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Wine Classification

by Staff Writer - K. Ash | June 16, 2011

The enjoyment of wine is an experience practiced and appreciated throughout the world. Adding wine to your experiences will add new dimensions of enjoyment as well as long lasting memories to your life experiences. Selecting and enjoying a wine is not a difficult task, but selecting the proper wine for a particular occasion can be somewhat of a challenge. Understanding the classification of wine is the first step in allowing you to best to select wine you will enjoy for a particular occasion.

Wine classification is determined by the various methods wineries use to control the characteristics of their wine while following the winemaking standards of their locale. Different regions of the world have different classification systems that legally control how wineries produce and label their wine. Usually, each wine producing country has its own legal standard with varying degrees of complexity. Different systems include wine labeling by variety, wine labeling by region, or wine labeling by the grape picking date.

Classifications utilizing varietal labels are most common in the United States, Australia and Chile. Rules for winemaking and labeling of a wine using the varietal system usually state that for the variety to appear on the label, wine must be made with a specific percentage of a grape variety. For example, a Merlot from California must contain at least 75% of the Merlot grape variety in order to be labeled a Merlot.

France and Italy utilize regional labeling systems that also take into account the characteristics of local growing conditions as well as the techniques used by the wineries. In countries that use a regional system, different winemaking regions exist and each region produces a different style of wine. Under this system, wines are labeled based on the name of the region where the wine was produced. For example, true Champagne can only come from the Champagne district of France.

Wine classification in Germany is unique and utilizes a system where the resulting wine is classified into several categories by the ripeness of the grape at the time of picking. For example, a German Riesling could be classified as a Tafelwein (table wine) or as a Qualitatswein (quality wine) based on grape ripeness.

At first glance, wine classification can seem quite daunting. Variables such as color, flavor, climate, and legal requirements all play an important part in the classification of a wine. However, after reviewing each of the variables found within wine, the process of wine classification becomes much more perceptible. With this in mind, understanding the various characteristics found within wine is essential.

Every winery produces their own unique wine based on taste profiles of potential customers. Wineries therefore pay special attention to color, aroma and flavor characteristics of their wine. A red Cabernet Sauvignon produced in California will have completely different color, aroma and flavor when compared to a white Riesling produced in Germany. The conditions that lead to these natural differences include grape differences, locale differences and aging differences.

Color, aroma and flavor are all influenced by the selection of the grape variety, the chemical processes that occur at the winery and the natural aging processes that take place after winemaking. Different grape varieties are used the produce different colored wines. The dark tannin rich Cabernet Sauvignon grape variety is used to produce a red Cabernet Sauvignon wine while the lighter delicate Riesling grape variety is used to produce a white Riesling wine. In addition to this, differences in climate and soil conditions affect the grape variety in the growth and development of the grape itself. Differences in chemical processes include harvesting the grape at different times and the practice of blending different varieties of grapes together. Finally, the time and manner concerning the aging of wine has profound effect on the characteristic of the wine.

Each of the classification systems has various benefits. A benefit of the varietal system is that wine consumers can easily identify preferable wines due to a specific variety used to produce the majority of the wine. Regional specific labeling has the benefit of producing specific varieties to specific regions. This allows winemakers slightly more freedom in winemaking resulting in true masterpieces being created on a regional level. Finally, the German classification system is useful in quickly determining how sweet or dry a particular wine is.

As you begin to sample and experience wine, keep wine characteristics and classifications in mind. You will gain an understanding of how the wine classifications work and as you become more comfortable, you will be able to confidently select the perfect wine to compliment a particular occasion.

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