How do you choose wine?
You don’t need to be a sommelier to work out what a wine might taste like before opening the bottle.
Ask yourself three questions: Which grape? Where were they grown? How was the wine made? These three elements make a certain wine the way it is.
1. Which grapes have been used?
Most aspects of a wine are predetermined by the grape it’s made from. For example, Merlot will give a smoother and thicker wine than Pinot Noir, which is crisper in taste.
You can’t really get around the fact that the grape is going to determine what the wine will be like. For that same reason, some producers will use more than one kind of grape for a batch just to mix it up a little.
2. Where were the grapes grown?
In the balance of nature and nurture, nature definitely takes the lion share of making a wine what it is. Our next deciding factor comes in two parts.
As a general rule: the warmer the climate, the smoother the wine. Grapes grown in warmer climes will usually make wines that are “sweeter” and riper in taste and aroma.
However, a wine will not necessarily be better just because its grapes were grown in hot weather. For example, if you were to grow Pinot Noir in the warm, you’d end up with a bland wine - it far prefers cooler temperatures.
Vines aren’t happy on plains because flat ground can often mean stagnant water or fog - no good for growing wine grapes.
Strange as it may sound, the vine is also a masochistic plant. It’s happiest in places that it’s going to have to work itself to the maximum just to survive by digging real deep with its roots. Vines love to dig through the poor surface soil of a hill to reach the mineral rich soil beneath it.
3. How was the wine made?
For those that don’t already know, ‘oaking’ is keeping the wine in an oak barrel as opposed to a stainless steel one. As you can imagine, this makes a pretty big difference to the taste of the wine.
That’s not to say that oaking necessarily makes a wine better, but it does add flavours and aromas that contrast the grape.
Ageing a wine is of course the process of letting it sit in its bottle for an amount of time (sometimes decades!) to allow its flavours and aromas to change. Remember, not all wines are fit for ageing and there’s definitely nothing inferior about a younger wine!
When it comes to both oaking and ageing, you’ve got to figure out whether you like the end result before investing in wine that’s been affected by either process.
It’s always important to remember that neither oaking nor ageing necessarily makes a wine better, but it does always make a wine more expensive.
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