Question from Lindsay: Everytime I go to the store to buy wine for a gift or a party, I’m overwhelmed by the choices. I know there are Merlots, Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, and a few other types, but I have absolutely no idea what the difference between all of them are. To me, they are all red. Can you give a brief overview of the general differences.
Reply: Hi, Lindsay. Thanks for writing! This is another good question that lots of other people have. A few weeks ago I decided to write about a different grape variety every week, so soon there will be fairly detailed info on the most popular varieties available on the blog. Just do a search by variety. In the meantime, a broad-brush stroke for these reds is a great idea and will be this week’s grape(s) of the week 😉
Characteristics vary, a little or a lot, depending upon where the wine is grown and how it was made.
Weight: Full bodied – big – substantial. And deeply colored. If you’re not sure what I mean by weight, you might compare it to the way milk feels on your palate: Light bodied = skim milk; Medium bodied = whole milk; Full-bodied = cream.
Flavor profile: Black fruit such as blackberry, black cherry, black currant; it may show earth, cedar, bell pepper, green olive or any number of other descriptors, depending, again, on where it’s grown and how the wine is made. When the winemaker chooses new barrels for aging the wood may add vanilla, spice, smoke, grilled bread, mocha, nutty character or a sense of toastiness.
Pucker factor (Tannin): Very noticeable. Tannin runs around your mouth seeking out protein and then clings to it. That’s what accounts for the drying, gripping sensation. Cab has thick skins and the skins are the source of the color and most of the tannin.
Merlot: If you sometimes think you’re drinking Merlot and it turns out to be a Cab – or vice versa – there’s a good reason. These grapes are similar. Take Cabernet back a notch and it begins to look more like Merlot.
Weight: Medium to full bodied
Flavor profile: Merlot often shows red fruit intermingled with black: Currant, black cherry, plum, violet, herb-like, earthy; Oak will add some of the woody characteristics described for the Cab.
Pucker factor: Usually noticeable, but softer than Cab. Merlot can leave a fleshy impression where Cabernet comes off as more structured. Continue reading →
I hope you like this idea. I’ll do a post on a different variety every week, which means after awhile we’ll be looking at some varieties that aren’t so familiar – could be a lot of fun!
I want to start with the undisputed King of Grapes here in Napa Valley – Cabernet Sauvignon. Here goes:
Cabernet Sauvignon – AKA: Cabernet, Cab Sav, Cab, Petite Cabernet, Vidure, Petite-Vidure, Bouche, Petite-Bouche, Bouchet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Rouge, Burdeos Tintos (these last several arcane synonyms courtesy of the UC Davis website.)
Like all the other varieties, this grape appears in many guises, depending upon where it’s grown and the winemaking techniques employed. But, overall, you can expect this grape to produce a substantial, deeply colored red wine that’s noticeably tannic and very rich in black fruit flavors: blackberry, black cherry, black currant; plus it may show earth, cedar, bell pepper, green olive or any number of other descriptors, depending, again, on where it’s grown and how the wine is made. When the winemaker chooses new barrels for aging the wood may add vanilla, spice, smoke, grilled bread, mocha, nutty character or a sense of toastiness (see more on this in “Notes from the Tasting,” below). And since tannin comes from the grape skins, and the Cabernet grape has thick skin, you’ll come to expect firm tannins from your Cab, which can help make it age worthy, in varying degrees. Continue reading →
Question from Steve: Am I the only one that finds it hard to tell the difference between Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon? How do I tell them apart?
Reply: Hi, Steve. I think it’s confusing for a lot of people and I salute you for being the one with the courage to ask the question. BTW, what is it about wine that makes everyone feel like there’s something wrong with them if they don’t know everything about wine? A <a href=" http://www.mastersofwine.org/” target=”_blank”>Master of Wine once said something that really rings true: “No on can master wine. There’s too much to know.” So, no need to feel insecure, right?
The truth is that Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon make wines that taste quite similar, as most winemakers will tell you. Both varieties come from the Bordeaux region of France, where they’re traditionally blended together.
In fact, Merlot is the most widely planted variety in Bordeaux which is probably because it ripens early than Cabernet Sauvignon. If the late-ripening Cabernet gets rained out, early-ripening Merlot can save the vintage. Continue reading →
Question from Georgia: Hi! I just bought a bottle of Cabernet and on the back of the bottle it says it was made of “clone 337”. What does that mean? It sounds wierd.
Reply: Hi, Georgia. Thanks for writing! I don’t get this question too often.
They’re trying to tell you that they used one of the most popular clones of Cabernet for the moment, at least.
A clone is kind of like a variety within a variety. Everything that lives mutates and scientists isolate and then propapagate clones of varieties with desirable characteristics like disease resistance or flavor attributes. The reason it’s considered a clone and not another variety is that the DNA is the same. So, on paper, it’s the same thing but in reality it may look different.
Clone 337 of Cabernet is a Bordeaux clone that produces small grapes within the cluster. The increased skin to juice ratio ramps up flavor intensity. Many winemakers like to plant more than one clone of a single variety, like Cabernet, to give the wine added complexity.
I hope that helps! Please don’t hesitate to write in with more questions. Cheers!