A varietal is simply a single type of grape used in wine production.
A “varietal wine” is made predominantly from one type (or varietal) of grape.
Examples of varietals include Pinot Noir, Riesling, and Syrah.
In Oregon, a varietal wine must contain at least 90% of its wine from a single variety of grape. The other 10% may come from blending in other varietals, a practice commonly employed by wineries to produce unique flavors in their wines. This other 10% may also result from a vineyard whose vines containing a few “stray” varietals, which, unless expressly detected, may go unknown for years.
The only exception to Oregon’s 90/10 law is with Cabernet Sauvignon, which may contain up to 25% of another varietal.
A dry wine has had most or all of its natural sugars converted to alcohol during the fermentation process, producing a wine relatively strong in alcohol, but with very little sweetness.
Examples of dry wines include Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah, and Pinot Noir.
A sweet wine is just what it sounds like. Unlike a dry wine, a sweet wine still has considerable amounts of natural sugar following fermentation.
Because less sugars have been converted to alcohol, sweet wines may have less overall alcohol than their dry counterparts.
Examples of sweet wines include Riesling, Muller Thurgau, and Dolcetto.
A blush wine is made by removing grape skins early in the fermentation process, thereby preventing the introduction of most tannins, colors, and flavors from the skins into the wine. The result is a wine that appears light- to dark-pink in color, with a somewhat sweeter flavor, and in many cases, less alcohol, than a traditional red or white wine.
Typically made from red wine grapes. a blush can also be made from some white grapes, as well as a combination of the two. A blush is also known as ‘rosé’, ‘rose’, or even just ‘pink’ wine.
Examples of blush wines include Pinot Noir Blanc, White Grenache, and White Zinfandel.
A dessert wine is one that has retained much of its residual sugar, and may have been strengthened (fortified) with alcoholic additives. The result is a potent, sweet, and in some cases syrupy wine full of flavor and aroma, and with higher alcohol content than a typical wine.
For this reason, the wine complements a dessert. In some parts of Europe, dessert wines are also served as before-dinner apéritifs.
Examples of dessert wines include Muscat, and late harvest wines.
A late harvest wine is one whose grapes have been harvested after they have fully ripened. In some cases, the grapes have been affected by a particular type of mold known as Botrytis cinerea, which causes the grapes to lose water, increasing the concentration of their natural sugars.
Late harvest wines typically have higher alcohol and residual sugars, and hence stronger and sweeter flavors than other wines, and can be served as dessert wines.
Examples of late harvest wines include Late Harvest White Riesling and Late Harvest Pinot Gris.
Ice wine is made from freezing wine grapes, and then removing excess ice. This results in a much more potent solution from which to ferment intensely sweet, acidic wines.
The term “ice wine” comes from the German expression “Eiswein”.
Mainly produced outside the United States, several Oregon wineries do produce ice wine.
Grappa is made from distilling pomace (grape skins) left over from the winemaking process.
The topography of a hill provides ideal growing conditions for wine grapes. The altitude of a hill can protect grapes against sudden frosts which occur in a valley, and which could kill an entire crop. Also, the slope provides for good drainage of both air and water down the hill, and prevents excess moisture from accumulating as in the valley below. In the northern hemisphere, southward-facing hills receive maximum light and warmth. For this reason, most vineyards are located on the south end of a hill.
Several Oregon wineries have planted test vineyards in valley floors, and time will tell how these locales compare to their hilly counterparts.