Sunday, April 17, 2011

Riddle Me This!

This week's wine bus took me to the world of sparkling wines and sweet wines. Aside from the delicious samples (which I can't share via the web with you anyway), I was intrigued by the traditional way of making Champagne - Methode Champenoise, Methode Traditionnelle, Classic Method, Metodo Tradicional, Method Cap Classique, etc.

Only two pressings of the grapes is allowed before first fermentation. A still wine is produced here. After the still wine is blended with other grapes or that of another vintage, a mixture of sugar and yeast (liqueur di tirage) is added and the wine is bottled, where it will go thru second fermentation. After an appropriate amount of aging occurs, the bottles are place in racks (neck down). The Riddler (Remueur) - for six to eight weeks - goes thru and turns each bottle a bit and also slightly downward until the sediments are resting in the neck of the bottle. During degorgement, the bottle necks are then dipped into a solution that freezes them, the temporary cap is removed and the sediments fly forth from the bottle. The final state of dosage is where the wine's sweetness level occurs when a mixture of wine and sugar is added prior to final bottling.

I also learned there are six levels of sweetness, in order, from dryest: : Extra Brut (really dry), Brut (dry), Extra Dry (semidry), Sec (semisweet), Demi Sec (sweet), Doux (really sweet).
I hope all of you know that only a wine made in the Champagne region of France can use that title. Regions of France outside Champagne refer to these wines as Cremant; in Italy, Spumanti (you will also see Prosecco, but these are made mostly in the tank method); in Spain, Cava; in Germany, Sekt; elsewhere, Sparkling Wine.
The three major grape varietals used in Champagne are Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay. In other regions, you may find glera (formerly known as prosecco), muscat, chenin blanc, riesling, or shiraz (those crazy Australians).

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Terroir (not the yappy dog)

I have discovered now why I love the grape so much - it's a headstrong, stubborn little thing, best when grown in the worst conditions. Before I get into that, let me clear up a misconception about the word, "terroir". If you are like me (and most), you think it is synonymous with soil. While soil is a part of it, it is nothing near the all of it. Oxford defines terroir as "for the total natural environment of any viticulture site". It is a French term with no English equivalent (sounds like a dare). It includes climate (and microclimates), sun, wind, temperatures, water and, finally, soil.
Nearly all grapes are grown within 30 and 50 degrees, either way, of the equator. For the most part, they need moderately temperate regions with a long, warm period of good weather to help them develop. The size and amount of leaves that grow on the vine play a part as well - too many keeps the sun from shining on the grapes; not enough allows too much sun to shine on the grapes, turning them into raisins (which is good for some wines, yes, but from time on the vines , not from sunburn).
Now here is what I like best about the grape - what is great for them are conditions that are challenging. When the vine has to work to grow, the plants have to concentrate their efforts (and sugars) to make a limited amount of grapes. Think survival of the fittest. While they cannot see frost late Spring or early Fall, they do not do well after a warm, wimpy winter. Irrigation.....not for this fruit; it wants to work for its water. As for soil, what else can you think of that grows well in chalk , volcanic ash, stones, granite, sea fossils or clay?
Now that I have a newfound respect for the fruit, I will be sure to tip my hat to my next glass of wine.
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Wednesday, April 6, 2011


