RSS

Tag Archives: muscadelle

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!

Advertisements
 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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

 
Leave a comment

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

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Full-bodied, Dry Whites

Sauvignion Blanc - photo courtesy Dusan Jelic, Belgrade, Serbia

Sauvignion Blanc – photo courtesy Dusan Jelic, Belgrade, Serbia

With full-bodied dry white wines, the grapes again need to be in good condition, free of disease, but picked at higher sugar levels (with consideration given to balanced acidity and flavour).

Harvesting

… of grapes for this style needs to take place in cool conditions, as with light bodied whites, however protection from oxidation is not as stringent. High levels of oxidation will make poor wine, so grapes are still protected with sulphur dioxide as early as harvesting stage.

Juice

… for full-bodied dry white wines needs to remain flavoursome and not be over the top in terms of phenolics – however some contribution is required to get that fuller body.

Again, for better quality wines without bitterness, hard pressings are not used.

Fermentation

… doesn’t necessarily have to take place under cooler temperature conditions. This style of white can have many variations, and manipulation of the fermentation temperature is one way of increasing complexity in the resulting wine batch. Normally, the ferment temp is around 15-18 degrees. Fermentation is checked up to four times a day to monitor the wine.

Partial fermentation of fuller-bodied white wines can also take place in oak barrels. This means a portion of the wine is put into barrels, and often blended back into the batch at a later time. Too much oak is over-powering for white wines.

After fermentation, wines are chilled and given time for yeast lees to settle to the bottom. The clear wine is racked off the top, and often sulphur dioxide is again added to inhibit oxidation – particularly in hot regions.

Clarification

Next the wines are clarified to different degrees – depending on the style of wine the maker is looking for, and sometimes sent to oak barrels for maturation before bottling.  Sometimes to increase a white wine’s complexity, the yeast lees are left in the wine during oak barrel maturation. The winemaker stirs them through regularly. Yum.

Finally, when all this is done, wines are often blended and stabilised with fining agents before bottling.

Major Varietals

Chardonnay - photo courtesy Dusan Jelic, Belgrade, Serbia

Chardonnay – photo courtesy Dusan Jelic, Belgrade, Serbia

Major varietals used for this style are Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Chenin Blanc, Marsanne, Verdelho, Muscadelle.

The wines have higher alcohol levels (12 to 14%v/v), lower acidity, and low pH. They often have buttery flavour characters from malo-lactic fermentation or derived from oak contact.

Classic examples: Semillon (Hunter Valley, Australia; Graves, Bordeaux, France). Chardonnay (Burgundy, France; Chablis, France; Yarra Valley, Australia; Hunter Valley, Australia) Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough, New Zealand; Graves, Bordeaux, France; Sancerre/Pouilly Fume, France) Chenin Blanc (Vouvray, Loire Valley, France; Swan Hill, Australia). Marsanne (Côtes du Rhône, France; Goulburn Valley, Australia)

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on August 21, 2013 in Winemaking

 

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

 
%d bloggers like this: