The Study of Grapes: Fruit of Well Known Wines
It is the fruit of Vitis vinifera that provides the raw material for winemaking. Throughout the world a huge variety of grapes is grown to be used for wine, and each part of the grape contributes something to the end-product: the skin, the pips, the pulp with its content of sugar and acidity. Some wines are made from a single grape: for example, the great red Burgundies are made solely from the Pinot Noir. Alternatively they may be made from a specific combination of grapes, such as the great red Bordeaux, which are made from the Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Merlot and sometimes the Malbec. Sometimes both black and white grapes are used, as in Champagne, where the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are used for most of the wine.
Grapes, like any other crop, do well or not so well according to where they are grown. Certain of those that make the great wines are vulnerable to climatic and other hazards, although the quality of the wine they can produce makes the winegrowers take the risk of their being able to withstand any damage. Some grapes can make a quality wine in one region, but not so fine a wine in another; the Riesling being an outstanding example all over the world. In addition, certain grapes are particularly suited to certain winemaking processes; for instance, the high sugar content in the Muscat grape makes it difficult to use in producing a quality sparkling wine by the Champagne method, although it can be satisfactorily used in the cuve close process.
One of the most complicated subjects is the naming of grapes, because some have completely different names according to where they are grown, even though they may be of one type. Others, inevitably, adapt themselves to local conditions and almost change their style into something different from that of their origin. The local, or national, name for a grape may be different from the generally accepted international name, and even the greatest experts argue about whether certain grapes really are the same as others, or completely different varieties. The Riesling, for example, has many different names: in Baden it is known as the Klingelberger. The terms Rheinriesling and Johannesberger are other versionsof its name, the latter beingusedsometimes in the U.S. The Welsch- or Walschriesling, however, cultivated all over the world, has many different names – Grey, Emerald, Missouri are a few used in the U.S. And it is the Olaschriesling in Hungary. Other countries often just label the wine’ Riesling’ without specifying the exact name, just as some wines are labelled ‘Cabernet’ without any indication as to whether they are made from the Cabernet Sauvignon or Cabernet Franc.
One generalisation about grapes that can be made is that red grapes are usually referred to as ‘black’. A vew varieties have pinkish juice and are known as teinturiers or ‘dyers’ because of this, but usually all grape juice is white, and only gains colour from being left, during fermentation, in contact with the skins of black grapes. Therefore white wine is usually made from white grapes, red wine from black. Then, many wine grapes are not pleasant to eat – table grapes are not often able to be used for winemaking as they tend to be sweeter, larger, and thin skinned, containing a higher proportion of water than the grapes from a wine vine. Pickers who eat while working choose the sweeter types. The pale greenish grapes are referred to as ‘white’, although sometimes white grapes are actually yellowish, or even tinged with pink on their skins. Some grapes in certain regions are susceptible to a particular type of fungoid infection, known as Botrytis cinerea. Which shrivels them and results in a very sweet, concentrated wine being made. In general, grapes are picked by bunches, as they ripen, but for these specially overripe grapes it is necessary to pick cluster by cluster and also grape by grape, passing through a vineyard several times.
Grape names are often used for the names of the wines made, and this practice, known in the U.S. As naming according to varietals. Is helpful if no specific place name can be associated with the wine. But a wine made from exactly the same grape variety will vary enormously according to where the grapes are grown and the way the wine is made; so that some caution should be exercised in assuming that, say, a wine labelled Muscat is inclined to be sweet – it could be extremely dry, as well as very sweet indeed.
The study of grapes is highly specialised, and the use of grapes is subject to strict legislation in the winegrowing regions. The following list, however, includes some of the classic wine grapes used in European vineyards, which are also found in other winegrowing regions. Anyone able to compare the shapes of bunches, size and depth of colour of grapes, and formation of leaves when visiting vineyards, will register what certain grapes actually look like. But very few fine wines actually ‘taste of the grape’ in the sense that they resemble, either in smell or flavour, the sort of grape taste that the public associate with this fruit in its dessert form. A wine that is actually ‘grapey’ by description is inclined to be the exception rather than the rule, as the process of fermentation changes the grape juice in a radical way. The Muscat is an exception.
In some wine regions, grape varieties exist which are thought by some to be native to those regions. The California Zinfandel is a notable example of this.