In keeping up with a feature I started on here in February I am trying to log a “term of the week.” It could be from anywhere, wine, beer or spirits. The hope is this will be a helpful feature making you all more and more familiar with the wide world of beverage alcohol. However I will be the first to admit this is not a unique idea. There are many blogs that have helpful definition sections, plus between apps and websites there are a copious number of ways in which you can get the definition you are seeking. But you came here. Plus the hope is I can provide definitions to terms you may not already know or have ever thought about. I also won’t be simply copying formal definitions from dictionary’s. I will try to provide descriptions that are helpful and easy to understand well also providing some insightful context. Enjoy.
Zinfandel: Here is a chance to clear the air and give credit to one of the worst oldest and most robust red wine grapes. Yes that’s right… Zinfandel is a huge, robust red wine. I’m not sure who created “Pink Zinfandel” and completely ruined the reputation of this grape, but that is NOT what Zinfandel is all about. Pink Zinfandel is an awful, sweet wine which tastes like juice. It not only ruined the reputation of a noble grape variety, but also the reputation of Rose wines everywhere. True Zin is a robust, hearty red wine. Loaded with tannin and stewed fruit flavour. It is huge in California accounting for over 10% of the total plantings in the region. I’m not personally a big fan of Zinfandel but those that like it are very loyal. So try a true Californian Zinfandel and see for yourself that Pink Zinfandel has no place in the world of premium wine.
Here’s a few to try:
Ravenswood Old Vine Zinfandel, 2009 – $19.95 – LCBO #942599
Clos Du Bois Zinfandel, 2009 – $19.95 – LCBO #38000
Gnarly Head Old Vine Zinfandel, 2010 – $16.95 – LCBO #678698
Chianti: Similar to the way wine is labelled in France the term Chianti seen on a wine label is a region… not a grape. Yes this is much different from the way we label wine in North America where you find straight labels of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, etc. Rarely will you find a term like “Beamsville Bench” displayed more prominently on the label then the grape variety. In the Old World (France, Italy, Spain) this is the norm and grape varieties are rarely shown anywhere on the label. In fact many are blends and without some form of wine education, or a lot of reading, you may never know the grapes used in these blends. So let’s take Chianti. It’s a region in Tuscany which is a large and prominent wine appellation in Italy. Chianti is made up primarily of the grape sangiovese to the point of some wines even using 100% sangiovese. In fact nowadays for a wine to be labelled “Chianti” it must include at least 80% sangiovese. Other grapes may make up the balance of the blend, including Canaiolo, Cab Sauv, Cab Franc etc, but sangiovese overwhelmingly dominates. So the next time you sit down with a beautiful Chianti Classico you may want to think is of it in North American terms and understand your drinking Sangiovese. However also understand it’s very wrong to call it that.
Residual Sweetness: This is a term used to describe the sweetness you will taste in a wine. To be precise it is the actual level of sugar (grams per 100ml) which remains in the finished product. Grapes contain sugar. Yeast is added which feasts on the sugar to create alcohol during fermentation. If there is excessive sugar in the grapes the yeast will die out before all the sugar is consumed, therefore leaving this residual sweetness in the wine. This happens with overly ripe grapes, frozen grapes, dried grapes, and for many other reasons. For the most part it is the intention of a winemaker to have residual sweetness in the style of wine they are making. In some cases, if permitted, winemakers will add artificial sweetness to create the final product. To the consumer a basic understanding of this is essential hence my writing about it today. More than just ice wine is made to be sweet and many styles of sweet wines are of premium quality and are sought after around the world. The majority of wine we see is dry meaning no residual sweetness, so the LCBO makes it easy on the consumer to distinguish the difference. When you read a wine label at the liquor store you see a number in the bottom corner. A ‘0’ indicates no residual sweetness, thus a dry wine. In increasing numbers from there sweetness is indicated. So if you buy a wine labelled ‘1’ expect some discernible sweetness and a wine labelled ‘7’ to have a fair bit. The Inniskillin late harvest Riesling for example is a ‘7’. Then it is also worth noting that they label wines with an ‘S’ which of course indicates sugar. Ice wine for example would typically get labelled an ‘S’. I do encourage you not to shy away from sweetness in wine, but it is good to understand what it is you are buying to ensure it’s what you want to buy. Then if you do decide to try a wine with some sweetness just be sure to drink it on the right occasion.
Here is the actual rating scale the LCBO uses. The number on the right is the LCBO number the range on the left is grams of sugar per 100ml.
0.00 to 0.49 – 0
0.50 to 1.49 – 1
1.50 to 2.49 – 2
2.50 to 3.49 – 3
3.50 to 4.50 – 4
4.50 to 5.49 – 5
5.50 to 6.49 – 6
6.50 to 7.49 – 7
7.50 to 8.49 – 8
8.50 to 9.49 – 9
9.50 to 10.49 – 10
Brandy: Did you know that the spirit Brandy is, in simple terms, just distilled wine? Well now you do. Of course there are many complexities in the production process which I won’t launch into here, but at the core all Brandy starts as base wine. For the most part the base wine wouldn’t be drinkable in the traditional sense, but it is made from grapes and is 100% a wine. Even the most premium of Brandy’s, which most consider to be Cognac, starts as a base wine. Cognac however has to be sourced using grapes from the Cognac region in France. But don’t be fooled it is still a Brandy, much like Champagne is just a type of sparkling wine from a specified region in France, or Scotch is just a type of Whisky produced in Scotland. Just think of it like this. Take a wine. Distill that wine. Bingo… Brandy. It doesn’t matter if you come from Spain (often called Brandy de Jerez), France (called Cognac or Armagnac), Italy (famously called Grappa or Pomace Brandy) or here at home where we do produce Ice Wine Brandy often made by blending brandy with various Ice Wines.
Follow me on Twitter: @towineman