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Category Archives: Wine Touring

Baden, Germany

In the south-western corner of Germany lies a distinctive wine region, encompassing some 16,000 hectares of vineyards – making it the third largest wine region in the country – stretching over 200km north to south, east of the Rhine River.

Vineyards around the Kaiserstuhl, Baden, Germany

Vineyards around the Kaiserstuhl, Baden, Germany

The average vintage in Baden produces around a million hectolitres of wine.

At the time of writing this page, Baden is the only wine grape region included in the EU’s Zone B – which exposes higher minimum requirements for Quality Wine and Quality Wines of Distinction.

Other wine regions included in this zone include the likes of Alsace, Champagne and the Loire Valley – which places Baden in serious company!

Surprising then, that little is actually known about Baden outside its own borders, despite the fact that it is as large as Alsace – just over the river.

Baden covers over 400km, including 9 districts:

Baden vineyards

Baden vineyards

Badische Bergstrasse, Tauberfranken, Kraichgau, Ortenau, Breisgau, Kaiserstuhl, Tniberg, Markgräflerland, and Bodensee.

Around 55% of wine grapes grown here are of Pinot varieties; 36% Pinot Noir (Spätburgunder), 10% Pinot Gris (Grauburgunder) and the rest Pinot Blanc (Weißburgunder). This makes Baden the largest producer of Pinot varieties in the whole of Germany.

The remaining 45% odd is made up of Riesling, Müller-Thurgau and the lesser-known Chasselas (Gutedel).

Interestingly, although we don’t hear a lot about its use, Chasselas has a number of pseudonyms around the world: Abelione, Abelone, Albilloidea, Alsacia Blanca, Amber Chasselas, Amber Muscadine, Bar sur Aube, Bela Glera, Bela Zlahtnina, Berezka Prostaya, Berioska Casla, Beyaz Gutedel, Biela Plemenika Praskava, Biela Plemincka Chrapka, Biela Plemincka Pruskawa, Blanchette, Blanquette, Bon Blanc, Bordo, Bournet, Bournot, Charapka, Chasselas, Chasselas Angevin, Chasselas Bianco, Chasselas Blanc Royal, Chasselas Blanchette, Chasselas Crognant, Chasselas Croquant, Chasselas de Bar-sur-Aube, Chasselas de Bordeaux, Chasselas de Florence, Chasselas de Fontainebleau, Chasselas de Jalabert, Chasselas de la Contrie, Chasselas de la Naby, Chasselas de Moissac, Chasselas de Montauban, Chasselas de Mornain, Chasselas de Pondichéry, Chasselas de Pontchartrain, Chasselas de Pouilly, Chasselas de Quercy, Chasselas de Rappelo, Chasselas de Tenerife, Chasselas de Teneriffe, Chasselas de Thomeri, Chasselas de Toulaud, Chasselas de Vaud, Chasselas di Fountanbleau, Chasselas di Thomery, Chasselas Dorada, Chasselas Dorato, Chasselas Dore, Chasselas Dore Hatif, Chasselas Dore Salomon, Chasselas du Doubs, Chasselas du Portugal, Chasselas du Roi, Chasselas du Serail, Chasselas du Thor, Chasselas Dugommier, Chasselas Dur, Chasselas Fendant, Chasselas Hatif de Tenerife, Chasselas Haute Selection, Chasselas Jalabert, Chasselas Jaune Cire, Chasselas Piros, Chasselas Plant Droit, Chasselas Queen Victoria, Chasselas Reine Victoria, Chasselas Salsa, Chasselas Tokay Angevine, Chasselas Vert de la Cote, Chasselas White, Chasselat, Chrupka, Chrupka Biela, Chrupka Bila, Common Muscadine, Danka Belaya, Dinka Belaya, Dinka Blanche, Dobrorozne, Doppelte Spanische, Dorin, Doucet, Eau Douce Blanche, Edelschoen, Edelwein, Edelweiss, Edelxeiss, Elsaesser, Elsasser Weiss, Fabian, Fabiantraube, Fábiánszőlő, Fehér Chasselas, Fehér Fábiánszőlő, Fehér gyöngyszőlő, Fehér ropogós, Fendant, Fendant Blanc, Fendant Roux, Fendant Vert, Florenci Jouana, Fondan Belyi, Franceset, Franceseta, Frauentraube, Gamet, Gelber Gutedel, Gemeiner Gutedel, Gentil Blanc, Gentil Vert, Golden Bordeaux, Golden Chasselas, Grossblaettrige Spanische, Grosse Spanische , Grosser Spaniger, Gruener Gutedel, Gutedel, Gutedel Weiss, Gutedel Weisser, Gyöngyszőlő, Junker, Koenigs Gutedel, Kracher, Krachgutedel, Krachmost, Lardot, Lourdot, Maisa, Marzemina Bianca, Marzemina Niduca, Morlenche, Mornan Blanc, Mornen, Mornen Blanc, Most, Most Rebe, Moster, Pariser Gutedel, Perlan, Pinzutella, Plamenka Belyi, Plant de Toulard, Plant de Toulaud, Plemenika Praskava, Plemenka, Plemenka Bela, Plemenka Rana, Pleminka Biela, Praskava, Pruscava Biela, Queen Victoria, Queen Victoria White, Raisin D’officier, Ranka, Rebe Herrn Fuchses, Reben Herm Fuchs, Reben Herrn, Rheinrebe, Rosmarinentraube, Rosmarintraube, Royal Muscadine, Sasla, Sasla Bela, Schoenedel, Shasla Belaya, Shasla Dore, Shasla Lechebnaya, Shasla Viktoria, Silberling, Silberweiss, Silberweissling, Silberwissling, Strapak, Suessling, Suesstraube, Sweetwater, Sweetwater White, Temprano, Temprano Blanco, Terravin, Tribi Vognoble, Tribiano Tedesco, Ugne, Uslechtile Bile, Valais Blanc, Viala, Viviser, Waelsche, Waelscher, Weisser Gutedel, Weisser Krachgutedel, White Chasselas, White Muscadine, White Sweetwater, White Van der Laan, Zlahtina, Zlahtnina, Zlahtnina Bijela, Zlatina, and Zupljanka! [Source: Wikipedia]

