A ll this discussion about wine, and I realise that few people really know anything about wine grapes - so here's 'Wine Grapes 101'.

Wine grapes are very different from table grapes: they are smaller, sweeter, and have seeds. In comparison, table grapes are larger, less sweet, and are generally seedless. Wine grapes also have a different acid-sugar balance - they contain tarteric, malic, and lactic acids, which give wines their balance; in comparison, wines made from table grapes will be flabby as they lack this acidity.

Wine grapes are from a specific species: vitis vinifera, originally from the Mediterranean/ Western Asian region. There are between 5,000 and 10,000 varieties of wine grapes, although most people would be hard put to name more than 10: think Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier and Semillon among white wine grapes and Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz/ Syrah, Merlot, Pinot Noir, and Grenache among reds. Mind, these are all 'noble' French varietals, made famous by the most acclaimed French wines: Bordeaux (Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot), Burgundy (Pinot Noir), Chablis (Chardonnay), and Champagne (Chardonnay and Pinot Noir).

In the Northern Hemisphere's grape-growing areas (Europe, North America, Northern China), wine grapes are harvested in August and September; in the Southern Hemisphere (South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Argentina, and Chile), in February and March. In India the grape harvest is in February/March in Nashik and March/ April in Karnataka - this is simply as in our weather conditions the vine never stops growing and so requires two prunings, and the better crop is after our sunny 'winter' months.

So, the 2015 grape harvest is going on right now in Europe and California: it is reported that this is possibly the earliest harvest in the Napa Valley in living memory (July 2015), while France too is experiencing heat-wave conditions similar to 2003. However the Duoro valley in Portugal is set to get a record vintage. Thank you global warming, whose effects vary enormously from region to region; in any case, the weather in these latitudes is notoriously unpredictable.

Global warming is said to have caused a sea-change in wine quality in France: once upon a time, a 'record vintage' came once in a decade, but both 2005 and 2009 produced wines of outstanding quality - the previous best was in 1990 (for a detailed region-wise review of vintages since 1970 check out www.erobertparker.com/ newsearch/vintagechart1.aspx). The phenomenon has also caused the average alcohol content in wines to increase from 11.5 per cent to 12.5 per cent today, with some wines clocking in at 15 per cent and more!

Wines I've been drinking: Argentina is one of the largest wine producers in the world, and yet there are precious few wines from that country available in India as yet - blame it on the distance and their messy economy that never allowed their wines to get the sort of international recognition that, for example, wines from neighbouring Chile have achieved. A unique feature of their vineyards is that they are irrigated by snowmelt water from the Andes mountains, which hover a mere 100 km away (but are up to 6 km higher).

One interesting new winery whose wines are now available here is Dominio del Plata ('Domain of Silver') from the Mendoza region - started in 2001 by Susana Balbo, the 'Queen of Torrontes', this family-owned and family-run winery has a unique architecture. I tasted its two Malbecs recently: the Crios (85 points, Rs 2,476 in Bengaluru) was fruity, medium-bodied, and fresh, while the Ben Marco (86 points, Rs 3,566) was full-bodied, smooth, a lot more complex, and simply terrific.

As they say in Spanish, "Salud"! />
Alok Chandra is a Bengaluru-based wine consultant

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