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Friday, September 15, 2017

The Country that Shaped the Wine World: ENGLAND !


Many of you may be scratching your head regarding how England could have played such an unparalleled role in the historical development of wine.  Indeed, Bordeaux, Champagne, Port, Marsala, and Madeira wines all owe their existence today to the English.  The reasons for this are intriguing and encompass royal kingdoms, dowries, shipping fortunes, and wars. 

Southwest France becomes part of the British Empire

                           Eleanor of Aquataine's dowry gave England control of Bordeaux

Let’s start with how profound the English influence has been in the Bordeaux wine business.  Queen Eleanor (wife of France’s King Louis VII) was one of the most powerful and wealthiest women in Europe during the 12th century.  She later married King Henry II of England.  Her dowry comprised all of Southwestern France, including Bordeaux.  This royal union of France and England produced many things, including one of Europe’s most famous monarchs (Richard the Lion-hearted, Eleanor and Henry’s son), as well as the English love affair with Bordeaux wines.

As the entire region of Bordeaux came under English rule, King Henry extended favorable trade privileges to Bordeaux's merchants to ship their wines to England.  This allowed Britain to receive Bordeaux wines far in advance of other European countries, and at far better rates.  While Bordeaux wine wasn’t cheap, it was the preferred beverage of the English upper class and monarchy.  Profits were massive as volume was extraordinary.  Records from the early 1300’s show that wine shipments between Bordeaux and England accounted for the largest shipping traffic in the world at the time. 

The English birthed the Port wine industry 

            Port was shipped downstream on small boats for loading on England-bound ships

Then, came the Hundred Year War between England and France.  By now the English were smitten with Bordeaux’s red wines which essentially became unavailable during the war.  English importers sailed further south to the northern part of Portugal for their red wines.   As the shipping journey was considerably longer than from Bordeaux, alcohol was added to prevent spoilage during the lengthy journey.  As British demand for Port (fortified wine with alcohol) grew, London merchants and their families moved to Portugal to oversee their empires and control their costs.  Interestingly, many of these original English families still control the Port industry today (e.g. Croft, Dow, Graham, Symington and Taylor).

The Brits put the bubbles in Champagne

                                     2 absolutely profound elements were added by the Brits

Now, let’s fast forward from Portugal to the Champagne district of Northern France.  In the 1600’s the wine produced in the Champagne countryside was “still” wine….there were no bubbles.  An English physician and scientist by the name of Christopher Merret was the first to discover how to make sparkling wine.  (This fact is often incorrectly attributed to the French monk Dom Perignon).   The Brits further played another role in the groundwork for the Champagne industry.  It was England’s Royal Navy that invented the thicker glass bottles to prevent Champagne bottles from exploding under the higher pressures.  Without these two important English contributions, Champagne as we know it today wouldn’t exist.

English merchants promoted Madeira

                                            The Brits had a love affair with Madeira island 

Next, there’s Madeira wine.  Like Bordeaux, Port and Champagne, the English played a pivotal role in the Madeira wine business, especially in the shipping of these wines to the rest of the world.  One of their most popular routes was to the British Colonies in America.  Madeira was considered to be the most important wine of the colonists.   In fact, it was so popular that George Washington used Madeira to celebrate the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

Marsala’s Origin is English

                    While Marsala can be an aperitif or dessert wine, it is also used in cooking

Marsala is another wine that owes its global success to the English.   A fortified wine, like Madeira and Port, Marsala is credited to a British merchant in the mid-1700’s who first added distilled spirits to the local wines surrounding the city of Marsala in Sicily.   This fortification with brandy was used to keep the wines from spoiling during their voyage on the ship back to England.  Marsala became so popular in England that British merchants soon descended on Sicily to increase production and commercialization of the beverage.

The Brits seed the New World

                 The British Empire in the 18th century reached nearly every corner of the globe

In addition to promoting wines in the American colonies, the Brits were also influencing wine habits in their Empire.  Settlers from Britain immigrated to South Africa, Australia and New Zealand and with them they brought vines for making wine. Centuries later, while no longer a part of the British Empire, these countries are known for producing quality wine.  And, their wines are widely exported back to England.

