The graphic icons used in our wine descriptions are a trademark of Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant. Their intent is to present a visual snapshot of the style of wine being presented in a way that is easy to understand. They are NOT a rating, although on first encounter many assume that is what they represent. More . . .
Our rating system, to the extent that we have one, comes into play much earlier in the process of selecting wine for our shelves. And it is much more direct: We either are excited about the wine and believe it merits a place in our mix, or we aren't and we don't. Our wine buying team tastes several hundred wines a month, and we strongly believe in our mission to be a filter on behalf of our customers. This is what it means to be a real wine merchant, and it is a function sadly missing in many wine retail venues today.
Our first icon explains the type of wine: Red, White, Rosé, Sparkling, or Dessert.
Our second icon is an indication of the perception of sweetness (scale 0-5). This is not necessarily an indication of residual sugar in the wine; most of our wine selections (excluding dessert wine) are fermented to full dryness, with less than 3g/L of residual sugar. Other factors that contribute to perception of sweetness include how rich in fruit the wine is on the palate. A wine with strong flavor compounds of ripe fruit will seem sweeter than a wine that has more prominent vegetal notes. Other factors, such as noticeable acidity or pronounced tannin structure (from the grape skins or oak) can decrease the perception of sweetness. A Brut Nature Champagne, for example, would have a 0 for sweetness. Many California Chardonnays, by contrast, would be a 1, while an ice wine would likely be a 5.
Our third icon is an indication of the wine’s intensity (scale 1-5). We think of intensity both on the nose and palate. Factors that contribute to intensity are the presence of aroma compounds (highly aromatic varietals such as Viognier or Sauvignon Blanc will often have more concentrated aroma compounds). On the palate, alcohol, structure, flavor compounds, and body all can impact the wine’s intensity. A good analogy here is cheese. Industrial mozzarella, for example, is so mild you could fall asleep eating it. Roquefort or Stilton, not so much. A simple Italian Pinot Grigio, for example, might be 1, while a young, robust Napa Cabernet would likely be a 5.
Our fourth icon is an indication of body, or the weight and viscosity of the wine on the palate (scale 1-5). This is admittedly a subtle gradation, and since it is all liquid it can take some focus to grasp. Consider milk as an appropriate analogy: The lightest in body is nonfat, then 1% milk, then 2%, then whole milk, then half & half, then cream, and finally heavy cream. At each step the viscosity and richness increases. The variation is more subtle in wine, but no less important to wine style. While body and intensity are often linked, they are different. A wine can be rich in body and still lack intensity, while a very light-bodied wine can have a laser-like focus. A fine Mosel Riesling, for example, might be a 1 in body, while an Italian Amarone would likely be a 5.
Our fifth icon is an indication of the perception of oak or other wood cask (scale 0-5). Similar to sweetness, this isn’t simply an indication of how long a wine spent in a barrel; rather it communicates how we perceive the presence of oak (or other woods) in the wine. Barrel aging contributes aroma compounds and wood tannins to a finished wine, separate from the grapes’ tannins. An experienced taster can tease out the difference. In very subtle examples, the oak can simply contribute to texture or what we wine nerds call “mouthfeel.”
Our sixth and final icon indicates farming practices at the winery. An ‘O’ is for organic wines or organically grown grapes, ‘B’ is for biodynamic farming, ‘S’ is for sustainably grown grapes and farming where there is a credible claim, and ‘U’ is for conventional farming practices, or for wines where we have not been able to establish with confidence the approach used. Note that if a producer is utilizing organic or biodynamic practices in the vineyard but is not certified, we position them as Sustainable.