Tuesday, December 15, 2020

The Wine Science Behind Champagne

With only a few more days to Christmas in what became the craziest of years! I decided that I was not going to allow COVID19 to ruin my holiday spirit. And with this thought in mind I dedicated a few posts to sparkling wines. 

One question that my students ask quite often, is how do producers create the fancy bubbles? So, let’s start from there, there are three basic ways to create bubbles in sparkling wines:

A)The Method Champenoise or Traditional (where the bubbles are created by a second fermentation that happens inside the bottle). This is the method used for the best quality sparkling wines: Champagne, Cava, Crémants, etc. B)The Charmat Method (with the second fermentation that creates the bubbles takes place in a tank, then the sparkling wine is transferred to the bottles), like in Prosecco and Sekt. and C) by the addition/injection of C02 like they do with commercial sodas (also happening in a tank).

Today’s post is about one of my favorite wines in the world: Champagne! where the second fermentation takes place inside the bottle.  The Traditional or Champenoise method, is a sparkling wine method created by an English man called Christopher Merret, but perfected by a French monk named Dom Pérignon…. Yep! the same name, as in the super expensive Champagne by Moët Chandon. See in wine, most things happen by accident, the truth is, wine itself was an accident. History tells us that monks in the past, besides praying all day, made a lot of wine for sacramental purposes. Dom Pérignon’s intention was to make a dry still wine, but it seems his wines were not very chemically stable, and soon he discovered that his wines started refermenting again, after being bottled.  What probably happened was that, in the cold cellars of Champagne, fermentations stopped before the yeasts had an opportunity to eat all the sugar. 

Dom Pérignon must have believed that the fermentation had finished and went ahead with the bottling of what he thought to be a finished still wine. Later on, when temperatures rose up again in the cellars, the yeasts inside the bottles became active once more, generating CO2 that was now trapped in the bottle, and voila! we had sparkling wine. Poor Dom Pérignon! He tried to prevent these from happening several times, but didn’t have the technology, winemakers have today to halt and control fermentation. So, after many tries, he tasted the wine and liked it. Dom Pérignon was also a very skilled wine blender and the first to make white wine from black grape varieties. Later on, Champagne became so popular that was the drink of choice in Louis XV’s court, and a staple in many French coronations that happened in the city of Reims (located in the very heart of the Champagne AOP). 

Now, according to European regulations, true Champagne may come only from one place in the whole world, from the Champagne AOP district in France, located about an hour NE of Paris. This appellation comprises the following 4 subzones: The Montagne de Reims,The Côte des Blancs et the Côte de Sézanne, The Vallée de la Marne and The Côte des Bar. 

See map above, courtesy of CIVC, regulatory council that controls all production of Champagne.

A whopping 34,000 hectares are dedicated to vineyards for Champagne production. These are distributed within 319 villages/crus, among them 17 Grand Cru and 42 Premier Cru. Like in Burgundy, location is very important here, but in Champagne, this is tied to the village and not to the vineyard. Yet, a Champagne made solely with fruit from a Grand Cru village, not only will have the best quality fruit in it, it should also say so on the label. 

Now, what makes this appellation so special? Of course and like in every region, the viti and the vini. The viticulture which includes climate, soils and topography, all of which will provide optimal fruit, and then the vinification, the winemaking intent and the process, which is very special in Champagne, as I will explain in detail below. So, let’s start by saying that the Champagne appellation is located very northerly, exactly between the 48º and 49º parallels, in what we know is a marginal climate for growing grapes. The climate of the region is continental with an average temperature in the summer of 51º Fh (or 11º Celsius), this translates into cool summers. Frosts in winter and spring can be a problem, as well as the freezing of the vines, uneven pollination and flowering too. Most vineyards are planted on hillsides/gentle slopes to increase sunlight exposure, altitudes here average 300 m. The soils are rich in porous limestone (chalk) which will provide minerality to the wines, and at the same time good drainage, some of this limestone contains clay, marl, sand and marine fossils from the mesozoic era.

Seven grape varieties are allowed in the region, including Arbanne, Petit Meslier, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris, yet the most important are the basic 3, all key elements of NV Champagne, which are Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. Pinot Noir, covers 38% of all plantings, and is mostly found in the Montagne de Reims and the Côte des Bar subzones. Pinot Meunier, covers 32 % of the plantings, mostly located in the Valley de Marne and Chardonnay covers 30% of the plantings, mostly located in the Côte des Blancs and Sézanne. 

Now, every Champagne starts its life as a light table, high acid white wine. So, once the grapes achieve the correct levels of sugar and acidity, the grapes are harvested, by hand to prevent crushing and accidental early fermentation. The date of the harvest will be decided each year by the CIVC or Comité Interprofessionnel du vin de Champagne, who will also determine the amount of grapes allowed to be used for AOP production, the minimum alcohol of the wines and yields (10 hl/ha for 2019) all of which vary every year. 