…but anyway, back to Baden …

Kaiserstuhl

Kaiserstuhl vineyards

Kaiserstuhl vineyards

By far the largest number of wines, and largest vine area in Baden is the Kaiserstuhl [King’s Seat].

This hilly outcrop in an otherwise fairly flat area is actually the core of an ancient volcano. Its soils are thus volcanic, and give rise to a mineral quality to the wines.

However there are areas of loess – a fine, light soil that erodes very easily – which retain water more readily and have given life to some fuller-bodied wines during hot years.

This area – the warmest wine grape-growing region in Germany – is able to ripen even red wine grapes to sufficient levels to produce excellent wines.

Kaiserstuhl vineyards, Baden, Germany

Kaiserstuhl vineyards, Baden, Germany

The area speciality would have to be the Spätburgunder Weissherbst. Made from the Pinot Noir grape, the mineral qualities of the soil impart a spritzy character to this light-bodied red.

Unfortunately the best wine of this region stays in the region. – and you really can’t leave without trying several bottles!

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A Tale of Two Identities – Alsace, France

Alsatian wines have often mistakenly been referred to as German, due to the tumultuous history of ownership of this track of land on the French border.

Riquewihr, Alsace, France

Riquewihr, Alsace, France

In the late 17th century, it became French territory, however during the 1871 Franco-Prussian war, it became part of Germany.

The end of WWI (1918) saw Alsace returned to France, only to be annexed once more to Germany in 1940.

