Grab a glass and taste the differences between New and Old World Malbec with Madeline Puckette.
It’s easy to forget that Malbec originated in France because more than 75% of the world’s Malbec vines are located in South America. In fact, Mendoza, Argentina is the Malbec capital of the world.
PopularFull-Bodied Redgrapefrom france <img class="i-amphtml-intrinsic-sizer" role="presentation" src="data:;base64,» alt=»» aria-hidden=»true» />
In Argentina, the grape tends to produce wines with more black-fruit flavors, softer acidity, and a chocolate-smooth finish.
In France, Malbec is a different beast. Expect a much lighter style (e.g. lower alcohol) with more red fruit and floral/herbal aromas.
If you’ve never experienced such a taste comparison, this will teach you a lot about the differences between Old and New World wines. Of course, to really understand the differences, set up your own comparative wine tasting. Here’s what we tasted:
Medium purple color with some turbidity. When you see haziness like this, it might indicate an unfiltered wine.
Smells like dried leaves, candied cherries, hibiscus, fresh raspberries, and old leather.
On the palate, the wine has sprightly acidity with tart fruit flavors of plum and cherry, leading into notes of dried leaves and hibiscus.
Deep purple color.
Smells like raspberry Tootsie Roll Pops, chocolate, candied cherries, Allepo pepper, and brown bread. Bready or creamy flavors in a red wine like this might be from the yeast they used.
On the palate, it’s a bit bolder with more tannins that dissipate because of the elevated alcohol level. It has flavors of cherries and chocolate.
Taking On The Wine Tasting Challenge
Learn wine with a structured wine tasting that you can do on your own. The tasting is designed to be accompanied by the book: Wine…
Improve your wine tasting skills, use a wine tasting journal. The Wine Folly Tasting Journal is a great way to practice the 4-Step Tasting Method.
Maybe you like wine for the implied health benefits (i.e. keto friendly, antioxidants, etc). Or, perhaps you just love rosé! Whatever the reason, one issue many newcomers struggle with is consistently choosing wines they love.
This is particularly true with red wines because, stylistically speaking, they’re very diverse.
So, here are four good red wines that aim to please. We call them crowd pleasers:
They are big on flavor and big on fruit. (aka fruit forward)
They’re not too astringent (e.g. tannic) and have a smooth finish.
Compared to other varietal wines, they offer great value. (We call this QPR, for quality-price ratio.)
All the fruit, all the time.
Fruit Flavors: Blackberry brambles, strawberry, peach preserves, cinnamon, and sweet tobacco.
What You’ll Learn: How alcohol affects the taste.
The best Zins out there are traditionally pretty high in alcohol (definitely look for those with 14% or more by volume). Alcohol in wine is kind of like MSG; it magnifies fruit flavors and increases boldness.
To taste the alcohol level in wine, take a sip and slowly breathe out after you swallow: it tingles the back of your throat. (Pros can identify within a 1% ABV with this trick!)
Fruit Flavors: Sugar plum, blueberry, dark chocolate, black pepper, and black tea.
What You’ll Learn: What “black wines” really look like.
The ancient Greeks referred to all red wines as “black wines.” Today, black wines are a special class of super grapes with an exceptionally high antioxidant content. The antioxidants in wine are found in the skins, seeds, and stems of grapes and are generally called polyphenols, of which anthocyanin (the red color) is one type.
Grapes with high polyphenols have high tannin (that astringent, bitter, tea-like taste in red wine) and are often deeply colored. Of course, winemakers have learned how to manage bitterness in winemaking so that they taste bold and smooth. Petite Sirah is no exception!
RareFull-Bodied Redgrapefrom france <img class="i-amphtml-intrinsic-sizer" role="presentation" src="data:;base64,» alt=»» aria-hidden=»true» />
The gateway to Italian reds.
Fruit Flavors: Black cherry, black plum, licorice, tobacco, and red chili flakes.
