West O Bottle Shop and Bar - Comprehending Wine from the Old World
Love is expressed in countless minute ways. Romance, on the other hand, sometimes take a little forethought.
Sara Hambury, owner of West O Bottle Shop and Bar says this is the week people need to step it up.
The time-honored tradition of flowers, candles, food, and wine is just that, classic, honored and reveled throughout time, says Hambury.
Enjoying wine dates back several hundred, or even thousands of years, with the Phoenicians, Greeks, and Romans establishing some of the earliest vineyards. This is considered as “Old World” regions, unlike the “New World” of America, South America and Australia.
Hambury says Comprehending wine from the Old World, specifically France, Italy, Spain and Portugal, can be very daunting. Aside from the basic language barrier, the bottles most likely will not say what grapes are in them. It will tell you where its from, and then its up to you to know the rest.
According to Hambury, Old World wine is influenced by two things: geography and tradition.
In wine making, geography is explained as terroir, which is the environmental conditions, especially soil and climate, in which grapes are grown and that give a wine its unique flavor and aroma. These being the unique characteristics of a place that sets it apart from any other place on this earth. Terroir is sacred to Old World winemakers and its essence must be expressed in the final product.
Think of it this way: Oysters from Chinocoteague will always taste different than oysters from anywhere else, said Hambury. The tides, the mud and the salinity of the water ensure this.
Tradition refers to the centuries-old practices of specific wine making techniques in a region, what to plant, how to plant it, when to harvest and so on. Over time, these traditional practices were so ensconced in an area that they became regulated.
All of this being said, that is why wines from the Old World are labeled by region not grape variety.
As if this isn’t confusing enough, says Hambury, large regions of land are broken down into sub-regions and then, from there, into even smaller appelations. An appellation is a legally defined and protected geographical indication used to identify where the grapes for a wine were grown.
Four historically recognized wines are Champagne, Bordeaux, Chianti, and Rioja.
Champagne is sparkling wine from Northeast province of France. The Romans were the first to plant vineyards in this area, with the region being cultivated by the 5th century, or possibly even earlier.
Most people use the term Champagne as a generic term for sparkling wine, but in some countries, it is illegal to label any product Champagne unless it both comes from the Champagne region and is produced under the rules of the appellation.
Primarily, the grapes Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, and Chardonnay are used in the production of almost all Champagne.
The Bordeaux region, that produces France’s famous red Bordeaux wines, lies in the southern part of western France, on the Atlantic coast. Two rivers and a major Estuary run thru the region.
One of the most important things to know about Bordeaux wines is that they are a blend of grape varieties. The red Bordeaux Blend is one of the most copied around the world and it includes Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot
and Malbec (with tiny amount of Carménère). Of course, the proportion of the grapes in the blend will make a difference to the flavor.
Chianti is a large wine zone extending through much of Italy’s Tuscany region. The zone has eight districts. Chianti wines may use the name of the district where their grapes grow or the simpler appellation, Chianti, if their production does not qualify for a district name, (if grapes from two districts are blended, for example).
The district known as Chianti Classico is the heartland of the zone, the best area, and the one district whose wines are widely available. The only other Chianti district that comes close to rivaling Chianti Classico in quality is Chianti Rufina, whose wines are fairly available.
To be Chianti, it must be 80% Sangiovese. Chianti wines may contain wine grapes like Canaiolo, Colorino, Cabernet Sauvignon and even Merlot.
Rioja uses a system of qualifying their wines making it pretty easy to find what you like. One of the primary qualifications between the different styles is oak-aging.