ASK CUVÉE RAY:
Wine 101 FAQ
Ray Kurz, aka, Cuvée Ray is a sommelier and wine educator who started his wine journey over 35 years ago. Since then, in addition to his formal wine training, Ray is an avid wine collector and wine writer and has traveled extensively to wine regions around the world, including wine regions of France, Italy, Germany, Spain, New Zealand, Australia and numerous wine regions of the USA. Ray was the owner of The Wine Spectator Award of Excellence winner, Cuvée Ray Wine Bar and Restaurant until its closing last year. Since then, Ray is focusing on sharing his knowledge and love of wine through conducting relaxed, fun and informative wine tastings, dinners and events and as he says, his overall goal is “Connecting wine with wine lovers.”
Here are 50 common questions people ask me about wine.
If you want to take a short course in wine 101 and get a basic knowledge of some key facts about wine, just read the following questions and answers. If you have a wine question, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Attributes & Tasting
Q. Why do some Chardonnays have a buttery taste?
A. Many chardonnays go through “malolactic fermentation” (sometimes called MLF or “Malo”) which converts tart Malic Acid (the kind you find in green apples) into Lactic Acid (the acid found in milk). Depending on the percentage of the wine that goes through MLF, the more or less buttery taste you get. You also get a more full mouth feel with more MLF.
Q. What is meant by wine having a full or light “body”?
A. “Body” in wine is the weight of the wine in your mouth. A full bodied wine has a heavier mouth feel and light bodied wine has a lighter mouth feel. Think of a light bodied wine as skim milk and a full bodied wine as whole milk as far as mouth feel is concerned.
Q. What causes the streaks or “legs” on the inside of a glass of wine and does it signify quality?
A. Also called “tears” these streaks are primarily caused by the physics involved in the evaporation of water and alcohol. Wines that are higher in alcohol tend to have more prominent legs or tears. Legs or tears are not an indication of quality.
Q. I sometimes see little crystals in the bottom of a bottle or glass of wine. What are they?
A. These are harmless tartrate crystals that precipitate from the tartaric acid in wines if the wines were not sufficiently cold stabilized (chilled to precipitate out of the wine before bottling). They do not affect the taste or quality of the wine.
Q. What causes sediment in wine?
A. Although wines are often filtered, there are various particles in wine that remain even after filtering such as suspended skin, pulp, and dead yeast cells as well as pigmented tannins that over time clump together (polymerize) and then precipitate to the bottom of the bottle. Unfiltered/tannic wines tend to throw more sediment over time.
Q. What does word Tannin mean?
A. Tannins are chemical compounds found in skins, stems and seeds of the grapes and are also found in wood barrels sometimes used in winemaking. Tannins give the wine an astringent or bitter quality that some people refer to as causing a “dry” feeling in the mouth and gums. There are many different types of tannins that impart varying levels of bitterness or astringency in wine. The presence of tannins in wine adds to its ability to age and over time, the tannins soften and can become more pleasant.
Q. Why are some red wines very dry tasting and others are smoother?
A. Although there can be various reasons for one wine tasting “dryer” or less “smooth” than another, one key reason is the amount and quality of the tannins in a wine. More tannic wines (e.g. Cabernet Sauvignon) tend to give you more of a sense of “dryness” than wines with less tannins (e.g. Pinot Noir). Note that technically speaking, when wines are referred to as “dry” it is an indication of a lack of sweetness or sugar present in the wine.
Q. Can you drink red wine with fish and white wine with meat?
A. Yes, you can certainly drink red wine with fish or white wine with meat!! Wine pairing is not that complicated and has as much to do with the sauces on the food as opposed to the underlying protein and has as much to do with the texture of the wine and food as the taste. That said, tannic red wines do not tend to go well with oily fishes or shrimp and light white wines can be drowned out by heavy red meats. While wine and food pairing can be the subject of entire text books, I tell people to think of wine as a sauce or condiment that you would have with the meal and if that flavor and texture of the wine seems like it would work as a sauce or condiment, then go for it! Some of the best wine pairings I have had have been young pinot noirs with a white flakey fish. And for years I could not imagine having a Chardonnay with a steak until someone using my sauce/condiment advice pointed out that we often put butter on a steak…so why not pair with a steak with a big rich buttery Chardonnay!!