First and foremost, I am talking about Beaujolais, not Bueaujolais Nouveau (although it will get a shout out later). Beaujolais is going to be made almost exclusively with 100% Gamay, which is quite user-friendly in that it is very fruit forward. It is also suggested that the wine be cooled (not chilled, but cooled), which is unusual for a red wine. There is also a small amount of white Beaujolais made from Chardonnay and Aligote grapes, but you are not going to find them in the U.S.
Beaujolais wines are made using a process called carbonic maceration, which converts sugar in uncrushed grapes to alcohol. Whole clusters of grapes are placed in a chamber excluding oxygen, without yeast, and the fermentation takes place within each grape.
The three different quality levels of Beaujolais are Beaujolais, Beaujolais-Villages and Cru, with Cru being the best. Cru wines will actually be named for the producing village. The ten crus are Brouilly, Chenas, Chiroubles, Cote De Brouilly, Fleurie, Julienas, Morgon, Moulin-a-Vent, Regnie and St. Amour.
Beaujolais Nouveau is a celebration of the harvest. It was designed to be drunk in the vineyard, but has now become as popular with the masses as Thanksgiving. It should, however, be drank as close to its release date (the third Thursday in November) as possible. While it is most certainly of a lesser quality, I must confess to taking part in the celebration every year.
Today I tried two Beaujolais Crus. My first was a 2007 Moulin-a-Vent. My first taste was at room temperature. While I did smell some black cherry, there was not a lot going on for taste - in fact I did not care for it much - but I pushed on. I poured my second glass while capping the bottle and putting it in the refrigerator. It was a little softer, but still nothing spectacular. Unfortunately, after cooling, there was still not much going on. I had my fingers crossed for the second wine, as this was the more expensive of the two.
Number two is a 2006 Morgon. It is looking a little more promising. Same dark cherry smell, but a little vanilla as well. We'll see how it does with time and/or cooling......Turns out it was a little better. This is definitely my favorite of the two, but I don't know if I will buy again. To finish that first bottle (I don't like to waste), I seriously considered adding 7Up.....but did not.
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Sunday, April 3, 2011

A Grape By Any Other Name.....

Now that I have completed my intermediate studies on the main grape varietals, I figured this would be a great time for me to sum up what to look for when tasting wines made from each. I've always been a good student, so taking the multiple choice exam in a month doesn't frighten me. For some reason, with as much tasting experience as I have, it is the tasting (identification) exam that does.

This post - hopefully - will help me study for this portion of my exam. I will also include the best places to find the wines. Material is quoted loosely from my WSET text. Here goes.....

Sauvignon Blanc
In cooler climates: vegetal flavors and green fruit
Moderate climates: less strong, stone fruits
May also find: elderflower, mineral
Where to find? Sancerre, Pouilly-Fume, Bordeaux, Marlborough (NZ), Napa (Fume Blanc), Coastal South Africa, Casablanca (Chile)

Cool Climate: green and citrus fruits
Moderate Climates: citrus and stone fruits
May also find: smoke, honey, tropical fruit, mineral
Where? Germany (Mosel, Rheingau, Pfalz), Alsace, Austria, Clare and Eden Valleys (Australia), South Island New Zealand

Cool Climates: green fruit
Moderate Climate: citrus and stone fruit
Hot: tropical fruit
May also find: oak, butter, hazelnut, mineral
Where? Burgundy (Chablis, Puligny-Montrachet, Meursault, Macon, Pouilly-Fuisse), Australia (Hunter Valley, Victoria, Limestone Coast, Adelaide Hills, Margaret River), New Zealand (Hawkes Bay, Gisborne, Marlborough), CA (Coastal, Sonoma, Carneros), Casablanca (Chile), Mendoza (Argentina)

Pinot Noir
Cool: vegetal
Moderate: red fruit
May also find: animal
Where? Burgundy (Gevrey-Chambertin, Nuits-Saint-Georges, Beaune, Pommard), New Zealand (Martinborough, Marlborough, Central Otago), CA (Coastal, Sonoma, Carneros), Casablanca, Coastal South Africa

Moderate: red fruit
Hot: black fruit
May also find: oak, fruitcake, chocolate
Where? Bordeaux (St Emilion, Pomerol), Margaret River (Austr), Hawkes Bay (NZ), Napa/Sonoma, Central Valley (Chile), Mendoza, Stellenbosch (S. Africa)

Cabernet Sauvignon
Moderate: black fruit (high acid)
Hot: black fruit (moderate acid)
May also find: oak, bell pepper, cedar
Where? Bordeaux (Medoc, Haut-Medoc, Graves), Australia (Connawarra, Margaret River), Hawkes Bay (NZ), Napa/Sonoma, Central Valley (Chile), Argentina (Mendoza, Cafayate), Stellenbosch

Moderate: pepper, black fruit
Hot: spice, black fruit
May also find: oak, vegetal, animal, chocolate
Where? Rhone Valley (Crozes-Hermitage, Hermitage, Cote-Rotie, Cotes due Rhone, Chateauneuf-du-Pape), Australia/moderate (W. Austr, Western, Central Victoria), Australia/hot (Hunter Valley, Barossa, McLaren Vale)

Hot: red fruit
May also find: spice, toffee
Where? Southern Rhone, Spain