Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Concepts in Understanding Wine: Location

In our previous post about the importance of not tasting blind, we briefly touched on the significance of knowing the region in which a wine was produced before tasting and assessing the wine. The location should give a taster clues regarding what to expect from the wine which should, in turn, help the taster review the wine in context.

We believe that a wine from Napa should taste like it is from Napa, a wine from Bordeaux should taste like it is from Bordeaux, and so on. Whether you are an educated wine consumer or at the mercy of a retail clerk or sommelier, you should have some inclination of what is going to be in a bottle of wine before you buy it and uncork it. Part of a wine's identity rests in its region of origin or else why would you decide to purchase wine from a specific region in the first place?

As an example, the climate in Napa is such that, generally speaking and in typical vintages, the Cabernets produced there are bold, full-bodied and full of ripe, rich fruit. Of course there are microclimates that cause discernible variations among the different sub-AVAs (American Viticulture Areas) and even some vineyard sites within Napa but by and large the sunny weather and long growing season help to produce wines with opulent fruit flavors.

If these typical characteristics are not evident in a Napa Valley Cabernet, a taster can conclude that, for instance, the wine is from an atypical vintage, the grapes were picked too early, or something is being done in the winery to adjust the style of wine. A wine that tastes wildly out of character for its particular region is probably fighting against the very factors that make it unique. Moreover, it is confusing to a consumer who expects wines from particular regions to adhere to the basic regional styles. This is not to say that all wine is made in a 'regional style' or that it should be. It is our job as professional wine critics to highlight the differences in wines and the reasons for those differences so that consumers can make a more educated buying decision based on what they know about their palate.

If you have tasted a number of Napa Cabs and enjoy their fruit forward and opulent style, it may be disappointing to you to taste a wine made out of the valley that is made in a very earthy, "Bordeaux style." Alternatively, if you are interested in branching out and trying different styles, it would be useful for you to know that not all Napa Cabs are made alike.

Location is just one of the pieces that make up a wine's unique character. In subsequent posts we will discuss vintage/weather and varietal character as well as winery and winemaker style in terms of evaluating wine and as a bigger part of the concept of not tasting blind.

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