Wine Myth #2: Grape Variety is King!
This week we will take a look at yet another common wine misconception – that grape variety is king.
Many people relate to wine by the grape variety that is used to produce it. Most wine drinkers have their likes and dislikes and whether they prefer Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot or Pinot Noir, they base their wine buying on the predominant grape used to make the wine.
While the grape variety will play a role in determening a wine’s colour, smell and taste, the fact is that it is just one piece of the puzzle. Although the type of grape used can give you an idea of what to expect, there are a number of factors, methods, techniques and decisions that will influence the final product. The first piece of the puzzle is where the grapes were grown. As an example Cabernet Sauvignon grapes grown in deep, rocky soils on a steep mountain vineyard may produce a very different wine than Cabernet grown on rich, warm soils on the flat valley floor. Average temperature, rainfall, soil type, slope and sun exposure are just a few of the factors that will affect the characteristics of a grape variety.
Outside of the vineyard, the winemaker can have a massive effect on how the finished product in your glass will taste. There are so many choices that can affect the final product, it can be overwhelming. For example a Chardonnay aged in new oak barrels for 12 months will taste very different from a wine made from the same grapes without any oak aging. If the winemaker decides to use oak barrels, do they choose to use oak from French, American or Hungarian forests? How long is the wine left in contact with the skins and pips (seeds)? What temperature is the wine fermented at? Is the wine filtered prior to being bottled or not? These are just a few of the decisions that must be made and each of these choices will affect the final product.
So as you can see it’s not just a simple question of Shiraz or Malbec. The Europeans have always understood this, and it is one of the reasons that they prefer to put the name of the region on the label (which encompasses all aspects including grape variety, climate, etc.) rather than the name of the grape. This is also why one of my biggest pet peeves is people who demonize a whole grape variety (“I hate Chardonnay!”) based on one bad experience.
So the next time you are strolling the isles of your favourite wine spot remember…the grape may be the lead singer, but it ain’t the whole band!