England is finally making its own wines

                    Churchill would be thrilled with England's new-found sparkling wine fame

Today, after more than 900 years of influencing the development of the modern wine business, England is finally producing its own wines.  While production is still relatively small, English wines have captured the attention of the wine world by winning competitions and acing out many of the globe's most prestigious brands. England's sparkling wines have been getting lots of traction, beating out in blind tastings famous Champagne houses such as Veueve Clicquot, Tattinger and even Winston Churchill's favorite Champagne, Pol Roger.


In summary, more than any other nation in the world, England has influenced throughout history the course of wine.  Wine-Knows will be visiting England in June 2019.  Join us to learn about England’s impressive new lineup of wines, in addition to Stilton cheese and Bombay Gin.  The trip is detailed at www.WineKnowsTravel.com.


Friday, September 8, 2017

Harvest Terms You Need to Know



September in the Northern Hemisphere is a huge month for winemakers.  Wine lovers should be aware of the following vocabulary, especially if you’re visiting a winery:

  • Alcoholic fermentation:   the conversion of grape sugar to alcohol

  • Battonage:  stirring the wine during fermentation so that the liquid has contact with the lees (the solids)

  • Brettanomyces:  bad yeast that causes wines to spoil

  • Brix:  measurement of the amount of sugar in the grape

  • Carbonic maceration: fermenting whole clusters of grapes that have not been crushed

  • Fining:  process used to clarify the wine (egg whites are used by many)

  • Free-run juice:  juice that has not been pressed but obtained simply by the weight of the grapes themselves

  • Malo-lactic Fermention:  Known also as “ML,” this is the conversion of harsh malic acid to softer lactic acid

  • Must:  unfermented grape juice

  • Lees:  sediment that occurs during fermentation (includes spent yeasts, seeds & other solids)

  • Racking:  process of separating the wine from the sediment by moving the liquid to another barrel

  • Saignee:  French term which literally means “to bleed,” this is the process of removing some of the unfermented grape juice to increase the wine/skin ratio

  • Sulfites:  chemicals that prevent spoilage of wine

  • Tannin:  compound found in the seeds, skins and stalks of grapes

  • TCA:  abbreviation for the destructive chemical that causes cork taint

  • Topping-off:  process of filling a wine barrel that has lost wine due to evaporation




Friday, September 1, 2017

Grape Harvest 101

The wine harvest has already begun in many regions in the northern hemisphere.  There is basic vocabulary that any wine lover should know about the harvest.  This week we’ll concentrate on pre-harvest wine terminology and important facts.  Next week, we’ll address the process of actually making wine.

Green Harvest  

                             Extra fruit is pruned from the vine during green harvest

This type of “harvest” actually takes place early in the summer.   Bunches of grapes are removed from the vine, sacrificed in the name of quality (the unripened grapes are literally cut and tossed on the ground).  Fewer grapes on the vine means those that remain receive all of the nutrients, thus producing more concentrated, more complex wines.   It’s the concept that “less is more.”

Ripeness
         While grapes may appear ripe & have sufficient sugar, other elements may not be ripe

This is not as simple as it sounds.  It’s not just about the sugar level of grapes (known as “brix”).  Physiological ripeness, a fairly recent concept, is the key.  This means that all of the chemicals, not just sugar, inside the grape are mature.  These chemicals include components such as acids, tannins, and the phenolic components in the grape’s skins that are responsible for color, aromas and flavors.

Verasion

                             The change of color, Verasion, signals the approach of the harvest

This is a French word that has become part of the English vocabulary relative to wine-making.  The term is used to describe the actual change of colors in the berry from green immature fruit to their fully ripened color.  While this color change is one element in ripening, there are many other processes occurring inside of the berry to make it physiologically ripe.


Ripening Differences Among Grape Varieties


Different varitetals ripen at different times.   Dry white wine grapes ripen earlier than most reds.  Merlot ripens earlier than Cabernet Sauvignon.  Tempranillo, from the Spanish word temprano which means “early,” is the earliest ripening red grape in Spain.  Sweet wine grapes are the last to be picked so that sugars can be maximized.

