Know Your Wine

Riesling

(Rees-ling)

Food-wine pairing:
dry versions go well with fish, chicken and pork
dishes.

Districts: the classic German grape of the Rhine and Mosel, riesling grows
in all wine districts. Germany’s great Rieslings are usually made slightly
sweet, with steely acidity for balance. Riesling from Alsace and the Eastern
USA is also excellent, though usually made in a different style, equally
aromatic but typically drier (not sweet). California Rieslings are much less successful, usually sweet and lacking in acidity for balance.


Typical taste in varietal wine: Riesling wines are much lighter than Chardonnay wines. The aromas generally include fresh apples. The riesling variety expresses itself very differently depending on the district and the winemaking. Rieslings should taste fresh. If they do, then they might also prove tastier and tastier as they age.
Gewürztraminer

(Gah-vurtz-tra-meener)

Food-wine pairing:
ideal for sipping and with Asian food, pork and
grilled sausages.

Districts: best-known in Alsace, Germany, the USA West Coast, and
New York.


Typical taste in varietal wine: fruity flavours with aromas of rose
petal, peach, lychee, and allspice. A Gewürztraminer often appears not as refreshing as other kinds of dry whites.
Chardonnay

(Shar-doe-nay)
Chardonnay was the most popular white grape through the 1990’s. It can be
made sparkling or still.

Food-wine pairing: it is a good choice for fish and chicken dishes.

Districts: chardonnay makes the principle white wine of Burgundy (France),
where it originated. Chardonnay is grown with success in most viticultural
areas under a variety of climatic conditions.


Typical taste in varietal wine: often wider-bodied (and more velvety) than other types of dry whites, with rich citrus (lemon, grapefruit) flavours. Fermenting in new oak barrels adds a buttery tone (vanilla, toast, coconut, toffee). Tasting a USD 15 Californian Chardonnay should give citrus fruit flavours, hints of melon, vanilla, some toasty character and some creaminess. Burgundy whites can taste very different.
Sauvignon blanc

(So-vee-nyon-Blah)

Food-wine pairing:
a versatile food wine for seafood, poultry, and
salads.

Districts:New Zealand produces some excellent Sauvignon Blancs. Some
Australian Sauvignon Blancs, grown in warmer areas, tends to be flat and lack
fruit qualities. Of French origin, sauvignon blanc is grown in the
Bordeaux district where it is blended with semillon. It is also grown
extensively in the upper Loire valley where it is made as a varietal wine.



Typical taste in varietal wine:generally lighter than Chardonnay — Sauvignon blanc normally shows a herbal character suggesting bell pepper or freshly mown grass. The dominating flavours range from sour green fruits of apple, pear and gooseberry through to tropical fruits of melon, mango and blackcurrant. Quality unoaked Sauvignon Blancs will display smokey qualities; they require bright aromas and a strong acid finish; they are best grown in cool climates.
Syrah

(Sah-ra or Shi-raz)
Shiraz or syrah are two names for the same variety. Europe vine growers and
winemakers only use the name syrah.

Food-wine pairing: meat (steak, beef, wild game, stews, etc.).

Districts: syrah excels in France’s Rhône Valley, California and Australia.



Typical taste in varietal wine:aromas and flavours of wild black-fruit
(such as blackcurrant), with overtones of black pepper spice and roasting meat. The abundance of fruit sensations is often complemented by warm alcohol and gripping tannins. Toffee notes if present come not from the fruit but from the wine having rested in oak barrels.

The shiraz variety gives hearty, spicy reds. While shiraz is used to produce many average wines it can produce some of the world’s finest, deepest, and darkest reds with intense flavours and excellent longevity. You’ll discover Syrahs of value and elegance by reading my reviews of French wines.
Merlot

(Mer-lo)

Easy to drink. Its softness has made it an "introducing" wine for new red-wine
drinkers

Food-wine pairing: any will do.

Districts: a key player in the Bordeaux blend, merlot is now also grown on
the US West Coast, Australia, and other countries.



Typical taste in varietal wine: black-cherry and herbal flavours are
typical. The texture is round but a middle palate gap is common.
Cabernet sauvignon

(Ka-ber-nay So-vee-nyon)

Widely accepted as one of the world’s best varieties. Cabernet sauvignon is
often blended with cabernet franc and merlot. It usually undergoes oak
treatment.

Food-wine pairing: best with simply prepared red meat.

Districts: cabernet sauvignon is planted wherever red wine grapes grow
except in the Northern fringes such as Germany. It is part of the great red
Médoc wines of France, and among the finest reds in Australia,
California and Chile.



Typical taste in varietal wine: full-bodied, but firm and gripping when young. With age, rich currant qualities change to that of pencil box. Bell pepper notes remain.

Vanilla notes if present come not from the fruit but from the oak treatment. They increase review ratings but may overwhelm the varietal taste.

Another article deals with the health benefits of polyphenols.
Pinot noir

(Pee-no Nwar)

One of the noblest red wine grapes — difficult to grow, rarely blended, with
no roughness.

Food-wine pairing: excellent with grilled salmon, chicken, lamb and
Japanese dishes.

Districts: makes the great reds of Burgundy in France, and good wines from
Austria, California, Oregon, and New Zealand.



Typical taste in varietal wine: very unlike Cabernet Sauvignon. The structure is delicate and fresh. The tannins are very soft; this is related to the low level of polyphenols. The aromatics are very fruity (cherry, strawberry, plum), often with notes of tea-leaf, damp earth, or worn leather.

Yet pinot noir is very transparent to the place where it is grown. The staggering range of wines produced makes it pointless to define which personality is the best expression of the variety.
Zinfandel

(Zin-fan-dell)
Perhaps the world’s most versatile wine grape, making everything from blush
wine (White Zinfandel), to rich, heavy reds.

Food-wine pairing: very much depends on the freshness/heaviness of
the wine; tomato-sauce pasta, pizza, and grilled and barbecued meats.

Districts: only found in California.



Typical taste in varietal wine: often a zesty flavor with berry and
pepper.
Sangiovese

(San-gee-oh-ve-zee)

Food-wine pairing: a good choice for Italian and other
Mediterranean-style cuisines.

Districts:sangiovese produces the Chiantis of Italy’s Tuscany region and,
of late, good wines from California.



Typical taste in varietal wine:the primary style is medium-bodied
with fresh berry and plum flavors.
Barbera

(Bar-bear-a)
Not as popular as Merlot but with similar attributes.

Food-wine pairing: barbera wines are versatile: they match many dishes,
including tomato sauces.

Districts: another classic red of Italian origin. Widespread in California.



Typical taste in varietal wine: juicy black cherry and plum fruit, a silky
texture.

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