The humble grape
Posted on September 3rd, 2012
The grape variety or cultivar is the heart of a wine and determines the basis of flavours. The harvest takes place when the grape reaches “optimum ripeness” which is based on a combination of sugar, acid, tannin, colour and other chemical levels. The makeup of the grape at the moment of harvest will determine the quality of the resulting wine.
The skin is the source of colour, tannins and flavour compounds, giving the wine its distinctive character.
The stalks contain bitter tannins and are rarely used in winemaking.
The pips contain bitter tannins are general removed during the winemaking process.
The pulp is the heart of the grape and makes up the bulk of the volume. It comprises water, sugar, acids and flavour compounds.
The leading varieties in South Africa include the noble varieties of France such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Shiraz and Chenin Blanc. Each variety has different qualities and understanding these is key to understanding how blends are devised. For example Malbec is a spicy red grape, not as tannic as Cabernet Sauvignon and is a good blending partner for red blends. Pinot Noir requires meticulous handling and prefers a cooler climate with no direct sun and is sensitive to wind damage. The resulting wine is less tannic and more restrained.
I’ll write more about the leading varieties in another post as it’s definitely worth a post on its own.