Tune in next week for a primer on the need-to-know terms associated with the wine-making process.



Friday, August 25, 2017

Italy’s Premier Bubbles

                      Nearby Lake Iseo & the Alps both help moderate the wine district’s climate

Serious lovers of Italian wines know that in addition to Barolo, Barbaresco, and Super-Tuscan, Franciacorta’s sparkling wines ranks among the primo wines produced in all of Italy.  If you have never heard of Franciacorta you’re in store for a magnifico experience, especially if you’re a connoisseur of top of the line French Champagnes. (BTW:  Don’t even think, however, of putting Franciacorta in the same category as Prosecco.  Franciacorta is about complexity, depth, breadth, finesse, and terroir.   Light-hearted Prosecco is about simplicity.)

The Franciacorta wine district is located approximately half way between Venice and Milan.  Although relatively unknown on the world-wide sparkling wine market, it’s well known among knowledgeable European wine consumers that Franciacorta produces Italy’s highest quality bubblies.  But, Franciacorta hasn’t always famous.  While this district had been producing wine for centuries, it was only for local consumption.  In the 1960’s experiments showed that the terroir was perfect for sparkling wines. Franciacorta was officially recognized as a serious sparkling wine district in 1967 when it was awarded a DOC (its own wine appellation).  Over the past 60 years the district’s growth has been impressive and quality has been pushed to the maximum.  Franciacorta is now a coveted DOCG, Italy’s highest honor for a wine district.

Like Champagne, the Franciacorta bubbles are produced with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.  Both wine areas use the same labor intensive process (Methode  Champenoise) where secondary fermentation occurs in the bottle.  In both wine districts sparkling wine is bottle-aged on its lees (spent yeast cells).   This aging of wine on its lees is a crucial step in the process of creating quality.  Because of E.U. laws protecting the Champagne brand, this method of making sparkling wine in Franciacorta is called Metodo Classico.  

There are two distinct differences between Franciacorta and Champagne---the first being scale, the second being history.  Champagne produces 100 times more bubblies than Franciacorta (in fact, some of the larger Champagne houses actually produce ten times more bottles than all of Franciacorta wineries combined).   While Champagne has been producing sparkling wine for about 350 years, Franciacorta is a bambino at a mere 60 years. 

Pricing?   Like Champagne, Franciacorta is not inexpensive.  Franciacorta sparkling wine begins in the $40 US range and leaps up to nearly $150 for its priciest single-vineyard bottles.   My favorite Franciacorta producers (in alpha order) are:  Bellavista, Ca Del Bosco, and Ferghettina.  

Next Fall (2018) Wine-Knows will visit Franciacorta on its tour through Northern Italy which begins in Venice and ends in the wine area famous for Barolo and Barbaresco (Piedmont).  This trip has been perfectly timed for Italy’s most famous foodie event, Piedmont’s Truffle Festival.  There are only two spaces available on this trip.  For details visit www.WineKnowsTravel.com.




Friday, August 18, 2017

Summer Reds

                           Pinots, Grenache and Frappoto make for great summer drinking

A light bodied red wine can be the spot-on choice for a hot summer’s day.  Perfect summertime grapes include Pinot Noir, Grenache, and Frappoto.  All of these grape varietals are thin-skinned, therefore, don’t offer a lot of tannin (not the best ingredient during the heat of the summer).

Pinot Noir, grown in cool climate areas (think Sonoma vs. Napa), is a terrific summer wine that can pair both with meats and fish.  Pinot flavor profile includes cherries and strawberries, but interesting spice or floral notes can make this varietal a compelling wine.   Pinot Noir is the hallmark grape of Burgundy, but red Burgundies are usually expensive.  For something more affordable look for great Pinots that are made in the Russian River of California… not far from the cooler Pacific Coast.  Oregon’s Willamette Valley also produces some stunners.  All Pinot Noirs below are highly recommended.

·        Russian River:  I particularly like Dehlinger.
·        Oregon:  Ponzi, Adelsheim, Domaine Droughin or Soter all produce excellent wines.
·        Burgundy:  Jadot produces both high-end, as well as some less costly wines.

