The Grapes We Grow

Auxerrois | Chardonnay | Pinot Gris | Riesling | Gewürztraminer | Sauvignon Blanc | Pinot Noir | Merlot | Zweigelt | Cabernet Sauvignon | Syrah | Viognier

Auxerrois

-Another of the various clones of Pinot Noir, Auxerrois Blanc is a light white grape with qualities that range from neutrality to honey to asparagus, all dependent upon production method and oak aging. Not to be confused with Auxerrois Noir, a synonym for Malbec used in the Loire, or Auxerrois Gris, a synonym for Pinot Gris. Auxerrois Blanc is often blended with Pinot Gris and can be both dry and high in alcohol. Sometimes called Pinot Auxerrois.

Auxerrois Origins and Regions

Auxerrois is thought to have originated in Lorraine, rather than near Auxerre in the Yonne. Recent DNA fingerprinting suggests that it is a cross between Gouais blanc and Pinot noir, the same ancestry as Chardonnay. The name Auxerrois Blanc has actually been used as a synonym for Chardonnay in the Moselle region in France, which explains why there is also a longer name (Auxerrois Blanc de Laquenexy) for the grape variety.

Auxerrois Wines

The Auxerrois grapes are dense and rather small. The grape berries are spherical, with a golden color, a thin skin and a soft pulp. This type of grape is fairly vigorous and has a good precocity. It is well adapted to the northern vineyards and the calcareous soils.
It gives fruity wines, with good alcohol content and a low level of acidity. A wine with 100% of Auxerrois is recognizable by its spicy and soft character. It goes well with white meats, pies, fish in sauce, hot starters… It is an excellent wine for buffets and receptions.
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Chardonnay

-The Chardonnay grape is a delicate, sensitive, diminutive grape. It's expensive to produce, vulnerable to temperature variations and a veritable chameleon of flavors. It's a fairy princess with gossamer wings—hard to pin down but easy to recognize, distinctive and special.

Chardonnay Origins

Chardonnay grapes hail from the Burgundy area of France where their vines are the most numerous of all the varieties planted. They're the only grape permitted in the Chablis region and the Chardonnay grape is also the major varietal used in making Champagne. Chardonnay grapes are small, thin-skinned and fragile and therefore expensive to grow, harvest and age. They require warm climates with cool nights, although warmer regions have had success growing the vines as well. The temperamental grape is affected by climate and soil variations, so a wide range of flavors and aromas distinguish wines made from Chardonnay grapes.

Chardonnay Wines

Chardonnay's variations offer something for every palate, from the most sophisticated to the most pedestrian. A good Chardonnay is most often described as "buttery." It derives this characteristic from aging in oak barrels. Citrus and apple flavors are typical of chardonnays, although some also carry pineapple, mango, melon, pear, apricot and banana hints. The oak barrel aging can also impart a vanilla tone. The cooler climates in which Chardonnay grapes are grown account for the grape's contribution to the citrus taste and fruity flavors. Those grown in warmer climates can yield flavors redolent of honey or butterscotch.

Chardonnay Wine's Food Pairings

Chardonnay is a wine of delicate aromas and full-bodied but subtle flavors. Rich, heavy foods and tomato sauces tend to mask these characteristics and are not recommended for pairing with Chardonnay. Chardonnay wine's best companions are creamy sauces, poultry and seafood. Enjoy the buttery taste of a good Chardonnay with mild cheeses such as Gruyère or Provolone, or a crab cake appetizer. Oysters and salmon also pair well with the citrus flavors of a crisp Chardonnay.
Pork dishes and Caribbean cuisine do well with Chardonnay wines, because their flavors are distinctive without being overpowering.
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Pinot Gris

-Pinot Grigio is the Italian name for Pinot Gris, a French grape. Although it yields a fruity, dry white wine, Pinot Gris is actually a red grape, with skins ranging in color from bluish gray to brownish pink. It is an “early to market” wine, meaning that it can usually be bottled and sold within four to 12 weeks after fermentation. It goes well with seafood, light pasta, and cheese and cracker combinations. Soft cheese goes especially well with Pinot Gris wine - the crispness and acidity in the wine create a mouth-cleansing effect that complements soft cheeses perfectly.

