New World. I encourage you to do some research on your own and learn your own translations.