About a year ago, we discussed single-varietal and blended wines. What about single-vineyard wine?
Most single-vineyard wine is also single-varietal wine. It is derived from the Burgundy wine classification. The basic Burgundian wine is “regional” appellation, where grapes are sourced from the entire region. “Village” appellation is the next level up, where grapes can only be sourced from that particular village. Above this is “Premier Cru”, where grapes must come from a specific vineyard parcel, or climat. The top level is “Grand Cru”, where grapes are grown in vineyards that are recognised as the best sites for particular grape varieties (Chardonnay or Pinot Noir). Only 2% of Burgundy wine belongs to Grand Cru.
This wine classification is based on the concept of terroir, which is the interaction between soil, climate and people. Burgundian winemakers believe that the same grape varietal grown in different soils or with different sun facings will be different and the resultant wines will have different expressions. Grand Cru sites are vineyards that are capable of producing distinctive wines.
Germany does not classify wine by vineyard but by grapes’ ripeness level. However, VDP, an association of Germany’s top wine estates, classifies wine based on Burgundy’s system. The best wine is Grosse Lage (Grand Cru) from a single site.
Barolo, the king of wine from Piedmont, Italy, made from 100% Nebbiolo grapes, has about 2,000 hectares of vineyards, with diverse soils, gradients, altitudes, aspects and microclimates. Barolo has nearly 200 years of winemaking history, and although winemakers have long recognised the differences and which vineyards are of better quality, the wine there was traditionally made by blending grapes from various vineyard parcels in order to achieve consistency year on year. It was only in the1980s that some winemakers followed their Burgundian counterparts to make single-vineyard wine, called Cru wine. However, not all winemakers agree to impose French customs on Italian territory. One of the country’s top producers, Maria Teresa Mascarello, said that Cru classification does not belong to Barolo’s history, and she continues only making wine wine from her four vineyard sites, like her father did.
The concept of single-vineyard wine has been non-existent in the New World because its wine thrives on consistency. But as more winemakers from both worlds learn from each other and in order to stand out from competitors, New World winemakers are embracing the concept of terroir and single-vineyard wine when possible. Off the top of my head, there is single-vineyard Bouchard Finlayson Galpin Peak Pinot Noir from South Africa and Kumeu River Maté’s Vineyard Chardonnay from New Zealand, plus many more!
Having said that, Penfolds Grange, the iconic wine from Australia and probably the most well-known New World wine, is a multi-vineyard, multi-regional wine where grapes are sourced from the entire South Australia to maintain house style and consistency.
To a lot of wine lovers, single-vineyard wine is a quality mark that reflects the sense of place. It is also more expensive because production is limited to the size of the vineyard. But this does not make blended wine less noteworthy. Blended wine is more than the sum of its parts, with the added complexity that single-vineyard wine cannot achieve.
A winemaker once compared single-vineyard wine to a violin solo, which can be great, but it will never compete with the sound of a whole orchestra. To me, single-vineyard wine is emotional, while blended wine is rational. Which one is better depends on the mood and occasion.
Well, there may never be a straight answer to wine, but at least it is an enjoyable beverage for most!
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