October 11, 2007

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Location, location, location
Why it’s good to know a wine’s source
By Tim Protzman tprotzman@sbcglobal.net

Where a wine comes from tells a lot about how it will taste.

Climate conditions, soil and grape varieties impart their own fingerprint on each wine. And location can be a sign of pedigree. That’s why most wine counties have some sort of agency that monitors wine producers to make sure that the region given on the label is really where the wine grapes were produced.

In France there’s the Appellation d’Origine Controlee (AOC) (translation: Controlled Term of Origin), which ensures that a wine from the Alsace in northeast France can’t say it’s from Bordeaux and command a higher price. In France there’s also an AOC for cheeses. The first product to have an AOC was Roquefort cheese; the name Roquefort was protected in the 15th century by parliamentary decree.

In Spain wine is protected by the Denominación de Orígen (designation of origin). Australian wines are covered by “the Guide,” a set of laws that regulate the percentages (usually at least 80 precent) of grapes from a certain area needed in order for the maker to say the wine is from that area. The Guide also states the minimum amount of grapes needed to say a wine is a Shiraz or Cabernet. This is usually 75 to 80 percent.

The United States uses American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) to ensure wines are from the region they claim.

Italy has an interesting system. “Vino da Tavola” (“Table Wine”) denotes wine from Italy. Indicazione Geografica Tipica (IGT) indicates what specific region within Italy the wine is from. It means “indiciative and typical of that geographic region.” Usually it’s either local wine or more rustic wine. But some fine and expensive wines that use non-typical grapes get the IGT designation. Super Tuscans, those heady blends of the traditional Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, receive this designation even though they may cost more than $100 per bottle. Top-quality wines from Italy carry the DOC and DOCG designations. DOC stand for Denominazione di Origine Controllatta, meaing the origin of the grapes is controlled. The finest wines, like Amarone and Barolo, receive the DOCG, which means Denominazione di Origine Controllatta e Garantita, which guarantees the origin of the wine.

Chile, South Africa and New Zealand all have laws that restrict producers from saying on the label that the grapes in the wine are from a certain geographic place.

Germany is different. Ancient laws dating back to Charlemagne enforce the geographic rules. But they go one step further, and this is why German wines are often confusing: they also have a ripeness scale. The best German wines are marked with Qualitätswein mit Prädikat (QmP), which refers to the vineyard location and the fact that sugars have not been added after the crush. QmP wines are ranked by the ripeness of the grapes — Kabinett (ripened light wines), Spätlese (a late harvest wine), and so on. And soon QmP will be replaced with Prädikatswein to designate wines of distinction.

To look at wine regions in depth let’s start with the United States. Wine is made in practically every state in the union, and some places do it better than others.

The biggest region is California. To be able to say California on the label, the maker must be sure that at least 75 percent of the grapes in the wine come from California. E.J. Gallo Twin Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is an example of a California AVA wine. The grapes could be from the sub region of Napa Valley or the sub region of Temecula or a mix of regions. The wine could also have grapes from New Zealand or Washington State in the wine, but not more than 25 percent.

Usually most vineyards want to mention the more prestigious sub region on their label. However, some wines, especially in newer growing areas, offer no geographic classification. Some vintners source their grapes from faraway places. This is especially true for the harsh-climate AVAs, whose producers may opt to use grapes from Chile or Australia and forgo any geographic references on the label. This doesn’t mean the wine isn’t a quality product, it just means the grapes weren’t grown at the estate where it was bottled or in the AVA in which the estate is located.

California is divided into five major AVAs: North Coast, Central Coast, South Coast, Sierra Foothills and Lodi. Two smaller up-and-coming standalone AVAs of note are Dunnigan Hills (west of Napa) and Clarksburg (adjacent to Lodi). The North Coast AVA has 40 sub AVAs within its borders. You probably know Napa Valley, Sonoma and Russian River; you probably don’t know Rockpile, Suisan Valley or Yountville.

The best way to get acquainted with AVAs is to look at them on a map. The best online map is at themapstore.com, which has Viticultural/AVA maps of Europe, the West Coast and Australia.

The Wine Encyclopedia has references to four North Coast sub AVA’s — Lake County, Mendocino County, Sonoma and Napa Valley. And within Napa and Sonoma there are many AVAs. I call these sub sub AVAs. Look for great wines from Anderson Valley sub region of Mendocino County. Premier producers include Scharffenberger Cellars, producers of sparkling wines, and Roederer Estate, the California venture of prestigious Champagne producer Louis Roederer.

To get more acquainted with California’s sub regions try these wines:
• Anapamu Central Coast Chardonnay, $12.99
• Domaine Carneros Brut Sparkling Wine, $19.99
• Turnbull Oakville Sauvignon Blanc, $16.99
• Gallo of Sonoma Russian River Pinot Gris, $10.99
• Blackstone Monterey Pinot Grigio, $8.99
• Ridge Paso Robles Zinfandel, $27.99
• Beringer Limited Vineyard Selection North Coast White Zinfandel, $8.99
• Turner Road Lodi Shiraz, $7.99.


