Wine can be more than a bit mystifying. It would be easy to conclude that the complicated layers wrapped around wine were put there intentionally, secreting away the joy of wine for some sort of epicurean secret society (or preserving job security for wine professionals). The truth is that the complex culture surrounding wine has come to us by a path of evolution and development. In fact, it would be more accurate to refer to the cultures (plural) of wine, as, indeed, wine has developed multiple identities depending on where (and when) it has become an established part of a regional heritage. Here in America, we have very little tradition in the way of wine (whether that is a blessing, a curse, or a bit of both depends on whom you ask). The same is not true for most of the remainder of the world.
This article is the first in a series intended to demystify the world of wine. Our aim is not to be exhaustive in our information, but rather to help the reader develop an ever-growing understanding of wine so that they may explore wine with greater confidence. There is a perpetual debate among wine educators as to where to start such a journey. Some insist that the journey should start with an understanding of growing and/or production methods. Others insist that the journey should start with familiarity with key grape varieties/varietals. Still others would insist on beginning the journey with key wine regions. We will be weaving together elements of all of these paths (and others) along our journey. Such is the complex nature of wine.
Our starting point will be an introduction to several key wine grapes which might be best referred to collectively as “international grapes,” as these grapes have established themselves as standard fare well outside their original homes. We will also explore some of the world’s most important wine growing regions as well as some key winemaking methods and fundamental viticultural concepts as a natural extension of these “international grapes.” Join us next week as we start our journey with cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay — two of the most familiar grapes in the world. You may be surprised by some of the things you learn about these two grapes . . .
Sláinte! (To your health!)
Terrell Abney, Certified Specialist of Wine (CSW), Society of Wine Educators
Wine Buyer at Corners Fine Wine & Spirits in Peachtree Corners, GA