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Varietal Research - Perfecting the vine

Grape Varieties

The original European vine has the Latin name vitis vinifera, which translates as the vine that makes wine. The vine has been as subject to careful selective breeding as any other major crop over the centuries, constantly evolving into differing varieties with different properties. Probably the first distinction made was between table grapes and grapes for making wine. It's not that these are vastly different; it's perfectly possible to make wine from table grapes, it's just that they don't make very good wine.

The original European vine has the Latin name vitis vinifera, which translates as the vine that makes wine. The vine has been as subject to careful selective breeding as any other major crop over the centuries, constantly evolving into differing varieties with different properties. Probably the first distinction made was between table grapes and grapes for making wine. It's not that these are vastly different; it's perfectly possible to make wine from table grapes, it's just that they don't make very good wine.

Because wines are increasingly marketed by grape variety - varietals - consumers are more au fait with them than ever before. It's possible to divide grape varieties into three groups; grapes like the Carignan, which imparts little distinctive flavour but mirrors its terroir; grapes like the Cabernet Sauvignon, which has a distinct flavour but yet takes much from its environment; and thirdly grapes like the Muscat, which is so distinctive in flavour that its wines vary little from place to place.

Apart from the particular variety the density of flavour achieved in the wine is very much a product of how the vines have been pruned. It's almost mathematical; five tons of grapes harvested from one acre will contain as much flavour as ten tons harvested from the same vineyard. It's as though there's only a certain amount of flavour to be got from the land and you can have it intensely in fewer grapes or faintly in a larger amount. It's also a mathematical certainty that wine made from low-yielding vines will cost more than wine made from high-yielding ones.

In many research establishments and universities around the world there's ongoing research into developing new varieties. These are rarely completely new, but are more often strains of vines such as Pinot Noir with differing properties, such as earlier or later ripening times, or differing degrees of colour imparted to its wine. While it might appear to a casual observer that the world's vineyards are being given over entirely to Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon, in many parts of the world a lot of energy is being devoted to long-neglected varieties with modern vinification techniques being applied to them.

In Germany there is continuing development of the Riesling, with red varieties already available. In California, at Davis, several important varieties have been developed, like the Carmine, which purports to make wine like the Cabernet Sauvignon, but with double the yield. In Italy, especially in the south, much work is being done with the Nero d'Avola and the Primitivo, a grape that is said to be the origin of the Zinfandel. Both of these varieties fall into the category of distinctive, but with local attributes.

Wine Suggestion

Spatburgunder Auslese Carl Erhard 1998

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