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How Can One Grape Create Different Kinds of Wine?

How Can One Grape Create Different Kinds of Wine? | The Latest | RedThumb Natural Wines

How can one grape yield such different wines?  

As someone who loves talking about and sharing wine with people, one of the most frustrating things I can hear from someone is “I don’t like _____ .” Many people have a particular varietal that they’ve decided they don’t, won’t, or can’t enjoy. While this can happen with any grape, varietal or type of wine, let’s take a look at the three most common culprits and clear up some misconceptions.

Chardonnay: a grape so versatile, yet so misunderstood

Is there a more divisive grape than chardonnay? While it has many detractors, it is still the second-most popular varietal in the United States. However, popularity does not always equal quality, a fact made clear by the massive success of pop punk.

Ultimately, chardonnay is a bit of a blank canvas. The final wine can vary greatly depending on where the grapes were grown and what processes were used in winemaking—especially the type of vessel the wine was aged in. If you taste a chardonnay and absolutely hate it, try to figure out what it is about it that you don’t like. Too acidic? Too rich? Too buttery? Then lean on the professionals at your local wine shop to help choose your next bottle. Chardonnay is simply too important a grape to turn your back on completely. You could miss out on some of the best white wines the world has to offer, whether that’s a bracing Chablis, balanced Montrachet, or rich and buttery California.

Riesling: too sweet or not too sweet, that is the question

This one is particularly frustrating for wine professionals, simply because good riesling is one of the most interesting wines to pair with a very wide variety of [my favorite] foods, from grilled sausage to spicy shrimp pho to a runny raclette cheese. Acidity, minerality, fruit and floral notes mix with varying levels of sweetness to make a very versatile wine. However, that sweetness is a big part of why riesling gets a bad rap. Riesling is one of the few grapes that commonly ranges from bone dry to dessert-wine sweet, which is determined by how and where the grape itself is grown. To complicate matters further, just what the wine in the bottle will taste like isn’t always clear by what’s on the label. So how can we tell if we’ll like what we’re about to drink? 

While German rieslings have a classification system that tells you how dry or sweet the wine is, it can be a little confusing because, well, it’s in German. Most other regions have no system at all, although some winemakers have begun using a simple graphic to help consumers choose the right wine for them. Absent any help on the label, an easy way to know how sweet your riesling will be is to check the ABV. The higher the alcohol percentage, the less sugar remains in the finished wine. Anything above 11% should be mostly dry.

Rosé: all about style

If turning away riesling is frustrating, dismissing rosé entirely is maddening. That’s because we’re not talking about a particular grape with inherent qualities that may not be to a drinker’s preference, but instead about a style of wine that encompasses many different grapes, traditions, and most importantly, flavor profiles. Unfortunately, in America, the overall opinion of rosé has been a bit of a roller coaster ride. Initially dismissed as cheap, sweet wines (think white zinfandel), thoughtfully made rosé had a rough time gaining traction in the US.

Starting around 2010, however, Americans fell in love with rosé. While that was great news for traditional rosé producers, winemakers that didn’t offer a rosé were feeling left out. Many decided to try, even if their grapes weren’t especially right for it. Making matters worse, most of those new offerings were all made in the same style: the pale-pink, light-bodied and light-flavored style common in Provence, France. 

While those traditional wines of Provence can be wonderful examples of rosé, they are not the only style worth enjoying. Spanish Rosado and Italian Rosato tend to be fuller-bodied and more complex than Provence Rosés, while other French regions such as Tavel and Corsica offer interesting wines with character and sense of place. Well-made rosés are not just for sipping by the pool, though I can’t recommend that strongly enough. They can offer unique flavor profiles and food pairing qualities not found in other styles.

The best favor you can do yourself while exploring different types of wine is to keep an open mind. You won’t like everything, but rarely will you hate every example of a given varietal or style. Finding that one hidden gem can be exhilarating, so keep searching. You might be able to finally understand the misunderstood.