What You’ll Learn: The taste of terroir.
If you’re boggled by Italian wines, you’re not alone. Italy is one of the most challenging wine regions to understand, even for pros. To make things more complicated, many of the top Italian wines (like Barolo) are an acquired taste.
So, start in the south! Sicily and Puglia continue to offer some of the best values in the entire country. Nero d’Avola delivers bold, crowd-pleasing fruit flavors alongside Italy’s trademark dusty, clay-like terroir.
Fruit Flavors: Red cherry, plum, chocolate, graphite, dried herbs, and vanilla.
What You’ll Learn: Great Merlot gives Cabernet Sauvignon a run for the money.
Go to any wine store or restaurant and compare the prices of the higher end bottles of Merlot to Cabernet Sauvignon. Merlot is always cheaper (unless we’re talking Petrus!) What’s funny about this fact is that of all the grapes in the world, Merlot and Cabernet couldn’t be more similar. They’re even related.
PopularMedium-Bodied Redgrapefrom france <img class="i-amphtml-intrinsic-sizer" role="presentation" src="data:;base64,» alt=»» aria-hidden=»true» />
Take Better Notes
Next time you open a bottle of wine, try tasting it with the 4-step method. You’ll be surprised how many more flavors you can get!
Tannat has some of the highest levels of antioxidants in the world, so why don’t more people know about it? Grab a glass and explore the differences between French and Uruguayan Tannat wine.
For those of us who are certifiable bold red wine lovers, Tannat is a thing of beauty. This grape falls into a special class of super grapes because of its exceptionally high antioxidant levels. In fact, the polyphenol count is so high that Tannat wines are opaque and nearly black in color.
The deep color of Tannat is due to a chemical interaction called copigmentation where anthocyanin (the red color in wine) is enhanced by other types of tannins (which would otherwise be invisible).
So, how come more people don’t know about Tannat?!
One reason Tannat continues to fly under the radar is because it’s not that common. There are only about 14,000 acres of grapes planted in the world and the majority of vineyards are split between two esoteric wine regions: Sud-Ouest France and Uruguay.
Yep, that’s right. They make wine in Uruguay.
Taste Your Tannins!
So for this tasting, we picked up a couple of bottles of Tannat from France and Uruguay to compare. Here’s what was tasted:
“This vineyard is cooler than other blocks on the estate. Steep slopes and thin soils with excellent drainage due to the predominance of ballast in the upper layers.” 100% Tannat fermented in 80 hectoliter cement tanks & aged in untoasted French oak barrels & casks for 12 to 18 months on the lees.” –cellartracker
Château Peyros “Vieilles Vignes” Madiran AOP 2013 – France
A blend of 80% Tannat and 20% Cabernet Franc. The wine was fermented over 20 days and aged for 12 months in 40% new oak barrels. The wine comes from a 20 hectare (49 acre) estate in the heart of the Vic Bilh with a unique southward exposure.
UncommonFull-Bodied Redgrapefrom france <img class="i-amphtml-intrinsic-sizer" role="presentation" src="data:;base64,» alt=»» aria-hidden=»true» />
What is Residual Sugar in Wine and Where Does it Come From?
Oh, and do people actually add sugar to wine?!
When we first hear about residual sugar it feels a bit off-putting. After all, we’ve been told that wines aren’t sweet. So, let’s define residual sugar in wine and what to expect in different types of wine.
Residual Sugar Definition
Residual Sugar (or RS) is from natural grape sugars leftover in a wine after the alcoholic fermentation finishes. It’s measured in grams per liter.
So for example, a wine with 10 grams per liter of residual sugar has 1% sweetness or a total of 5.8 carbohydrates per serving (5 ounces / 150 ml).
How Much Residual Sugar is There in Wine?
Residual sugar levels vary in different types of wine. In fact, many grocery store wines labeled as “dry” contain about 10 g/L of residual sugar. Noticeably sweet wines start at around 35 grams per liter of residual sugar and then go up from there.