It’s worth reflecting at this point how this would have affected the mood of the Alsatians. During WWII, they were drafted as German soldiers and expected to fight against their fellow frenchmen, and the very distributors who peddled their wines around France for them!

Fortunately, after the defeat of Germany in 1945, France once again opened its arms and welcomed the Alsatians back as their own. It has remained so to this day.

Produces World’s Best Rieslings …

Despite the association with Germany, and the similarities in grape varieties used (mainly Riesling, Pinot Blanc, Gewürztraminer), Alsatian wines are drier and fuller-bodied, with less residual sugar.

Rieslings and Gewürztraminer from Alsace in particular are world reknowned for excellence.

 Appellations History

Riquewihr, Alsace, France

Riquewihr, Alsace, France

Alsace finally became part of the Apellation Contrôlée in 1962, and since 1972 only the Alsace flûte style bottle is permitted for these wines.

Contrary to other appellations, Alsace wineries are allowed to include the grape varietal on the labels of their wine – but only if it is made from 100% of the varietal.

The Alsace apellation consists of two départements: Haut-Rhin (considered the best) and Bas-Rhin.

Vineyards near Riquewihr, Alsace, France

Vineyards near Riquewihr, Alsace, France

In 1975, Alsace became eligible for the classification of Grand Cru.

For a vineyard to attain this status, it must make wines from one of four noble varietals:

Riesling,

Gewürztraminer

Pinot Gris

Muscat.

Yields are maximised at 65hl/ha and minimum natural alcohol must reach 10% or 12% depending on grape. Both grape and vintage must be shown on the label.

Special Thanks!!

I must extend a big THANK YOU, to my friend Phillipe Durst, Export Manager of the wine house Dopff au Moulin, for providing the pictures on this page.

Head Office, Dopff au Moulin, Alsace, France

Head Office, Dopff au Moulin, Alsace, France

 

Beautiful Bordeaux

Beautiful Bordeaux!

Grand Vins de Bordeaux, a fabulous wine store to explore!

Grand Vins de Bordeaux, a fabulous wine store to explore!

Despite the explosion of New World wines out there, no one country or region has managed to snatch the title of “World’s Most Emminent Wine Region” that Bordeaux holds tightly in its grasp. It is the red wines of Bordeaux, (formerly called “Claret” by the poms for centuries), that have set the standards for quality wine the world over.

That’s not to say that all of them are exciting … there are the vin ordinaires for the princely sum of a few euros, and only the backpackers are thankful for those … But the true Bordeaux red rewards those with patience, and offers a challenge not for the feint-hearted. Opening these wines too early is a waste, as is opening them in the middle of their maturity, or too late.

Big Bordeaux are tannic and tight for the first 5 or 6 years, holding back the blackcurrant or plum flavours of the signature Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot. Then strangely, they seem to slump – becoming flat and lifeless for the next few years, before taking on a new depth of complexity, aromas and fruit.

Probably Bordeaux’ biggest enemy is itself. It’s out of control in terms of … err, control.

Chateaux in the Blaye Bourg region, Bordeaux, France

Chateaux in the Blaye Bourg region, Bordeaux, France

In an area of 123,000ha under vine, there are 10,200 growers, 35,000 Chateaux, 400 Distributors and 100 Brokers. One out of every six people in Bordeaux work in the wine industry.

Stats (at time of my visit – late 2006) held that 790,000 bottles are produced every year to reach a market value of €3,000,000,000. 90% of these are red – Merlot, Cab Franc, Cab Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, and 10% white – Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Muscadelle, Ugni Blanc, Colombard.

Harvest in Bordeaux is determined by chemical analysis. What they’re looking for from grapes is 220 g/ltr sugar, 12.5 Baume – min level as per AOC. Bordeaux reds must be fermented dry, and the use of tartaric acid addition is prohibited.