History of Pinot Gris

Pinot Gris originated in the Burgundy region of France in the Middle Ages. By 1300, the vines had spread to Switzerland and were discovered growing in Germany in the 18th century. Pinot Gris was a popular wine grape in Burgundy and Champagne for several centuries; however, unreliable crops led the grape to lose favor in the 18th and 19th centuries. Germany was able to continue to produce Pinot Gris thanks to the early 20th century development of a clonal variety that allowed for a more reliable crop.

Basic Properties of Pinot Gris

Generally, Pinot Gris is a crisp, fruity dry white wine, with a delicate aroma hinting of honey, roses, nuts, orange rind and pine. Subtle differences exist in Pinot Gris from different regions: Oregon turns out a medium-bodied Pinot Gris with fruity aromas--usually pear, apple or melon. California versions are light-bodied and crisp with aromas of pepper and arugula. And Italian Pinot Grigio is a light-bodied, crisp and acidic wine. Color varies among different styles of Pinot Gris. For example, Italian Pinot Grigio tends to have a straw-yellow color, while Pinot Gris from Oregon has a copper-pink color.

Riesling

-Riesling grapes have been grown in their homeland of Germany since the 1400s or possibly even earlier. This versatile grape can be made into a variety of white wines including:
  • dry
  • semi-sweet
  • sparkling
  • sweet.
Riesling grapes are very terroir-expressive. This means that the individual region where Riesling grapes are grown has a strong influence on the character of the wines produced. Riesling wines have a long cellar life. Some Riesling have been reported to be enjoyable even after aging for over 100 years, and Rieslings are considered by many to be the best of all white wine grapes.

Riesling Aroma and Flavor

Riesling wines are strong and distinctive with a fruity, floral aroma. They balance high levels of residual sugar because they naturally contain a great deal of Tartaric acid. Here are some of the most prominent aroma and flavor elements of Riesling wines:
  • floral elements such as rose, violet or woodruff
  • mineral elements including flint, gunmetal and steel
  • petroleum notes such as diesel, kerosene and terpene
  • fruit flavors, including apple, apricot, peach and pear.

Riesling Wines and Petroleum Aroma

Petroleum notes are a unique characteristic of mature Riesling wines and have sometimes been a source of controversy. Factors likely to increase petroleum notes include:
  • high acid content
  • high sun exposure
  • ripe grapes with late harvest
  • water stress.

Noble Rot

Some of the most expensive and highly valued Riesling wines come from grapes that have been picked past their prime and have actually begun to rot. Discovered in the late 18th century, noble rot is produced by the fungus Botrytis cinerea. The fungus causes a great deal of water to evaporate from the grapes. The result is a wine with a richer flavor and more complex layers. The evaporation effect can also be produced by freezing these hardy grapes. Wine from frozen grapes is called icewine.

Enjoying Riesling Wine with Food

Riesling wines have an excellent balance of sugar and acidity. This means they can be enjoyed with strongly flavored cuisines such as Thai or Chinese food. Traditionally, Riesling wines are paired with pork, grilled or sautéed sausage and white fish. Late harvest Rieslings from evaporated grapes are often considered dessert wines to be enjoyed with sweets.
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Gewürztraminer

-Gewürztraminer is an aromatic wine grape variety, with a pink to red skin colour, and performs best in cooler climates. The variety has high natural sugar and the wines are white and usually off-dry, with a flamboyant bouquet of lychees. Indeed, Gewürztraminer and lychees share the same aroma compounds. Dry Gewürztraminers may also have aromas of roses, passion fruit and floral notes. It is not uncommon to notice some spritz (fine bubbles on the inside of the glass). It's sweetness may offset the spice in Asian cuisine. It goes well with cheese, and fleshy, fatty (oily) wild game. Smoked salmon is a particularly good match.

History

The name literally means "Spice Traminer” or "Perfumed Traminer".
The history of the Traminer family is complicated, and not helped by its rather unstable genome. The story starts with the ancient Traminer variety, a green-skinned grape that takes its name from the village of Tramin, located in South Tyrol, the German-speaking province in northern Italy.
At some point, either Traminer or Savagnin Blanc mutated into a form with pink-skinned berries, called Red Traminer or Savagnin Rose. Given that the wine made from 'Gewürztraminer' in Germany can be much less aromatic than that in Alsace, some of the German vines may well be misidentified Savagnin Rose. The Traminer is recorded in Tramin from ca. 1000 until the 16th century. It was spread down the Rhine to Alsace, by way of the Palatinate, where Gewürz (spice) was added to its name - presumably this was when one of the mutations happened. The longer name was first used in Alsace in 1870. More likely, an existing mutant was selected for grafting onto phylloxera-resistant rootstocks when the vineyards were replanted. In 1973 the name Traminer was discontinued in Alsace.