In case you didn’t already know, the sugar in grapes is a blend of glucose and fructose. During the fermentation process, yeast eats these sugars to make alcohol. That being said, it’s possible to stop the fermentation before all the sugar gets consumed (through chilling or filtration).
This, my friends, is how you make a sweet wine!
Do Wineries Add Sugar?
There are some countries (such as France and Germany) that allow the addition of sugar before or during fermentation. The method is called “Chaptalization” and it’s used to increase the total alcohol level when using underripe grapes. Chaptalization isn’t meant to increase the sweetness of wine.
It’s possible to buy wine-based products that add sugar or other ingredients (flavorings, etc) as well.
Vermouth and Sangria are great examples. In fact, there is even a rare Spanish wine denomination called Vino Naranja del Condado de Huelva, which is a wine infused with orange peels that macerate in barrels for at least two years.
Still, flavored wines are a slippery slope. We’ve seen things like Boone’s “Strawberry Hill,” which are nothing more than wine soda.
How Come Wine Isn’t Labeled?
Since wine isn’t required to add nutrition fact labeling (no alcoholic beverages are), no one ever adds sugar content on the label. So, if you’re worried about additives you might avoid flavored alcohol products (e.g. put down that Kahlua!) and stick with the pure stuff.
You probably shouldn’t be drinking under direct sun. But, if you’re going to break the rules, do it with Vinho Verde wine. This Portuguese treat is the perfect poolside drink.
Portugal’s Secret Value
Vinho Verde comes from a small region in Northern Portugal known for its super-value whites, reds, and rosés. These wines are loved for mouth-zapping acidity, subtle carbonation, and lower alcohol, making them a great choice for summer.
Of course, when you dig into Vinho Verde wine, you realize this seemingly cheap, fizzy wine is something truly special. Let’s learn more about Portugal’s “green wine.”
White Vinho Verde
Tasting Notes Lemonade, White Melon, Gooseberry, Grapefruit, and Lime Blossom
The vast majority of Vinho Verde wines are white. Six grapes (you’ve never heard of) dominate the regional blend: Alvarinho, Arinto, Azal, Avesso, Loureiro, and Trajadura. Vinho Verde wines range slightly in style, but most are a touch fizzy, mostly dry, and have green fruit notes.
Azal: This is the highest-acid grape of them all. Lemonade flavors abound!
Arinto: Also called “Pederna,” it is arguably Portugal’s finest white grape. Expect juicy melon and citrus with some bitter notes on the finish. Great examples can age 7+ years!
Alvarinho: The same grape as Spain’s Albariño and produces wines with grapefruit and floral notes. This is another serious grape to watch.
Avesso: Similar to Alvarinho in its flavors of grapefruit and peach, but with a subtle green almond bitter note there is added complexity.
Loureiro: If there were such a thing as “The Riesling of Portugal” this would be it. Look up winemaker Anselmo Mendes for shocking single-varietal wines from the coastal regions.
Trajadura: This grape is a popular blender with Alvarinho. It adds richness and aromas of pear and citrus blossom.
How About That Fizz?
Most Vinho Verde today is artificially carbonated. Originally though, the carbonation happened when winemakers bottled so quickly that the fermentation would finish in the bottle. Today, you’ll find higher end producers shying away from carbonation all together. These wines are on par with the best in Europe!
Red and Rosé Vinho Verde
Tasting Notes Sour Plum, Sour Cherry, Pepper, and Peony
The reds and rosé wines from Vihno Verde are much harder to come by. Of course, this makes sense; the Minho region (where Vinho Verde comes from) is quite cool and often rainy, making it hard to ripen red grapes.
So if you get your hands on a bottle – no matter the price, – you are drinking rare juice!
The grape Vinhão (more commonly known as Sousão) is a teinturier grape, and wines are like a spicy, fresh version of Malbec.
