I understand that picking a wine can sometimes be pretty confusing. All these different languages, years, varieties, labels, price points and countries! Don’t stress, it’s just a bunch of grapes and their fermented juice from a bunch of different people from a bunch of different places……?!
Seriously though, making sense of it all can totally mean the difference between picking an OK wine and a REALLY good wine (for the right price included), helping you feel confident with your choices and more comfortable around that fancy wine list.
To begin, you simply need to understand the definitions behind the following three things;
- Variety of the grape
- Location it is grown
- Year it is made
Let me explain…..
- Variety refers to the type of grape. Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Shiraz are all a type of grape, in the same way you get different types of tomatoes, potatoes and apples -its that simple.
- Region next refers to the geographical area it is grown. In Australia, the Margaret River in WA and the Hunter Valley in NSW are both well known wine regions. Most importantly however it should be understood that both have very different climates and soil due to their location, which wine industry folk refer to as the ‘Terroir’ …a French word meaning ‘Character of the land’.
- Vintage then refers to the specific year on the label representing the year the grapes were harvested. Each year will of course be unique depending on the behaviour of the weather and environment, which is why some vintages are celebrated and others not so much. In fact premium wineries will often not release a vintage if the weather did not support a certain standard and ripening of the grape, meaning a year’s worth of work in the bin! Heart breaking but important with brand quality control. Finally, when you see NV on a bottle this stands for Non-Vintage, meaning the grapes are not from a particular year of harvest but an ongoing mix to see a more consistent style (most commonly seen with sparkling wine and champagne).
Simple right? OK so now based on these definitions the next most critical thing to understand is how the specific combination of these three factors should lead choice before the label design suckers you in! As it is how these factors connect that makes all the difference…………
To explain, Shiraz within a cool climate region will ripen the grape much more slowly than it would in warmer regions, resulting in a difference within the grapes juice concentration. Therefore warmer climate Shiraz will often turn out bold, rich and jammy as opposed to cooler climate Shiraz being more lean, deep and complex. Grapes such as Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay are pretty adaptable buggers, so they will often come from all sorts of climates just having very different styles and flavours.
It is important however to understand that some grapes just do not deal in certain climates, Pinot Noir is a total princess of a grape demanding a cooler climate to create that delicate, soft and complex style of red. Basically I would never buy a pinot from a warm climate producer, they should know better!
In short, understanding how the region dictates the style of the grape variety allows you to identify your preference and pick based on these rules.
To help, based on learnings from years working in the wine industry, I have summarized the Australian regions most acclaimed for producing world class versions of such varieties, and where a grape is suitable to multiple regions I have identified what the difference in flavours and styles will be. Click below for your very own printable wine picking matrix! I honestly believe if you follow this selection structure you can’t go wrong!
Oh and one more final thing before I go, if a label does not mention a specific wine region or has a general reference to say ‘Eastern Australia’, this often means it’s a cheap but cheerful mix of grapes from various vineyards or a region not well known for the variety, so just don’t pay much – not to say wines like this aren’t often nice and easy to drink, just don’t pay top dollar from an overpriced restaurant or bar, save it for the bottle shop (should be less than $15 per bottle).
Happy wine picking (and drinking!) – Jess x