by Nicole Mackay

Understanding basic concepts is fundamental for navigating the world of wine.

I n a wine world where grape varieties can be confusing, flavour descriptors illogical and appellation laws overwhelming, it’s important to pause, strip back the detail and focus on the basics. Familiarizing ourselves with concepts like vinifera (common grape varieties), climate and regional typicity may sound like deep dives. But understanding these key concepts will help you navigate the aisles confidently when shopping for a bottle of wine. International Grape Varieties Thousands of grape varieties enrich the world of wine, each contributing its unique character and flavour profile. While it’s sometimes fun to explore characteristics of indigenous varieties that thrive in their native environment, first familiarize yourself with some of the world’s most popular grapes. Chardonnay is a versatile white grape variety known for producing elegant and complex wines. It thrives in regions like Burgundy (France), California (US) and Australia, offering flavours ranging from crisp green apples to buttery vanilla. Sauvignon Blanc is another white grape variety that produces vibrant and aromatic wines. Regions like Marlborough (New Zealand), Sancerre (France) and Napa Valley (US) are renowned for their exceptional Sauvignon Blanc, offering notes of tropical fruit, citrus and herbal undertones. Also popular, Pinot Gris offers variety, from

crisp to unctuous, with notes of lemon, peach and melon. Look for exceptional versions from northern Italy, Oregon (US) and Alsace (France), or right here in BC. Cabernet Sauvignon is arguably the most widely recognized red grape variety, producing robust and structured wines, often with blackberry or blackcurrant flavours. Bordeaux (France), Napa Valley (US) and Coonawarra (Australia) are renowned for their exceptional Cabernet Sauvignon. In contrast, Merlot is known for its soft, approachable character with plum and cherry flavours. It also grows in Bordeaux (France) and Napa Valley (US), as well as Tuscany (Italy). Merlot produces wines with ripe fruit flavours, supple tannins and a smooth texture. Although Pinot Noir can be difficult to cultivate, this red grape variety is loved for its elegance and finesse and rewards with beautiful red fruit flavours and silky textures. Burgundy (France), Oregon (US) and Central Otago (New Zealand) are celebrated for producing outstanding Pinot Noir. New World Versus Old World Understanding the distinction between New World and Old World wines can provide valuable insights into their styles and characteristics. The New World refers to wine-producing regions outside of Europe, such as Canada, the United States, Australia and South America. These regions often showcase wines with bold fruit

flavours, higher alcohol content and a more pronounced oak influence. On the other hand, Old World wines hail from traditional European regions like France, Italy and Spain. These wines emphasize subtlety, elegance and the expression of terroir—the unique influence of the soil, climate and vineyard in which the grapes are grown. Old World wines often exhibit earthy nuances, balanced acidity and lower alcohol levels. Of course, there are exceptions to the generalities, particularly in countries or regions with vast size and varied terrain. For example, although the Languedoc and the Loire both produce French Old World wines, their climates are very different, and so are their wines. Cool Versus Hot Climates The climate in which grapes are grown significantly impacts a wine’s flavour profile. Cool climate regions are often characterized by lower average temperatures, shorter growing seasons and more challenging conditions for grape cultivation. However, these conditions can positively impact the resulting wine. In cool climates with moderate warming influences, such as Marlborough in New Zealand, the grapes ripen slowly, which allows them to develop complex flavours while preserving the wine’s refreshing acidity. On the other hand, wines produced in hot climate regions possess different flavour profiles due to the warmer



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