Now that you have your wine, or maybe you haven’t tried last week’s picks yet (& that’s okay), let’s dig a little deeper. Becoming familiar with varieties will help you when you’re at a store, restaurant or winery, & aren’t sure where to begin. Grapes are like people though, you gotta know where they come from in order to understand them. They are also all very different, even the ones that are the same… Kind of like a big, loud family. & There are A LOT, but we’ll start with some basics & if you want to know more, we’ll get into that later! So, starting with ones we’re familiar with & only five included in last week’s wine suggestions, I introduce you to this week’s family members: Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah, Zinfandel, Merlot, & Syrah.
Nobody challenges him, but he’s also the first one invited to the barbeque.
Origin: Bordeaux, France
When: Supposedly around the 17th century
What It Is: To begin, I introduce you to the world’s most popular & most planted wine grape. It is actually a hybrid grape created from the crossbreed of Cabernet Franc & Sauvignon Blanc… Does the name make sense, now? The grapes themselves are small & robust. They also tend to be durable under extreme conditions, which makes them a winemaker’s dream. For us at Wiens, it is often one of the last varieties picked during harvest, as it takes time to ripen on the vine. In addition to its appealing flavor, Cabernet Sauvignon is also very age-worthy, often said to get better with age. It’s grown mostly in the United States, specifically the North Coast AVA (including Napa Valley, Sonoma, etc.), as well as in France, & Australia.
Traits: Cab Sauvs tend to be full-bodied, with high levels of tannins & medium acidity. They have rich, dark color & high alcohol content. Several notes can be present in a Cabernet Sauvignon, depending on where it’s grown, & under what conditions. Many common ones to find are those of dark fruit (black currant, black plum, boysenberry), more earthy flavors (bell pepper, tobacco leaf, graphite), baking spices, & chocolate. Because of its high tannin content, it often pairs well with rich flavored foods & seasoned meats.
Extra Notes: Cabernet Sauvignon is popular for a reason. It can wear many different hats depending on the winemaker’s intention. Whether used in blends for added complexity, or standing on its own as a single-variety wine, Cab Sauv creates brilliant flavors & depth to your palate when wine tasting. This is one I would recommend becoming familiar with, as it will most likely become familiar with you on any wine menu you may encounter in the future.
*Yummy Single-variety Cabernet Sauvignons we currently offer in our Regular &/or Reserve Tastings:
2018 Cabernet Sauvignon
2017 San Ignacio Cabernet Sauvignon
2018 Lund Cabernet Sauvignon
So loved, so pampered… But we all know they weren’t part of the plan.
Origin: Montpellier, France (Rhone Valley)
When: Late 1800’s
What It Is: Unlike the previously mentioned wine grape, Petite Sirah is actually a fairly rare variety in the United States. However, it was one of the most popular varieties in California up until the late 1960’s when Cabernet Sauvignon came into the picture… Yikes! Another hybrid grape, being an unintentional cross between Syrah & the very rare Peloursin, this variety was created by Dr. François Durif. Although often called Petite Sirah in America, its original name is the Durif grape, as a namesake to the man who cultivated it. The grapes tend to form tight clusters of small grapes with rich color. Currently, the most common places for growing are the United States (again, specifically the North Coast AVA), Australia, & Israel.
Traits: Petite Sirah is a variety not lacking in strength. It is a powerful, high tannic wine, with a rich purple color. It can stand alone as a beautiful, bold red, or create wonderful red blends with other varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, or Syrah. Depending on how the grape is grown & aged, Petite Sirah is said to last decades. Although, if the tannin levels greatly outweigh the acidity & flavor strength, then these blends are better served within the first 7 years. Familiar notes from Petite Sirah could include black pepper, blackberries, baking spices, or even licorice. Because it is such a bold wine, it is best paired with similarly big dishes. When I say big, I’m not referring to size, either. Rich meats, barbeque dishes, & pronounced sauces, are just a few examples of what pairs well with this variety.