Grenache is the world’s most planted red grape.  It is becoming more popular, especially among California vintners.  A Rhone varietal (one of the grapes used in Chateauneuf du Pape), it is also grown in Spain where it is known as Garnacha.  California’s Central Coast is also having very good success with this varietal, but they are using it primarily in blends.  The Grenache grape is full of red fruit flavors (strawberries and raspberries).  While it has good structure, Grenache’s tannins are background notes.  The wine works especially well with grilled chicken, but also can swing to lamb or beef.   My faves include....
  • Spain:  look no further than Arryan’s La Suerte Mentrida. 
  • Central Coast:  Best includes Tablas Creek, Zaca Mesa and Justin.
  • Chateauneuf du Pape:  Beaucastel is the bomb. 

·      Frapatto is one of my favorites for summer time.  Hailing from Sicily, Frapotto is a fun summer wine that usually everyone likes.  Relatively unknown in the US until recently, Frapotto is starting to appear on our wine lists.  Often blended with Sicily’s famous Nero d’Avola grape, Frapotto is more and more being vinified as its own varietal.  Think strawberries.   It’s a real hero with fish.  Best producers are Planeta and Orcchipenti.

     Paint the remainder of the summer Red!



Friday, August 11, 2017

Easy Drinking Summer Whites


Viognier and Vermentino are synonymous with summer.  While both of these grapes are popular in Europe, they remain mostly unknown in the US.  (But, they are increasingly popping up on our wine lists).   The two varietals can make for simple poolside drinking, but they both can also be complex, serious wines.   Viognier and Vermentino are versatile in that they can be served as an aperitif, or with a summer meal.  I especially like them with grilled fish, and they’re terrific with shellfish.  A light summer pasta (veggies & pesto, or cherry tomatoes & arugula) also work well.


Viognier hails from the Rhone Valley in France.  It is often used in blending, but in the appellation of Condrieu, it is 100% varietal.  Condrieu is ground zero for lovers of Viognier.  I am a great fan of Viognier’s perfume-like aromas (think summer honeysuckle or fragrant roses), but I also am taken with its exotic fruit profile (mango, or even sweet tangerine).  I highly recommend any of Rhone winemaker Yves Cuilleron’s Viogniers.  One of the best Viognier I’ve had outside of France is Spain’s Vall Loch from the Priorat region. Greece is also knocking it out of the park--- producer Gerovassiliou makes a killer Viognier.  For the US, I’ve not tasted anything that can beat Santa Barbara’s rendition by boutique Jaffurs Winery.  If you can find any of these Viogniers, buy every bottle they have.

Vermentino (known as Rolle in the South of France) is another rock-star summer sipping wine from the Italian Mediterranean.  Like Viognier, it can be highly aromatic.  It is similar to Sauvignon Blanc in weight and shares many of the same citrus-like qualities.  Vermentino, however, often serves up some intriguing minerality as an added bonus.  The best Vermentinos come from the island of Sardenia (Argiolas is a great producer).   Tablas Creek in Paso Robles is one of the few US producers that grows Vermentino.


Enjoy the last weeks of summer, and drink plenty of “Vitamin V.” 


Friday, August 4, 2017

Best Bargain Rosé

                                              Over 50% of Provence's wines are Rosé 

I owe this delightful discovery to a client of ours who telephoned recently about a Rosé tasting he had conducted in the Bay Area with friends. He was calling to tell us that the hands-down favorite was a French one from Trader Joes.  The price?  A whopping $6.99. My husband jumped in the car and dashed out to grab a few bottles. Our client was right.  This one, a wine from Provence, is a real winner that delivers a terrific value.  

If a Rosé could choose its birthplace it might very well choose Porvence.  First, the area is stunning.  Second, it's been making wine for >2,000 years so they've had plenty of time to get it right. Located in southern France not far from the Riviera, Provence specializes in Rosé.   I was in Provence last month at a Wine-Knows sponsored Julia Child cooking event.   Our group tasted a plethora of Rosé most of which were very good.  But, none offered the quality price ratio of the one from TJ's.

