When assessing the wine, there are many characteristics which are important. The color, the intensity and the type of the aromas on the nose, the bouquet, body and flavors on the palate, the finish. When I’m saying “important”, I don’t mean it in the form of the fancy review with “uberflowers”, “dimpleberries” and “aromas of the 5 days old steak”. All the characteristics are important for the wine drinker thyself, as they help to enhance the pleasure drinking of the wine.
One of the most important wine characteristics for me is balance. Well, I’m sure not only for me, otherwise the organizations such as IPOB (In Pursuit Of Balance) wouldn’t even exist. Of course as everything else around wine, the concept of the balance is highly personable – or is it? What makes the wines balanced? What does it even mean when we say that “the wine is balanced”? This is the big question, and I don’t mean to ponder at it at a great depth, as this is a purposefully a short post. But nevertheless, let’s just take a quick stub at it, shall we?
In my own definition, the wine is balanced when all the taste components are, well, in balance. Okay, don’t beat me up – we can replace the word “balance” with the word “harmony”. In a typical glass of a red wine, you will find acidity, fruit and tannins (which is mostly a perceived tactile sensation in the form of drying feeling in your mouth). You will also often find other flavors such as barnyard, toasted oak or burning matches, which are typically imparted by the vineyard’s soil and/or a winemaking process, choice of yeast, type of aging and so on. But – in the balanced wine, nothing should stand out – you don’t want to taste only fruit, only tannins or only acidity – you want all the components to be in harmony, you want them to be complementing each other, enhancing the pleasure you derive from drinking of the wine.
And then you got an alcohol. On one side, I should’ve listed the alcohol above, as one of the components of the taste – alcohol often can be associated with the perceived “weight” of the wine in your mouth, which we usually call a “body”. Alcohol can be also related to the so called “structure”. But the reason I want to single out an alcohol is because way too often, we tend to use it to set our expectations of the balance we will find in the glass of wine, as this is the only objective, measured descriptor listed on the bottle. You might not taste the “raspberries and chocolate” as the back label was promising, but if it says that the wine has 14.5% “Alcohol by Volume” (ABV), this would be usually very close to the truth. Of course there is a correlation in the perceived balance and the alcohol in the wine – if you taste alcohol in direct form when you drink wine, it will render the wine sharp, bitter and clearly, unbalanced. But – and this is a big but – can we actually use the ABV as an indicator of balance, or is it more complicated than that?
When IPOB started, this was their premise – search for the wines with lower alcohol content (don’t know if it still is). Typical ABV in the old days was 13.9% (there were also tax implications of crossing that border). So should we automatically assume that any wine which boasts 14.5% ABV will not be balanced? I do have a problem with such approach. I had the wines at the 13.5% ABV, which were devoid of balance – including one from the very reputable Napa producer who will remain unnamed. And then there is Loring Pinot Noir, where ABV is dancing right under 15% (at 14.7% to 14.9%). Pushing envelope even further, you got Turley and Carlisle Zinfandels, where ABV is squarely stationed between 15% and 16% (occasionally exceeding even that level). Have you tasted Loring, Turley or Carlisle wines? How did you find them? To me, these wines are absolutely spectacular, with balance been a cornerstone of pleasure.
What prompted this post was the wine I had yesterday – 2007 Domaine de Saint Paul Cuvée Jumille Chateauneuf-du-Pape (95% Grenache, 5% Muscardin), which was absolutely delicious, and perfectly balanced, with round, smokey, chocolatey profile. The wine also had a touch of an interesting sweetness on the finish, which prompted me to look carefully at the label – and then my eyes stopped at 15% ABV, with the first thought was “this is amazing – I don’t find even a hint of the alcohol”. Judging by this ABV number alone, the “alcohol burn” would be well expected.
Yes, the notion of the balance is personal. Still – what makes the wine balanced? Can we say that some types of grapes, such as Grenache or Zinfandel, for instance, are better suited to harmoniously envelope higher alcohol levels? Is it all just in the craft, skill, mastery and magic of the winemaker? I don’t have the answers, I only have questions – but I promise to keep on digging. Cheers!
At this point, you most likely already read a number of reviews from Gambero Rosso 2015 (here are the links for the John and Stefano posts, the two that I know of), so it will be difficult for me to add much there. Considering that lots of hard work is already done by the others, I will take an easy path and this year will limit my post only to the 10 (or so) of the personal highlights. But before we will get to those, a couple of notes.
First of all, just in case you didn’t read the other posts and in case you are not familiar with Tre Bicchieri, let me explain what Tre Bicchieri is all about. In 1986, an Italian food and wine magazine was created under the name of Gambero Rosso (in translation from Italian it simply means “red shrimp”, and it comes after the name of the tavern in Pinocchio). Starting in 2002, the magazine introduced the rating of the Italian wines using the symbol of glasses (Bicchieri), with 3 glasses (Tre Bicchieri) being the highest rating. This rating proved to be successful and demanded, and since then the Gambero Rosso created a special event, called Tre Bicchieri, to celebrate all those best wine Italy has to offer. Tre Bicchieri events take place around the globe, and the event I attended was in New York (it was the third Tre Bicchieri event I attended in the past 3 years, all in New York).
