Part 1 of 2
There are many factors that affect the quality and price of a wine, these can vary from the grape variety used, the climate and weather of the location to the soil, the oak and the bottle ageing process. All of the factors mentioned will affect the taste of the wine, it’s why the same grape variety can taste completely different depending on where it has been grown and the process used to bottle and age the wine.
The grape variety will obviously have a major influence on the wine, different grape types have different levels of sugar, acidity and tannin, and particular vines are selected for their respective desirable characteristics, such as the flavour, a high yield or resistance to disease. However if you’ve had a Sauvignon Blanc from France and then compared it to a Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand, you’ll notice a complete variance in taste, this is due to the other factors coming into play.
One of the key variables is environment, last week I sampled a French Malbec alongside an Argentinian one and the flavours could not have been more different. In 1868 Professor Pouet introduced Malbec cuttings from Bordeaux to Argentina and it’s taken to its new home like a duck to water, the extra sunlight and fantastic soils giving it extra depth, flavour and vigour. Malbec is a sun-seeking soul, which basks in the sparking Argentinian sunshine. Malbec wines in Argentina are less tannic than their French equivalents and show more fruit and heat.
In order for a crop to grow, a healthy grape will need 5 things. Carbon dioxide, sunlight, water, warmth and nutrients. CO2 is obviously found in the air, but the other four are severely different from country to country and region to region. For example, Cabernet Sauvignon needs a lot of heat to ripen fully, meaning it’s a perfect grape variety for places like Australia, if the grapes don’t have enough heat to ripen the finished wine will taste rather sour and bitter and you won’t get any of those lovely black fruit flavours coming through. On the other hand a grape variety like Pinot Noir needs less heat, a cooler climate to ensure that it doesn’t over-ripen and lose it’s more subtle refreshing fruity flavours. If Pinot Noir is over-ripened, it will taste jammy and bland, and although jammy doesn’t sound bad, it’s not great to drink. Then you have Chardonnay, a variety that makes wines in either cool or hot climates. Green fruit and Citrus notes in cooler climates, melon and stone fruit flavours in moderate climates and more tropical fruits in warmer climates.
When I was first taking my wine qualification there was a general rule that we were taught:
Hot Climate = More alcohol, fuller body, more tannin, less acidity.
Cool Climate = Less alcohol, lighter body, less tannin, more acidity.
All of the above are natural variants that are hard to control. However the winemaker plays a massive part in the overall quality of the wine. There are several vineyard activities that winemakers do to ensure all grapes ripen fully at the same time. These include very careful and specific pruning, controlling the number of grape bunches on the vine. Some winemakers will even position the vine leaves to increase or decrease the amount of sunlight directly reaching the grapes. This is all very labour intensive and a process many large wine brands will skip. We work and support smaller winemakers so we can sell wine that has been made with the grapes cared for on a personal level, the result is a much better wine.
Yields will also affect the quality and the price. Lower yields will result in riper grapes with more concentrated flavours, but controlling the yield takes time and effort and money. The resulting crop is smaller, which often means the price of the wine is higher, however if you’re getting the fully ripened grapes with concentrated flavours, it’s well worth spending that little extra.
In next weeks blog post we’ll focus on other aspects that affect the quality and price of the wine. These will include the process of bottling and oak, as well as the maturation process with and without Oxygen and finally what aspects in the vineyard and winery affect the price of the wine you drink.