Vineyards in the Blaye Bourg region, Bordeaux, France

Vineyards in the Blaye Bourg region, Bordeaux, France

There are a whopping 57 appellations within this region, telling growers what to grow, how to grow it, how much to grow …

In 2007, a new appellation “Côtes de Bordeaux” was introduced. This encompasses an area of the right bank of the Garonne river, from Saint Maixant and Cadillac to the city of Bordeaux, and in short paves the way for lower value wines to use oak chips during production. All these sub-regions are located on the right bank, and all currently produce easy-gowing, fruit-driven, primarily Merlot-based wines, 85% of which are reportedly consumed locally.

Bordeaux wines reflect terroir

Beautiful Bordeaux city

Beautiful Bordeaux city

They’re not allowed to irrigate in Bordeaux. Underground water supplies keep them alive, but also provide sediment to feed the vines – which helps the grapes and resulting wines take on the characters of the soils, which are actually quite poor.

Bordeaux wines are named after their location. So you won’t see the names of the grapes used in a wine on the label.

They divide the Bordeaux region between the left and right banks of the Gironde Estuary, which continues divided between the Garonne and Dordogne tributaries.

On the hilly right bank the soil is primarily clay and limestone – suitable for fruit-forward, lower tannin Merlot. These cooler soils slow down the ripening stage (avoiding August heat and rain), and budburst (avoiding April frosts).

The right bank encompasses Côtes de Blaye and Bourg to the north, and St Emilion, Pomerol, Lalande-de-Pomerol, Fronsac, Canon-Fronsac, Côtes de Castillon and Francs divided from Entre-deux-Mers by the Dordogne.

Roman ruins @ Palais Gallien, Bordeaux.  Once on the outskirts of the city, now in the suburbs!

Roman ruins @ Palais Gallien, Bordeaux. Once on the outskirts of the city, now in the suburbs!

The left bank is more sandy, and has pebbles to absorb heat during the day, for distribution during the nights. It is a continuation of the sedimentary Acquitaine Basin; lowlands boundaried by Gironde Arch, the Pyrenean mountain chain, and the Bay of Biscal. This is big, tannic Cabernet Sauvignon territory, producing wines with pronounced blackcurrant and cassis flavours.

The left bank is home to five major communes of Saint-Estephe, Pauillac, Saint-Julien, Margaux and Graves. Located here are the five esteemed First Growth Chateaux: Chateau Latour, Chateau Lafite-Rothschild, Chateau Mouton-Rothschild, Chateau Margaux and Chateau Haut-Brion. Further north we find the Médoc, and in the hinterland we find the Haut-Médoc. Alas, poor Médoc doesn’t get a mention on Grand Cru labels, however Haut-Médoc does.

I must add here that the above is not an exhaustive list of all vignobles Bordelais but quite frankly this page is getting too long, and I haven’t talked about Cellar Door visiting yet … such is the complexity of Bordeaux!

 

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Fortifieds – not for the feint-hearted!

Fortified Wines

Port houses, Nova Gaia, Oporto, Portugal

Port houses, Nova Gaia, Oporto, Portugal

From the Latin ‘Fortis‘, we refer to strong wines as ‘Fortified’.

Fortifieds are wines to which high strength spirit (around 95%) or brandy spirit (around 80%) has been added to increase the alcohol level. Most fortifieds come in at around 17 to 20% alcohol by the time they are bottled.

The blending secrets of winemakers who venture into fortifieds have often been passed down through generations. In fact, some of the wines they are using in today’s blend were made by their grandfathers – partcularly in the case of Solera systems.

Many of these wines undergo comprehensive production methods. There are also styles of Fortifieds which are not listed here, such as the extremely luscious tokays and muscats.

For now, though, we’ll just overview three main types.

Best Grapes for Fortified Wines

Fortifieds can be white or red, and made from either grape colour. Not just any grape will do, though … they do need to have some specific characterists:

Sweet fortified wines need grapes that tend to shrivel, and achieve high sugar concentration on ripening – like Grenach, Shiraz, Muscadelle, Frontignac, Verdehlo.