The rare grape, Padeiro (“pah-deh-rhee-yo”) is the pet project of Amarante region producer Quinta da Raza. They’ve single-handedly brought this grape back from extinction. Padeiro has such little color, it looks like rosé. It offers up red fruity-juicy notes and ample acidity.
More On Minho
Most people picture the Algarve when imagining Portugal. Along the Mediterranean, the Algarve is hot and dry with sandy beaches and idyllic blue waters.
Up North, it’s a very different story.
The Minho faces the Atlantic to the west, in all its fury. The nine sub-regions of the Minho can essentially be broken up into groups based on their influence from this rainy, coastal weather.
Monção and Melgaço: Slightly inland and along the border of Spain, this sub-region produces excellent Alvarinho with more elegant, mineral notes due to the well-draining granitic soils.
Lima, Cávado, and Ave: The regions closest to the coast are very rainy and thus make more white wines with Arinto, Loureiro, and Trajadura. You’ll find rolling estates and easy drinkers here.
Sousa, Paiva, Baião, and Basto: This area is very mountainous and leads into the Douro valley. It’s much more sunny. Thus, there are two harder-to-ripen white grapes: Azal and Avesso, as well as a slew of rare reds: Espadeiro, Vinhão (Sousão), and the rare Padeiro.
If You Go
Early summer in Minho is an incredible time to visit. The city of Barcelos is a wealthy get-away for Portuguese families and features some of the most stunning, historic wine estates.
When you go inland, it’s much more hilly and rugged (and difficult to navigate without a native speaker!). Still for those with a rental car (and good hand-signals), the winemakers are extremely welcoming and generous.
At around 15–20 minutes, the reductive traits in red wines blow off. Reduction smells kind of like rotten eggs, old lunch meat, burnt rubber, or even hot farts! It’s pretty common in red wines, and happens when aromatic compounds manifest in an anaerobic environment (e.g. inside the bottle).
At around 30–45 minutes, the “burning” or “sharp” aromas in red wines are less detectable. You might think these burning smells are from alcohol, but more than likely, it’s volatile acidity (VA). Of course, every room and every taster senses VA a bit differently, so be sure to give your wines a sniff.
At around 60 minutes, tannins start to mellow out. Longer decanting times are usually reserved for bold red wines with very astringent-tasting tannins. While there isn’t a lot of science to back up this observation, some suspect that the increase of aromatic compounds might reduce our perception of tannins.
How Long is Too Long?
As long as you’re drinking your wines within a few of hours of being decanted you should be fine. Of course, there are a few special exceptions:
Old Wines: Some old wines are very delicate and rapidly decay after being opened. Your best bet is to have “primer” wines at the ready if you’re planning a tasting featuring old wines. Or, contact the producer for a recommendation.
White Wines: Delicate white wines with higher levels of thiols (smells like grapefruit, passionfruit, or guava) may lose their aromas if over-decanted. Read more on that below.
White and Rosé Wines
Up to 30 minutes if the wine shows signs of reduction.
Most white and rosé wines don’t need to be decanted. In fact, some aromatic compounds, like the passionfruit flavor in Sauvignon Blanc, waft away! So, the only reason you might want to decant a white or a rosé wine is if it’s “reduced.”
Reduction in white wine sometimes smells like burnt match, but most of the time it just lacks aromas. If you smell only “mineral-like” flavors and very few fruit smells, your white might have some reduction. No big deal!
In most cases, pouring the wine into a glass and waiting about 15 minutes fixes the issue. You should smell a lot more fruit aromas after you wait!
There are a few rare cases when you can decant sparkling wines. We’re talking rare!
Some grower Champagne and small-production Champagne wines have reduction (burnt match smell) and improve with decanting. Generally speaking, a sparkling wine decanter has much less surface area and is “amphora” shaped in order to preserve bubble finesse.