Sauvignon Blanc

-Sauvignon Blanc is a white wine grape variety whose spiritual home is western France, but which has successfully made its way into emerging and established wine regions all over the world. While the grape might be more readily associated with the Loire Valley (for its pivotal role in Sancerre and Pouilly-Fume), it is more likely to have originated from Bordeaux, where it was typically blended with Semillon – as it still is today.
The late 20th century, however, saw the emergence of a new wine region vying for status as the Sauvignon Blanc region: Marlborough, in the South Island of New Zealand. The rapid development of the Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc phenomenon constitues one of the most dramatic changes ever seen in the wine world. The intense and readily accessible flavors offered by a classic Marlborough 'Savvy' (as it is informally known in that part of the world) have captured a vast market across the world, from the United States and Canada to the UK and northern Europe, Australia and Japan. In 2011, Marlborough produced roughly 65% of New Zealand's total wine output, and 75% of that was Sauvignon Blanc.

Basic Properties of Sauvignon Blanc

The varietal identity of Sauvignon Blanc is typically similar to grass, bell-pepper, or grapefruit in nature. New Zealanders liken it to "gooseberry", but that is not a familiar smell or flavor to most Americans. The level of pyrazine, a compound naturally-occuring in Sauvignon Blanc, influences whether its varietal character is mild or intense. Quite often, Sauvignon Blanc can pick up an aggressive "catbox" odor if the grapes either lack sun exposure or are harvested underripe, but viticulturalists generally did not discover this relationship until near the end of the first millennium.

Pinot Noir

-Pinot Noir has enjoyed a faithful following for quite a while, but the 2004 Hollywood production, "Sideways" flung its popularity to dizzying heights in mere days. Apparently, the movie has three stars: a wine aficionado played by Paul Giamatti, a love interest played by Virginia Madsen and the divine Pinot Noir that, alas, lacks a fitting Oscar category. Like the protagonists in the movie, many wine lovers see Pinot Noir as a wonderful accompaniment to a wide range of foods as well as a sensual addition to a romantic evening.

The History of Pinot Noir Grapes

The grapes used for Pinot Noir wine are among the oldest in the world. These vineyards have been cultivated since the first century AD by the Romans. At that time, the Romans called Pinot Noir "Helvenacia Minor". As time went on, Catholic monks took over the vineyards. They began growing the grapes for wine for the Pope and religious sacraments. However, during the French Revolution seized vineyards were property of independent owners in the Burgundy region of France.

Characteristics of Pinot Noir Wine

TPinot noir wine is a deep red color. It is full-bodied but not as heavy as many other full bodied wines. You will find that this wine is fruity and light with every sip you take. The texture is velvety and leaves you with a pleasant lingering aftertaste. It releases aromas of black cherry, red berry and raspberry. Pinot Noir wine low in acidity, making it an excellent accompaniment to many meals because it doesn't overpower flavors in the food. It's especially recommended for lovers of French cuisine. Pinot Noir wine also goes well with pork, fish (salmon, shark), and chicken prepared in many different ways. Dishes with mushrooms tend to bring out the flavors of this wine.

Varieties of Pinot Noir Wine

Due to the large production of Pinot Noir grapes all across the world, many varieties of Pinot Noir wine are now available for a reasonable price. If you are looking for this wine in the United States, try La Crema Pinot. This variety of Pinot Noir wine from the Sonoma Coast of California has been produced since 1979. Clouds Rest Pinot Noir is another offering from the Sonoma Coast. The name is probably a testament to the hilly, higher altitude terrain on which their vines grow, blanketed by the clouds that blow in from the sea. The volcanic ash on the hillside combined with salty ocean breezes contributes to their Pinot Noir's unique terroir.
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Merlot

-Merlot is the second most widely-planted black wine grape in the world. Most major wine-producing country have Merlot vineyards. Because merlot ripens at least a week earlier than either cabernet variety, it is "vineyard insurance" where rains are a factor at harvest. The best quality merlot grows in rocky, arid ground, but is fairly adaptable and grows better than the cabernets in clay-based soils, even in damp, cool climates. Since merlot both buds and flowers early, growers' main worry is susceptibility to shatter or coulure, brought about by frost, rain, or early heat waves in the Spring. The berry of merlot is relatively thin-skinned and somewhat prone to rot.