Q. Is there any relationship between high price and high quality in wine?
A. I hate to say it but generally speaking, yes! While there are of course some really great wines at very reasonable prices (and that’s the holy grail of wine tasting!!) there are certain reasons why high quality wines cost more. For example, just like any real estate, you pay for location, location, location and the land cost for vineyards in prime locations for wine production cost more translating to a higher cost for the wine produced from such vineyard sites. Also, low yields can result in higher quality so wine growers that strive for lower yields per acre need to charge. There are other factors such as hand harvesting the grapes to make sure they are at optimal ripeness and using new high quality French oak barrels (which can cost in excess of $2,000 per barrel) instead of using oak chips as is done with some lower quality mass produced wines all of which adds significantly to the cost of wines. Of course, market forces such as supply and demand and a wine getting a high score by a noted wine critic can also drive up the price of certain wines.
Q. Why do some people use fruits, flowers, spices and sometimes kooky descriptors like leather and wet stones when describing the aromas/taste of wines?
A. Although some of the wine descriptors that professional wine tasters/critics use may seem almost comical, overall, its not just a bunch of B.S. I have seen studies saying that there are 1000 aromas in wine which of course corresponds to your taste perception. The aromas and taste of wine is imparted by among many other things the grapes, the soil, the fertilizer used, weather conditions, the atmosphere surrounding the vineyard, the yeast, the fermentation process, etc. Tasters use descriptors as a shorthand way of conveying the attributes of the wine and although we may all perceive taste differently, if one says a wine has notes of cranberry, it probably has a tart red fruit taste to many people. Even descriptors like “wet stones” are useful ways of conveying information about the taste of the wine. Of course since we don’t suck on wet stones we don’t know what they taste like but we do know what wet stones smell like and that signals a certain minerality in the wine. So while wine descriptors shouldn’t necessarily be taken too literally or narrowly, they are in my opinion useful ways of conveying information about the attributes of wine.
Q. What is meant by referring to a wine as a “dry” wine?
A. Technically, when a wine is described as “dry” it generally means that it has no perceptible level of sugar (the threshold percent of sugar which is generally perceptible is around .5% or 5/gl). So wines with less than that are considered dry wines. Note that with respect to Champagne or other sparkling wines where the term “extra dry’ refers to wines with 1.2-1.7% (12-17 g/l) sugar and are usually perceptively sweet. Also, sometimes we refer to the astringency imparted by tannin in wine as imparting a “dry” sensation.
Q. Are there wines without Sulfites?
A. Not really, although some have more than others. Sulfites are naturally produced as a consequence of fermentation so there will always be some sulfites in wine. But sulfur-dioxide is used in many aspects of winemaking as it kills bacteria and reduces oxidation but does result in more sulfites in wine. As a general rule, white wines tend to have more sulfites than red wines. While producers are more conscious of adding sulfur and try to use less, because of the anti-microbial and oxidation retardation properties of sulfur, it is very difficult to produce quality wines with no added sulfur. For the vast majority of people, sulfites have no effect but there are some people who are allergic to sulfites which is why wines have to be labeled as containing sulfites. A lot of people attribute headaches and other maladies to the sulfites in wine but other allergies such as to histamines and even the alcohol (ethanol) may be the cause rather than sulfites.
Q. Do so called “dry” wines contain sugar?
A. Virtually all wines, including “dry” wines have some sugar but dry wines have less sugar (referred to as residual sugar or RS) than can be perceived (generally less than .5% or 5/g/l). Note that the interplay between sugar and acidity can affect how sweetness is perceived such that certain wines with higher levels of sugar (even up to 2.5% or 25 g/l) can be perceived as dry because of the offsetting affect of higher acidity.
Q. Do some wines have more acid than others? How can I tell?
Wines vary as to the amount of acid they contain. Generally speaking wines from cooler wine growing regions (e.g. Rieslings from Germany) tend to have higher acidity than wines from warmer climates (e.g. Napa Valley Cabernets). As wines ripen, sugar levels increase and acidity decreases. For me, acidity in wines imparts freshness and life to wine and wines with insufficient acidity can leave a wine tasting flat and dull. Diurnal temperature differences (warm days and cool nights) in the vineyard allow the vines to rest at night thereby preserving the acidity. Acidity in wine is easily perceived on the sides of the tongue and wines with higher acidity can literally make you salivate.
