20 June 2008

This is about wine, not politics...yet

Making Sense of the Label

To put you in the proper mindset to understand wine, I pulled from my burgeoning wineshelf a random bottle to have a look at. The label on the front reads:

Cabernet Sauvignon
North Coast

And the back:

Vinted and bottled by Viansa Winery
Alcohol 15.0% by volume
and then a blah blah paragraph including "The 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon is a unique blend created by combining grapes from a number of different vineyards".

Quite a bit to be said about this smattering of information. Viansa is the name of the winery. An Italian sounding name and perhaps an Italian winery (it in fact is). As such, we would expect some wines made from Italian grape varietals such as Sangiovese, Barbera, and Primitivo. 2004 is the year the wine was made. Already a bit aged for a wine costing the relatively modest price of 21 dollars. Cabernet Sauvignon is the kind of grape which this wine is made primarily of. (By law, it must be at least 75% Cabernet Sauvignon when labeled that.) North Coast is where the grapes are from. This is an American Viticulture Area (AVA) which overlaps Sonoma and areas to the east and north. (To further complicate matters, as an AVA is listed, an additional restriction is placed on the "at least 75% Cabernet Sauvignon" rule, with the rule changing to 85%.)

The information on the back tells us that Viansa did the bottling of the wine. As it specifically says, "vinted and bottled by" the reader with some licensing knowledge will know that this designation holds that the bottler only subjected the wine to cellar treatment and then bottled the wine. Cellaring treatment includes processes such as refrigeration, fining, and filtering which in translation means that I squeezed the orange juice and you put it in the refrigerator, perhaps after having removed the pulp. This is in contrast to, for example, a wine labeled "produced and bottled by" which would mean that at least 75% of the wine was fermented and bottled by the company on the label (grapes not necessarily grown there though).
The 15.0% alcohol listed is rather high, though within the bounds of what we would expect from a California wine. In California with its relatively warm weather and a long growing season, the grapes are sweeter then what you would find in Europe. More sugar to ferment translates into higher alcohol content.
And the information that this is a blended wine from grapes from different vineyards is to be expected, as I point out below.

From these numerous pieces of information we can put together a greater story, which in the end corroborates the adage, you get what you pay for. From the price we know that this is neither a poor quality wine (or we would hope!) nor a wine I would cellar for 15 years to open on a special occasion. The brand Viansa is decent and does do higher end wines. The "2004" and "Cabernet Sauvignon" tells us little, though had it said 1994 we would assume or nearly assume it was something special. The general location of Northern Coast versus a more specific area, say Knights Valley, points towards more generic wine. The lack of "reserve" or "estate wine" somewhere on the label too points to this being more of a regular bottle. The Vinted and bottled too does the same. And the information that the grapes are from different vineyards comes as no surprise. Suppose my wine is advertised as being ranked in the top twelve at a recent wine competition; you can rest assured that it was ranked 11th or 12th. Had it been first, second, third, fifth, or tenth it would be labeled, first place, second place, top three, top five, top ten. As Norther Coast is the extent of the specificity we can again see that this bottle sits in the middle.

I'll post my tasting notes once I open this wine.

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