Traits of Merlot

While its flavor profile is similar to Cabernet Sauvignon2, Merlot tends to be less distinctive and slightly more herbaceous overall in both aroma and taste. Ripeness seems critical; both under ripe and overripe grapes lean away from fruit and towards herbaceousness. Merlot has slightly lower natural acidity than Cabernet and generally less astringency, therefore usually a more lush mouth-feel.

Growinng Merlot

Merlot is moderately vigorous in vine growth, but must sometimes be reined in from setting too large of a crop by judicious pruning, often followed weeks later by cluster thinning. Merlot on fertile soil may produce eight tons per acre, but best fruit quality is gained if the crop is kept at six tons per acre or less. Merlot's tendencies towards both shatter and over-cropping are paradoxical. Careful selection of both clone and site can avoid this problem, as shatter is more serious in colder climates.

Food Parings

Some of the major flavors you will experience when drinking Merlot are typically blackberry, plum, oak, smokey, toast, black pepper, and sometimes chocolate. This medium to full-bodied wine, with a slight purple color, tends to pair well with medium-body dishes. Some of the best meats to pair with Merlot would be pork and beef. With a red meat like beef, the dishes you could make are endless; hamburgers, meatballs, meatloaf, and etc. One of the most popular food pairings with Merlot has to be steak. Steak is the perfect type of red meat to pair with your wine. A high quality bottle of Merlot and a medium-rare steak can really make your night enjoyable. Merlot also pairs well with hearty, red sauce pastas. Spaghetti and meatballs would work well with a Merlot.
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Zweigelt

-The creation of the Zweigelt variety in the 1920's by Professor Fritz Zweigelt, a crossing between Blaufränkisch and St. Laurent, only really gained recognition after the Second World War. Its measureable success was really thanks to the wine pioneer Professor Lenz Moser, who planted out the variety on a grand scale and also openly recommended it. Nowadays, it is the most widespread red wine variety in Austria, and can be found in suitable sites in all wine-producing regions. The spectrum of Zweigelt as a varietal is wide, ranging from easy drinking, unoaked wines to rich and full-bodied single vineyard wines aged in small oak barrels. As a blending partner, it pairs well with its parent varieties Blaufränkisch and St. Laurent, as well as Cabernet & Co.

Traits of Zweigelt

The fruity, traditional style of Zweigelt displays charm with pronounced cherry aromas, a mellow palate and delicate spice. The opulent internationally produced Zweigelt is recognisable by sour cherry and berry aromas, deeply set fruit and more tannin, complexity and a harmonious structure. Talented winemakers with old Zweigelt vines in the wine regions of Carnuntum and eastern parts of Neusiedlersee have made outstanding wines from the variety.
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Cabernet Sauvignon

-Cabernet Sauvignon is the world''s most loved red wine. It is nicknamed 'the king of red wine grapes,' and often paired with other reds, including merlot and shiraz. Admirers of the wine affectionately refer to it simply as cab' or 'cab sauv.' In addition to worldwide fame, Cabernet sauvignon wine is the most popular red wine made in California. It is fairly easy to pronounce (Cah-bur-nay Saw-vee-nyonh) and is a very popular red wine served in restaurants.
On the vine, the cabernet sauvignon grape is hardy with thick bluish black skin. This thick skin contributes to the grapes notoriously high tannin levels, which soften and smooth with aging. Wine producers are also fond of this particular grape because it can withstand rainfall and is resistant to disease.

Cabernet Sauvignon Flavors

Pyrazine, symmetrical molecules found in cabernet sauvignon grapes, contribute to its notorious bell pepper aroma. These molecules are more prevalent, and hence the flavor is stronger, in under-ripened cabernet sauvignon grapes. This flavor is not considered a fault, but not all consumers desire it. Critics may describe a strong bell pepper odor as 'weedy.' Other noted aromas present in cabernet sauvignon wine include:
  • black currant
  • eucalyptus
  • mint
  • tobacco.
Cabernet Sauvignon also has fruit flavors present, including blackberry, blueberry, raspberry, plum and dried fruit essences.