Q. Why do some wines have more alcohol than others?
A. The alcohol content in wine can be generally correlated with wines that had a higher sugar content when fermentation began. Since fermentation is simply yeast converting sugar to alcohol (and also giving off heat and CO2 ) the more sugar you start with, the more sugar is available to be converted to alcohol. As a consequence, warmer wine regions where the grapes get very ripe and filled with sugar, tend to produce wines with higher alcohol content. Sweet wines are sometimes produced by stopping fermentation before it is complete meaning that there will be sugar that was not converted to alcohol so the wine is sweet but with lower alcohol levels.
Q. Is wine that is rated 90 much better than a wine rated 89?
A. Grrrrr. I hate this question because it is not easy to answer…but it is a good one. The simple answer is not necessarily and in fact there are many wine writers that hate the use of wine scoring systems (a dean of wine writers, Hugh Johnson, abhors numerical wine ratings). The thing many hate about numerical ratings is that a point difference between an 89 and 90 may be very difficult to accurately quantify but a wine that gets a 90 is perceived by the public to be at a whole other level than a wine that gets 88 or 89 (generally resulting in higher prices for a 90 as opposed to an 88 or 89). A wine is a living thing and it constantly evolves and changes and while professional tasters try to take that into account when scoring, if the wine were tasted on a different day it may be scored higher or lower. So in my view, a one point difference in rating is hard to rely on when assessing the quality of a wine. However, I also don’t agree with the notion that how good a wine is, is completely in the taste buds of the beholder. There are objective qualities about wines and whether one likes a wine or not is certainly only in the senses of the beholder, some wines are objectively better made than others. So in my view, while numerical ratings do have a place in the wine world as they generally correlate to quality, small numerical differences are not the be all end all in assessing wine quality.
Q. Why do you let some wines age and when do you know when a wine is “ready” to drink?
A. Wines change over time and in some cases wines will get more in balance and take on much more complexity as they age and hence most wine professionals will agree that certain wines do improve with age. For example, a well made Cabernet Sauvignon based wine with a lot of initial tannin will improve with age to the extent that the tannins will soften over time and the wine will take on interesting tertiary flavors that come with age. That said, wine is constantly evolving and youthful wines have there own characteristics that in the right circumstance with the right meal, are great just as they are. Wines do oxidize over time and generally red wines can be aged more than white wines. Interestingly, white wines get darker as they age and red wines get lighter (and browner) as they age. While wines can certainly eventually turn to vinegar or otherwise become unpalatable with age, absent such extremes, I once heard a wine writer analogize how you enjoy a wine over its lifetime with how you enjoy your children over a lifetime. You don’t love them more or less as they get older (hopefully) but you enjoy them for what they are at different points in their lifetime. It is truly a great experience to buy several bottles of a wine and taste them at different points in their life…even wines that are so called past their prime can give great pleasure in their old age.
Q. How should I store my wine?
A. It depends on how long you want to keep them for and do you want to allow them to mature over time. If you are not looking to age your wine over the course of many years, you should store it in as cool, not too dry, vibration free environment as possible and one which avoids bright lighting. A basement or cool area closet will work. Avoid storing wine in a high shelf in your kitchen for example as it is warmer up there than other places. If you are looking to store wine for the longer term, I do recommend some sort of temperature controlled environment or consistently cool basement. Commercial wine cooling cabinets work great but are expensive.
Q. At what temperature should I serve wines?
A. For many people, my advice is serve your reds cooler than you think you should and your whites warmer than you think you should. Over chilled whites lose a lot of aroma and flavor if served at refrigerator temps and reds served at room temperature can come off flabby. So reds should be served at 55-65 degrees (with lighter reds like Beaujolais served the coolest, Pinot Noir served on the cooler side and big reds toward the upper end). Whites should be served at 45-55 degrees (with crisp light bodied whites like Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc at the lower end of the temp range and bigger full bodied whites like a big buttery chardonnay or full bodied Viognier at the higher end). Rosés should be served at white wine temps. Champagne and similar sparklers should be served at the coolest temperature, 40-50 degrees.