Upon harvesting, the wines will be pressed immediately. The pressing of the grapes must be fine and gradual, in full clusters with stems, avoiding any skin contact, unless you are making Rosé Champagne (we will see how we get the color for this special type later on). Producers can only extract a maximum of 102 liters of must per 160 kg of fruit. Usually fruit from different villages are pressed, kept and fermented separately, according to the village, and also by variety. Juice extraction is measured in marcs or press loads, each marc is the equivalent to 4,000 kg of fruit. 

The pressings are divided in fractions, the best juice is known as the cuvée, and represents 2,050 L and the second is known as the taille or tails, representing 500 L. Each one is different. The cuvée is the free run juice, rich in sugar and  tartaric and malic acids. The taille or tails is also rich in sugar, but with less acid and more mineral content. The leftovers from the pressing (pomace) are sent to distilleries to make a spirit similar to Italian grappa. Earlier on, all pressing used to be done manually in vertical presses, nowadays, these are being replaced by pneumatic presses that are controlled via computer. After the Débourbage or settling/clarification of particles and pulp of the fresh must. The wine is then transferred to stainless steel vats or used oak vats (depending on the producer), protected with S02 to avoid oxidation and inoculated with special yeasts to start fermentation. If necessary, producers may decide to chaptalize by adding sugar from beets or sugarcane. They may decide whether to allow malolactic fermentation to happen or not, depending if they want a rounder, less acid wine or not. 

Up until here, this process is similar to any white wine fermentation, then comes two important parts in Champagne, one is the blending of the wines and the other is the creation of the fine bubbles. See, Champagne is not only a blend of grapes but also of wines from different vintages, the idea here is for the master blender to keep the house style year after year. Any NV Champagne is usually a blend of at least 3 different vintages, some producers can even include up to 10 vintages of reserved wines. In a typical NV Champagne, each grape variety will contribute something different to the blend, Pinot Noir will provide backbone and structure, Pinot Meunier will provide roundness and fruitiness and Chardonnay will provide elegance, minerality, floral notes and acidity. Once we have the base wines, they will be transferred to the bottles where they will be sold (which means, the second fermentation will happen there, no matter the size of the bottle). Here, the magic of creating the bubbles will take place with the addition of the liqueur de tirage, a blend of wine, yeast, sugar (about 20-24 grams/litre, enough to obtain a pressure of up to six bars/ atm) and additives that will assist with the remuage process (riddling). 

The bottle will be then sealed with a crown cap. During the next to 6-8 weeks, the yeasts will eat all the sugar, causing the second fermentation inside the bottle and creating the bubbles. Because they don’t have anywhere to go, the bubbles will “marry”  or integrate with our wine. Here it is important to note the size of the vessel where the second fermentation takes place, since the tinier the vessel, the finer the resulting beads, and the more elegant the wine. But the creation of the bubbles is one part of the process, the other important part is the aging with the lees or autolysis. Once the yeasts eat all the sugars, they die, creating a white sediment that producers will need to remove to have a bright, clear looking product. The autolysis is the process where the dead yeasts break inside and give the wine their bready typical aromas, you know, the notes of brioche, croissant, biscuit, that we find in most champagnes. This maturation happens in the cellars underneath the appellation of Champagne, usually at 12º Celsius or 53º fh for a minimum of 15 months for NV wines and 3 years for Vintage wines. Remember, that most producers usually age wines for much longer than that. Extra time on the lees will also give the wines more complexity and cremosity. 

Now, when the time for bottling has arrived, it will be time to remove the dead sediments first, this is known as degorgement. In order to do this, producers used to put, the bottles in a pupitre, see picture on your left, where the bottles are tilted neck down and are rotated by a remuager (a riddler) that normally can rotate 40,000 bottles per day. The bottles are rotated in little increments to force the sediments gently into the neck. This process can be accelerated by using machines called gyro palettes. Now, once you have all the dead yeasts at the neck, comes the actual degorge or expelling of the sediments. Producers will freeze the neck of the bottle to -37º Celsius and with the pressure of the bubbles, the yeast pellet will fly out, and with it some of the wine. Next, the producer will add more wine to top up the bottle, known as dosage. At this moment, he /she will decide to add sugar to the wine, depending on the style of sweetness he/she wants to create. And these could be:Brut Nature (driest of all styles) will contain 0-2 gr of sugar, Extra Brut 0-6 gr, Brut 0-12 gr, Extra Dry 12-17 gr,Dry 17-32 gr, Demi Sec 32-50 gr or Doux (sweetest of all) with more than 50 gr.

Once we added the dosage, the final step is to cork the wine with closures capable of tolerating the pressure inside the bottles.  This pressure could get up to 6 atm or 70 to 90 pounds per square inch, equaling two to three times the pressure of a car tire.  Also note, that to withstand the pressure inside, we will need thicker and heavier bottles than those used for still wines, normally most Champagne bottles can withstand 20 atms of pressure.