Dry fortifieds like Sherry require neutral flavoured grapes – like Pedro Ximines or Palomino.

Solera Systems

Solera System, Jerez

Solera System, Jerez, Spain

Several fortified wines – most well-known, Sherry – are made through a Solera system, which consists of layers [criadera] of barrels stacked on top of each other. Each criadera holds a single vintage’s wine. The oldest vintage is naturally at the bottom layer [the solera], and the new vintage is placed on the top row.

A Solera system works like this: Several times a year, wine is removed from the bottom barrels for bottling/drinking. This is replaced by wine drawn out of the next layer of barrels, which are in turn topped up by the next layer.

This way, the wine in the bottom barrels represents a blend of all vintages, and remains refreshed. The Solera ensures consistency in house style.

Imagine the job it must be to replace the bottom barrels as they deteriorate with age … that a whole other page one day …

Sherry

Spanish vineyards, Jerez, Spain

Spanish vineyards, Jerez, Spain

Normally reserved as a tippling drink for little old ladies, it’s worth getting acquainted with Sherry. It really is a great alternative for summer afternoons.

Sherry originates in Spain – named after the city of Jerez [pronounced Hereth], and is made from Palomino or Pedro Ximenes grapes.

The minimun ripening degree for Palomino and Pedro Ximenes to make Sherry is 10.5 degrees baumé. The grapes also have low acidity, and the juice oxidises easily.

Pedro Ximenes (PX) is actually being replaced by Palomino in Spain, due to Palomino’s better tolerance of disease, and higher yields, although the high-end sherries all seem to continue to be PX.

But it’s not just grape choice that creates the unique aromas and flavours of Sherry. It’s the yeast, and the oxidation of the ethyl alcohol it produces.

Sherry under Flor, Jerez, Spain

Sherry under Flor, Jerez, Spain

Yeast used to ferment Sherry forms a surface-covering growth on the fermenting wine. This growth is called ‘flor’, and is a key production requirement of the finest Fino Sherries.

Flor isn’t like other yeasts. When it first meets the wine, it sinks to the bottom … then rises up to create a film around 3 to 6 mm thick on the surface. If this film is broken during fermentation period, the wine cannot be Fino anymore. It can go on to become Amontillado or Oloroso.

Fino is pale coloured, has a pungent almondy bouquet, smooth on the palate and dry on finish. As Fino ages in casks, it hopefully retains its delicate aromas and flavours. However, it can morph into Fino-amontillado or Amontillado if it gains body and develops a new bouquet.

If it grows coarser, it becomes reclassified as Oloroso. Oloroso is a style of Sherry that doesn’t require flor, so it’s not just a category left for failed Finos. Oloroso is darker in colour and is made from more fragrant grapes.

Cream Sherry is made in a number of ways, not necessarily having anything to do with the Solera. Sometimes it is made by sweetening and adding colouring wine to base wine.

Colouring wine is another interesting process. Termed ‘arrope-vino de color’ this is wine which has been reduced by boiling to one fifth of its original volume. It becomes caramelly and reaches around 37 degrees baumé. A seperate amount of grape juice is fermented and the reduced wine is slowly added. The end wine is around 12 degrees baumé, and is aged in casks in a Solera.

Port

Douro vineyards, Oporto, Portugal

Douro vineyards, Oporto, Portugal

Although authentic Port comes from Portugal, other countries, particularly Australia, make some sensational ports.

In Portugal, the grapes all come from the Douro Valley. In Australia, they can come from a variety of regions, however undoubtedly the Rutherglen region in North East Victoria produces exceptional fortifieds over all.

The minimum ripeness for Port is 12-13 degrees baumé. The main grape varieties used include Touriga, Bastardo, Grenache (tawny port in Australia), Shiraz, Mataro.