Extra Notes: Petite Sirah does not mess around. To a newbie, it can be very overwhelming. If you want to try it, but aren’t sure about the high level of tannins, this is a variety that can be decanted for a couple hours to calm down. I challenge you to try it at least once because the flavor profiles that can present themselves are almost never-ending. & If you still don’t like it, that’s okay! At least you’ll know for sure. Also, remember no wine is like another, so don’t totally knock it off the list!
*Yummy Single-variety Petite Sirahs we currently offer in our Regular &/or Reserve Tastings:
2018 Bare Knuckle Petite Sirah
2018 Reserve Petite Sirah
Wise & fun, with a little spice… Giving Sophia Petrillo a run for her money.
Origin: Caucasus region, notably Croatia
When: History suggests around 6000 BC, but it did not arrive in the United States until the late 18th century
What It Is: Zinfandel is one of the oldest grapes still used to make wine. The variety itself can actually be made into both Red Zinfandel wine & White Zinfandel wine. White Zinfandel is simply a rosé made from the Zinfandel grape, whereas Red Zinfandel is the traditional use of the grape to make red wine & is often mistaken for the Primitivo variety.
Little history lesson: Many experts consider them the same, however our Winemaker, Joe, best describes them as clones. When Zinfandel was discovered, it came to the States, maintaining its original name. Primitivo was sent to Italy. With varying cultural distinctions & differing climates, these two varieties are genetically similar, but not exactly the same.
The grapes are smaller, but grow in large clusters, with relatively thin skins. Zins grow best in warmer climates, but must be closely watched to prevent shriveling on their delicate skin. Depending on their growing in cooler or warmer temperatures, their flavor profiles will vary. Although the United States contains most of the Zinfandel around the world, other notable places for growth are Italy, South Africa & Australia.
Traits: Most all Zinfandels will introduce themselves with fruit-forward characteristics, specifically red fruit, & then end with a spiced or smoky finish. Overall, most Zinfandels are also considered “jammy.” The color itself resembles various red fruit preserves. Zins often contain moderate tannin levels & high acidity, with a reasonably high alcohol content. Those with more alcohol tend to present themselves as bolder wines, in comparison. The general aging consensus on Zins is that they should last about 5-10 years. Zinfandel pairs well with lighter meats or barbeque, hard & rich cheeses, flavorful vegetables & is suggested to be used with spices that seem smoked or charred, with curry being the #1 suggestion.
Extra Notes: As one of the oldest varieties still used in wine, Zinfandel sure changes with the times. It’s revered for its diversity. Although considered a sweeter variety, it can also produce beautiful, bold red wines. If you like sweeter wines, meet your new best friend (just pay attention to alcohol content like I mentioned for that desired sugar level). If you don’t like sweeter wines, you may still be in luck. There are so many different ways to make Zinfandel, you may end up being surprised… So yes, still try it!
*We currently do not offer any single-variety Zinfandels in our Regular &/or Reserve Tastings, however, try this blend for something similar:
2020 Pink Crowded
A little neglected & forgotten maybe, but with so much to offer.
Origin: Bordeaux, France
When: Late 1700’s
What It Is: Although one of America’s most abundant grape varieties, there has been some controversy regarding the beloved Merlot in the past.
A little background: It all began with one thing: a movie. Okay, that’s not completely true. Although it often gets the blame for it, the comedy movie Sideways critiquing this very variety presents no factual evidence for a drop in Merlot sales. Statistics may say otherwise, however, before the movie even came out, there was a decline in Merlot sales due to overplanting & their resulting poor-quality wines. Needless to say, look at the bigger picture, then decide for yourself! Regardless of why this unnecessary little stint in sales & reputation gave Merlot a bad name for so many years, the grape variety is slowly reclaiming its deserved prestige once again.
The grapes are a deep blue color, with thinner skins & can grow in both warm & cool climates. In addition to its home of France, Merlot is often grown in Italy, Chile & of course, the United States.
