First Pour Wine: Episode 4 [Spring]

Welcome to our 4th installment of First Pour Wine where we cover spring and summer wines with two uncommon choices to try.  We’ll also be explaining:

  • What is a table wine?  What are other styles of wine?
  • What is a clairet?  Is it different from a rosé? How do they make rosé?
  • A brief spot on Native American varietals.
  • As well as:  2009 Chateau St. Sulpice Sarah Clairet & N/V Bully Hill Goat White Wine.

Styles of Wine

One of the wine tonight (the Bully Hill) is referred to as a “Table Wine”.  Table wine is one of a few classifications of wine that almost all wines fall into.  Classifications are determined by the Alcohol By Volume of a wine.

  • 8% – 15% is considered Table Wine.
  • 8% – 12% with carbonation is referred to as Sparkling Wine
  • 17 – 22% is considered Fortified Wine

Alcohol listed on a bottle is a general average, sometimes used for taxation, but can vary by up to 1.5% from what’s printed.  Occasionally, this information is also used to determine different levels of taxation, for example, wine over 15% alcohol is taxed differently due to no longer being considered a table wine.

The reasoning for ‘Table Wine’s’ specific alcohol content range has to do with yeast.  As most yeast eat the sugars from the grape juice, they produce alcohol, when the alcohol gets around 14% this kills most yeast.  Some wine makers have found ways around this, using yeast strains from labs that can survive to much higher alcohol levels.

Fortified Wine is wine that has had neutral spirits [typically neutral grape brandy] added to stop fermentation, keeping most of the sugar in tact.

There are many other circumstances that can effect the final level of alcohol, but these are the primary conditions.


In essence, wine breaks down in two directions when pressed.

  • Wines pressed that have the grape skins removed become white wines.
  • Wines pressed with the skins on, and left to ferment with the skins become red wines

Now, there are exceptions to this, as with everything in the wine world.

  • Wines pressed and left briefly on the red grape skins (1 – 3 days) become Rosé
  • Wines pressed and left briefly on the white grape skins (1 – 3 days) become ‘Orange Wines’. [These are still very uncommon.]

In this episode, we have a Clairet.  Clairets are essentially a dark rosé that used to be the primary style of wine in Bordeaux.  Now, Clairets are very uncommon.  This longer period on the skins causes the wine to take on more of a bloody color as opposed to rosé pink.  This also means higher tannins in the wine.  It is worth noting that despite the extra tannin, rosé and clairets should be drank young, with in a couple years.

Native American Varietal and Hybrids

The varietals (grapes) that have been on the show thus far have been European grapes that, in large part, survived the Phylloxera outbreak (microscopic mean bugs that kill grape vines from the root), by being grafted on to american root stocks.  This of course means that there had to be american grapes [species, not types], which there are.  Unfortunately, these grapes don’t get as much love as their European cousins, and tend to only be grown in certain areas where European varietals don’t do well, for instance, Russia [there are also Asiatic Varietals].

So what does that mean?  Aside from the fact that Concord grapes fall into the american category, it means the likelihood of running into Seyval Blanc or Vidal Blanc is very unlikely outside of wines from Canada, New York, and Virginia.  These grapes do have rather unique flavors due to their quick ripening.  For more information, look in the Grapes section.

So enough about the darn whatever-ya-ma-call-ems, lets drink the dang wines already.

2009 Chateau St. Sulpice Sarah Clairet

This is the first Clairet that I’ve personally ever had, and wasn’t 100% sure what to expect.  True to style it is from Bordeaux’s Appellation Bordeaux Clairet Controlée (something I wasn’t even aware existed, but it’s a government regulated area of wine recognized for making Clairet to a certain standard).  Made from 80% Merlot, and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, the bottle suggested flavors of strawberries and cherries, which was sort of true, but it seemed a bit subdued.

Sight: The wine is a pale brick red, sharing a bit of pink and a some orange / brown.

Smell: There are smells of cherry and strawberry, with a lot of unripe raspberries.  There is mild vanilla, raisin, and some dust to the wine.

Sip: Trying to find the fruit was a challenge.  This is one of those rare moments where the wine is just too subtle.  I spent a significant time going, ‘where’s the fruit?’, and ‘Yup, that’s wine.’  Moderate acid, cherries and unripe berries are present, a touch of rubber, if you look real hard for them.  The body is thin despite all the alcohol, as though the vineyard perhaps received too much rain at harvest. [13.5% ABV]

Savor: No strong aftertaste, or any real aftertaste.  This wine pulls a Houdini, but how it does the trick isn’t very interesting.  It’s like a band that stops playing after 3 songs.

Overall, it’s just not a very pleasurable wine.  Whether it was excess water in the harvest or that it’s just slightly past it’s prime is hard to say, but another rosé or clairet will most likely be in the cards for First Pour Wine to find a recommendation for the spring and summer.

Price: $7.95
Bordeaux, France [warning, in French]

N/V Bully Hill Goat White Wine

Made from Vidal Blanc and Seyval Blanc, this wine hails from the Finger Lakes where winters are cold, summers are short, and wineries must react quickly or start making ice-wine.  Bully Hill is one of the largest wineries in New York, and has a particularly large following among many New Yorkers.

Sight: Light gold, with a touch of green.

Smell: Pineapple, cantaloupe, and papaya lead off with touches of citrus and hints of clover honey and lavender.

Sip: Big bold lemons are followed by strong papaya and pineapple.  Green apples and white grape juice join in, with a slightly peachy flavor.  Semi-sweet, with a moderate body and acid.

Savor: Lime lingers pleasantly, before moseying off as though it remembers it has to go somewhere.

Overall, this is a great wine to just sit out back and sip through the summer.  It would also probably pair well with fruit or fresh white fish like tilapia or sea bass. Particularly nice for people that enjoy sweeter wines, but appreciate some dryness, or those new to wine.

Price: 6.95
Hammondsport, NY [Finger Lakes]