Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Elements in Wine: Alcohol

This is lesson 2 about wine elements, so today I will focus on something you like the most about drinking wine: Alcohol.

Alcohol is a byproduct of wine fermentation,  the boozy feeling you get after a second glass of wine, you know what I’m talking about, the one that takes all inhibitions away and makes you relax. But how does this magic happen? Everything starts in the vineyard, as grapes mature their sugar levels increase and their acidity level decrease, when the grapes ripen, i.e reach the perfect balance between sugar and acid, it will be time for the winegrower to harvest. Sometimes choosing the best date is excruciating and quite a dilemma, should we leave the fruit a bit longer to reach even more ripeness? or should we move fast since rains are in the horizon?  that could be catastrophic for any wine, since rains will dilute our precious juice to be.

So, after harvest (sometimes by using machines or by hand), and after a pre-selection of the best grapes, it's fermentation time, the chemical process in which yeasts known as Saccharomyces Cerevisiae will eat all the sugar and convert our grape juice, in wine. These yeasts will be a blend of two, a)Natural yeasts that are already present in the grapes’ skins and b)Lab created yeasts. Winemakers do this to obtain special aromas in wines and to make sure the fermentation takes place without problems. Natural yeasts will produce the first 4% of the alcohol and the rest will be produced with the help of the Lab yeasts.

It requires in general, 17 grams of sugar to produce 1 liter of alcohol for a white wine and 19 grams of sugar to produce the same for a red wine.
What happens in cool climates where grapes don’t usually reach the minimum sugar levels? How do we get alcohol?  Many appellations allowed what is called Chaptalization and this is the addition of beet sugar to the must to increase the alcohol level in any wine. This is a practice used in Germany and Austria, for example. Now in a moderate and warm climates, alcohol levels will be reached easily and naturally.

By the way, when I talk about wines with low, medium and high alcohol, I’m talking about wines that have between 8.5 to 11,5% in the first case, 12 to 13% in the second case and everything above 13% will be considered high alcohol. I will add one more category to this list, which is the fortified wines, such as sherry or port, here extra alcohol is added during wine production and alcohol levels can go high up from 15 up to 22 %.

So, how do we feel/detect alcohol in our palates? easy, after you swirl the wine in your mouth, you will feel a burning/ warm sensation on your throat, that is the alcohol (especially when it’s high this is more noticeable). You will feel alcohol as body/ wine texture,  as weight on your palate. Light wines will be felt similar to skim milk, medium body wines will be felt similar to regular milk  and heavy body wines will be felt as heavy cream.
Personally, I feel alcohol in my stomach, I feel it as a huge blow, even though I spit my wines (when tasting professionally), a tiny bit always go down my stomach and it hits you like a burning bomb, that is how I always can tell when they lie about alcohol levels on labels, 13% and up will make the blow even bigger. 
When you are dealing with fortified wines, it will be much easier because with one sniff you will be able to smell the alcohol coming from your glass.

Of all the wine elements, alcohol is also noticeable before you even drink a sip, just by looking at the wine. Do this, swirl your wine in your glass and look at the drops and how they fall down, these are called legs, the thicker and denser these are, the higher the alcohol in the wine and the bigger the body of the wine. 

Certain grape varieties reach high alcohol levels easier than others, some of these are: Syrah, Grenache, Malbec, Zinfandel, Cabernet. In whites, big alcohol can be found in Chardonnay of warm climates. But more important than the grapes, are the locations where these are grown, high alcohol can only come from warm and hot climates, so south of everything it will be: South of France appellations, South Italian appellations, most of Spain (Priorat, Alicante, Jumilla) and Portugal (Douro), California, Australia (almost all appellations), Argentina (Mendoza and Salta).

So are you ready to taste alcohol in wine?  Here are my recommendations, let me know which ones you prefer the best. Remember that according to the TTB, producers can lie 1 % of alcohol in their labels, and most of them lie down so these wines listed below may have these alcohols or 1% more.

Recommended Wines:

Po de Poeira, Douro 2017 $25  14% AVB
Piatelli Malbec 2016 $16 14.9 % AVB
Bedrock Zinfandel Old Vines 2017 $22 14.3% AVB

Cheers! Silvina

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

An Afternoon at Casa Bacardí in Puerto Rico

Those that know me know, that I don’t normally write about spirits, and prefer to stick to wines…. But my vacation destination this year was beautiful San Juan in Puerto Rico and I thought it would be a great idea to drop by Casa Bacardí to learn more about their famous and award winning rums.

Casa Bacard
í, known as “the Cathedral of Rum” see picture below, is located in Cataño, overlooking the Atlantic sea and the San Felipe del Morro Fortress, a historic Spanish colonial must see, if you ever come to town.

I started the tour with a welcome drink of Mojito, and a visit via trolley of all Bacard
í installations, where I was told they process 85% of all their rum sold worldwide.

Bacardi Limited is a privately held (family) company founded by Don Facundo
Bacardí Massó in 1862, in Santiago de Cuba.  The story tells that, after buying a small distillery in Cuba, Facundo’s curiosity to create a smoother and finer rum, took him to experiment with different distillations, filtering and aging that paved the way to create a unique product: a clear and smooth spirit, that was drunk on its own but soon became the base of many Bacardí original drinks, such as the Cuba Libre, Daiquíri and Mojito.  