Q. When should you decant a wine?
A. I am not a big fan of decanting wine as I like to have the wine develop in the glass and sometimes decanting can do more harm than good (I sometimes see people in restaurants insist on having their wines decanted and can’t help but think they are sometimes just doing it for show). That said, there are times when decanting is necessary. Most importantly, when a red wine has thrown a lot of sediment, it should be decanted to prevent the sediment from ending up in the glass. Some people like to decant a young red wine to let it open and breath and while arguably this does work, like I said, I prefer to let the wine develop in the glass and avoid the hassle of decanting (also if you happen not to finish a bottle, how do you take it home if it has been decanted?). With older wines that have thrown a sediment, be careful not to decant much before the wine is served as these wines can oxidize quickly and decanting hastens that process.
Q. How long can I keep a wine after I open it?
A. Assuming you do not use any type of a wine preservation system if kept in a refrigerator, whites can stay in great shape for at least a week after opening. Reds deteriorate faster so I actually put them in the fridge as well after opening and just take them out and let them come up to serving temperature before drinking. Reds can stay pretty fresh for at least several days by refrigerating them after opening. If you don’t refrigerate reds after opening, they will not stay fresh for more than a day or so.
Q. Does the type of glass a wine is in make any difference in how it tastes?
A. Yes, and I am a bit of a stickler about wine glasses, especially when drinking great wines that have a lot of complexity or delicacy. I once did a Riedel wine tasting where we tasted the same wine in different types of glasses and the wine actually tasted different depending on the glass used. Apparently, this has to do with the ability of the glass to capture aromas and the fact that the shape of the rim influences where on the tongue the wine is delivered. Having said that, unless you have a lot of cabinet space and a fair amount of extra money you feel you need to get rid of, I wouldn’t get too hung up on having the perfect wine glass for each type of wine. For me, I like to use a nice fairly large wine glass that does not have a lip on it. I note that in organized wine tastings, even in professional settings, they tend to use a pretty average size and quality glass (as you are tasting a small amount of wine). Perhaps most important, make sure your wine glass is free of soap residue (I rinse and dry my wine glass before doing any type of tasting or when drinking any fine wine!!).
Q. What causes the bubbles in sparkling wines?
A. CO2 released as a consequence of fermentation creates the bubbles and with respect to most sparkling wines, it is a secondary fermentation that causes the bubbles. Champagne and wines made in the same manner as Champagne start out as still wines and then yeast and sugar is added to the still wine to start a secondary fermentation which creates CO2 (bubbles). In very inexpensive sparkling wines, CO2 is just added to the still wine like you would do with soda pop.
Q. What is meant by Brut or Extra Dry on a bottle of Champagne?
A. Brut and Extra Dry are terms that tell you how dry or sweet the wine will be, with Brut signifying that the wine will be dry and Extra Dry (paradoxically) indicating that the wine will have some sweetness to it. There are other terms used to designate higher degrees of sweetness but we don’t often encounter those wines in the USA. Other terms such as Extra Brut signify a wine that is even more dry than Brut and Brut Nature or Sans Dosage signifying a wine that is the driest of all. The level of sweetness in a Champagne or wines made in the Champagne method is determined toward the end of the winemaking process at which time a mixture of wine and sugar is added to the bottle of wine (this is called liqueur d’expedition and the amount of sugar added is called the Dosage). The more Dosage added, the sweeter the wine and the less or if no dosage is added, the drier the wine will be.
Q. What is meant by Blanc de Noir or Blanc de Blanc on bottles of Sparkling Wine?
A. Champagne and other sparkling wines that just say for example “brut” are often made from a blend of red (Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier) and white (Chardonnay) grapes. A Champagne or sparkling wine designated as a Blanc de Blanc means “white from white” so the grapes in the wine are only from white grapes (Chardonnay). If a bottle says Blanc de Noir on the label it means the wine was made only from Black Grapes. Note that the juice from black (red wine) grapes is almost always white like a white wine. Red wine gets its color from the skins of the red grapes not from the pulp or juice and the longer the juice is left in contact with the skins the more color it will get (the juice in rosé wines is left in contact with red wine skins for a short period of time). If the juice of red grapes is pressed away from the skins right away, the wine will look pretty much like a white wine.
Q. Is there a difference between Champagne and Sparkling Wine?
A. Champagne is a type of sparkling wine made in the Champagne region of France. No other sparkling wine made anywhere else in the world, including nowhere else in France, can be labeled as Champagne. Wines made by the same method as used in Champagne (a secondary fermentation in the very bottle that you buy) used to be able to say they used Méthode Champenoise but even that is now largely not permitted. Wine made in this method now say Method Traditionnelle or Traditional Method or the like.
