Last week I went back to school – a school for grown-ups that is. I attended an introduction to wine tasting run by Yorkshire Wine School in the Radisson Hotel, Leeds. Considering that I work with wine, and consume a significant amount, I really know very little about how wine is actually produced and the significance of grape varieties and climates in different countries. Well I learnt more in 2 hours than I’ve learnt in years of drinking the stuff.
That’s thanks to Laura Kent who ran the event – she set up Yorkshire Wine School two years ago, with 15 years of experience in the wine industry, and now holds a variety of events around Leeds, York and further afield. Laura promises a fun and entertaining course in a relaxed and unpretentious atmosphere – which is just what we got, and we learnt a great deal too.
It all started with this question – which are the biggest wine producing countries in the world? Hmmm. There are the obvious European countries but which order, I wasn’t quite sure? So I pictured the supermarket shelf, usually selling countless bottles of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, or Australian or South African or Chilean or Argentinian wines – so surely they must be up there? Think again – these are the top 5 biggest wine producing countries in the world right now:
- Italy (approx. 50,000 hectare litres per year)
- France (extremely close behind Italy on production)
- Spain (approx. 40,000 hectare litres per year)
- USA (approx. 18,000 hectare litres per year – mostly Californian)
- China (I missed this, I wasn’t concentrating)
I won’t give you a full review of what I learnt – I don’t think Yorkshire Wine School would appreciate me giving everything away. Where’s the incentive to join a course then? But I wanted to share with you some of the things I found interesting.
- The 3 key impacts on wine are the climate, the grape variety and the wine making technique i.e. oaked or un-oaked
- The biggest wine producing regions generally sit between 30 – 50 degrees on both sides of the equator
- The desired conditions for growing grapes is a resting period of cooler weather for the vines to conserve energy, followed by a long, slow ripening period over spring and summer for the grapes to ripen.
- The sweetness or the acidity of the grapes is determined by the climate, as the sugar levels increase during the ripening stage and thus tend to be sweeter in very warm climates, and more acidic in cooler climates.
These are the six wines we sampled and a little bit about what I learnt:
Hunawhir Riesling, Alsace, 2012 (Latitude Wines, £10.99)
What did I learn? Riesling is traditionally associated with sweet wines, however this was dry with a sharp acidity to it – this is due to the grapes growing in a cooler climate in the North and not over ripening. This wine wasn’t to my taste as I usually prefer flavours that fall into the ‘tropical fruit’ family.
Tasting notes from Yorkshire Wine School: This wine is from France’s driest wine producing region. In the warmth of the Alsace sun the grapes become fully ripe with lovely soft citrusy notes. It is an elegant, clean wine with lemon fruit flavours and a slightly mineral-note of slate and stone. Nearly all Alsace wines are made dry and this one is no exception, typically high acidity with a long refreshing finish. Great with simple shellfish dishes or grilled herby chicken.
Montana Brancott Estate Sauvignon Blanc, New Zealand 2013 (Widely available) £7-£10
What did I learn? I happen to be a regular purchaser of this wine and it’s one of my trusty favourites. It contrasted with the sharpness of the previous wine because although it is still a dry wine, the more moderate climate enables the grapes to ripen more and become sweeter. It’s also packed full of tropical fruit flavours.
Tasting notes from Yorkshire Wine School: This is possibly the most popular white wine in the UK at the moment. Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc has taken off in a massive way in the last five years and you can see why. It has vibrant, lush, tropical aromas of passion fruit, green capsicum pepper, guava and gooseberry which make it very inviting. On the palate it is flavourful with citrus and herbaceous notes, an array of tropical fruit flavours which mirror the intensity of the aromas. Despite its very ripe, fruit driven qualities, it is actually a very dry, crisp wine which leaves you feeling refreshed; the balance of fruit flavour with a dry finish is one of the appealing characteristics of NZ Sauvignon Blanc. It is not a wine which requires food to match with it, but it works well with grilled goats’ cheese and roasted vegetables.