Drum roll please!  The terrific seven buck Rosé is produced by J.L. Quinson and its called Cotes de Provence, AOC (which means its from the appellation encompassing the hills of Provence).  The 2016 blend is a equal blend of Carignan and Grenache...both common grapes for the Rhone Valley of which Provence is a part. (Note:  Quinson also makes another Rosé which TJ carries called Coteaux d'Aix en Provence, so pay attention).

We're heading back to TJ's to pick up several cases for summer drinking and reminiscing about our glorious time at the Week in Provence with Julia Child.  Thank you, Marco, for this great tip!

Have a Rosé-all-day kind of weekend!




Sunday, July 30, 2017

Sensational Summer Cocktails

San Diego is having an exceptionally hot and humid summer season.  (Yes, we are spoiled….anything in the 80’s or above is a deal breaker for locals who find it difficult to comprehend humidity or anything other than idyllic mid-70’s).  Here are some absolute stunners to wet-your-whistle...

Rosé Lillet with Bubbles:



Lillet is a delightful aperitif from Bordeaux.  Made from Bordeaux grapes and herbs (the recipe is a carefully guarded secret), Lillet comes in 3 types:  red, white & rosé.  I was recently in Provence at a Julia Child cooking week and one of the chefs prepared a killer drink from the rosé version.  It’s simple:  equal parts of  rosé Lillet and bubbles (the French version I had used Champagne, however, prosecco or any California dry bubbly would work).  Serve it topped with a strawberry and voila!   

Aperol Spritz:



This is one of my fave cocktails….summer or winter.  Made from Italy’s Aperol (a neon orange colored aperitif made from bitter oranges, rhubarb and a some herbs), the spritz is currently one of the most beloved cocktails in all of Italy.  The cocktails is easy to assemble:  equal parts of Aperol and Prosecco, with a splash of soda water (or to keep it authentically Italian, San Pellegrino).  Add ice and top with a slice of orange.   Ciao, a dolce vita!

White Port and Tonic:



White Port is not easy to find in local liquor stores but totally worth the search!  (Hint:  you can buy it easily on the Internet.)   White Port (make sure it’s the bone dry version) makes a perfect thirst-quenching aperitif.  If you want to score some major points with foodies-in-the-know, serve it.   Everyone will love it, and no one will have ever had it.  The recipe is easy:  equal parts of white dry port and tonic…add plenty of ice and a slice of lemon (sprig of mint optional).   Cheers!

Limoncello with Club Soda:



I’ll never forget my first sip of the cocktail, and that’s something as it’s been about 15 years ago.  I was handed this colorful libation by the hostess at a 4th of July party in San Francisco, and I’ve been a fan ever since.   It’s easy-peasy:  fill a glass with ice, add 2/3 club soda, 1/3 limoncello.  Top with a slice of lemon, or even a strawberry is a nice color contrast.   Sante!

Stay cool wherever you are summering.


Friday, July 21, 2017

The Tasting of a Lifetime

                                               20 wines with an average age of 60 years each!

I’ve been a member of several serious, professional-level wine groups for >35 years.  Over the decades, I’ve attended some “Holy Grail” tastings, including a fabulous one at the American Embassy in Paris, another rock-star event in London with the International Society of Wine Educators, and finally a “Cult Cabernet” tasting in San Francisco (the average price per bottle was $700, the highest $1,600….and that was >10 years).  But, recently I had the privilege to organize a tasting in the Madeira Islands that just may top all of the others.

Wine-Knows took a group to Madeira last month.  I knew it was going to be a serious tasting when a 7 page portfolio solely for tasting notes was placed at each table setting.   Quickly leafing through the papers I simply couldn’t believe my eyes.  Surely there had been a mistake.  How was it possible that such a tasting could even be assembled?

I must applaud Oliveiras Wine Company for putting together this totally mind-boggling array of 20 wines, the oldest of which was the 1900 vintage (yes, 117 years old!).  The wines were divided into 4 segments:  dry, medium-dry, medium-sweet, and sweet.  