Q. What grapes are used to make Champagne?
A. There are three main grapes used to make Champagne; Two black grapes (Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier) and one white grape (Chardonnay). Historically four other grapes were used, namely, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Petit Meslier and Arbane but those other grapes are now rarely used.
Q. Why do some sparkling wines have a bread or brioche taste?
A. A key technique used in making Champagne and many sparkling wines is a secondary fermentation in the very bottle you purchase. The secondary fermentation involves introducing sugar and yeast to a bottle of still wine and once the added sugar fully ferments (which also gives creates the CO2 which gives Champagne its bubbles) the wine in the bottle is left to sit on the dead yeast cells (known as the “lees”) for as long as several years and dead yeast cells impart that bready/brioche flavor characteristic of Champagne.
Q. What is meant by the term “terroir”?
A. The best definition of terroir I have seen is from wine critic, Matt Kramer, who defined it as a wine’s “Somewhereness”. Basically “terroir” is all of the aspects of the environment in which the grapes are grown such as soil, climate, aspect (terrain), altitude, etc.
Q. Is the juice from red grapes like Cabernet, Pinot Noir or Merlot, red?
A. The juice from most red grapes is the same color as from white grapes (pale yellowish) as the color in red wine is imparted from the juice being in contact with the skins. You can make white wine from red grapes (as is often done in Champagne) by pressing the juice away from the skins and then fermenting the clear juice. There are a few red grape varieties that have red pulp and they are known as Teinturier grapes an example of which is the grape Alicante Bouschet.
Q. Has Global Warming affected wine?
A. Yes! Every winemaker or winery owner I have talked to, regardless of their politics, agrees that global warming is having and will continue to have a major impact on winegrowing. In some northernly winegrowing areas such as in Germany or Champagne where grapes have historically struggled to ripen, it is said by some to be having a positive impact as the grapes now ripen more easily. You can easily see the effect of global warming in wine by looking at how the alcohol content in wine has increased over the years (warmer climate results in more sugar in the grapes which once converted to alcohol through fermentation results in higher alcohol). Some vineyard owners are looking to plant vineyards at higher altitudes as temperatures drop with altitude.
Q. What is an “Ice” wine?
A. Ice wines are sweet dessert wines made in cold climates where the grapes are left on the vines until they freeze. They are then harvested and the ice made up of water is separated from the rest of the juice leaving very concentrated and sweet juice from which sweet dessert wine is made. So Ice wines start with a high amount of sugar and fermentation is halted before all the juice is converted to alcohol leaving a lot of unconverted sugar. Canada is a key wine growing country that makes some excellent Ice wines.
Q. What is “Noble Rot”?
A. Noble Rot is a fungus known as Botrytis Cinerea which attacks the grapes and leaves tiny holes which causes the grapes to become dehydrated resulting in them having very high concentrations of sugar. Noble Rot only occurs in very specific areas where there is morning fog followed by afternoon sun as without these conditions, the noble rot can just become regular rot (grey rot). Botrytis infected grapes make some of the worlds greatest sweet wines such as Sauternes and give the wines a distinctive honeyed character.
Q. How do they make dessert wines so sweet?
A. A common method of making sweet wines is to stop fermentation before it is complete. Wine grapes start with a lot of sugar and since fermentation is simply yeast converting the sugar to alcohol (also produces CO2 and heat which are usually just allowed to dissipate) if you stop fermentation before all of the sugar is converted to alcohol, the remaining unconverted sugar makes the wine sweet. Other techniques to make sweet wines involve using grapes that are harvested late (super ripe and sugary) or where the water content is diminished by drying, freezing where the ice is then removed, natural shriveling of grapes from helpful fungus (known as noble rot) etc. such that you start the fermentation process with grapes with a higher sugar content. Other techniques involve adding sweet unfermented grape juice called Sussreserve in Germany.
REGIONS AND VARIETIES
Q. What is meant by the left or right bank when referring to Bordeaux wines?
A. The Left Bank refers to vineyards located on the left bank of the Garonne River that flows through Bordeaux and the Right Bank refers to vineyards located on the right bank of the Dordogne River. Red wines of the Left Bank are usually predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon whereas red wines from the Right Bank are usually predominantly Merlot and/or Cabernet Franc.
