Living in California

Living in California it is (perhaps deceptively) “easy” to determine the vintage, varietal and the producer of the wine as it seems to be straight forward. The variety is the type of grape that constitute the vast majority of the content of the wine (75-100%); the vintage is the year in which these grapes were harvested, and the producer is very often the winery that grew, fermented, aged and bottled the wine. We tend to view this process of vertical integration as typifying the industry both here and world wide.
However this model is clearly a gross oversimplification of the process as it occurs across the country and the world. The wines of France and Italy present a much more complicated picture. While the vintage of the product is straight forward, the taste of the same grape varietal can vary significantly from region to region producing a different wine even though the vintage and variety of grape are the same (e.g. the Semillon and Sauvignon grapes from the Graves district versus the same varietals from the Sauternes).
The wine “producer” is often a somewhat amorphous entity as the label on the bottle may simply reflect the brand name of the shipper who has blended wines from various vineyards, and from these disparate growers has marketed or produced the finished bottled product. The vintage of each specific variety can be from the same year but the wine from each may vary greatly in quality as the climate and local conditions of that same year could be favorable to one variety but not another.

The differences between red, white and rose’ wines is due to the differences in the grapes that they are constituted from and the manner in which they are fermented. Red wines are made from red grapes (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Zinfandel are typical red varietals grown in California).The fermenting process is such that the skins are left left in the “must” when channeled into the fermenting tank.
The skins remain in the tank throughout the fermenting process which can take one to two weeks or longer. This produces a full bodied, dry wine. Rose’ wines are made from red grapes however the skins are left in the fermenting must only briefly (12-24 hours).The fermenting process for rose’ wines is such that it is completed much earlier so that not all of the sugar has been converted to alcohol, thus producing a sweeter wine.
White wines are made from white varietals (Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Riesling, and Gewurztraminer being common examples). The skin of the grape is separated from the must before it enters the fermenter. White wines are typically more delicate in flavor than the reds. However they can vary from quite sweet to very dry.

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