Authentic Portugese Port production is controlled in a similar way to the appellation laws in France and Germany. In Portugal, vineyards are graded [A to F] every four years by Government inspectors. The grading gives the vigneron a level of yield that he is allowed to turn into Port. A grade vineyards can use 100% yield, whereas F might only make 40%.

Port stacked in Port houses, Nova Gaia, Porto

Port stacked in Port houses, Nova Gaia, Porto

The big brother activity doesn’t stop there. During maturation, the wine is sujected to quality controls by the Camara de Provadores do Instituto do Vinho do Porto [Chamber of the Port Wine Institute Tasters].

In Portugal there are 80 different [yes, 80] grapes authorised for port production – but not all are identified. Most vineyards carry 20-30 different varieties. The five majors, though, are Touriga Nacional, Tina Barocca, Touriga Francesca, Tinta Cao, Tinta Ritz [Tempranillo].

Port comes in a variety of styles, within two main categories:

Undated Ports are blended from up to 15 different wines from many vintages. They are aged in oak and experience controlled oxidation, but are ultimately designed to be drunk soon after bottling:

Samples of different Ports

Samples of different Ports

Ruby – young [1-3 years], fruity, blackcurrant

Vintage – matured in large oak barrels 3 or 4 years, complex, fruity, full-bodied

Tawny – small barrel aged, light structure, soft dry finished.

White Port – a light-bodied, amber gold colour, with rancio and toffee fruit flavours.

Dated Ports are matured in wood and continue maturation in the bottle.

Vintage – aged up to 30 years in the bottle, rich, chocolate, fruity and strong rancio aromas, dry finish. These wines throw deposits in the bottle so older ones should be decanted.

Late Bottled Vintage [LBV] – made from a single year, bottled at 4-6 years aged, unfiltered, need decanting.

Harvest – matured in oak and come from a single harvest in a single vintage. Are not bottled until 7 years old.

Brandy

Grapes used to make brandy include neutral varieties like Folle Blanche, Doradillo, Colombard, Trebbiano. Trebbianno [Ugni Blanc] is the most important of these grapes.

The most famous brandies are Cognac and Armagnac from France. These are relatively cool regions of France, and in Cognac the grapes don’t quite mature – resulting in high acidity, low sugar and lack of flavour. But this is a good thing! Too much sugar makes ‘flabby’ brandy.

Armagnac on the other hand is a little warmer, and higher sugar levels are reached – actually enough to make table wine out of them.

The base wines for Cognac and Armagnac production are fermented using innoculated yeast as with normal wine. However, Cognac will then go through a pot still distillation with yeast lees still intact. Armagnac on the other hand is produced more often using continuous still.

The distilled wines in both cases are then matured in oak before blending.

Blending is particularly important for Cognac to maintain consistency. In doing so, the age of the youngest wine in the blend determines its commercial denomination:

3 years (min) -3 star

5 years (min) – VSOP

7 years (min) – Napoleon or XO

 
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Posted by on August 26, 2013 in Portugal, Spain, Winemaking

 

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Méthode Champenoise – Doing it French Style

This is a complicated process, and I hope you give it some thought when you pop that next celebratory bubble of Champagne!

First, the Grapes …

Chardonnay - photo courtesy Dusan Jelic, Belgrade, Serbia

Chardonnay

The most popular grape varietals used for making Champagne are Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.

Why so? The combination works extremely well together!

Chardonnay exhibits strong flavour on the palate initially, but dies back.

Pinot Meunier offers little initial flavour, but intensity increases on the middle palate as the Chardonnay dies back.

Propping them up along the way and building intensity with time is Pinot Noir – offering length and flavour persistence on the palate.

Juice extraction

Selection criterion for grape ripeness varies between viticultural location, grape varietal and style of wine to be produced. But in general, you’d be looking for:

  • high quality grapes which show some varietal flavours, without being over-ripe,
  • sugar levels around 10-11 degrees Baumé, and
  • balanced acidity with low pH to ensure freshness of the base wine.