Q. Why do American wines state the variety on the label and many European wines do not?
A. Tradition. Many European (Old World) wine regions have a history going back hundreds of years such that the name of the region in which the grapes are grown has come to signify the grape variety grown in that region. Many non-European (New World) wine regions do not have that history and hence tell the consumer the varietal in addition to the region on the bottle.
Q. How am I supposed to know what variety of wine I am getting when I buy wines without the variety on the label?
A. Unfortunately you just have to remember the region and the corresponding varietal (the upside being you have to try a lot of different wines from a lot of different regions to know which is which!!)
Q. What is meant by “Old World” and “New World” wines and what is the difference in how they taste?
A. Old World wines refer to wines that are produced in European countries that have a long history of wine making, e.g. France, Italy, Spain, Germany, etc. New World refers to wines made outside of the Old World such as Australia, USA, Argentina, New Zealand, etc. As a gross generalization, Old World wines tend to be more earthy, with more minerality, relying more on tradition in winemaking while New World wines tend to be more fruit forward, bigger and bolder with a heavier reliance on science. These distinctions are beginning to become more blurred.
Q. What kind of wine is Chablis?
A. Chablis is a Chardonnay wine grown in the Chablis sub-region of Burgundy, France which is the Northern most region in Burgundy. They are highly regarded and tend to be lean, mineral driven age-worthy wines with minimal to no use of oak. Unfortunately, Chablis was a term that was used many years ago in the USA to signify pretty generic white wine. Now, only wines from Chablis can now be labeled as Chablis.
Q. What grape is used to make White Burgundy?
Q. What grape is used in Red Burgundy?
A. Pinot Noir.
Q. What grapes are used to make Red Bordeaux?
A. On the Left Bank of Bordeaux, the dominant grape is Cabernet Sauvignon blended with merlot and/or Petit Verdot. On the Right Bank of Bordeaux, the dominant grapes are Merlot and Cabernet Franc which may also be blended with Petit Verdot. Malbec used to be an important component of Red Bordeaux wines but is much more rarely used these days.
Q. What grapes are used to make a white Bordeaux?
A. White Bordeaux is usually a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon (the Semillon softens the sharp edges of Sauvignon Blanc).
Q. What is Pouilly-Fuissé?
A. Puilly-Fuissé refers to a white wine subregion in the Macon District of Burgundy, France. It is 100% Chardonnay and is often considered the premium wine of the Macon region.
Q. What is Pouilly-Fumé
A. Not to be confused with Poully-Fuissé, Pouilly-Fumé is a sub-region of the Loire Valley which produces Sauvignon Blanc. It is said that the flinty soil gives Pouilly-Fumé a smokey quality (thus the “Fumé). This along with Sancerre is considered to be among the best Sauvignon Blanc wines of the world.
Q. What is Sancerre?
A. Sancerre is a sub-region for the Loire Valley which produces some of the best Sauvignon Blancs of the world.
Q. What is Vouvray?
A. Vouvray is a wine grown in the region of the Loire Valley of the same name. Vouvray is made from the Chenin Blanc grape and can be made in dry, off dry and sweet styles.
Q. What is Pinot Grigio?
A. Pinot Grigio a grape varietal grown in Italy and is an example of an Old World wine that is sold under the grape varietal name (Pinot Grigio) in Italy as opposed to the region. In Italy, Pinot Grigio is primarily grown in northeast regions of Veneto with arguably the best coming from the Fruili region. When grown in the USA, it is most often referred to as Pinot Gris.
Q. What grape is used to make Chianti?
A. The primary grape of Chianti is Sangiovese (small amounts of other varieties are permitted to be blended with Sangiovese). Like many Old World wines, Chianti is the name of the region in Tuscany, Italy where the wine is made rather than the grape variety.
Q. What is Meritage wine?
A. Wines designated as “Meritage” (which is intended to rhyme with “Heritage”) are red blends which use the same grapes as Bordeaux Blends (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot for reds and Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and Muscadelle for whites). The term was coined in 1981 and is a registered trademark to be used only by wineries that agreed to join the Meritage Alliance. The term is used less and less in California but seems to be on the rise in Virginia.