Wines 101

What exactly is wine?

Made from fermented grape juice, wine mostly comes from a single species of grapevine known as Vitis vinifera. The grapes from this species are different than those you find at the grocery store. Wine grapes are smaller, have thicker skin, and contain seeds. (Fun fact: it takes on average about 520 grapes to produce a single bottle of wine, which is equal to about 2 pounds.)

What are varietal wines?

Varietal wines are made mostly of one type of grape.  You will most likely see wine labeled this way.  For example, Kendall Jackson Chardonnay: The name of the winery is Kendall Jackson and Chardonnay is the varietal. There is no universal rule for how much of the varietal must be included in the wine for it to be on the label. In the United States, the percentage varies from state to state but the majority requires 75%. Italy, France, Germany, and New Zealand require 85%. When grapes do not meet this requirement, they are labeled as blends. Blends allow winemakers to use complementary varietals to create a more complex, rich wine. To make things even more complicated, some are named based on the region from which they originated. These wines can be either a varietal or a blend.

What is vintage?

On the label, you will often see a year listed. Vintage refers to the year the grapes were picked. Some wines, such as Bordeaux, take time to age so they will be hitting the shelves already a few years old. For other wines, the preference is the most recent vintage, such as Sauvignon Blanc.  Remember that there are two different harvest seasons. August through September is for the Northern Hemisphere (the US and Europe) and February through April is for the Southern Hemisphere (Argentina and Australia). This is important because you will see a Sauvignon Blanc from Chile before you will see a Sauvignon Blanc from California as they harvest earlier in the year. You will also see wines labeled Non-Vintage or NV. These are most popular among sparkling wines as they will blend grapes from multiple years.

What is the difference between white, red and rosé?

How do wines get their color, and does it matter? Wines get their color from the grape skins. Technically, you could create a white wine from a red grape, there is just no skin contact when the wine is made. Rosé gets its color from limited skin contact. There are red grapes in the wine, but just see less time on the skins.

Wine can become overly complicated but start with the basics. Try different varietals, blends, and regions. See what you like and don’t like.

Grab a bottle of each of these great wines and enjoy:

Belle de Provence Rose: Provence, France

Oak Grove Chardonnay: California

Thomas Bassot Coteaux Bourguignon: Burgundy, France

Brian Price
Liquor Barn Wine Buyer

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