Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Wine notes and queries

The world of wine can be mysterious and one that most of us, in our essentially non-winemaking country, are rather distanced from. We don't have the same deep cultural ties with wine that people who live in countries who make the stuff do. Yet we are increasingly a nation of wine drinkers and some are naturally curious about what they are drinking.

Do you have a burning question about wine that you've always wanted to find the answer to? I often find someone saying something like: “This is a really stupid question but...” There really are no silly questions when it comes to wine, so to start the ball rolling I've listed a couple of queries that crop up fairly frequently.

If you have a wine related query you can send it to me via Twitter at You can also keep track of my wine blog postings and general wine musings by following me on Twitter. Or if that's a little too new media for you, you can email me at Don't be shy...ask away! You could find your question forms the basis of a future Surrey Advertiser column.

What's the difference between Pouilly Fumé and Pouilly-Fuissé?

Both these wines have a good level of recognition among British wine drinkers, but it wasn't until someone asked me this question that I realised there is ample room for confusing the two. They are also hard for English speakers to get their tongues round, which could lead to even more confusion. Pouilly Fumé is pronounced “Pou-ee foomay”; Pouilly-Fuissé, “Poo-ee fwee-say”.

Pouilly Fumé is the name for wines made from the sauvignon blanc grape around the small town of Pouilly-sur-Loire. It's bang next door to Sancerre and the wines are pretty similar – though Sancerre being much easier to say and to remember must account for at least some of its popularity in this country. Traditionally the wines of Pouilly Fumé tend to have more mineral and elegant characters compared with Sancerre's more overtly fruity and pungent flavours; though in practice you're more likely to find differences between producers than between the two neighbouring vineyard areas. Fumé, meaning smoked or smoky, is a reference to the smoky, gunflint character sometimes exhibited by the wines.

Pouilly-Fuissé, on the other hand, is the name of a vineyard area in the Mâconnais, in southern Burgundy. Pouilly and Fuissé are the names of two settlements where the grapes are grown. White wine in Burgundy essentially equals chardonnay and Pouilly-Fuissé wines carry the highest quality reputation in the Mâcon, so will often be given the traditional Burgundian oak barrel-ageing treatment. You might also see the names Pouilly-Vinzelles or Pouilly-Loché, which are neighbouring areas.

How is rosé wine made?

With our recent embrace of the pink stuff comes a natural curiosity about how it's made. Essentially there are three ways it can happen:

  • Mixing a little red wine into white wine

It sounds like cheating and, for most winemakers in the EU at least, it is. In the rest of the world, however, it is quite permissible to make a pink wine by adding some red wine. European winemakers are, understandably, pretty sniffy about this way of making rosé wine – unless they are in the Champagne region, where they are allowed to make their pink Champagne in this way. If you see the words “rosé d'assemblage” on a Champagne bottle, it has been made by blending in some red wine. “Rosé de saignée” indicates a more traditional rosé-making method – see below.

  • The saignée method

This is becoming a more widespread. Red grapes ultimately destined to make red wine are held in a vat; some of the light red juice coloured by the crushed grapes is allowed to run out; fermenting this light red juice results in a pink wine. The reason for its popularity amongst winemakers is that they can then go on to make a red wine from the remaining grapes, as well as the rosé: two wines from a single batch of grapes – you can see the attraction.

  • "Pressurage direct"

The most traditional way to make rosé wine and, purists would argue, the best, is the “pressurage direct” or direct pressing method, used by winemakers in Provence, for example. Unlike the rest of the world, here they take pink wine very seriously and view rosés made by any other method as inherently inferior. The winemaker selects red grapes for rosé wine which are then crushed and then left for a brief period in the vat, giving the final wine a delicate, paler pink hue and, arguably, a more refined flavour than the saignée method.

There must be other things that you've been intrigued or confused by: why does Champagne cost so much more than Cava? Why does red wine give me a hangover when white wine doesn't? Why don't most French wines tell you which grape variety the wine is made from?

To get your question answered, go to and ask away.

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