Aging Cabernet Sauvignon

Cabernet sauvignon is known as a consistent wine for aging, and almost always improves over time. The wine can be aged up to 10-15 years. With aging the black currant aroma can develop additional aromatic hints of:
  • cedar
  • cigar box
  • leather
  • violet.

Cabernet Sauvignon History

The grape originates from the Bordeaux region of southwest France and is known to be the result of breeding a cabernet franc and sauvignon blanc grape. Historically, these two types of grapes were grown in neighboring vineyards and the cabernet sauvignon grape has been produced for several centuries. Due to its tolerance to many different climate types and soil types, the grape is grown in almost all wine producing countries.

Food Parings

A few decades ago, cabernet sauvignon replaced burgundy as the generic term for red wine. In restaurants, Copperidge cabernet sauvignon is served as a popular brand of house red wine. This delightful yet inexpensive choice is almost impossible to find in stores, due to a marketing deal between its producer and restaurants. The bold flavored cabernet sauvignon is often matched with strong flavored foods like: chocolate
  • filet mignon
  • grilled steak
  • lamb chops
  • strong flavored cheeses

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Syrah

-Syrah is the primary (sometimes sole) grape variety used to make the famous Rhône wines of Côte Rotie and Hermitage and in fact also forms the backbone structure of most Rhône blends, including Chateauneuf du Pape. Although the popularity of Syrah has grown, it has not yet reached the levels of acceptance for Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot, in spite of frequent industry predictions of Syrah being the next big thing. Although cultivated since antiquity, competing claims to the origin of this variety have it either being transplanted from Persia, near the similarly-titled city of Shiraz or to being a native vine of France. Starting in 1998, combined research of the University of California at Davis and the French National Agronomy Archives in Montpellier proved syrah is indeed indigenous to France. DNA profiling proved syrah to be a genetic cross of two relatively obscure grapes, the white mondeuse blanc and the black dureza.

Growing Syrah

Syrah vines are relatively productive, yet not too vigorous. Like Merlot, it is sensitive to coulure, and although Syrah buds fairly late, it is a mid-season ripener. Syrah requires heat to get fully ripe, but can lose varietal character when even slightly overripe. The berry is thick-skinned and dark, almost black.

Traits of Syrah

Syrah forms intense wines, with deep violet, nearly black color, chewy texture and richness, and often alcoholic strength, with aromas that tend to be more spicy than fruity. Although many New World producers make stand-alone bottlings, Syrah often provides color, richness, and tannin to Rhône-styled blends with Grenache, Mourvédre, and, as more plantings become available, Counoise and Cinsault.
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Viognier

ViognierViognier seemed literally an endangered variety only a few years ago, but seems to be recovering worldwide in both popularity and acreage. The major drawback of the viognier grape is that it is a very shy producer and somewhat difficult to grow. Although drought tolerant, it is easily infected with powdery mildew in damp conditions or humid climates. Like many other varietals, viognier must be harvested at its peak of maturity in order to display its unique aroma and flavor character. The grape's tendency to develop high sugar but low acid can result in wines with neutral, merely vinous flavors and high alcohol.

Growing Viognier

Probably the main attraction of Viognier is its potentially powerful, rich, and complex aroma that often seems like overripe apricots mixed with orange blossoms or acacia. With as distinctive and sweet an aroma-flavor profile as Gewürztraminer, Viognier is nevertheless usually made in a dry style and seems to appeal more to the typical Chardonnay drinker. The distinctive Viognier perfume holds up even when blended with a large portion of other grapes. The fruit usually has very deep color, but is somewhat low in acidity.

Traits of Viognier

The main attraction of Viognier is its powerful, rich, and complex aroma that often seems like overripe apricots mixed with orange blossoms or acacia. With as distinctive and sweet an aroma-flavor profile as Gewürztraminer, Viognier is nevertheless usually made in a dry style. The distinctive Viognier perfume holds up even when blended with a large portion of other grapes. The fruit usually has very deep colour. There are also ate-harvest and dessert versions made that can be as headily-intriguing as the finest Sauternes.
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