Most NV Champagne is an equal blend of the basic 3: Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier.  But there are other styles of Champagne, the Blanc de Blancs for example, it’s  a Champagne made only from white grapes (Chardonnay).  The Blanc de Noirs, it’s a Champagne made from black varieties such as Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier grapes. There’s of course, Rosé Champagne, that can be made with the Saignée method, or by blending white and red wines. In the case of Saignée, a short contact with the skins is what will give the light salmon color to these wines. Then, we have the Prestige Cuvées, these are the best Champagnes in the world, normally they are also vintage Champagnes (made with fruit from a single vintage/ harvest).  Usually produced by the Big Champagne houses, with the best quality fruit. Here are some of them: Pol Roger Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill, Veuve Clicquot La Grande Dame, Moët Chandon Dom Pérignon, Louis Roederer Cristal, Krug Clos de Mesnil, Taittinger Comtes de Champagne. (If you have the money, I strongly advise to spend your bucks here, at least for a special occasion). 

Remember to serve your champagne in a tulip glass, where you can see and can keep the fine beads that have required so much work to achieve. Champagne should be served chilled at 8-10º C 46-50º fh. Depending on the styles, Champagne can show different aromas, showcasing white flowers, citrus (grapefruit, lemon), tropical fruits (litchi, pineapple). Also a flinty, chalky character that is typical of wines from these terroirs. Black de Noirs featuring Pinot Noir and Meunier grapes will showcase notes of yellow fruits (peach, apricot, plum), soft berry fruits (strawberry, cherry, sometimes with a hint of blackberry or blueberry), citrus (mandarin, orange) and exotic fruits (mango and passion fruit).  Rosé Champagne may offer fresh aromas of red fruits such as wild strawberries, ripe red berries, and with age, dried fruits and spices.

My Champagne recommendations: many thanks to Vineyard BrandsEuropvinPalm Bay Imports and Taub Family Selections for this beautiful selection of Champagnes. 

Pommery NV, $45.99

The perfect blend of 33% Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, aged for 3 years on the lees. Classy and refined.

Champagne Boizel Brut Reserve NV $49.99

A blend of 55% Pinot Noir, 30% Chardonnay and 15% Pinot Meunier. White peach,

apricots and brioche. Delish with a full body.

Champagne Vollereaux Rosé de Saignee Brut NV $54.99

Made from 100% Pinot Noir and aged for 3 years on the lees. Ripe strawberry, pastry and vanilla nose. Rich and mineral champagne.

Pommery Rosé Brut NV $65.99

Slightly fermented with the Pinot Noir skins to obtain its beautiful color. Also a blend of equal parts Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. It features the perfect balance of berry and spice. Well knitted and superb.

Delamotte Champagne NV $65.99

A blend of 55% Chardonnay, 35% Pinot Noir and 10% Pinot Meunier. Impressive nose full of citrus,white flowers and green apples. Delicate and elegant.

#thoughtsoflawina #winewednesday #champagne 

Happy New Year!, My Dear Winos! Cheers, Silvina. 

As always, remember to subscribe to continue receiving Thoughts of La Wina in your inbox. For more wine recommendations, follow me on Instagram @silvinalawina and Linkedin.


Tuesday, December 1, 2020

The Sparkling World of Cava

Cava is the sparkling wine from Spain. It is made using the method Champenoise or Traditional, with the second fermentation that creates the bubbles, happening in the bottle. Cava by law, can be produced in many provinces of Spain, including Valencia, Aragon, Navarra, Rioja, Basque Country and Catalunya. But Catalunya is by far, the most important location in Cava production, since most of wineries are located here.

These fantastic wines are a very good choice if you want to save $$$ when choosing a sparkling. Cava is more affordable than Champagne, though in some cases as we shall see, is made from other grape varieties, usually found only in Spain. The quality of these wines has been increasing considerably in the last 20 years, and now we find very good samples that see aging on lees and longer maturations similar to top Champagne.

The first Cava was created by Josep Raventós, owner of Codorníu, who after traveling in Europe, visited the Champagne region and decided to replicate this wine at home. He did this in 1872 with great success, it was known then as Champaña. After Spain entered the European Union in 1986, producers were forced to stop using this name, since true Champagne can only come from France, so they started using the name Cava for this category instead, which means cellar in Catalan.

In the 1880s when phylloxera devastated the vineyards of Catalunya, a lot of the dead vines were uprooted and replaced with varieties grown especially to make Cava. Most of the Cava production takes place in what is known as the capital of Cava, Sant Sadurni D’ Anoia, located 27 miles southwest of Barcelona, in the Penedès region. The area is influenced by the Mediterranean sea nearby, the presence of the Montserrat mountains provides altitude and coolness. Most vineyards are planted between 200-800 meters. 

