The Favorite Grape

One wants to know and fast, especially if one has been commissioned to buy some bottles for a get-together among friends, colleagues or one’s couple.

Which is the most famous White Wine based on a Star Grape?

Which is the Second?

In the consumer’s mental map, it’s interesting and always important to have a clear idea of prefereces, his and that of the others.

But (and this is an importnant (‘but’) contrary to what is believed or assumed, hierarchical relations based on numbers and positions don’t always reflect a clear difference for the consummer.

Let’s see for example: Which are the 10white grapesprefered in California?

Easy.  Chardonnay, Colombard, Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc.

After them, Chenin Blanc, Moscatael de Alejandria, Riesling, Muscat Blanc, Gewrztraminer.

They are the most sought after by consumers as “Varietals” (wines produced solely with one type of grape).  Consequently, these are the grapes most commonly planted by the winegrowers.  The highlighted name of the grape on the label, insures the sale of the bottle.

For consumers, remembering three or four of these strains is almost easy.  Sadly, it’s not so easy to understand the existing distance between this ranking.  The area of the Chardonay vineyards in California is bigger than all the rest put together.

But if you don’t want, or can’t find the first, which is the second most favorite one you should buy?

Distance in Tastes

The difference between Chardonnay (1stmost prefered grape for white wines) and second, the French Colombardin California is huge: 37,800 hectares against 7,600. A hectare is a 1-kilometer wide, by 2-kilometer long area.

In the mind of the consumer of whites, Chardonnay disputes the first position with Sauvignon Blanc at the vineyards of the prime wine producers in the world.

On Planet Earth, Chardoanny is the most commonly planted grape for white wines (210,000 ha), followed by Sauvignon Blancwith 123,000, according to the International Wine Organization.

Its prestige lies in its quality, balance and performance, as well as in the fact that it’s the queen of varietiesin the famous Burgundy wine region. This white grape is also key in making Champagne.

But contrary to what happens in the world, Sauvignon Blanc is not the second, but the 4thwhite grape prefered for wines in the States.

In California the difference in the areas cultivated for these grapes is 37,000 hectares of vineyards for Chardonnay,against 6,000 of  S.B.  As can be appreciated, the difference is huge.

In the States, Colombard is the second white most commonly planted grape; however you won’t find bottles of white wine with its name printed on the lables, as inSauvignon, Pinot Gris, Riesling or Gewürztraminer.

Suggestions when Choosing

For the consumer, besides the popularity of its wines due to demand, another way of choosing the variety of the grape is to use notions of strength and difference between the most well known.

These notions depend on information that few times is requested.  Who has it? Who is going to be the hostess at the gathering? The key question should be, With what type of food or snack are we going to accompany the wine you’ve asked me to bring?

Before complicating your life going over all the harmonies and fusions, what the most experienced person in wine will ponder first is its strength.

Strength in white wine doesn’t lie in the grape as such, but in the wood. Chardonnay, kissed or embraced by the cask.

The brief or short passage in the oak casks is an elegant, infalible option used worldwide by winegrowers.  But it’s costly.  It doesn’t work if at the same time you offer a popular-priced bottle.

The most exquisite and expensive white wine bottles in the world arise from this combination between quality of the grape and the breeding period in the casks,  in which the wine was made.

In theRedsstrength is used quite frequently for the selection of the desired bottle.  It’s a differentiating agent associated to the Tannins,  the characteristic and the ripening time (breeding and ageing) which identify each type of wine within the brands.

Hence, in the red wines the strength spectrum goes from light reds, subtle, perfumed, to powerful reds, stringent, concentrated.

The last ones have a characteristic thatdoesn’t make them popular., they are astringent.

In wine language this means this wine will leave your mouth dry.

Astringencyis the tactile sensation of dryness, roughness, and harshness within the mouth,  produced by the tannin in some wines.  Red wine with no balance, or expired are astringent. Wine professionals don’tuse strength for differentiating whites.  They use acidity.  Consumers do likewise.

Ignoring all the technical explanations on wine acids, acidity is measured by its most evident effect, it’s refreshing to the mouth. It makes it “juicy”.  When acidity is not balanced, it transmits an unpleasant, sharp sensatin to the palate.

To summarize,  vis-a-vis the dilemma when choosing bottles for a dinner or a get-together, with food as the guide, in White wines one has to pay attention to the acidity, in Reds, it’s the strength.  In both cases balance is better than excess. 

Wine is Not a Condiment

They can be avoided easily.  The most frequent mistakes in the selection of wine for a get-together tend to be two-fold.  The first, regarding hierarchy.  Decide who is going to be the star, the wine, the food, or the get-together?

Usually, a wine lover or an expert will grant the bottles chosenby him the greatest importance.  That’s a mistake, even if it’s a gathering among wine lovers.

The ladies tend to tell of encounters where the the bottles were bought by wine lovers as the most boring dinners they ever went to.

To listen to someone talk endlessly during an entire meal about the precipitation, the terroir of the right slope of the vineyard, the fermentation, ageing on its lees, the pellets of the breeding caskets, or the notes on tasting sessions of the 2015 vintages, are totally soporific.

On the other hand, those who decide that the meal will be the star of the gathering, perpetrate a similar distortion. Among culinary tendencies, fusions, condiments and prefered chefs, they tend to overwhelm the other’s taste.

Lastly, it’s avisable for the buyer to remember a must in Wine and Cooking: Reds or Whites are wines, not condiments.  Unless, of course you want them to be.

The role of the bottles you’ve been commissoned to buy is to connect, associate, complement or contrast.  In other words, to make the evening more pleasant.

Wine is a social drink.  That is its main virtue and difference.  In order to master the range of possible options, the mastery of brainy books or enciclopedias is not necessary, just make sure you don’t repeat yourself when buying.

Each bottle is a journey that must never be undertaken in solitude.

 

Alberto Soria  Writer / Journalist specialized in Gastronomy, Wines and Spirits / University Professor

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