Wednesday, March 9, 2011

JUST TESTING: Power in Wine Trivia

A few days removed from the important Wine Educator's Certification exam, I thought it would be good to explore a few trivial items that I should have known more about.  This is a long process after all, and continued research after a benchmark exam is not unlikely or unrewarded. With the inescapable image of Atlas holding up the World, I realize now more than ever that there is a mountain of wine information, facts and details that must be commanded if I am to be successful in this quest.  It is the factual Power in Wine Trivia which I must command. To that end, here are a few odds and, well, ends.

Grown around the world, and produced in a spectrum of wine styles, the Muscat family may be the worlds oldest domesticated grape variety. It sparkles as Italy's Moscato d'Asti, and as a multi-functional still wine, Muscat Canelli.  Across the continent, it becomes a deliriously ethereal syrup in Portugal's Moscatel de Setubal, and produces a number of sweet, fortified French Vins Doux Naturels(VDN's) in celebrated examples like Muscat de Rivesaltes. As one of the Alsace regions Noble grape varieties,  Muscat is produced in an AOC regulated dry style, or even patiently made as a late harvest treat, Vendenges Tardives.  In Hungary, where it can be in the Furmint dominated grape blend of the noble Tokay Aszu dessert wines, it is known by the varietal Muscat synonym, S├írgamuskot├íly or Muscat Lunel.

Across two oceans, it is the pride of Australia's Rutherglen district 'stickies', possibly amoung the world's greatest fortified wines. As a grape brandy, this grape is the base for the aromatic Pisco's of Chile and Peru. South Africa too, long a fortified and late harvest wine producer, grows the same grape as Muscadel or Hanepoot.  Regardless of its synonyms, its unique property among all white grapes is its high concentration of 'flavonoids', as much as some red varieties. Perhaps it was these beneficial effects that were recognized by Muscat loving Kind Midas back in the 8th century BC! With its almost unmistakable fruity character, and in each of these manifestations, this noble, time honored grape is Muscat Blanc a'Petits Grains.

Among the oldest wine regions in the world, Greece, is a much publicized member state of the EU.  Its standardized agricultural regulations meet the Unions requirements, allowing for inter-European trade in commodities like wine. From the Ionian Island region of Kefalonia, across to Nemea of the Peloponnesus, and stretching South to the Agean Islands of Santorini and Rhodes, this wine country is more than Retsina. A mirror of the French model(again), Greece has two designations of controlled appellation of origins for its best wines. Qualified traditional sweet wines are labeled OPE, with a separate Appellation of Controlled Status for its awarded dry table wines, OPAP. Noble indigenous grape varieties, such as red Agiorgitiko and Xinomavro, and white Vilana vines create some of the countries best wines.  Muscat Blanc a'Petits Grains, known as Muscat Aspro, here too is a time tested workhorse, producing sparkling, fortified and still wines.

With archaeological evidence going back to the Stone Age, the Eastern Mediterranean has a rich, far reaching wine history.  East of the Lebanon Mountains there lies a fertile valley long ago discovered by the grape-loving Phoenicians. Among the few dozen wineries concentrated in Lebanon's Bekka Valley, it's 150 year old Chateau Ksara, Chateau de Kefraya, and Chateau Musar are the most prominent producers of world-class wines. With many decades of colonial influence, France today remains Lebanon's principal trading partner.  Grape varieties here are mostly southern French in origin, with the exception of indigenous white grapes, Obaideh and Merwah.

 How can you taste a Sherry barrel sample through that veil of flor that lies across the top of the wine?  Artisans of Andalusia, the veneciadors, use a venezia, a specifically designed cylindrical cup at the end of a long wand to taste the fractional blending of the solera.  Like Champagne, each Sherry is a blend of grapes and vintages that define a house style. Dry Sherry typically is produced from the neutral Palomino grapes grown in chalky albariza soils. Barros and arenas soils of the Jerez usually produce the sweet style Sherries from the white grapes Pedro Ximinez and Moscatel. There's that Muscat grape again!

It has been said that great wines, including Muscats, are made in the vineyards. Every viticulturist knows that healthy vines are balanced vines with a managed canopy and controlled fruit yields that optimize the vineyards productivity.  One of the decisions that will be made in pursuit of balance will be which trellising or pruning system to use. A Vertical Trellis system directs the new growth of fruiting canes upward and offers a number of variations. A cane trained Guyot, Cordon de Royat(Cordon training), and the Goblet are variations of Old World spur and cane pruned trained trellising systems.The opposite of VSP, vertical shoot positioning, the Geneva Double Curtain, is a 4-arm trellising system developed in New York, where canes trail down. A Lyre system is similar, but with canes positioned up, and another French innovation.

It is certainly not trivial to know and understand your subject. Consumers, too, can benefit from more wine knowledge.  True, that insightful bit of wine information can contribute to a parties parlor conversations, but has far more reaching impact for us when choosing a wine from our well-stocked retailers. With a greater command of these and a few other wine details, the power found in trivia will continue to make us better consumers.  And, hopefully, better Wine Educators!

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