By law, Cava can be made from the following white varieties: Parrellada, Xarel-lo and Macabeo. In the 1980s, Chardonnay was also allowed and Subirat (which is not very much used). Red varieties are used to make Rosé Cava, Garnacha Tinta (Grenache), Pinot Noir, Monastrell and Trepat. Rosé Cava is made by allowing some skin contact with the juice, using the Saignée method, because the blending of white and rosé wines (like in Champagne) is not allowed by law.

Most white Cavas are a blend of the basic three: Parellada, Xarel-lo and Macabeo. Parellada adds finesse to the blends and is usually planted next to Chardonnay in the coolest sites. Xarel-lo adds body and acidity to the blend, while Macabeo (also known as Viura in other parts of Spain) adds fruitiness and aromatics. 

The first Cava to include some Chardonnay in its blend was Anna de Codorníu in 1981, since then some producers make 100% Chardonnay Cavas (also known as Blanc de Blancs). 

There are several differences with Champagne. In Cava they don’t normally use red varieties to make white sparkling wines. Another big difference with Champagne is the location and the weather, Catalunya is located farther south, and in general warmer than Champagne, requiring early picking to preserve acidity in the fruit. Cavas, as I said at the beginning, are made using the same method as Champagne, but they are aged on their lees for shorter times. Cava like Champagne can be non vintage or vintage. 

Laws regulating Cava changed this year, on July 15 2020.The purpose of this change was to promote the terroir of the appellation, something that they didn’t have before. They especially established differences according to locations, soils and climates.  The new law delimited a three level system that includes four zones: Comtats de Barcelona Valle del Ebro, Almendralejo and Altos de Levant. Several subzones that include: Valls d’Anoia-Foix; Serra de mar; Conca del Gaia. Alto Ebro; Valle del Cierzo, among others and eight paraje calificados or single vineyards: Can Sala, Vallcirera, La Fideuera, La Pleta, El Tros Nou, La Capella, Can Bas & Can Prats

According to their sweetness/residual sugar, Cava can be classified as: Brut Nature: sugar is less than 3 g/l. • Extra Brut: sugar is between 3-6 g/l. • Brut: 6-12 g/l. • Extra seco (extra dry): between 12-17 g/l. • Seco (dry): between 17-32 g/l. • Semi-seco (semi dry): between 32-50 g/l and Dulce (sweet): more than 50 g/l.

According to their aging on the lees/dead yeasts, Cava is classified as follows:

Cava de Guarda with a minimum aging of 9 months. Cava de Guarda Superior for Cavas with 18 months plus aging: this includes Cava Reserva (minimum 18 months, raised from previous 15 months) and Gran Reserva (minimum aging 30 months) and finally the Cava de Paraje Calificado/ Single Vineyards: these are aged for a minimum of 36 months.

Cava Reserva, Gran Reserva and Cava de Paraje Calificado can only be made in a dry style (extra Brut, Brut and Brut Nature). 

Stylistically, Cava will feature notes of almonds, yellow apple, lime and quince, honeysuckle complemented by brioche and yeasty notes from autolysis. The higher up you go in quality, like Gran Reserva or Cava de Paraje Calificado, the better the quality of the fruit, the quality of the wines, and closer to a good Vintage Champagne. 

Here are some new releases to enjoy for the upcoming holidays! A special thanks to Vilarnau, HB Merchants, Broadbent Selections, Taub Family Selections, Palm Bay ImportsCodorníu Cavas Pares Balta and Vineyard Brands for sending this beautiful selection of bubblies. Map, courtesy of the CRDO Cava.

Casas del Mar Cava NV, $10.99

A classic blend of Xarel-lo, Parellada and Macabeo, this cava is aged for 18-24 months on its lees. Fun and a true value!

Codorníu Rosé  Cava, NV, $11.99

This cava de Guarda is made from Monastrell, Garnacha and Trepat and aged for 9 months on its lees. A Classic for Christmas in all Spain.

Paul Cheneau Lady of Spain Brut NV, $14.99

Colorful packaging for this Cava, featuring 45% Macabeo, 40% Xarel-lo and 15% Parellada. It was aged for 12-15 months on its lees. Fresh and crispy.

Marqués de Caceres Cava NV, $14.99

Mostly Xarel-lo (50%) here, complemented by Macabeo (30%) and Parellada (20%) grapes. Soft and briochy.

Montsarra Cava NV, $16.99

A traditional blend of mostly Macabeo (60-70%) and the rest Xarel-lo and Parrellada. Refined and elegant.

Pere Ventura Tresor Brut Reserva 2016, $16.99

A vintage Reserva Cava aged for 24-30 months. It features a blend of 40% Macabeo, 40% Xarel-lo and 20% Parellada. Very enticing.

Vilarnau Rosé Reserva  NV, $18.99

Aged between 15-24 months on the lees, features a blend of Garnacha and Pinot Noir. Beautiful packaging reminds you of Gaudi's and Miro's art. Refreshing.

