Pinot Grigio | Chardonnay | Merlot | Sauvignon Blanc | Cabernet Sauvignon | Shiraz | Zinfandel | Sparkling Wines
Though Italy is known for its great red wines, Italians grow many kinds of grapes. In fact, about 1,000 varieties of wine grapes are cultivated in Italy!
One of the most well known is Pinot Grigio.
Pinot Grigio, also known as Pinot Gris, is the grape that can't decide what it is - the skins can be from greyish blue to brownish pink; sometimes they look black, sometimes white. The styles of wine from these grapes also varies widely - from a rounded, fuller wine, to a light wine. The common factor is the delicate aroma, commonly with a hint of honey.
Pinot Grigio grows primarily in northern Italy, Germany, Eastern Europe, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand and California. Much of the Italian Pinot Grigio is grown in the northeastern area known as the Tre Venezie, which includes the regions of Trentino-Alto Adige, Veneto and Friuli-Venezie Giulia. Wines made from the grapes of these regions are lighter bodied with superb light color and aroma, and a crisp finish.
Pinot Gris has its origins in the Alsace region of France. The style of Pinot Gris, while made from the same grape as Pinot Grigio, is medium to full-bodied, bursting with flavor with lower acidity than Pinot Grigio. Both are a fresh alternative to Chardonnay.
Who hasn't heard of this versatile white grape? It is one of the most widely planted white grapes in the world.
In California, it is the Number 1 grape variety grown, with over 500,000 tons of grapes crushed in 2001.
Chardonnay is one of the most popular and well-known varietal white wines. Complex Chardonnays can have a buttery flavor with hints of lemon and tropical fruit and sometimes a nutty taste. The wine can be lush and full-bodied with a soft, dry finish. Many are oak aged.
In recent years, the lighter style Chardonnay has become more popular, with little or no oak aging and fruity flavors.
Merlot, which means "black bird" in French, is a distant cousin of Cabernet Sauvignon. A big difference between the two is skin.The Merlot skin is much thinner. This grape also ripens earlier than Cabernet. Like Cabernet, Merlot comes from Bordeaux, France where it was used primarily for blending.
What makes a good Merlot?
Merlot by nature is a soft, drinkable wine with rich, plum-like flavors with blueberry and cherry notes. The grape-- naturally low in tannin --is low in acid. People call it "smooth." It is frequently blended with Cabernet to make a more full-bodied wine.
The hot red wine of the 90s, Merlot is a latecomer to California. Most vineyards were planted after 1970 in response to the much-touted health benefits of red wine. The resulting market shift to red and the ultra-drinkable Merlot were a perfect match. Merlot has improved so much that is no longer just a "blending" wine, but an outstanding varietal in its own right.
Merlot now grows in the Central Valley (20,000 acres) and Napa and Sonoma counties. It is also cultivated in Monterey, Mendocino and San Luis Obispo counties.
A versatile grape, Sauvignon Blanc was brought to the United States in the late 1800s.
It has since become the 2nd most popular white wine - behind Chardonnay.
This wine can be from a light, crisp wine to a oaky, full-bodied wine called Fumé Blanc. The lighter style has flavors of apple, citrus and melon and is often described as grassy or herbaceous while the full-bodied Sauvignon Blanc is more robust and complex.
The Sauvignon Blanc grape is grown widely in France, California, and New Zealand and also grown in Washington, Oregon, Italy, Australia and South America.
Sauvignon Blanc is extremely food friendly and goes with a wide variety of dishes.
Cabernet Sauvignon is the king of reds. California's Number 1 most-planted red, Cabernet grapes yield rich wine capable of great depth.
It entered the wine world first in Bordeaux in the late 1700s.
Tannins -- a natural part of grape skins, seeds, and stems --make Cabernet a firm-bodied, substantial wine. Because red wines soak with their skins, they gain color and increase tannins.
What does Cabernet Sauvignon taste like?
Typical comments on Cabernets call it black currant, cherry, plum, jammy, bell pepper, chocolate, mint, cigar box, chocolate and spice--to name a few. Most Cabernets need a few years of aging to gain their fine wine quality of layered fruit and firm structure. California Cabernets are drinkable from 3 to 10 years or even longer.
Cabernet likes California. Napa Valley Cabernet is exquisite. Napa's warmer microclimates give the wine complex fruit flavors. Sonoma Valley Cabernets tend to have lighter green herb and olive notes. In cooler areas like Monterey, this wine can take on vegetable-like tones of bell pepper and oregano.
Syrah gained its reputation in France's Rhone region.
While it is known as Syrah in France, in Australia and South America the grape is better known as Shiraz.
It is the dominant red grape grown and used in Australian fine wine. It is also an increasingly popular grape grown in California, where it usually referred to as Syrah. It is also known as Hermitage, Marsanne Noir, Petite Syrah, and Sirac.
Syrah/Shiraz is usually full-bodied with a richly textured taste. It can be fruitier with hints of smokiness, very rich and complex with forward fruit, or exhibit strong spice and pepper qualities.
In California, Zinfandel is the Number 2 most widely planted red wine grape.
Recent research shows that the grape originated in Croatia, not southern Italy, as previously thought.
Wildly popular in the U.S., many consider Zinfandel the quintessential "California red." In fact, California is the largest grower of Zinfandel. It is also widely planted in Italy as the Primitivo grape.
Zinfandel can range from a light Beaujolais-like wine to a late-harvest red with ultra-intense pepper and jam. "Zin" is frequently blended with other grapes.
The small, berry-like Zinfandel grape is tough to grow. Its clusters tighten up and ripen unevenly. That's why many winemakers give it extra hang time. It likes warm valleys close to the coast. Zinfandel does extremely well in Dry Creek Valley, the hills of Napa, Sonoma, as well as Mendocino counties and Paso Robles further south.
Sparkling wines have been made naturally effervescent, or bubbly, by a secondary fermentation process performed in closed containers (bottles or tanks).
Sparkling wines are produced in many different countries including France (known for it's sparkling wine from the 'Champagne' region), Spain (where they are known as 'Cavas'), Italy (known for its Asti spumantes), Germany, and the United States.
Sparkling wines come in many different styles from (Brut) dry, crisp, and citric to (Spumante) sweet, fruity, and berry tasting.
Grapes commonly used in the production of sparkling wines are Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, and Chenin Blanc.