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Types of Wine

Learning about wine types is a difficult subject, because wine is a product that is influenced by many variables, which results in a huge variety of types and qualities of wine.

Wine quality and flavour depends on:

  • soil (drainage, nutrients, water, chalky, sandy, stony, minerals, ...)
  • climate (topography, altitude, moisture, sunshine, ...),
  • grape varieties used (cabernet, pinot noir, merlot, semillon, ...
  • wine production method (vinification),
  • ageing, and finally
  • the winemaker.

Starting with identical grapes, in similar starting conditions, two winemakers will produce wines of differing qualities.

Classical Fine Wines

When talking about fine wines, even with the success of new world wines in modern times, classical fine wines are referenced back to the great traditions of France.

For French wines, these are normally classified by the region within France:

  • Bordeaux (red and white);
  • Burgundy (red and white);
  • Loire valley wines;
  • Rhone valley wines.

Bordeaux

The Bordeaux classification belongs to all the wines produced within the administrative area (département) of the Gironde river and its tributaries.

This consists of the Gironde estuary and valley and the confluence and valleys of the Dordogne and Garonne rivers. Included is the large town of Bordeaux and Entre-deux-Mers (literally, 'between two seas'), which is the large triangular spit of land that lies between the valleys of the Dordogne and Garonne rivers.

Many of the vineyards of this area are planted on the slopes of the valley sides where soil is well drained and sunlight abundant.

The valleys of these three rivers flow to the west and north-west. The banks slope therefore to the south, north and north east.

Facing downstream, the bank to the left of the Gironde has the prestiguous Médoc area that contains within, what many consider, the world's premier red wine types:

  • Margaux
  • St. Julien
  • Pauillac
  • St. Estèphe

Also included in this area is the fine 18th c. Chateau Beychevelle and Chateau Loudenne.

Red Bordeaux wine is usually blended from Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Malbec grapes. Frequently, the highest quality châteaux blends are 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Cabernet Franc and 15% Merlot. Merlot is found in higher proportion in the right bank Saint Emilion and Pomerol appelations.

The white Bordeaux wines are made from typiclly just two grapes, the Sémillon and Sauvignon Blanc. The most famous Sauternes, Château d'Yquem, is 80% Smillon and 20% Sauvignon Blanc.

Burgundy

The red Burgundies are made exclusively from the (capricious) Pinot Noir grape, which is another contrast with the Bordeaux, which are blended from several varietals. Finer, more delicate and elegant than the more powerful Bordeaux, the Burgundy classifications are more strongly defined by geography and soil type ('terroir'), than by the château, as they are for the Bordeaux.

The white Burgundies' grape is the Chardonnay, which is responsible for some great dry white wines round the world. Differences in flavour between the whites are attributed to the soils ('terroir').

Rhône

Rhône wines in the northern region, are famous for the Syrah grape, (in the new world known as Shiraz), with wines such St. Joseph and Hermitage. Whereas, in the southern Rhône, great wines such as Châteauneuf-du-Pape are made from Grenache grapes.

Other Fine Wines

The German wines are dominated by the important Riesling grape, together with the Alsace Gewürztraminer, Muscat and Pinot Gris that have moved around the world. Other fine wines around the world are made from grapes such as Nebbiolo from Piedmont in Barolo wine; Sangiovese from Tuscany found in Chianti Classico; Tempranillo from Rioja; Zinfandel from California, USA.

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