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9/6/2007 Wine lover's shopping trip
8/30/2007 Bottle surfing
8/23/2007 Lobster goes red
8/16/2007 Emotional tasting notes
8/9/2007 Stop, wine thief
8/2/2007 Be your own sommelier
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7/19/2007 Booze free association
7/12/2007 Raiders of the sidewalk
7/5/2007 A sustainable buzz
6/28/2007 We are the merlot
6/21/2007 Forgot Dad? Bring booze.
6/14/2007 Jack & Jill and a pail of wine
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5/24/2007 Breaking the fast
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5/3/2007 In praise of tastings
4/26/2007 Invention-tini
4/19/2007 More 'Mas'
4/12/2007 Futures in a bottle
3/29/2007 Uneasy glass of spring
3/22/2007 Chateau de blech
3/8/2007 Finding new beauties
3/1/2007 Infatuation or addiction
2/15/2007 The extraordinary ordinary
2/8/2007 A glass of sweetness
2/1/2007 A glass of sweetness
1/25/2007 Ham it up
1/18/2007 Cheating on wine
1/11/2007 Burning down the tree
1/4/2007 New Year's hangover
12/28/2006 Sins of the vine
12/21/2006 Kissing frogs
12/14/2006 Wine for horrible friends
12/07/2006 Like dregs in the wine glass
11/30/2006 Gift of calmer shopping
11/23/2006 YouTube for YouWine
11/16/2006 Welcome to wine
11/9/2006 Fine art, supermarket wine
11/2/2006 The geography of grapes
10/26/2006 Please continue to hold
10/19/2006 The trouble with reds
10/12/2006 Making new friends
10/05/2006 TiVo-ing the wine
09/28/2006 From an unknown battle
09/21/2006 Toast to turkey
09/14/2006 Wine for life
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08/31/2006 Hanging out wines
08/24/2006 Falling into new wine season
08/17/2006 Where has that wine been?
08/10/2006 Bringing out the dead
08/03/2006 The birth of a wine fop
07/27/2006 Slow process of maturation
07/20/2006 The pain of adolescent wines
07/13/2006 Nice day for a white wedding
07/06/2006 Scoring goals with booze
06/29/2006 Beer, it's what's for dinner
06/22/2006 A drink fit for a czar
06/15/2006 A summer of beer and fried clams
06/08/2006 Keep your cool, fool
06/01/2006 The social lubricant
05/25/2006 Water, water everywhere
05/18/2006 Big fat greek wine tasting
05/11/2006 Drinking to the end
05/04/2006 Schooled in the art of wine
04/27/2006 Make a wish
04/20/2006 Immigrant wines
04/13/2006 A pain in the glass
04/06/2006 Got milk?
03/30/2006 Throw a dart and there's wine
03/23/2006 A life of good wine
03/16/2006 Honoring the dead soldiers
03/09/2006 What once was old i new again
03/02/2006 The taste of sibling rivalry
02/23/2006 Wine travels, doesn’t sing
From grape, to barrel to red-tape jungle

02/16/2006 Love and vine
02/09/2006 A dog-drink-dog world
02/02/2006 The winos' mecca
01/26/2006 Date-nite drinks
01/19/2006 Touring eastern wine country
01/12/2006 Wine, Cheese and Granny Smith
01/05/2006 Resolve to try new wines
10 Wines To Get Lucky With

Adventures in and past the Euro-Cave
A Do-It-Yourself Wine Tasting
A Red For Everything
A Red Wth Your Leftovers?
A Tasty Way To Put Wine To The Test
A Year Of Wine
An Around-The-World Holiday
A wine for every holiday

Basking In The Mondavi Light
Behind One Door Is Great Wine
Beware The Hot Bottle
Brandy and the nude beach
Champagne, The Other White Wine
Cheers And Whines Of The Vine
Days of wine and jelly beans
Deep in the heart of Texas
Drinking for your health
Drinking like a newspaperman

Drinking Whites After Labor Day
Finding A Great Medium-Weight Drink (I)
Finding A Great Medium Weight Drink (II)
Gifts for blood, love or money
Gin
Grill and sip, sip and sip. Finding the perfect wine for barbecue
Hey baby, stay cool
How The Corleones Saved Wine

In Praise Of An American Wine
In search of the girl next door
Keeping it in the family
Keeping up appearances
Looking back at the heyday of cheap wine
Mondovino
My Big Fat Greek Wine Tasting
The Best Drinks On A Budget
The Highly Drinkable (Mostly) Merlot
The Long, Strange Journey Of Wine
Old French grape in the New World
Olé! to a week in wine
Opening the Parker book

Our French friends — really
Our Northern Neighbor
Poker faces and wine

Presenting A New England Vodka
Presenting The Wines Of Spring
Rewarding Your Support Staff
Schooled In The Art Of Wine
Shopping for Wine Bargains

Sitting By The Fire And Dreaming Of Wine
Slipping A Little Sideways
Spending the holidays in NYC
Spirit World Tales
Springtime calls for wine and ice cream
Sudden ugly mood swings
The new face of fine wines
The wines of fall
Thinking ahead to the holidays
Time To Stay Frosty
Tipples for turkey day
TV worth drinking
What it means to miss N.O.
What To Drink When You Eat Wild
What's Your Wine Sign
White’s OK after Labor Day
Wine Between The Season
Wine for the NASCAR set
Wine is in at the Inn
Wine’ll make you crazy
Wine Works With Red Sauce