Grapes are preferably hand-picked, and whole bunches pressed without crushing. This minimises colour bleed and tannin pick-up from the skins. As an added benefit, this decreases the need for sulphur dioxide use, so gives the winemaker the opportunity to use controlled oxidation techniques to introduce complexity in the wine.

Débourbage

The juice is settled and clarified – solids are racked off. If necessary further filtration -perhaps centrifuging – occurs.

Primary Fermentation

Juice is fermented with use of selected yeast at between 11-14oC for 10 – 14 days. In France the addition of sugar is allowed to compensate for inadequate natural grape sugars. After fermentation, bentonite and diammonium phosphate are added for clarification purposes.

Assemblage & Coupage

At this point the wines are racked off and blended.  This sometimes involves different grape varietals, even from different regions, to make the desired base wine.

Reserve wines can make up to 25% of the blend, and are used to add dimension and structure to the base wine.  Reserves wines are often aged in oak barrels of different sizes to enable a variety of blending options.

The base wine is then fined using isinglass or gelatin and undergoes cold stabilisation.

Tirage Liquer

Tirage Liquer is sugar syrup, which is added to the sugar at a level depending on the alcohol content required, prior to levurage [yeast addition], and tirage [bottling]. The bottles are crown sealed [metal cap] and stored.

Entreillage

Moet in the making - Epernay, France

Moet in the making – Epernay, France

The bottles are stacked laying horizontal for 6 months to several years depending on the quality of wine being produced, and maintained at a temperature of 12 to 15oC.

Yeast autolysis is not fully understood, however it is believed that it takes around 12 months for the yeast to impart sensory properties into the wine.

Rémuage

Champagne undergoing Rémuage, Epernay

Champagne undergoing Rémuage, Epernay

After the desired period of aging has passed, the bottles are stacked on shaking tables [riddling tables or pupitres], then inverted into racks.

For several weeks the bottles are individually twisted back and forth every day by hand.

The reason for all this agitation is to bring the yeast deposit to the neck of the bottle against the crown seal.

Dégorgement

The necks of the bottles are chilled to minus 24oC, before the bottle is held right way up and the crown seal removed. The pressure inside the bottle blows out a plug of yeast and sediment. This can be done by hand or machine – obviously depending on size of production!

The bottles are then topped up [remplissage] with a mixture of expedition liquer [sugar dissolved in base wine] and the original wine. How sweet this liquer is depends on the style of wine being made.

Sometimes there is no liquer addition at all. Usually this is where richly fruit-driven styles are being made.

Bourbage & Habillage

The bottles are then corked [bourbage]. If an agglomerate cork is used, one or two high quality cork discs come in contact with the wine. A muselet [wire frame] holds the cork down against the pressure inside the bottle. Finally the cap is dressed [habillage] with foil over the muselet, and the bottle labelled.

Champagne undergoing remuage prior to disgorgement in tunnels under the Avenue du Champagne, Epernay, France

Champagne undergoing remuage prior to disgorgement in tunnels under the Avenue du Champagne, Epernay, France

 
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Posted by on August 24, 2013 in France, Winemaking

 

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Provence, Southern France

AixEnProvence0039The quintessential Provencal wine is Rosè, however they do some other red wines here.

There is a mish-mash of grape varieties brought into the region by various invaders over the past few centuries – however Carignan planted to supply cheap reds in the 1900’s to the rest of France is slowly being replaced by more Rosè-friendly varieties of Grenach, Cinsault and Syrah [Shiraz].

Appellations

Provence actually consists of several different appellations – the largest being Côtes de Provence, which covers a triangular area from Toulon in the south west to almost Cannes in the east, and inland to the small town of Cotignac.

Then curiously enough, this appellation also includes some dotted areas just east and south of Aix, and even the odd coastal region between other appellations.  Altogether, this patchwork appellation is France’s largest.

