Wine of the month: La MultaPosted on: 06 September 2011 by 50connect editorial
Pieter Rosenthal ponders why the vocabulary of wine labels.
If you take a bottle of Spain's best known wine, Rioja, the term has a very specific meaning which gives you a pretty good idea of how the wine has been matured.
The wine will have had a minimum of three years ageing in cask and bottle, of which, at least one year has to be in oak casks. That should tell you something about how it’s going to taste.
When it appears on a bottle of Chilean wine however, the term is not protected, making it meaningless. Although it often indicates some sort of influence of oak, producers can use the term to indicate a special selection of grapes, a separate bottling from a specific vineyard, or simply make the wine ‘sound’ more expensive.
The term 'Old Vines' increasingly makes an appearance on labels these days and on the face of it, this one is easy to understand. But because it isn't defined in terms of how old a vine should be in order for the label to carry the words, there is no guarantee of additional quality. The question also begs if old vines are really better than new ones. Let's try and address that one.
The vine, when first planted is putting a lot of energy into building a root system, much less into fruit production. For that reason newly planted vines are tended to, but any fruit they produce will not be used for making wine until about the fourth year. By then the root system should have established itself sufficiently.
As vines get older their root system will keep expanding and digging deeper. This should ensure it finds sufficient nutrients and a steady supply of water, rather than relying on irrigation and fertilisation. This means older vines are less prone to suffer if a drought strikes for example as its roots have found moisture in the soil further down. With further age also comes a slowing down of productivity. Winemakers will restrict fruit production on vines by pruning the vines back to ensure only a limited number of bunches can grow on each vine. This means the grapes have a chance to ripen fully and give the right level of concentration and balance to the resulting wine. If you grow too many bunches on a vine they will fight for water and nutrients and you may end up with grapes that don’t ripen properly.
Old vines tend to 'regulate' themselves a bit more easily and won't need to be pruned as vigorously as their younger counterparts. With increased age also comes an increased risk of disease in the vine. This could in itself restrict production of the vines, leading to that sought after concentration. But disease could also stop the grapes from reaching full maturity in which case the flavours in the wine are going to appear unripe. Having said all this I’ve tasted quite a lot of ‘Old Vines’ wines recently and most are very good. It also helps to scrutinise the back label as some producers will actually tell you the average age of their vines. Ultimately it is all about the taste though. Old Vines or not, if the wine tastes good, does anything else matter?
Old Vine Garnacha 2009
£6.95 from crossstobsbottleshop.co.uk and other independent retailers.
This month's wine is Spanish and made from Garnacha grapes grown from old vines. Garnacha is also known as Grenache in France and is the main grape used in Chateauneuf-du-Pape. The vines in the arid landscapes of Calatayud tend to be freestanding bushes. This protects the grapes from wind and the intense sunshine in the region. The lack of irrigation keeps the production very low and this is a very easy drinking, delicious, raspberry scented wine that shows off Garnacha at its best. On top of that I think it is also excellent value for money.
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