American wine drinkers often find it challenging to predict whether any given wine will suit their taste, thanks to a widespread misconception that wine grapes determine wine flavor. Grapes do have a role to play in flavor, weight and style — which explains why they show up as headings on wine lists and on store shelves — but they are not the only factor, or even the most important one. Wine grapes are simply not as predictable as flavors of ice cream. Chardonnay will never be as immutable as vanilla; cabernet sauvignon can vary more wildly than chocolate. Take this delightful mid-weight red blend from France’s Bordeaux region as an example. Seeing from the label that it contains mostly cabernet sauvignon, most red-wine drinkers would assume the wine to fall at the darkest, boldest, and heaviest end of the style spectrum. But because Bordeaux’s cool climate produces fruit that is less sweet and more tart than do places like California, the wine will taste more acidic than a California competitor, and will feel lighter in weight, more sheer in texture. The distinction is primarily one of ripeness. Where this wine tastes like fresh-picked blackberries and green herbs, tangy and unsweetened, an American version would be more concentrated and dessertlike — sweeter and thicker, more like blackberry jam.
Domaines Baron de Rothschild “Légende,” Bordeaux, France; $13.99 (regularly $16.99; sale price through April 29). PLCB Item #4173
Also available at Joe Canal’s in Lawrenceville, N.J. ($15.99)