About Wine Varietals
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Before discussing wine varietal descriptions, we need clarity on what the term “varietal” means. In the wine world, varietal means the wine is from a particular wine grape. When you see a wine bottle label name that includes the name of a grape, it is identifying the prominent grape. An example, such as Blackstone Merlot California, means the wine is at least 75% Merlot grapes.
In the United States, if a bottle of wine contains less than 75% of one grape, it cannot legally be labeled by that name. That is why you may find wines which are labeled with a simple descriptive name such as Red Wine, White Wine or Blush Wine. Interestingly, some states have additional qualifications to be sold under particular varietal labels.
Ultimately, that means a winery can only include the kind of grape in the name of the wine when that grape is at least 75% of the wine. They may choose to include the other grape varieties and even the percentage of each, but it is not required.
Popular Varietal Descriptions
It’s no surprise to see the list of top U.S. varietals – they are widely available with a range of brands and prices to choose from, so you are sure to find something you like.
- Cabernet Sauvignon – This wine is very prominent and is grown internationally. In the U.S. it is largely grown in California in the Napa Valley and the Santa Cruz mountains. Throughout the world Cabernet Sauvignon is grown in Canada, France, Europe, New Zealand, South Africa and Australia. It is considered easy to grow and has a full body with high tannins and acidity. The grapes are very dark, sometimes described as black and the skin is thick and hardy.
- Chardonnay –Originating in France, Chardonnay has now expanded to be grown in Europe, New Zealand, Australia, New Zealand and the Central Coast of California. It has a medium to light body and varies in taste, depending on the warmth of the region where it is grown. Chardonnay has grown in popularity and is often the first grape grown in a newly developed wine region. The Chardonnay grapes have a white skin and produce a crisp wine with high acidity. It is an element in sparkling wines, including Champagne.
- Pinot Noir – Pino noir originated in France and now is grown around the world in cool climates from Argentina to Romania and has become a principal wine in the western states of the Unites States. The Pinot noir grapes are a red wine grape which grows in a pine-shaped cluster and have a thin black skin which is challenging to grow. The wine produced is medium bodied with low tannin and is used in producing sparkling wine.
- Sauvignon Blanc – The sauvignon grapes produce a dry, crisp wine which is poplar chilled and paired with fish, cheese or sushi. Planted in broad regions from France, Australia, Romania, South Africa as well as the wine country of the western states in the U.S., Sauvignon Blanc grows in warmer clients and has a green skin. This is a wine which is better enjoyed when young as it does not improve with aging. The climate affects the flavor with cool climates resulting in more acidity whereas warmer areas develop fruit and floral notes.
- Merlot – The Merlot grapes are one of the grapes used in Bordeaux wine. These dark blue wine grapes are used for varietal wines as well as a blend with Cabernet Sauvignon, resulting in a higher tannin level. Merlot grapes are the most planted grape variety and is grown worldwide. The wine is full-bodied with an intense smooth flavors of plum and blackberry fruit.
- White Zinfandel – Although referred to as White Zinfandel, it presents itself in a pink colored wine. It was originally invented by Sutter Home Family Vineyards. White Zin, as it is casually referred to, is made from the Zinfandel wine grape which normally results in a bold, spicy wine. The difference is the processing method. White Zinfandel was originally developed in 1972 by the co-owner and winemaker for Sutter Home Winery, the process evolved over the next few years and met with huge success in1975 when it sold out. It became the first Sutter Home wine to sell out every year. The history of the discovery and then marketing of White Zin is interesting, but the success is unlikely to be repeated.
Wine Tasting Basics
This list of the most popular wines offers a great opportunity for gathering friends together for a casual wine tasting. All of these wine varietals are readily available and affordable in any wine shop (more selection and likely more expensive) to Walmart (adequate, but less selection) – and you certainly don’t need to include them all.
A handy wine chart or wheels allows easy reference that are helpful while you are sampling the wines. The charts show regions, food pairings the countries of origin and are simple to understand. The wheels can include more information and are easy to pass around.
The objective is simply to enjoy the wine, your friends and some conversation.
Wine and Appetizers
A standard wine bottle contains approximately 6 glasses, but a wine tasting is going to allow 10-12 adequate samples. You do the math – 6 friends drinking short samples of 4 different wines allows for 6-7 servings per person. That is more than enough for your guests. In fact, you might end up with a slumber party on the living room floor if you were serving more than that!
At a maximum average price of $10 per bottle, you could host an informative and enjoyable small gathering at a budget price. For the simplest and easiest option, we suggest some cheese and crackers. Not only will they accompany the wine, but cheese and crackers will cleanse the palate between wine tastings. Other appetizers that are great complements to wine are dried fruits, apples and olives.
Corkscrewtime.com is here to introduce you to wines and ideas which can increase your knowledge and interest in wine and the social pleasures around that experience. Feel free to get in touch with by leaving a comment below if you have a suggestion or question!