Orange Wines:Orange wines are *essentially* white wines made with skin contact. These wines have tannins and can benefit from some decanting. Try 15–30 minutes.
Natural Wines: Natural and biodynamic wines often have reduction! (Burnt-match / fart smell). While we’re not exactly sure why, some believe this is caused by improper nitrogen balance in the vineyard soils. No problem – just decant for about 20 minutes. If you still get garlic odors, then you’ve got a real wine fault on your hands.
Very Old Wines: As we mentioned earlier, old wines are pretty sensitive. Be sure to taste the wine when you open it to see if it tastes balanced. If so, cork it until your tasting. If not, test it periodically over 30 minutes to see if it improves and follow the recommendations above.
If you’ve ever found yourself standing in the wine aisle gawking at the prices, you may have also found yourself wondering,
“Is there really a difference between cheap and expensive wine?”
“Is more expensive wine better?”
To figure this out, let’s take a look at what it costs to make a bottle of wine.
The Cost of Wine Grapes
Grapes are one of several costs that go into producing a bottle of wine. So, to put real numbers behind this cost, I crunched some data from the 2017 California Grape Crush Report.
Here’s what I learned:
$5 (for the actual wine part) affords one pretty decent quality juice.
There is a substantial price variance between different grape varieties. (Merlot offers superb value!)
Napa Valley is, by far, the most expensive place to buy wine grapes. Napa Cabernet Sauvignon costs $12.34 / bottle (weighted average).
Some California producers spend as little as 49 cents a bottle for grapes from the Inland Valleys.
Of course, grapes aren’t the only costly thing that goes into making wine.
The Cost of Oak
Oak barrels range in price from about $600–$2400 a barrel, depending on the type of oak and quality level.
That means you can expect at least a $2 bump in cost per bottle if the wine uses oak. (BTW, it’s possible to do it cheaper using oak chips).
In case you didn’t already know, oak is most commonly used for red wines, although you’ll find oak ageing used for a few bold white wines too (like Chardonnay, White Rioja, etc).
While oak barrels are used over and over again, the strongest oak flavor compounds of vanilla, clove, and baking spice come from new barrels.
The Cost of Packaging
Presentation is everything!
Next up comes the packaging. Any pragmatist realizes that packaging isn’t important as long as it works. It’s what’s inside the bottle that matters, right?!? Still, it doesn’t stop us from being influenced by the way wine bottles look.
Here are some things you should know about packaging:
The Punt: You know, that thumb-sized divot in the bottom of a wine bottle? It doesn’t really matter. If you find a bottle with a deep punt, it just means the bottle was more expensive.
Screwcaps: We’ve been testing cork alternatives since the 1960s. What we’ve learned is that they work, and in many cases, are more consistent than natural corks.
Low Shoulder vs High Shoulder: Low shoulder bottles (e.g. “Burgundy Bottles”) are the “it” bottle these days but don’t fit in most wine racks or stack on top of each other. To a collector, they’re a bit of a pain in the ass.
Heavy Bottles: Some bottles are so heavy that they make up 60% of the weight of the unit. The weight isn’t bad until you realize it costs extra fuel to transport heavy bottles. That being said, they do feel impressive…
In researching packaging costs, I learned that increased spending on bottles might be better treated like a built-in marketing cost.
Adding It Up
As an experiment, I took the average prices for wine grapes from the higher quality growing zones of California and created two examples. Of course, this experiment doesn’t include the cost of winery labor, facilities expenses, and what not, but I still found it illuminating.
Merlot vs. Cabernet Franc
Using Merlot grapes with American oak and value packaging ended up costing around $5 a bottle.
The increased prices for Cabernet Franc grapes, fancy French oak barrels, and prestige packaging bumps the cost up by three times, making it around $16 a bottle.
So, is cheap wine better than expensive wine?
Apparently, it really depends on your desire to drink outside the box.
But wait… there’s more!
Taxes and the 3-Tier System (Why Wine Costs So Much!)