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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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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