Parés Balta Blanca Cusiné 2011, $40

Organic and vintage Cava, features a blend of mostly Xarel-lo (78%) with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Aged on its lees for 80 months. Superb!

There you have it! your evisit to the sparkling world of Cava! Cheers, Silvina. 

Remember to subscribe to continue receiving Thoughts of La Wina in your inbox. For more wine recommendations, follow me on Instagram @silvinalawina and Linkedin.

#thoughtsoflawina #WineWednesday #cava #sparklingwines #sparklingwinelovers #sparklingfortheholidays #cavawinelovers


Tuesday, November 17, 2020

French Appellations: Beaujolais!

Two days from the date of this post, we will see all wine stores full of signs that will read "Le Beaujolais Nouveau Est arrivée" (Beaujolais Nouveau has arrived). This year, it will arrive on 11/19. It is the first wine of this vintage (2020), made 7-9 weeks after the harvest, usually arriving in wine stores every year in time for Thanksgiving. 

The appellation of Beaujolais is located to the south of Burgundy and to the north of the Rhone. It is a 35 mile long enclave where crafted winemakers make a light, delicious red wine from Gamay Noir, the child of Pinot Noir and Gouais Blanc.

There are 12 appellations here, Beaujolais which comprises 50% of all wine production (half of this in the form of Beaujolais Nouveau), Beaujolais Villages (25%) and 10 Grand Cru where the most serious wines are made, and these are: Côte de Brouilly, Brouilly,  Regnie, Morgon, Chiroubles, Fleurie, Moulin A Vent, Chenas, Julienas and Saint Amour.

98% of all wine production in Beaujolais is red wine, the other 2% is white wine (Beaujolais Blanc) made from Chardonnay that grows in limestone soils, yielding a similar style like the wines of Macon, in the south of Burgundy. 

Beaujolais, though geographically located closer to Burgundy, enjoys a different climate and soils. In Beaujolais, the climate is continental, with cold winters and warm summers, much warmer than Burgundy. The soils can be divided into two groups, the soils in the north are mostly granitic and schist (poorer soils), and in the south are mostly clay, rocks and sand. These two differences are key, since the best and most complex wines come mostly from the north where all the crus are located. Most vineyards are planted to the west of the river Saone on undulating hills. Some of top vineyards have altitudes that can reach up to 1,000 ft. 

See map courtesy of the Beaujolais Campaign/Sopexa.

But the most special thing about Beaujolais is their fermentation/ vinification known as Carbonic Maceration. All of Beaujolais Nouveau, Beaujolais and Beaujolais Villages are made with this technique (either completely like in Nouveau or partially, meaning the wine will start up with the carbonic maceration and eventually it will continue with the traditional fermentation). While wines from the Crus are mostly made with the traditional/ conventional fermentation. 

The Carbonic Maceration basically consists of full grapes (not crushed) that are hand harvested and introduced in vats with some CO2 (carbon dioxide), this will cause fermentation to start intracellularly, meaning inside the whole grapes that eventually will explode. After maceration (usually as short as 3 days for Nouveau but longer for the other styles), the cru wines will see some aging in oak for a few months to a year. 

The fact that grapes are not crushed but fermented whole, yields a young wine that is very fruity and very low in tannins, featuring banana, bubble gum and pear drops flavors. In ascending order the wines will get more interesting, gaining body and seriousness. Basic Beaujolais and Beaujolais Villages are not as fruity as Nouveau, and yet, still they are light reds. Things will get better with the Cru wines, the lightest styles are those that come from Brouilly, Fleurie, Chiroubles, Regnie and St Amour, are usually perfumed and charmy. Julienas, Chenas, Morgon,Côte de Brouilly and Moulin a Vent make the beefiest wines that can age and are more intense and generous, similar to a Pinot Noir in style.

Most Beaujolais Crus feature aromas of strawberry, raspberry, cherry, blackberry, with some oak aging: vanilla, smoke, minerals and leather. These wines will show refreshing acidity, soft tannins, light to medium bodies and balanced alcohol.

Indeed! Beaujolais can be a great start for those that are not familiar with red wines and want something that is easy to drink and uncomplicated. This is why, I often recommend Beaujolais to have with turkey at Thanksgiving, since this light red will be a perfect match for the bird. Remember to stick to the crus if you want/need more substance in your wine. Other pairings with Beaujolais will be cold cuts, chicken, veal, pasta, vegetable tarts, burgers, etc.

Beaujolais Nouveau should be consumed within six months from its release, remember the new vintage coming in two days is the 2020. Slightly chill it to pop up its fruity flavors. Beaujolais and Beaujolais Villages (the current vintages are 2019 and 2018) can be drunk up to 2 years from release and crus between 3-10 years, (the current vintages are 2018 and 2017). Moulin a Vent wines, which have the biggest bodies can last up to 10 years.