For those who don’t know Madeira, let me say a few words.  Madeira is in no way comparable to a table wine.   Madeira’s oxidative process and long aging can result in a rainbow of colors that range from brilliant terracotta to deep mahogany.  Madeira also offers a symphony of flavors including carmelized fruits, honey, a variety of nuts, coffee-toffee profiles, candied citrus, and even cigar box and leather nuances.  These are serious wines for a serious wine lover.

In short, we tasted 20 wines---five of which were over 100 years old and ten of the wines were over 50 years in age.  Most everyone was surprised at how well they liked the sweeter Madeiras----which didn’t appear sweet due their great balance with the wine’s acidity.  From my point of view, the stars of the show were the following (listed in order of age):
  • 1932 Verdelho             
  • 1908 Boal
  • 1907 Malvazia
  • 1900 Moscatel
Kudos to Oliveiras Wine Company and to Mr Oliveiras who personally received our group of Wine-Knows for this tasting of a lifetime.  Bravo!


Friday, July 14, 2017

England Wins World's Best Wine!

                           The Brits are knocking it out of the park with some killer wines.

England and wine?  That's an oxymoron for many wine lovers. However, for serious oenophiles, English wines have been appearing in the last few years on the world’s radar screen with increasing frequency.  In 2016, for example, an English bubbly beat out several French Champagnes in a blind tasting that shocked the wine world.  Now, a white wine from England just won “Best in Show” among > 17,000 wines in a tasting judged by a panel of international experts.

This riveting wine-tasting was sponsored by Decanter Magazine (Europe’s version of Wine Spectator).  Winners were recently announced at the 2017 World Wide Wine Awards.   Winbirri Vineyards 2015 Bacchus was the victor with judges describing it as the "perfect aperitif wine."  Comments included "complex, oily nose with spice, elderflower and citrus."   It was also deemed to be "very elegant and delicate with a slight spritz and a long, clean finish." 

Never hear of the Bacchus varietal?  Not many have as the grape is not grown in many spots other than the colder vineyards of Europe.  Bacchus is a hybrid, coming from a cross of Riseling, Sylvaner and Muller Thurgau grapes.  Named after the Roman God of wine, Bacchus is being increasingly planted in English vineyards.  The cooler climate in England allows this grape to retain high acid levels.  When allowed to fully ripen, Bacchus can offer powerful flavors.

Wine-Knows still has limited space on its June 2019 trip to England (the 2018 English tour sold out).  The 2019 tour will be showcased on our website later this summer. Currently, there are only 6 spaces remaining.  The trip will focus on the stunning Cotswold countryside, however, visits will also be made to Kent, Surrey and Hampshire district (all of which are located along England's southern coast).

Long live the Queen !

Friday, July 7, 2017

Michelin Buys Robert Parker



The giant Michelin Tire empire (who also owns the prestigious Michelin restaurant guides), just announced its purchase of 40% of Robert Parker’s renown Wine Advocate and its website RobertParker.com.   Parker, who founded the publication in 1978, sold it in 2012 to a group of Singapore investors. 

Robert Parker’s reviews and ratings help make or break wineries all over the world, as well as set global wine prices.  An East Coast attorney by trade, Parker left the legal world in 1984 to concentrate full-time on rating wine.  France awarded him the Legion of Honor in 1999 to recognize his unprecedented impact on French wine.  Although he is no longer the Editor of the powerful publication he birthed, Parker is still considered the most powerful wine critic on the globe. 


The marriage of the Wine Advocate and Michelin will surely effect the international culinary scene.  Just how is yet to be known, however, the two have been partnering for the last year to produce gastronomic events in Singapore.


Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Madeira Breaks all the Rules

             Madeira's fortified wines are made in a method completely different from other wines

I’ve been on the Portuguese island of Madeira for the last several days with a group of Wine-Knows.  Madeira is unusual in many ways.  First, it’s closer to Africa that it is to Europe (same latitude as Casablanca, Morocco).  Second, the wine for which it is most famous (fortified wine) was discovered by accident.  But, the most remarkable distinction of this wine is that it breaches many tenets used in traditional wine-making.

