Here is a bit more information about some of the grape varietals & special wines.
Merlot is the most popular and widely planted wine grape varietal in France, reaching its true zenith of expression in Bordeaux wines. 62% of Bordeaux vineyards are planted with Merlot. Around the world, it’s the fifth most planted wine grape. In 2010 Merlot was the second most widely planted grape, just behind Cabernet Sauvignon.
The DNA of this grape show it to be a cross between Cabernet Franc and Magdeline Noire des Charentes, considered an obscure grape. Merlot wines are perfect with a meal. It's naturally soft texture and rich flavor provide a diverse array of flavors to match diverse foods. The name is believed to have derived from the French word for blackbird, Merle.
It is believed that the first time the grape was used in making wine was in the late 1700s when a French winemaker in the Bordeaux region formally labeled the grape. From this moment on, the grape spread across Bordeaux and became known for its unique ability to add softness and luscious fruit to a wine when it was combined with the region’s favorite grape, Cabernet Sauvignon. The combination of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot complemented each other so well, that the pair became the main ingredients for the world-renowned Bordeaux blend, now coveted by the majority of the world’s wine drinkers.
The character of Merlot wines are often chocholate, plums, licorice, black cherries, blueberries, black raspberries and black berries. Some have a jammy quality. It is round and has an opulent texture. Many find aromas of truffles, violet, cassis as well. Merlot wines pair well with meat, lamb, veal and stewed dishes. Mushrooms, chicken and pork work great. Depending on the preparation, use it with fish, if you add earthy sauces or flavorings. Merlot based wines are also perfect for a myriad of different cheeses. Merlot and Chocolate work for some people, although not widely accepted. Merlot, due to its higher sugar levels and perforce, increased percentage of alcohol is sweeter than Cabernet Sauvignon. It also ripens and is harvested earlier than Cabernet Sauvignon.
The name, Pinot Noir, is derived from the French words for pine and black. The pine alluding to the grape variety having tightly clustered, pine cone-shaped bunches of fruit. This grape variatal is grown around the world in cooler climates. There are currently 16 known unique different types of Pinot Noir grapes. Pinot Noir is one of France’s ancient grapes dating back to the 1st century. Cistercian Monks cultivated the grape in Burgundy and many of the oldest monasteries still stand. Recently the Gevrey-Chambertin Chateau was just snagged up by a Chinese Gambling Tycoon.
Pinot Noir is a difficult varietal to cultivate and transform into wine.The grape's tendency to produce tightly packed clusters makes it susceptible to several diseases involving rot that require diligent management. The thin-skins and compounds found in the grapes lend Pinot to produce mostly lightly colored, medium bodied and low tannin wines that can often go through phases of uneven and unpredictable aging. When young, wines made from Pinot Noir tend to have red fruit aromas of cherries, raspberries and strawberries. As the wine ages, Pinot has the potential to develop more vegetal and "barnyard" aromas that can contribute to the complexity of the wine.
Pinot Noir is the most highly prized wine in the world. It’s not as rich or big as its noble cousins, in fact it’s quite the opposite. Pinot Noir wines are pale in color, translucent and their flavors are very subtle. The grape itself is weak, suffering from a variety of diseases and its genetics make it highly susceptible to mutation. Despite the difficulty in growing the grape, prices for a bottle of Pinot Noir are generally more than a similar quality red wine. Pinot Noir is very fickle and can have quite a range of flavors depending on the vintage and where it’s grown.
A rose' wine is not a white zinfandel or pink Andre'. Most countries that produce wine will also produce delightful rose wines.
Rose' wines happen when the skins of red grapes touch the wine for a short time. The winemaker has complete control over the color of the wine and will remove the skins when the perfect color is reached. Almost any red wine grape can be used to make a rose'. The perfect color can be reached within 2 to 20 hours.
Typically rose' wines have flavors of red fruits, flowers, citrus and melon. They are always crisp and light, some tend to be dryer than others. Typically an old world rose (Europe) is more dry than a new world wine, but not always. A 4 year old rose' wine will probably not be at its best, so drink a rose' young.
A rose' is a perfect wine for a summer BBQ of almost anything. They are one of those very versatile wines that most will totally enjoy. Rose' wine needs to be chilled before drinking.
The history of Sake is very complicated and full of ceremony. It is a part of many Japanese rituals, from sealing wedding vows, to blessing a new home, to being used as an offering to the shrines of gods. There is physical evidence of fermented rice beverages dating back to 300 BC. The type and style of Sake we are most familiar with today came into existence about the 16th century and did not see much change until the middle of the 20th century. Traditionally, quality Sake was heated gently, to diminish bitterness and allow some of the musty lees character to vaporize, leaving fresh, clean flavors. Today, all quality Sake is enjoyed chilled.