All Beaujolais wines offer a great value with most samples costing you between $16-30. Exceptionally you can also find wines from a top producer at $50. 

My wine recommendations:
Thanks to Europvin, Taub Family Selections, Quintessential Wines, H Mercer Importers and Vineyard Brands for donating samples.

Yohan Lardy Beaujolais Villages Blanc Les Bruyéres 2018 $21

Alexander Burgaud Beaujolais-Lantignié 2018 $23

Georges Duboeuf Jean Ernest Descombes Morgon 2018, $25

Château de La Chaize Brouilly 2017 $28

George Duboeuf Fleurie 2018, $29

Thibault Liger-Belair Beaujolais-Villages Les Jeunes Pousses 2016 $30

Happy Thanksgiving and Cheers! Silvina.

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 and Linkedin.

Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Sherry Part II: Amontillado,Oloroso and PX Categories

Happy Sherry Week 2020!
Back in November 2019, I dedicated a post to dry sherries covering both Manzanilla and Fino styles. Those that wish to refresh their knowledge, can read it again here.  
Now, the time has come to explore the rest of the categories of Sherry, specifically those that age without flor, also known as "oxidized sherries" which can be dry, medium dry or sweet.

Remember that all Sherry starts its life as a dry wine, to which brandy/ spirit is added to create the different styles. According to European regulations, authentic Sherry can only be made in the D.O. Jerez-Xérès-Sherry in Andalusia, Spain, with the aging of the wines happening in one of these three main cities: Sanlúcar de Barrameda, Jerez de la Frontera and Puerto de Santa María, where most almacenistas or producers are based.  

The most important grape variety in Sherry is the Palomino Fino grape, which counts for about 90% of all the vineyards, but they also have Moscatel (Muscat of Alexandria) and Pedro Ximénez, PX for short. The last two make wonderful wines on their own, but they are mostly used to sweeten and to add color to the different styles. 
Once the producers have the base wine, it is time to decide which style of Sherry they want to make and to add the amount of spirit accordingly. They will add less for Manzanilla and Fino so that the Flor can grow, and more for the other styles described below. Aging will always happen in the Solera System (or fractional blending) where the new wines are placed on the top of the tier or criadera and the oldest in the bottom, closer to the floor (suelo in Spanish). Every year when it’s time to bottle, producers will draw up to 30% of the liquid from the bottom and replenish the rest with wines from the top. Running the scales, see image below that explains things more clearly.

Because of this fractional blending, Sherry doesn’t  usually have a vintage, and it is indeed a blend of different vintages. Remember, there are two types of aging for Sherry, under flor (yeast) or biological, where the wines are protected from oxygen (like in Manzanilla and Fino) or without flor, where the wines are exposed to oxygen. In order to do the last styles, producers add a bit more of brandy/ spirit, killing the flor that cannot survive when alcohol levels go higher than 16ºOxidized Sherries normally have alcohol levels that can go from 17-22º. Exposition to oxygen will not only change the color of Sherry from clear to different shades of orange, brick, amber, mahogany, dark brown, etc (see picture below), but the wine will acquire delicious rancio notes, which includes, orange peel, golden raisins, dried fruits, spices, toasted nuts: walnut, hazelnut, caramel, toffee, tobacco, prunes, dates, etc.

From right to left, check out the different styles of Sherry: Manzanilla is the palest and then Fino, Amontillado, Palo Cortado, Cream (Oloroso with PX) Pale Cream (sweet Fino), Oloroso. At the very end and almost black, the PX (which is sweetest).

Amontillado is considered the third style after Manzanilla and Fino. Enjoying both styles of aging, first the wines age for a while under flor (biologically), and then, producers add more spirit, killing the flor, with the wines continuing their aging, now exposed to oxygen like in Oloroso. This is why they are often described as Aged Finos.
Amontillados are made from Palomino Fino grapes and can be dry or sweet and they are full bodied and complex wines with a beautiful amber color and notes of preserved orange peel, almonds, walnuts and dried fruits. Some of the finest Soleras will feature 10 or more vintages in their blend, see some fine samples recommended at the end.

Palo Cortado
Palo Cortado, is a happy medium between Amontillado and Oloroso Sherries.  This wine usually has the nose and elegance of an Amontillado but the body texture of an Oloroso. Palo Cortado's alcohol levels range between 18-22º, making these sherries fuller than Amontillados. Palo Cortados start their life as a Fino but somewhere a long the way, they show different notes than set them apart, they are then fortified to 17º and continue their oxidative aging in barrel. Some of the typical aromas of Palo Cortado are bitter orange, dried leaves, toasted walnuts and exotic spices. 

