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Grape varieties
Wine is usually made from one or more varieties of the European species, Vitis vinifera. When one of these varieties, such as Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, or Merlot, for example, is used as the predominant grape (usually defined by law as a minimum of 75 or 85%) the result is a varietal, as opposed to a blended wine. Blended wines are in no way inferior to varietal wines; some of the world's most valued and expensive wines from the Bordeaux, Rioja or Tuscany regions are a blend of several grape varieties of the same vintage.

Wine can also be made from other species or from hybrids, created by the genetic crossing of two species. Vitis labrusca, Vitis aestivalis, Vitis rupestris, Vitis rotundifolia and Vitis riparia are native North American grapes, usually grown for eating in fruit form or made into grape juice, jam, or jelly, but sometimes made into wine, eg. Concord wine (Vitis labrusca species).

Hybrids are not to be confused with the practice of grafting. Most of the world's vineyards are planted with European vinifera vines that have been grafted onto North American species rootstock. This is common practice because North American grape species are resistant to phylloxera, a root louse that eventually kills the vine. In the late 19th century, Europe's vineyards were devastated by the bug, leading to massive vine deaths and eventual replanting. Grafting is done in every wine-producing country of the world except for Chile and Argentina, which have not been exposed to the insect.

The variety of grape(s), aspect (direction of slope), elevation, and topography of the vineyard, type and chemistry of soil, the climate and seasonal conditions under which grapes are grown, and the local yeast cultures all together form the concept of "terroir." The range of possibilities lead to great variety among wine products, which is extended by the fermentation, finishing, and aging processes. Many small producers use growing and production methods that preserve or accentuate the aroma and taste influences of their unique terroir.

However, flavor differences are not desirable for producers of mass-market table wine or other cheaper wines, where consistency is more important. Producers will try to minimize differences in sources of grapes by using wine making technology such as micro-oxygenation, tannin filtration, cross-flow filtration, thin film evaporation, and spinning cone.

Vintages
A vintage wine is one made from grapes that were all, or primarily, grown in a single specified year, and are accordingly dated as such. Variations in a wine's character from year to year can include many subtle color, palate, nose, body and aging differences. Many wines, particularly good quality red table wines, can improve in flavor with age if properly stored. Consequently, it is not uncommon for wine enthusiasts and traders to save bottles of an especially good vintage wine for future consumption. Most countries allow a vintage wine to include a portion of wine that is not from the labeled vintage.

In the United States for a wine to be vintage dated (and labeled with a country of origin or American Viticultural Area (AVA), such as "New Zealand" or "Napa Valley") it must contain at least 95% of its volume from wines harvested in that year. If a wine is not labeled with a country of origin or AVA, such as "Napa County", it must contain at least 85% of its volume from wines harvested in that year.

Vintage wines are generally bottled in a single batch so that each and every bottle will have a similar taste. Climatic factors can have a dramatic impact on the character of a wine to the extent that different vintages from the same vineyard can vary dramatically in flavor and quality. Thus, vintage wines are produced to be individually characteristic of the vintage and to serve as the flagship wines of the producer. Superior vintages, from reputable producers and regions, will often fetch much higher prices than their average vintages. Some vintage wines are only made in better-than-average years.

Non-vintage wines can be blended from a number of vintages for consistency, a process which allows wine makers to keep a reliable market image and also maintain sales even in bad vintage years.

Recent research suggests vintage year may not be as significant to wine quality as currently thought, though wine connoisseurs continue to place a great importance on vintage.

Packaging & Storage
Most wines are sold in glass bottles and are sealed using a cork. Recently a growing number of wine producers have begun sealing their product with alternative closures such as screwcaps or synthetic plastic "corks." Some wines are packaged in heavy plastic bags, which are typically packaged further within cardboard boxes, similar to the packaging of breakfast cereal. One advantage of boxed-wine is that it can stay fresh for up to a month after opening, while bottled wine will start to oxidize immediately after opening. The contents of boxed wine are typically accessed via a tap on the side of the box. In addition to being less expensive, alternative closures prevent cork taint, although alternative closures can also cause other types of wine spoilage.

Wine cellars offer the opportunity to protect alcoholic beverages from potentially harmful external influences, providing darkness and a constant temperature. Wine is a natural, perishable food product. Left exposed to heat, light, vibration or fluctuations in temperature and humidity, all types of wine, including red, white, sparkling, and fortified, can spoil. When properly stored, wines not only maintain their quality but many actually improve in aroma, flavor, and complexity as they mature.


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