Glen Carlou Chardonnay, South Africa 2011 (Latitude Wines £11.99)
What did I learn? Due to the hot climate this is a sweeter wine and the high sugar level converts into a high alcohol content. It is an “oaked” wine which means the wine has matured in oak barrels, which adds a weight, viscosity and softness to the wine. This is a more costly way of producing wines, and so you will normally pay a higher price for wines produced using this technique.
Tasting notes from Yorkshire Wine School: A cracking example of Chardonnay made in a similar style to the wines of Burgundy. On the nose and on the palate there are plenty of examples of the influence of oak; aromas of buttered toast, pastry, vanilla cream or biscuits. On the palate you can taste the soft peachy fruit of the Chardonnay and feel the rich, creamy texture which is given to the wine by the oak ageing. Ideal wine to partner roast pork stuffed with apples or peaches, with all the trimmings!
Campo Viejo Rioja, Gran Reserva, 2005 (Widely available, £15)
What did I learn? Wines made in the Rioja region mainly use tempranillo grapes. There are 3 main types of Rioja to look out for;
Crianza – wines aged for at least 1 year in oak barrels
Reserva – aged for at least 3 years, which a minimum of 1 year in oak
Gran reserva – aged for at least 5 years with a minimum of 2 years in oak
Tasting notes from Yorkshire Wine School: The Spanish use the term ‘Reserva’ on a wine label to refer to a period of time, specified by law, spent maturing in oak. Gran Reserva Riojas have spent a minimum of 5 years ageing in bottles and in oak barrels and are therefore the most mature and oaky style of wine – the term does not imply quality per say, it is about maturity. In general only wines of the highest quality are considered worthy to mature in barrel for such a long period of time; but be aware – not everyone likes the mature, oaky style. The slightly brown tinge in the giveaway to the age of the wine, although in Gran Reserva terms this is still a relatively young wine. It has strong aromas of vanilla and chocolate from the oak ageing with a smooth, firm body. The tannins are strong but well integrated into the body of the wine – this process happens over time in the barrels. It is a complex blend of oak, spice, dried fruit and earthy savoury notes. A classic partner to lamb dishes.
Castello della Paneretta Chianti Classico Riserva, Italy, 2010 (Marks and Spencer, £13.99)
What did I learn? Chianti is an area of Tuscany from which Chianti is produced. The boundaries of what started as a very small wine region were extended over years to incorporate further growers stretching toward the coast and further inland – the result of this was that there became a great variation in the quality of Chianti, as growers located too close to the sea breeze or further inland where conditions were warmer, didn’t produce the optimum grapes that came from the original boundaries of Chianti. For this reason the Chianti Classico Wine Consortium was founded in 1924 to protect wine produced in the oldest and most genuine Chianti region – so keep an eye out for the Classico reference on your Chianti bottle!
Tasting notes from Yorkshire Wine School: The word Classico is defined by Italian wine law, meaning that the grapes are grown in a delimited area which has historically defined the superior vineyard areas. The main grape in Chianti is Sangiovese which can produce robust and structured wines. This quality example showcases the profile of tannin in red wine. It has a bristly, slightly fur-like quality in the mouth which off-sets the soft cherry fruit. On the nose there is the aroma of mature, vegetal, gamey fruit. Tannins react well to salt in food, so top quality Chianti is an excellent choice for hard cheeses and cured meats.
Tapiz Reserva Malbec, Argentina, 2012 (Latitude Wines, £10.99)
What did I learn? Not a great deal actually – I was too distracted with sampling the wine by this point and had just had a plate of cheese and meats presented in front of me. But I can tell you the Malbec was delightful – a very easy drinker and a crowd pleaser all round.
Tasting notes from Yorkshire Wine School: Big, bold and inky black in colour with heady aromas of violet, milk chocolate and bitter chocolate. On the palate there is plenty of clean, autumnal fruit backed up with a fine tannic structure and plenty of mocha spice from the small oak barrels. The wine has good acidity, but it is not as dominant in the wine as it is in the Chianti or even the Rioja; this Malbec has plenty of soft fruit such as blackberry or damson to balance the dryness. There is also a vanilla and liquorice spice which gives the finish a pleasant peppery note. Robust, but satisfyingly easy to drink and a great match with spicy beef empanadas.