In the case of Oloroso Sherries, the wine is never exposed to flor, being fortified to alcohol levels between 18-20º from the beginning. The wine continues its aging in barrels where the aging by oxidation takes place in the solera system. In the barrels, Oloroso will acquire its characteristic brownish/ mahogany color and aromas of toffee, dates, caramel, chocolate, hazelnut, walnut, among others. Stylistically, Olorosos are dry, they have fuller bodies than previous styles and an opulent texture, while Cream Sherries are s
weet Olorosos.

Up until here, all the styles above were made totally or mostly from Palomino Fino grapes with smaller addition of Moscatel or PX.
The last two are made 100% from the other two grape varieties allowed in the D.O. (appellation)

Rich and unctuous, Moscatel are sweet wines made solely of Muscat grapes. They have full bodies and a floral nose, featuring orange blossom, honey, dried apricot, jazmin and orange peel notes.

PX(Pedro Ximénez)
Dense and opulent, the final style and sweetest of Sherries is made solely from Pedro Ximénez grapes that have been dried in the sun on mats, concentrating the sugars. Indeed, they are basically a wine made from raisins, which you will smell immediately when tasting. The result is a sweet wine that has a very syrupy, viscous appearance. They are very dark and almost black in color. They feature notes of prunes, figs, licorice, dark chocolate and toasted coffee. Spaniards have these on their own or as dessert, on top of vanilla ice cream.

VOS and VORS: these two are special categories of sherry and the finest in the market.  They can be Amontillado, Oloroso, Palo Cortado and Pedro Ximénez styles but in this case, the solera includes very old wines. VOS means, Very Old Sherry, in this case, the youngest wine in the solera, by law, must be at least 20 years old. In the case of VORS or Very Old Rare Sherry, the youngest wine must be at least 30 years old. These are bit more pricey but super special, considering that prolonged aging in barrels will add complexity and finesse to the wines.

Recommended Wines to try: I was blessed with a bounty of samples for this post, my special thanks to the bodegas/wineries: Williams & Humbert, Gonzalez Byass, Emilio Lustau and Emilio Hidalgo for their generosity. See below my favorites, according to style. I will post pictures of all of them in my Instagram during #sherryweek. 
Special thanks to the Consejo Regulador de Jerez-Xérès-Sherry for allowing me to post their pictures and maps.

Amontillados (all dry wines)
Lustau "Los Arcos" Amontillado, $13.
Williams & Humbert "Don Zoilo" 12 years old Amontillado , $27.99
Gonzalez Byass "Del Duque" VORS 30 Year old, $49.99 (half bottle).

Palo Cortados 
(all dry wines)
Gonzalez Byass "Leonor"12 year old Palo Cortado Seco, $24.99.
Williams & Humbert "Dos Cortados VOS 20 Year old Palo Cortado",  $49.99 (500 ml bottle).
Gonzalez Byass Apóstoles VORS 30 Year Old, $49.99 (half bottle).

Olorosos (dry and medium dry)
Emilio Hidalgo Gobernador Oloroso Seco $29.99
Williams & Humbert Dry Sack Medium Sweet 15 year Old, $34.99 (500 ml bottle)
Gonzalez Byass Matusalem VORS 30 Year,$49.99 (half bottle) 

PX (Pedro Ximénez) (sweet)
Gonzalez Byass Nectar PX,$24.99
Williams & Humbert "Don Zoilo" 12 Year Old PX, $27.99
Lustau San Emilio PX, $30
Happy Sherry Week! Cheers, Silvina.
#sherryweek #sherrylover #thoughtsoflawina #WineWednesday

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Tuesday, October 27, 2020

And we found a wine treasure in a laundry room!

I swear this story is true! We found a treasure in a laundry room. It was Summer of 2020, one of my winas (this is how I call my students at NSSR Economics who learn and taste wines with me) sent me a picture of a bottle via WhatsApp.

She had gone to do her laundry during the pandemic at her sister’s building and surprise, surprise, she found a basket full of wine bottles with a sign that read “free for all”.  She and her sister took some of the bottles to drink at home.  There, she found a treasure: a bottle of Carruades de Lafite 1985. Her sister said to her, “leave it, that is probably not good”. Luckily to all of us (included me), she had been for the last year and half, learning and tasting wines with me, so she asked me, Silvina, is this any good? My answer was, ”take that bottle and keep it safe, until we can drink it together.” 

If you read my blog, you know I’m a fan of aged wines, especially those that have the ability to age gracefully, this was after all, the second label of Chateau Lafite-Rothchild, one of the best producers in the world from Pauillac, Bordeaux. Immediately I checked the price online, the bottle that she had found was only available in auction, and the current price was $200. 

When we met to celebrate one of our friend's birthday, we decided to open this coveted bottle. Off, I went to New York, exactly two Tuesdays ago, bringing with me a bottle of Abbona Barolo 2016 and a bottle of Gonzalez Byass Nectar PX Sherry (I’m already tasting for my post to be published next week about sherry), plus olives filled with smoked salmon, grape leaves filled with lemon rice, a potato tortilla (Spanish omelet). Plus, what the others brought: pita chips and dips, cheese, cold cuts, cake and of course we added her wine, the party was on!

