By Justin Taylor

The production of wine around the world is full of unique practices between the cellar and the final product. Many are special to certain geographic regions and others are special to particular grape varietals a winery is working with. The ultimate expression of region, varietal, and vintage can be achieved in numerous ways depending on the base or stock wines available to a winemaker. In order to heighten your understanding of what that wine label is trying to tell you while shopping, I would like to point out a few details about wine style labeling.

The technique of blending wines in the cellar is nothing new to the wine world. The wines of Bordeaux, the Rhone, Hungary, Italy, and even Champagne involve wine blending to achieve the style desired by the winemaker. Many of the principles behind wine blending show that single lots of wine can be good on their own, but elevated and accented when blended with wines made from different grapes and possibly even vintages. In order to regulate a winemaker’s decisions at the blending table, country and regional regulations permit specified percentages of different wines in the final blend when using specific label designations.

In the United States for example, we must use 75% of one particular varietal in order to put that on the label of a wine. This means that the remaining 25% of a particular blend could be composed of different grapes than what is listed. A similar rule applies for vintage where 85% of a wine must be from a designated year, permitting the other 15% to be from older or younger vintages. These are just examples, but imagine all of the depth and complexity that can be created in a wine blended by only these two guidelines!

The answer to the most recent Wine and Vine trivia about sur lie aging, or aging “on the lees”, refers to a process seen generally with white wines that are fermented in a barrel, and left in contact with lees, or dormant yeast cells, during aging. This is very popular with wines of Burgundy and Muscadet from the Loire Valley in France. Trivia for next issue: How many different varietals are permitted in the blend of red wines from the French region of Châteauneuf-du-Pape?

Justin Taylor is Assistant Winemaker at Burntshirt Vineyards, Hendersonville, NC.