History says that Facundo’s wife Amalia came with the idea of using the black bat we find in their logo, fruit bats were abundant around the distillery and were considered a symbol of prosperity, family unity and good fortune.

After Fidel Castro rose to power, and seized all Bacard
í facilities, the family left Cuba and became exiles. But this didn't stop them, they opened facilities in Puerto Rico and Mexico, and continued to expand. Nowdays, Bacardí has offices around the world and sells its rums and spirits to more than 170 countries. 

But how is the King of Rums (Bacard
í) made?
All spirits are made by concentrating their alcohol via distillation. In some cases, the base used is wine (like in Cognac or Armagnac), but in the case of Bacard
í, they ferment molasses (extracted from sugarcane) with specially selected yeasts that Don Facundo found in Santiago de Cuba.
The secret of all distillation is that alcohol evaporates at 78.5ºC or 173ºF, while water evaporates at higher temperatures of 100ºC or 212ºF, this will allow the separation of both in fractions, concentrating the alcohol.

In the case of Bacardí rum the first distillation is called “agua ardiente”, which is rich and flavorful and the backbone of all their rums. Then the process continues with 5 more distillations to get the “redestilado” which is the second and lighter part of the base. Both agua ardiente and redestilado are filtered with charcoal to remove impurities. The true art happens when the Master Blender comes in to create the ideal mix of both, the process is then completed by aging in American oak (used whisky) barrels to further mellow the spirits.

The Bacardi Portfolio available in the US, includes:

The Carta Range: Bacardí Silver (the best sold rum in the world), Bacardí Gold and Black. $15
Bacardí  Añejo Cuatro: aged for 4 years. $21
Bacardí Reserva Ocho: aged for 8 years. $30
í Gran Reserva Diez: aged for 10 years. $40
í Gran Reserva Limitada, which I happened to taste during my visit, is a special Bacardí selection of fine rums aged for 16 years.  $100
To complete the line, Bacard
í also produces flavored rums, featuring coconut, lemon, raspberry, mango, etc.

Those interested in visiting Casa Bacard
í, can find more info here.

Cheers! Silvina


Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Elements in Wine: Acidity

With this post I will start a new series where we will learn about the different elements in wine.

The basic elements in wine are six: acidity, tannins, body, alcohol, fruit and sweetness. Today we will analyze one of my favorites: acidity! Yes, I have a confession to make I’m an acidity freak :) I think it has to do my maternal Turkish ancestry, my mother used to put lemons and limes in her cooking and I think that was enough for me. These days, I still prefer to use lemons instead of vinegar in all my salad dressings and on the old days that I used to drink diet coke… I also had it with slice of lemon or lime.

So, what is so special about acidity? Acidity refreshes you, it cleanses your palate, it gives a wine its vibrancy and crispiness. Acidity will allow a wine to age for 20 or more years, because it preserves and stabilizes wine. It is what makes us go for a second sip. Besides being a key element in wine, you will notice its absence immediately, since a wine without acidity, tastes flat, boring and tired. Three types of acid can be found in wine: malic, citric and tartaric, all three come from the grapes, but tartaric can also be added to the wine (especially in warm climate regions).

High acid wines are naturally made in cool climate regions, where we find moderate temperatures, cool nights and shorter growing seasons. As a grape matures, its sugar content increases and its acidity decreases, it is important to find the perfect balance before the harvest. Sugar is after all, what gives alcohol to any wine, and alcohol what gives body to any wine, so wines with high acidity usually will be light to medium bodied and with alcohol levels (11-12.5 %), finally something that don’t make us drunk after one glass! 

In warm climate regions, acidity can be achieved by harvesting the grapes earlier,  a practice that is followed by some producers is to pick  the fruit in different trips,  a little early when acidity levels are still high, and then other later trips when the grapes have reached optimal ripeness. And of course by addition of tartaric acid. It's also important to check the vintages, the same wine will have more acid in cooler vintages than in warmer ones. 

Beware that some grapes have more acidity than others: Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Pinot Grigio,Gruner Veltliner, Chardonnay, all make excellent and high acid wines. But, we can also find acidity in red grapes too: Barbera, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, etc.  And of course acidity is important when making sparkling wines, in most appellations grapes for sparkling wines are picked earlier to secure enough acidity will be in the final product, acidity is what gives sparkling wines their elegance and finesse.

In your palate, acidity will be felt on both sides of your tongue, see picture below where is says “sour”, you will feel it as a prickly sensation, acidity will make you salivate too. Remember that in order to feel this you must swirl the wine through your tongue as you do with mouthwash and then swallow or spit the wine (like wine professionals do).

Best appellations to find wines with acidity: Carneros and Russian River in CA, Oregon  (all appellations), Finger Lakes and Long Island, NY,  all of Germany and Austria. Loire Valley (all appellations), Burgundy (especially appellations in the north), New Zealand (all appellations). North Italy appellations, etc.

So, isn’t it time to put acidity to the test?  Here are a few recommendations:
Wolffer Chardonnay 2017 $15
Domaine Vincent Dampt Chablis 2017 $23
Schloss Gobelsburg Grüner Veltliner Kamptal Schlosskellerei 2017, $16
Ken Forrester Chenin Blanc 2017 $12
G.B. Burlotto Barbera d’Alba 2017 $24

Cheers! Silvina