Sunday School

Happy Sunday, friends! Hope your weekend was full of wine and good company. This next week is a biggie for yours truly. I’m one week out from taking the WSET level 1 exam! While I cannot wait to be back in Napa Valley – especially because we have a couple events on our schedule (obvi) – I’m also incredibly anxious about this test. But hey, how cool is it that I get do this? Even better… I get to share with all of you! So, thank you for following along. I wanted to write a high-level intro on wine types for those of you who really wish to learn the fundamentals, like me! Thanks in advance for reading with me!

The Essentials

There are three types of wine: sparkling, still, and fortified. What factors determine the style of wine? To paint with a broad stroke, there are four key elements that contribute to the style of a wine – color, aroma, flavor, and structure. As many of you know, there are three classic colors within these categories of wine – white, rosé, and red. There’s an endless sea of creative and talented winemakers out there producing interesting blends with all the varietals! My tip for you is to find a varietal you love, explore the many producers and regions of that varietal, and get comfortable. Then move onto your second favorite grape, learn, explore, and ask questions. Continue to get your toes wet in this vast and ever-growing wine world. Never. Stop. Exploring.

What’s Your Type?

Let’s chat about bubbles. Sparkling wine is refreshing, crisp, and perfect for celebrations. There are sooo many sparkling wine styles out there – sparkling Pinot Noir, Blanc de Noirs, sparkling Chardonnay, sparkling Pinot Meunior, sparkling Red cuvée, etc – I could get lost in a never-ending list and that would make me happy as a clam! What makes this wine sparkle? Glad you asked! This wine type is the most labor intensive as it requires 2 fermentations. Beauty is pain, after all. Fermentation #1 is to make the wine, fermentation #2 adds the bubbles. Natural sugars in the juice of pressed grapes are converted into the boozy good stuff by yeast. BOOM… we have alcohol! Then comes the fizz aka carbon dioxide that gets trapped inside the wine during fermentation #2. There are various methods used when making sparkling wine, prosecco, cava, and champagne. The method determines what classification a bottle can claim and not all bubbles are equal. Stay tuned for a deeper dive into each method! Regardless of method, the pop sound that makes a crowd go “woo!” is the escaping of trapped gas. Next time you need an excuse to pop some bubbles, just say there’s gas trapped inside that needs to be rescued! #notallheroeswearcapes

What style of wine does @smashleythegrape drink the most of? Still Wine! I just love it so much. A majority of still wines range in the 11.5% to 14% abv – those are some good ratios. Naming conventions are important in this vino category and can work in a couple different ways. Many still wines are named after regions like Chianti in Italy or Bordeaux and Burgundy in France. In other parts of the world it’s named after the grape varietal used to produce the wine: i.e. Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay and so on. Have you ever noticed another title on the bottle? If so, that’s called a “fantasy name” and I just realized what my dream job is. I’d like to sit around sampling delicious wines of the world while giving them fantastic fantasy names! Who’s coming with me? Getting back on track now. One example of a fantasy name that is regularly on my mind is Turnbull Wines’ “Josephine” Sauvignon Blanc. This is my fave sauv blanc on the market rn, just FYI. It’s aged in terracotta and cement giving it an amazing minerality. I mean come on! In addition to these nuances another key element of still wine is color. Color in wine comes from grape skins and grape varietal. Did you know that a white wine can be made with a red grape? Crazy, I know. The grapes are pressed to obtain the juice and immediately removed from the skin in order to achieve this. Typically the skin remains in the grape juice during fermentation and that gives us all kinds of beautiful shades of red wine and white wine in addition to greater depth, complexity, and nuance. Ever wonder how rosé gets its pretty pink color? Just a couple hours of contact with red grape skins at the very start of fermentation is enough to provide that gorgeous hue.

I saved dessert for last! Type #3 is fortified wine which includes distilled wine, dessert wine, vermouth, etc. This type has the highest abv rating which usually ranges from 15% to 22% because extra alcohol is brought into the fix during fermentation. Late harvest grapes are ripe with extra sugar and the yeast isn’t able to ferment all of it, leaving an added level of sweetness in the wine. Another way to kick up the sweetness and abv is by adding in distilled alcohol. Adding in the hard stuff kills the yeast, stops fermentation, and increases the hangover. I’m not a big fortified wine gal, but on my first visit to Far Niente in Napa, the tasting included some Dolce which quickly converted me! I will gladly substitute chocolate lava cake for Dolce any day of the week!

There you have it! Your first intro and a brief beginners lesson on the different styles of wine. Thanks for helping me study! Hopefully this helps make wine a bit more approachable for you. But remember, the best way to learn more about wine is through hands-on enjoyment and talking about it with the people you share it with! Stay tuned for more Sunday School lessons in the not-too-distant future.

Thanks for sipping with us,

The Social Grapes

IG: @smashleythegrape

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