Understanding Wine with Brad - Making it Simple!

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What is wine?
An alcoholic drink made from fermented grape juice.

It is important to understand wine as a simple, daily part of life. The best way to get past all of the intimidation concerning wine knowledge is to use easy to understand terms and look at wine as a form of fruit juice fermentation.

Our wine-producing partners are all farmers, they grow great fruit, they pick or harvest the fruit at the optimum time (in the Southern hemisphere March and April) and then the fruit (grapes) is pressed.
The juice then goes through one or sometimes two ferments where in the first fermant the winemakers add yeast, the yeast eats up all the sugar and produces alcohol and carbon dioxide. the carbon dioxide is released (in Champagne it is kept in as part of wine) and then you have fermented alcoholic grape juice. Some wines go through a second malolactic ferment; this changes the malic (tart) acids into Lactic (buttery, creamy) acids that are soft and rich on the palate.

Different grape styles, climates and winemakers have an affect on the final outcome of a finished wine and we'll look at these three important things in a simple way.
Different Grape Styles
There are hundreds of grape styles, we'll look at a few as you can have white wine made from Chardonnay grapes or white wine made from Sauvignon Blanc grapes but why do they taste different? Well, like apples and oranges taste different so do the Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc grapes. As Chardonnay ripens on the vine, it changes through fruit characters of green appple, white peach, nectarine, ripe peach and honey melon, finally when over-ripe the character is simply tropical fruit. Sauvignon Blanc has characters of green vegetables, bell peppers, gooseberry and asparagus but also leads to tropical fruit when over-ripe.

The key for the winemaker is to pick the grapes at the right time to have sufficient sugar and acid in the grapes so to provide a balanced character on the palate. If you like juicy peaches, you'd normally be a warm climate Chardonnay fan, if you like fresher, lighter and crisp characters on your palate, then you'd probably prefer a cool climate Sauvignon Blanc. 

However, there are different characters that you have to understand that derive from the various wine growing climates. Why is Sicilian Chardonnay much deeper in colour and richer than Chardonnay from the cool climates of Burgundy in France? Over-ripe white wines all taste basically the same and this is not a great way of producing elegant wines. Fresh, crisper more elegant white wines come from cool climate regions.
Different Climates
Chardonnays from different climates as with Shiraz and grapes like Pinot Noir have different characters depending upon the climate they are grown in. Let's take it back again to farming, imagine an apple from a local market in Northern France or Germany (cool climate) and an apple from a market in Sicily or the south of Spain (warm climate). There would be great differences in the size, colour and flavour of the apples.

The cooler climate apple would be crisp, green fresh, acidic almost refreshing and lively with some malic acids that give your palate that zesty feeling. The apple from the warmer climate would be richer in colour, more fruity and sweet and with more developed characters that the sun and the warmth has given the fruit. This is exactly the same with grapes.

The warmer the climate, the more character the wine has, generally. The cooler the climate, the more fresh and elegant the wine.
The Winemaker
What do our winemakers do with the wines that change the characters. Well, they can ferment in oak barrels, which is one excellent way of giving wines a smoky, toasty character as the barrels are normally toasted inside by burning a little fire inside them so the wine picks up smokey characters from the wood. The bacterial ferment that goes off in a barrel is normally malolactic so you pick-up creamy, buttery characters and the oak itself gives nutty, vanilla pod flavours and aromas. So there is a big difference between a normal cold-vat ferment in a stainless tank that holds in all of the lemon/lime characters and a malolactic ferment in barrel that richens up the wine. That's the big differenvce between and unoaked Chardonnay (Chablis style) and an oaked Chardonnay (Montrachet style).

Winemakers can do other things like low-crop and unirrigate and this has affects on the concentration and quality of the wines. Unirrigated (dry grown) vines are stressed out and have to work to develop their fruits, often showing excellent terroir characters as they dig deep to find minerals and water deposits, the fruit is often smaller and more concentrated. This is not a cost-effective method of production but offers excellent fruit. Irrigated vines are lazy, they produce lots of juicy, boring crop, this is the bulk wine-making side of the business and is cost effective as the grapes grow easily but are often over-ripe and tropical charactered, often bland (supermarket wines).