Is it a Wine or a Beer? Despite what you may have heard, Sake is not a wine, nor is it a beer, although it is similar to beer in the fact that both are fermented from a type of grain.
Sake Components. Although the word Sake in Japanese means “alcoholic drink,” it has become internationally synonymous with any fermented rice beverage. If you were in Japan and wanted Sake, you would ask for Nihonshu, which means the “Sake of Japan.” Even though the production of this fermented rice beverage is quite complicated, the ingredients necessary to make it are quite simple: rice, water, koji and in certain styles brewer’s alcohol. Anything more is a sign of a lesser quality Sake.
Rice. Like grapes there are dozens of rice varieties, but only officially classified sakamai may be used in the production of Sake. These styles of rice have a very large grain that is roughly 25% larger than table rice; their stalks grow much taller and they are harvested much later than table rice.
Water. Kuras, or Sake breweries, are set up in specific places because of water quality. The water creates the Sake character and directly impacts Sake quality.
Koji – The Magical Mold. Rice is a starch like barley and cannot be fermented unless converted into a sugar. Koji is a special mold that can convert the rice starch into a fermentable sugar. Creating and propagating koji is a very complicated process that can vary based on type of rice, stage of brewing and style or quality of Sake produced.
They are often called 'the golden wines," but most call them dessert wines. Sweet white wines can actually be paired well with many foods beyond dessert. Sushi is an excellent choice as well as a wide range of cheeses are excellent to pair with sweeter white wines. Most are intended to be enjoyed in a small glass and treasured with each sip.
There are five categories of dessert wines, sparkling, light & sweet, rich & sweet, sweet red and fortified.
The process to making these wines is long and arduous. They are most often hand-harvested, where the pickers are seeking the perfect grape for the desired wine.
Sparkling. These wines have bubbles. These range from less sweet to more sweet. When wanting a sweet sparkling look for terms such as "Doux" or "Moelleux" (French)," "Dolce" (Italian), or "Dulce" (Spanish) which is "sweet" in the applicable language. The term "Demi-Sec" is a French off-dry sparkling and "Amabile" means a slightly-sweet in Italian sparkling.
Lightly Sweet. Wine perfect for a hot day and pair well with spicy food. These wines are Gewurztraminer, Riesling, Chenin Blanc and Viognier. All these wine explode with fruit flavors and are perfect paired with vanilla or fruit based dessert. Each is distinct in flavor and level of sweetness based on grape varietal and where the grape has been grown. Note: Some wine made from these varietals are not sweet but a fruit forward wines.
Richly Sweet. These are made from the highest quality grapes, many of the vines are over 50 years old, producing fewer sweeter grapes. The sweetness of the grape comes from different factors depending on the vineyard.
Some harvest the grapes late, which means the grapes stay on the vines longer and become sweeter. The term in German is "Spatlese,: and in Alsace (France) it is "Vendage Tardive," and in English speaking countries, "Late Harvest."
Another method is using a spore called Botrytis cinera that actually rots the fruit adding a honey flavor. These wine are labeled as Sauternes, Barsac, Cadillac, or Monbazillac from France. Hungary's version is labeled Tokaji and those from Germany are labeled Auslese, Beerenauslese and Trockenbeerenauslese Riseling.
The method of "Straw Mat," is done simply by laying out the grapes on straw mats in the sun before being pressed. The Italians, Greeks, Germans and French all produce this wine. Some are very difficult to find in the US.
Another sometimes found is "Ice Wine" or "Eidwein." A true ice wine is rare. The grapes are naturally frozen on the wine and must be harvested and pressed while frozen. These typically come from Canada, Germany & Switzerland.
Sweet Reds. Many you see today are the commercial version of a historic sweet red from Italy, Lambrusco. This is a sparkling sweet red wine filled with flavors of blueberry and raspberry. Others are Brachetto d'Acqui, Freisa, and Recioto della Valpilicella, all from the Piedmont region of France. There are some being produced in the US that are Late Harvest Reds.
Fortified. These wines are created by adding grape brandy to a wine. Port, Sherry & Madeira are the best known. These wines can be used in cooking but are also delightful to sip.
Port is made only in Northern Portugal using dozens of traditions. There are three styles of port, ruby, vintage & tawny, all offering a very different taste profile.
Sherry is made in Spain and has at least seven different styles from very sweet to dry.
Madeira also ranges from sweet to dry and is produced using four different grapes grown on the island.