Category Archives: Weekly Wine Defined

Wine Defined – Shoot Thinning

A recent email from Perennial Vintners‘ Vineyard Manager Mike Lempriere, says “the next job in grape growing has begun – it’s time to do shoot thinning.”

Shoot thinning’s goal is to reduce the density of the leaf canopy later on.  Right now it’s easy to tell which shoots bear fruit and which grow leaves. This helps improve wine quality becauase the vine’s energy is more concentrated in the fruit bearing vines.

Shoot thinning is easy to do by hand right now, you just have to know which shoots to snap off the vine. As the weeks go by, the new shoots become stronger and woody and difficult to do by hand. If it reaches that point, a pruning shears and more labor are needed to get the job done.

If you want to learn about this task, Mike is looking for a few volunteers in the next week or two. You can schedule a time by contacting Mike via the website

Weekly Wine Defined – Macabeo

This is a white grape variety widely planted (32,000 hectares) in Spain. If you’ve ever had a Cava from Catalonia, you’ve had Macabeo (traditionally blended with Xarel·lo and Parellada).   2_18876750_2

Macabeo is also the main grape in a white Rioja, where it goes by the name of Viura. Its natural acidity makes it a good candidate for the required extended ageing in Reserva and Gran Reserva wines. It is also found in the Valencia, Yecla and Jumilla regions of Spain.

In France, Maccabeu’s use is limited to the Languedoc-Roussillon region of southern France where production has pushed it into eighth place in the most widely planted grape varieties of that country.

For the most part, Macabeo makes a crisp little white for early consumption. Macabeo can be crisp with citrus and floral highlights when picked early on and fermented and aged in stainless steel, but when harvested later and aged in oak, it takes on a heavier weight with honey and almond flavors. In Roussillon, late picked Macabeo is made into a vin doux naturel or fortified dessert wine.

It’s a favorite blending grape in both Spain and France. In Rioja, a small amount is allowed to be blended with Tempranillo and Garnacha. It’s popular in Rioja because the grape has high level of the antioxidant resveratrol. This is important where barrel ageing for six or more years is required for Reserva and Gran Reserva wines.

Table Wine

Any wine that doesn’t sparkle and isn’t fortified, is a table wine. The ATF says these wines will also be between 7% and 14% alcohol.
Table wine can also refer to that wine that is your good, everyday, well, table wine.
In the European Union, table wine was the quality category below quality wines or Quality Wines Produced in Specified Regions (QWPSR) such as the French AOC and the Italian DOCG wines. Both of these terms were eliminated in 2009.
Now most European wines that were labeled as table wines are just labeled “Wine.” A step up from there would be wines with the Protected Geographical Indication (PGI).

Weekly Wine Defined – Chateauneuf du Pape

This is the most important and well-known appellation of the southern Rhone.

Thirteen different grape varieties are permitted in any southern Rhone wine region whether Chateauneuf du Pape, Gigondas, Vacqueyas, or Cotes de Ventoux. But in practice it will be mostly Grenache with Syrah, Cinsault, Mourvedre and perhaps a touch of Viognier.

The place name literally translates to Pope’s new castle. In the 14th century, Pope Clement, former Archbishop of Bordeaux, relocated the papal court to Avignon, France.

Estate bottled wines are entitled to be marketed in a bottle which is embossed with the papal coat of arms featuring a mitre and crossed keys.

Weekly Wine Defined – IGP

But, but… Isn’t it supposed to be IGT? I recently bought an Italian wine with IGP on the label and wondered if it was a typo.
We’ve all seen the IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipica) on Italian labels for many years; it’s the designation for wines that don’t meet the stricter requirements of DOC or DOCG designations. So, it could be anything from a Super Tuscan to a Toscano Rosso.
The DO (Denominazione di Origine), DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) and DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita) are designations of origin and quality according to Italian wine law. These designations, instituted in 1963, require wine be produced within the specified region using defined methods and a defined standard to be labeled with a DOC or DOCG.

IGP (Indicazione Geografica Protetta) is the updated version that complies with EU law.

Weekly Wine Defined – Carignan

This vigorous vine produces a dark skinned blending grape valued in winemaking for its dark color. Rarely will you see a Carignan “selfie.” Carignan is high in acidity, tannins and astringency which, given those attributes, takes a lot of work to make an elegant wine.

The whole cluster fermentation technique called carbonic maceration can tames the rough edges of the wine. Or just blending it with another vat of wine makes an interesting and delicious wine. Which is usually what happens in the Priorat region of Spain; those powerful wines can be a combination of Grenache, Carignan, Cabernet, and Syrah.

Carignan is widely planted in southern France, around the Languedoc regions of Aude, Gard and Hérault; usually producing a Vin ordinaire or Vin de Pays. Other regions include Spain, California and Algeria.

The acreage planted to Carignan in France has dropped in recent years by half. It has also dropped in Spain, the second largest grower of Carignan. Carignan was brought to California early on by the Italian immigrants and there are a number of older vineyards still thriving there. But its not high on the list of grapes to be planted there either.

Carignan requires a warm climate to perform best. The tight clusters are prone to mildew and rot and susceptible to moth infestations. Another problem in this industrial age are the short stems and compactness of the clusters making machine harvesting impractical.

And much like Pinot Noir and Sangiovese, it’s unstable, meaning it has a tendency to mutate. The French currently have over 25 separate clones. Pinot Noir has around 48 and Sangiovese, 14 and still counting.


Weekly Wine Defined – Commune

For those of you old enough to recall, commune was a shared community
where a bunch of people lived and shared everything – food, shelter, money
and toothpaste.
But centuries before the communes of the 60s, the French word ‘commune’,
designated a township as an administrative unit consisting of a village and the surrounding lands. There are over 36,000 communes in France, some of the more famous, in the wine world anyway, are Mersault, Pauillac and Brouilly. I’ll join the Pauillac commune, thanks.

Weekly Wine Defined – Steen

Steen is the Dutch word for stone and in South Africa, it’s a grape variety.

In France, this grape is grown in the Loire Valley in the communue of Vouvray but there it is called Chenin Blanc.

Steen was imported from France in 1655 by Jan van Riebeeck. Today, it is South Africa’s most widely planted grape variety. It is prized for its high yield, high acidity and great fruit in the hotter climates.

The versatile Chenin Blanc grape can be made dry, off-dry, sweet or dessert style, depending on what Mother Nature dishes out in the vineyards. When grown in cooler regions, the acidity is higher and will age gracefully for a number of years.

Late Harvest

Mary writes:

The 2013 Washington grape harvest begin in the hot days at the end of August. Remember how hot it was? By the end of October most of the vineyards have been picked – most. There are still some grapes on the vines. Winemakers and growers, especially in the cooler sites, leave the grapes on the vines hoping for late-harvest wines.

Late-harvest wines are made from grapes left on the vine longer than usual, allowing them to get riper and riper. The grapes lose water content to the sun, wind and possibly to botrytis. What you’re left with is pure concentration of aromas and flavors with a brilliant gold color.  220px-Botrytis_riesling