Did you recently taste some new or unique fruits, or try a new grape varietal? Small steps make all the difference when it comes to expanding your wine palate.
Let’s begin by exploringing certain wine regions and consider why wines from that region have certain taste profiles. I’ll give you a few wine tasting tips and ideas on what to look for in a wine. Then I’ll recommend wines from those regions so you can play along, too.
For your first sip: a chardonnay. Almost every wine drinker has tasted a chardonnay in their time, but why does a chardonnay from the Burgundy region of France taste different than a California chardonnay? Climate plays the big factor here. Being farther north, Burgundy is a cooler climate and will produce fruit that is not as ripe as the grapes in California. Burgundy displays a tarter fruit profile (lemons, limes and green apples), as opposed to California’s warmer climate for riper fruits (peaches, pineapple and melons). Cooler climates produce less ripe fruit, thus less sugar and less alcohol with higher acidity and lighter body in their wines.
Have you ever heard anyone say, Oh, I don’t like chardonnay. Maybe they have only tried bigger, fruitier chardonnays from California that taste very different than a chardonnay from Burgundy—or vice versa. It’s not a matter of which wine is better or correct; it’s a matter of personal preference.
The term Burgundy refers to both a wine region and a type of wine. It is simple, but complex: If a wine is white burgundy, it is made from chardonnay grapes (with just a few exceptions). If it is red, the wine is made from Pinot Noir grapes (again, a few exceptions). Here is where it gets complex. Regions, appellations and vineyards identify wines from broader to smaller. Vineyards in Burgundy are further classified to identify the top vineyards with designations such as ‘Premier Cru’ and ‘Grand Cru.’ The better vineyards command higher prices, as typically they produce higher-quality wines.
What makes some vineyards better than others? The best vineyard sites produce higher-quality wines due to climate, soils and wine production techniques, or by the commonly used French term ‘terroir’ which encompasses all of these factors. The French have been making wines for more than a thousand years and have figured the best vineyard sites, awarding them with varying status levels. ‘Grand Cru’ is the highest status level of classification for wines from Burgundy.
What does this all mean to a budding wine enthusiast? It’s important to learn about the wine regions and appellations. For Burgundy lovers more specifically, the vineyards and the owners/producers play an important role when it comes to quality.
If you enjoy wine from a certain country or region, my first suggestion is to get a wine book that interests you and start reading about it. A good one to start with is The Wine Bible by Karen McNeil. It’s a resource I recommend to anyone who shows interest in learning more about wine.
TASTING TIP: How can you easily evaluate the level of acidity of a wine? Taste the wine, and after you have swallowed, determine how long it takes for your mouth to salivate. The quicker you salivate, the higher the acidity.
WINE RECOMMENDATION: Try a Macon Villages from Burgundy, France and a California chardonnay from any region; the differences should be apparent. With two bottles to compare, it’s a great opportunity to invite some friends over to take part in the experiment. Look at the colors, smell and taste the wines, celebrate the differences.
Stanley Browne is a Certified Sommelier through the Court of Master Sommeliers, a Certified Specialist of Wine by the Society of Wine Educators, and the owner of Robust Wine Bar in Webster Groves. He is a 30-year veteran of the restaurant, hospitality and wine industry.