Traits: Similar to Zinfandel, the chosen growing climate will determine drastic differences in the flavor profiles present in the wine. In warmer temperatures, Merlot will give silky notes of dark fruit (blackberries, plum, black cherry), chocolate, mocha, baking spices, & even some earthy flavors (on the leafier side). It will also be medium to full-bodied with softer tannins. In cooler temperatures, Merlot will taste more roasted, giving notes closer to ripe fruit (raspberry, blueberry, fig), espresso, licorice, or earthy notes (this time more mushroom, limestone or tobacco leaf). It will generally be medium to full-bodied with medium tannins. Merlot is typically made to be a dryer wine. Depending on the style of wine, a variety of foods can pair well with Merlot. Lighter blends go well with pizza, other tomato-based dishes, or light meats. Bolder, high tannin wines, or those with earthy notes, pair well with filet mignon & rich, braised meats.
Extra Notes: Chances are, you already know what Merlot is, but its reputation is likely the only thing leaving a bad taste in your mouth. Merlot is full of flavor, diversity, & depth. Don’t let a fictional snob keep you from some excellent wines!
*Yummy Single-variety Merlots we currently offer in our Regular &/or Reserve Tastings:
2017 Reserve Merlot
She’s not a regular wine, she’s a cool wine.
Origin: Rhone wine region, France
When: Unknown, but really, really old. Thought to have been cultivated by the ancient Romans in what is modern-day Cote Rotie in France, but also believed to have been discovered by ancient Greeks, hundreds of years before that.
What It Is: Regardless of when it was discovered, Syrah has been found to be the child of two ancient grapes, Dureza (red grape) & Mondeuse Blanche (white grape). With both hailing from the Rhone Valley in France, the realized lineage has settled some disputes about where the grape’s journey began. The grapes themselves have deep color with thick skins that allow them to grow best in warmer climates. However, they can also survive very well in cooler climates that present differing flavor profiles. Syrah has not strayed far from home, with France staying as its main growing region. Of course, its popularity has led it to grow worldwide, mostly in the United States (California, Oregon & Washington), Australia, Spain & Chile.
Traits: Again, a wine that can change based on the climate it grows in. Although the profiles can change, the experience is truly the difference, from start to finish. They typically both resemble black fruit (plum, boysenberry, black cherry), herbal notes (black pepper, sage, licorice), & oak (smoke, espresso, vanilla). The major change in style differs between what they call New & Old World Syrah. Because the grape has so much history, the style has changed over time. Old World Syrah often leans on the more acidic & earthy side, coming from European countries (where it began). New World Syrah focuses on more fruit-forward characteristics with spice on the finish, from countries with warmer climates like Australia, Chile, Argentina, or here, in the States. Regardless of climate, region, or growing patterns, Syrahs typically produce full-bodied wines with medium to high levels of both tannin & acidity, & a rich, purple color. Syrahs can last anywhere from 5-25 years depending on the quality. As far as food goes, this variety often pairs well with bold dishes like seasoned meats, soft & stinky cheeses, & meat-topped pizza.
Extra Notes: Syrah has been through a lot, & no one really knows where she sprouted from, but we’re so glad she did! Various red blends owe their life to her, especially the traditional GSM blend. But on her own, she really shows her true colors (Hint: They’re beautiful). Try a variety of Syrahs, blended or not. This is another variety that can be a bit intimidating, but is so worth it. Believe me, you’ll be having heart-to-hearts with her in no time.
*We currently do not offer any single-variety Syrahs in our Regular &/or Reserve Tastings, however, try these blends for something similar:
*Suggestions from Tasting Menus are constantly rotating & subject to change at any time.
What do you think? If you think that’s a lot, I hate to break it to you, but there are about 10,000 more to dive into if you’re going to hit them all. Luckily, you likely won’t have to. Although there are numerous amounts of grape varieties, the popular ones are well-known for a reason—They’re the best. Now, that’s a pretty blanket statement & one I don’t want you to quote me on because there are many lesser-known grapes that can make excellent wines, but I’m a newbie, too. I just say what I hear… or read. Regardless, if you see a wine with an unknown grape, try it! Many grapes are quickly going extinct & you may not get to try it again. & If that’s not the case, it’s an adventure on its own, so still try it. Remember, we’re all learning here. I hope I’m at least giving you things to think about, or research yourselves… Because one thing I’m learning for sure: Wine is fun!
Bailey Morris, Marketing/ Gift Shop