At around 4:30 pm, when I uncorked the Carruades de Lafite 1985 , the cork broke into tiny pieces in my hands. This has happened to me before, every time I tried to open a wine that is at least 10 years old. Thankfully, she had a fine colander, so we passed the wine through it and put the content of the bottle in a decanter.  I was so excited and couldn’t wait to taste this wine, smelling it, was enough for me. Because when you taste /drink the good stuff, all you need is to smell it, to know that is really good. Here is my tasting note: inky, superb wine, full of cassis, roasted coffee, tobacco and dry leaves notes, smoky with a long finish. Divine! Robert Parker gave this wine 94 pts and Wine Spectator 93 pts.  

If you are curious, this wine is usually a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot, usually aged in French oak from 16-20 months, 10% of which is new.

We had other wines at this tasting too, yet we finished this one first, and continued with the Abbona Barolo 2016 ($40) another great wine featuring black cherry and rose notes with dusty tannins. We served the birthday cake with the Gonzalez Byass Nectar PX Sherry, super sweet, featuring prune, fig and date notes. Simply delicious! ($25).

What a night! Great wine, great food and great company! 

Thank you to my dear winas for being here for me, especially at these times. Yet, for a few hours, I was able to leave all my problems behind and truly enjoyed myself. Let’s do this again, you know you can count on me, to keep providing the good wine!

And if you ever bump into any free bottles and don't know what to do with them, send me a picture, I will gladly tell you if you should keep them or use them for cooking. Cheers! Silvina. 

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Monday, October 19, 2020

10 Tips for Wine Beginners

It's well known that choosing a wine can be an overwhelming experience but it’s also super gratifying to know and learn about wine. With that thought in mind, here are my two cents, for all of you in the beginner's line. 

1-Taste, taste, taste, yes! like everything else, practice makes perfect here too! try to taste as much as possible, take advantage of in-store tastings, go to events (when those are back), and experiment buying a different wine every weekend.  Don't be shy, think outside the box, nobody says you must drink always the same variety or brand.

2-Smell, Smell, Smell, yes! if you really want to recognize all the aromas in wines, you will need to train your nose. Smell everything, not just wine, fruits, flowers, herbs, minerals, earth, spices, meats, etc.

3-Buy a set of good wine glasses, of course you can drink from a cup too, but if you are going to be serious about wine, you need proper wine glasses: Riedel, Spiegelau, Jancis Robinson’s or Andrea Robinson's are my favorites. 

4-Become friends with your wine store guy/gal. Until you know what you like, your wine store guy/gal can let you know about sales and specials, but also he/she can give you advice about wine styles, grapes, matching of food and wine, etc.

5-Don’t always buy the most expensive wine or the cheapest in the list. Well, those that have money think that this is the easiest shortcut, I’m going to buy the most expensive wine and it should be good? Well, sometimes that happens and sometimes it doesn't. Buy things that you like, and trust your palate. I have a confession to make, I do read wine scores, but only follow the critics whose palates I like. I had my share of surprises in the past, when I purchased wines that received 90 + pts and yet I didn’t like them and couldn't understand why they received those ratings. 

6-Visit wine regions, you can start small, like finding out if there are any wine regions near you, for those that live in NY, go to Long Island or the Finger Lakes. Take a winery tour, learn how wine is made (so nerdy of me to plan vacations near wine regions!). Of course, check before hand that they are open and keep social distance.

7-Learn to spit your wines, I know what you are going to say but I want to drink my wine and feel the booze! if you are tasting only 1 or 2 wines that will be ok, but if you plan to taste more, the only way you will be able to do this is by spitting. If you don’t want to make a mess, keep a plastic cup handy with you to spit and then dump it into the sink or bucket (if you are at a wine event).

8-Drink plenty of water, though wine is divine… it will dehydrate you... so drink water to avoid this, and avoid getting drunk too. 1 glass of water per glass of wine should prevent you from making a full of yourself. And have some food, plain crackers will work, avoid tasting with an empty stomach.

9-Read wine books, here are some of my favorites: Karen MacNeil’s "The Wine Bible", Andrea Robinson’s "Great Wines Made Simple", Mary Ewing Mulligan and Ed Mc Carthy’s "Wine, all in one for Dummies" , Jancis Robinson's "The 24 Hour Wine Expert". You want to get technical? Jancis Robinson's "Oxford Wine Companion", Oz Clarke's "Encyclopedia of Grapes", Emile Peynaud's "Knowing and Making Wine", David Bird's "Understanding Wine Technology", etc. 

10-Lastly, read my blog, you can start here: Tasting Basics, Vinification, Basic grapes: Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. Matching Food and Wine, Buying a mixed case of wine. So, there you have it, my 10 tips for wine beginners! Cheers, Silvina. 

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