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Are blends better than single varietal wines?

Are blends better than single varietal wines?

No, blends are not necessarily better than single varietal wines. Otherwise, all wines would be blends.

It is true that by blending different grape varieties together you can sometimes create a higher quality wine. Some of the great wines of the world are blends, such as Port, which typically has 5 or 6 different varieties blended together. A certain variety may bring depth of color, another stronger aromatic intensity, another tannic structure, and all combined there can be a myriad of different aromas and flavors that creates complexity – the Holy Grail in wine quality. Bordeaux, most Champagne, many of the Super-Tuscans and Sauternes are all examples of top quality blended wines.

But many of the world’s great wines are also made from one single variety. Fine red and white Burgundy, Barossa Shiraz, Sancerre, Napa Valley Cabernet, and Sonoma Zinfandel are all single varietal wines that are clearly outstanding examples of their type.

That said, in a certain sense, all wines are blends, even single varietal wines. A wine could be a blend of multiple vineyards of the same variety. Or a wine might be a blend of different clones of the same variety from a single vineyard. Even when blending the final wine from a single grape there will likely be significant differences amongst the various “lots” that a winemaker has to draw from. Different barrels produce different tasting wines.

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Alcohol degrees – How important is the alcohol degree on wine labels?

Alcohol degrees – How important is the alcohol degree on wine labels?

It’s very important. The alcohol degree is one of the key things I always look at on the label. When I was 19 my motives were different from today, and naturally back then I was looking for a low alcohol wine so I could still do my homework.

But today I look at the alcohol degree because it can tell you so much about what a wine will taste like. The more sugar there is in the grape at harvest, the higher the potential alcohol. So if the grape comes from a hot climate it will typically have become very ripe, and contain a large amount of sugar that can be turned into a lot of alcohol.

Conversely, if a grape was grown in a cool climate, or comes from a cooler vintage, then the amount of sugar will be much lower and the alcohol degree in the wine will be less.

So how does that change the taste of wine? A Chardonnay from a cool area, such as Chablis, will have less alcohol, less body, greener fruit flavors, and crisper acidity. Don’t forget that in the grape ripening process acidity comes down as sugar content builds.    

If you have a Chardonnay from a hotter climate, which will result in higher alcohol, there will be riper flavors in the wine. Also, there will typically be more body and a degree of sweetness, however subtle that may be. The high alcohol wine will also have a certain warmth on the palate, noted by the heat on your breath.

So if I see on the label that the alcohol degree is low to moderate (generally 12-13%) then I have an idea of the level of body, ripeness, sweetness, and acidity in the wine. If I see it is 14% or more then it should be a full bodied wine with riper flavors, some warmth from the alcohol and a touch of fruit sweetness.

Unfortunately you can’t try wine before you buy it. So you have to use everything you can on the label to get a general idea of how it might taste.

And yes, in my opinion, alcohol degrees are generally way too high for many red wines these days. Drinking a 15% + red is just too intoxicating and often there is a burn on the finish. I’m not a big fan. Moderation, my dear.

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A gift for a dinner host. Red or white?

A gift for a dinner host. Red or white?

I’d go for sparkling wine. It’s fun, thoughtful, and always a hit. You can buy Spanish Cava for under $20, or step up to a California sparkler made by a Champagne house for around $25. Then you’ll be the hero who brought over “the champagne”! Of course you could always bring the real thing, which is always appreciated and noted.

Otherwise, I’d say the safest bet is to go with white wine, mainly because most whites can be drunk without food and they often tend to complement starters. A Sancerre, a white Burgundy, a Sonoma Chardonnay, or something fairly classic is likely to be well-received. I’d be cautious about showing up with an obscure Greek white wine and then having to explain just how amazing it is. Might be, might not… so play it safe.

Obviously reds are an option. But who knows what’s on the menu. Again, I’d stick to classic regions and mainstream grapes. Save the Croatian vino for your own experimentation at home.

Another wine to consider buying would be a bottle of LBV Port, which cost between $20 and $35. A bottle of Port, some chocolate or Stilton cheese, and you just brought over dessert. To learn more about the wonderful world of wine take a course from us at www.FineVintageLtd.com

The more expensive the wine, the better?

The more expensive the wine, the better?

No, it is not true that quality always improves as the price goes up. I’ve had hundreds of wines in blind tastings that have come out ahead of their more expensive counterparts, and sometimes it’s quite shocking to see a big name come last in a flight. It’s equally shocking to see some of the major brands, which the wine trade loves to malign, come out at the top.

That said, as a general rule, you should see an increase in quality as the price goes up. A $30 bottle almost always does taste much better than a $15 bottle. But there is a law of diminishing returns. That’s to say that a $1000 bottle is not always exactly “ten times” better than a $100 bottle.

So where I question wine pricing is when you get into the stratosphere. Is a $3,500 bottle of DRC Montrachet really that much better than a $200 bottle of Grand Cru white Burgundy from another vineyard? It may be better quality, but the price difference isn’t warranted from a pure quality perspective. But you do get the pleasure of staring at a famous label and soaking up the mystique, and you feel special to be drinking something so expensive and rare.    

To learn more about the wonderful world of wine take a course from us at www.FineVintageLtd.com