The other appellations of Provence include:

  • Coteaux d’Aix-en-Provence – spreading north and north-west of Aix
  • Les Baux-de-Provence – south of Avignon (although this has become an appellation of its own in the past 20 years)
  • Coteaux Varois – east of Aix
  • Côte du Lubéron – noth of the Coteaux d’Aix-en-Provence
  • Bandol – a relatively tiny region on the coast between Marseille and Toulon;
  • Bellet – struggling to maintain ground around a growing Nice;
  • Cassis – east along the coast from Marseille;
  • Pallette – encircling Aix;
  • Côte du Ventoux on the northern border of Provence.

 Blessed with good winds …

Château des Baux overlooks Les Baux-de-Provence in Southern France.

Château des Baux overlooks Les Baux-de-Provence in Southern France.

Whilst at first it seems that the southern French just can’t make up their minds whether their wines are Provencal or not, it is more likely there are so many appellations within Provence because of the varying climatic influences.

An appellation considers the terroir of an area, rather than a geographical location, and this of course includes the climatic influences.

The mediterranian warmth spreads across much of Côtes de Provence, however the massifs [mountains] inland shield some areas from maritime influence and produce sometimes alpine temperatures.

The mistral winds which blow across the south of France quickly reinstate dry conditons after rainfall in some areas – particularly Les Baux – creating almost ideal conditions for organic viticulture. [Less chance of rot = less fungicides]

 
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Posted by on August 19, 2013 in France, Viticulture, Winemaking

 

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La Belle France

There is no doubt, despite the past decade’s trend towards New World wine consumption, France is untouchable in terms of perception of its wines. French wine is renowned around the world as the benchmark for fine wines.

Map of french wine regions

Map of french wine regions

France has the ideal terroir to produce fine wines – with climate-moderating benefits of two large bodies of water [Atlantic and Mediterranean oceans], varied soil types to accommodate and bring out the best in grape varietals, and centuries of expertise.

Ironically, in the war between Italy and France for wine-world supremecy, it is interesting to note that the Romans actually brought winemaking to France in the early ages.

In fact, if it weren’t for the ingenuity of Roman aquaducts, Bordeaux may not exist today.

Regardless, the French ran with it, perfecting the art of winemaking to the point that today France is so synonymous with wine that it’d be hard to picture the two not coexisting. However, that was almost the case in the late 1800’s when phylloxera nearly wiped the whole industry out!

French labeling system:

All over the world, people are both captivated and bamboozled by the complex control systems in place for the past two centuries- “appellations” – which render French wine labels incapable of enunciation or comprehension. I won’t bore you with all the details of every appellation but let’s look at the basics:

The labelling system consists of two classifications – Quality Wine and Table Wine, which are further split into two categories:

Quality Wines:

Vins de Délimités de Qualité Supérieure (VDQS) Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC/ AC)
Small category – covers only around 1% France’s production;
Regulations similar to AOC but less stringent – eg yields and varietals can differ.
Criteria varies between regions, however this is the most stringent of the controls;
Delineation of production areas – based on soil composition;
Short list of grape varietals based on suitability for region, history and reputation;
Maximum yields set per hectare in each region;
Viticultural practices defined: planting density, pruning techniques, etc;
Winemaking practices also defined;
Minimum natural alcohol potential imposed;

Table Wines:

Vins de Table Vin de Pays (Est 1979)
Produced anywhere in France;
Any grape can be used;
Cannot be chaptalised;
No maximum yield;
Proportion of production over 100hl per hectare must go for distillation.
Certain areas of production: regional, département or zonal;
Certain grapes listed for Vin De Pays – more than VDQS and AOC wines;
Maximum yields imposed – usually 80 or 90hl/ha;
Minimum alcohol content – 9% (some southern regions – 10%);
Controls (max usage guides) placed on Sulphur Dioxide and Volatile Acidity levels.

I’ll publish more information on individual French wine regions in seperate postings. There’s far too much info for one post!

 

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