Does Your Wine Show Grape Restraint?


It’s late at night and I’m sitting in my office drinking a very mediocre Argentinean Pinot Noir from the Patagonia region listening to the best of Bob Dylan.  Perhaps I subconsciously chose a sub-par wine to write with so I do not become distracted.  It sure doesn’t pair well with one of my favorite albums but its great music to write with and after all as Dylan said; “Businessmen they drink my wine, plow-men dig my earth”.

I love to get lost in contemplation of a worthy glass of wine.  It’s a journey, one that I hope you’ll join me in as we discover great wine together.  It has occurred to me in recent months that I view and share wine in a completely different way than I did a year ago.

As grapes change with every new season so do the things that are important for me to share with you about wine.  This is what I love most about wine, it is ever changing, it evolves and I can never know it all but with every sip I try to keep pace with it.

In this article I share with you a few thoughts that I consider to be important in understanding wine.  In decades past most wine attempted to emulate the most popular version of a certain wine varietal.  For example everyone wanted their Pinot Noir to be just like that from Burgundy or their Cabernet Sauvignon like the best Napa Valley Cabernet.

Photo by BigMick via FlickrThings are different today, so what is common place in today’s fast paced ever changing world of wine?  Let’s start with what the French refer to as Terroir or translated a sense of place.  Sense of place encompasses weather, elevation, slope location, surrounding biodynamic environment, grapevine strain a.k.a “clone”, and the geologic makeup of the ground below.

Viticulturists who are the grape farmers and winemakers both strive for quality of fruit and wine like those in other regions of day’s gone bye.  No longer are they attempting to have their wines impersonate any other, their goal is to produce the best fruit and wine possible harnessing all that sense of place, restraint, and balance offer.

What’s next is what’s not.  Restraint, that’s right todays best winemakers are practicing less is more.  Beginning with farming practices Organic and Bio-dynamic farming is becoming more common place in viticulture and as a result the fruit is not over developed nor full of chemicals.  During fermentation stages winemakers are working with more native yeasts which allow for wines that express a better sense of place.  Winemakers are striving for clean wines that exude balance through a hands off approach, not over manipulated.

Balance in wine makes reference to a wine that is equal in fruit, acid, and alcohol.  Gone are the days of wines showcasing overbearing fruit or alcohol exceeding a high 14 percent.  It just doesn’t work well with food and drunk by itself can be too big a wine exhibiting entirely too much fruit.

2014-03-06_1339When you consider different wine regions from around the world you cannot compare them.  A Pinot Noir from Burgundy is different from a Russian River Valley Pinot which is different from a Willamette Valley Oregon Pinot that is vastly different from a Napa Valley Pinot Noir in California.  To the point it is important to understand what a wine from a particular regions sense of place really is.  Only then are you able to equitably evaluate the quality of wines from particular areas.

Wines today are what I refer to as “stylistic” and it’s important to note that wines from various regions display very different nuances of aroma and flavor.  Discovering what you like in a wine and what region of the world it’s from is important to understand.  Establishing a basis and perspective of a given area allows you to more fairly evaluate wine varietals from that region.

When you become familiar with an area there are a few very important things to consider when tasting a wine; is the wine simple, so simple that it lacks depth or dimension?  Is the wine complex with layers of aroma when you smell it?  Does the wine offer multiple layers of flavor your palate when you taste it?

Wine that has been overly refined to the point it is so smooth that it has lost its character is a wine that a winemaker has had their way with.  Heavy handed and overly manipulated to the point that a wine exudes no character or personality, the wine has been rendered uninteresting, a real dullard.  The winemaker was not restrained and lost their way….

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