Let’s start with some basic background.   Madeira’s wines, highly coveted in the 17th century, were being shipped all over the world.   The island was perfectly positioned on the newly opened trade routes to the Americas, as well as a long- scheduled stop on the important trade routes to India.  Its earliest wines, however, had a habit of spoiling at sea as they were being transported.  To stabilize them, Madeira wine-makers followed suit of their colleagues in the mainland’s Port area and added a small amount of brandy to alleviate degeneration.  Thus, the birthing of the island’s “fortified” wine.

Madeira winemakers learned other instrumental factors from the wines’ long trips at sea centuries ago that are used today to make their wines unique.   Wines returned to Madeira after a year’s voyage tasted better than when they had left.   During the voyage the wine would evaporate, oxidize and concentrate, creating something very different than the table wine that had been originally shipped. Winemakers today reproduce all of this but in a completely different way.

The Use of Heat:
Winemakers figured out that the intense heat of the ship’s hold was changing the wine into something completely different….and better.  Madeira’s wine is now actually put through a heating process to mimic the months spent in the hot cargo holds of old galleons.   Heat is a big NO for traditional winemakers who prefer cool cellars for storage.

Exposure to Oxygen:
Madeira goes against the grain of another basic principle of conventional wine-making:  avoiding contact with oxygen.  Viewed as a huge culprit, Oxygen can turn wine into vinegar, and create other various not-so-nice flaws.  Madeira, in contrast, works with oxygen.  In fact, the term “Maderized” has been coined to describe wines that have been exposed to oxygen.  Typically, these wines are darker brown, with caramel and nutty flavors, all of which are typically found in Madeira.
 
        Colors vary from light-caramel to deep-brown depending on oxygen exposure during aging.

Under-ripe Grapes:
Winemakers throughout the world pay great attention to the ripeness of grapes.  Ripe is not just sugar ripe, but physiological ripeness where all elements of the grapes are mature.  Madeira’s gentle climate often produces under-ripe grapes which creates a major challenge for winemakers.  While the amount of sugar directly corresponds to the amount of alcohol in the wine, unripe grapes translate to wines with low alcohol, and most importantly, with lack of an acid balance. 


Madeira is an example of wines that don’t represent the status quo of current wine-making…not only in its production but in the way it tastes.  If you don’t know Madeira, you should.   Start your journey with a dry Sercial as an aperitif, then work your way up through the sweeter wines that pair well with cheese and chocolates.


Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Europe’s Only Coffee Plantation

                    Gran Canria's coffee plants grow among orchards of luscious tropical fruits

Think of coffee and countries like Brazil, Columbia, and Indonesia come to mind.  If you’re a coffee connoisseur you may even know that parts of Africa such as Ethiopia and Kenya also produce some decent beans.  But, coffee in Spain’s Canary Islands?  Located a mere 150 miles off the coast of Morocco, the Canaries boast the world’s most northerly coffee plantation---and the only one in Europe.

I arrived a few days ago to the Gran Canaria island with a group of Wine-Knows. Today we visited a coffee plantation.  Coffee has been cultivated on this island since the 18th century.  Originally used as ornamental plants due to their pretty red berries, the plant’s beans are now roasted and sold commercially.

The coffee plantation is located in a lush green valley in the northwest corner of the island.  The valley’s hot and humid year-around micro-climate is instrumental in producing quality beans.  Only Arabica beans, indigenous to Ethiopia, are grown.  The coffee plants grow among tropical fruits such as guava, mangoes, and avocados---all of which provide the much needed shade to the somewhat delicate coffee.  This area is only 300 feet above sea level, hence, Canary’s coffee beans don’t have the high acid levels that its South American counterparts have (they are normally grown at heights of 3,500 feet).

The Canary Islands were birthed from ancient underwater volcanoes, thus their soil is volcanic. (It’s no surprise that some of the most famous coffee-growing spots are in areas of current or historic volcanic activity, e.g. Indonesia and Central America). Coffee plants require a large amount of nutrients and volcanic soils offer an abundant supply of minerals which help the trees to grow.  The mineral-rich volcanic soil also contributes to the coffee’s unique flavor profile.

An island with year-around sunshine, a cornucopia of tropical fruits, plentiful fresh-fish, wine, and coffee?  I think I’ve found paradise.

Viva Canarias.