For the next note, here comes the rant. Yes, Tre Bicchieri is a great event which gives an opportunity to taste some of the best Italian wines. But in terms of the overall organization, this is one of the worst wine tastings I ever attended. I have two major problems with the event. Just so you understand the size of the event – there were 185 producers showing between 1 and 3 wines each, which would roughly equate to 350 wines. First problem is that all the producers were not organized by the region. And they were not organized alphabetically by the producer, oh no, that would be too logical, right? Instead, the tables were arranged in the alphabetical order of the … distributors! So the wine from Tuscany stands next to the wine from Sicily. What makes it even worse is that the numbering of the tables is not straightforward, so the table #142 can be next to the table #50; to make matters even more interesting, some of the distributors who pour the wine, don’t have enough people to cover all the separate tables, so some of the tables had been simply “pulled in” to have #122 to be nested between #42 and #43 – makes it easy to find, eh?
This story was the same for the past 3 years I attended the event – but I still can’t get used to it and still find it very annoying.
The second problem was probably even more annoying, and for all I remember, it is getting worse, year after year. The problem can be expressed with one word (okay, two) – wine glasses. Puzzled? Let me elaborate. When you arrive to the event and show your registration, you get a little piece of paper, which is your coupon for the wine glass (! only at Gambero Rosso!). You come to the counter and exchange your coupon for the glass. All is good so far. Now, you start tasting, which means that white, red and even dessert wines get to be poured into the same glass – after 50 – 60 pours, the glass has traces of wine all over it, inside and outside, and what you can do at the regular wine tasting is to put your glass aside and go get a fresh glass. Makes sense, right? But not at the Tre Bicchieri. They bring best wines of Italy for a special tasting – but they can’t procure enough glasses for the people who would want to get a fresh glass to be able to do so. Believe me – I tried, was almost screamed at. I don’t remember having this problem 2 years ago; I was able to get a clean glass with the organizers intervention last year, but this year – no, was told to go away by the multiple people. Of course I appreciate been invited to the event where you can taste the best Italian wines, yes, for free – but I just think that organizers must make an effort to match the level of the wines with the overall level of the event.
Okay, I vented, so it is the end of the rant. Now let’s talk about the wines.
As you tell from the title, I want to mention here only the highlights. Before we talk about those, a few general notes.
- No, I didn’t taste all 350+ wines. May be someone did, but no, that was not me.
- There were lots and lots of truly spectacular wines, as you would expect at an event like Tre Bicchieri, where only the best wines are presented. But don’t assume that I found all wines to be spectacular. Some were just good, some were just okay, and a few I regarded in my personal notes as “terrible”. Taste is personal, and that’s okay.
- I want to reiterate it again – while there were lots of wines and wineries worth mentioning, I’m purposefully limiting this post only by 10 – they might not be all around the best, but they were the most memorable. Oh yes, these are not the wines – these are rather 10 wineries – yep, guilty as charged.
- As usual in the overwhelming tastings like this, I’m using the “plus” ratings. “+++” should stand for Excellent, but trust me, I had more than a fair share of “++++” spectacular.
Okay, now we are ready – here we go.
I want to start with one of my favorite wines which I was very happy to find at the Tre Bicchieri event – Podere Il Carnasciale Caberlot from Tuscany. This wine is made out of unique, “self-created” but officially recognized grape called Caberlot, which came to being as a cross between Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. First time I tasted this wine was 2 years ago, and it was a love at first sight, errr, taste. The wine is produced in minuscule quantities and only made in magnums – and needless to say, very hard to find. We tasted the following wines:
2012 Poderel Il Carnasciale Carnasciale, Tuscany – +++. excellent, old world style
2010 Poderel Il Carnasciale Caberlot, Tuscany – ++++, wow! classic Bordeaux blend, spectacular taste profile
2011 Poderel Il Carnasciale Caberlot, Tuscany – ++++, similar to the 2010, only with more tannins
There were lots of other great wines coming from Tuscany ( just think about all the super-Tuscans), so I had to limit myself in what to include in this post. Here is one more winery where I was literally blown away by the quality – Azienda Agricola I Luoghi:
2010 Azienda Agricola I Luoghi Campo al Fico, Bolgheri Superiore – ++++, wow!
2011 Azienda Agricola I Luoghi Ritorti, Bolgheri Superiore – ++++, beautiful, clean
2011 Azienda Agricola I Luoghi Fuori Solco, Bolgheri Superiore – ++++, 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, wow!, precision!
Moving from Tuscany up north to Piedmont, Michele Chiarlo was perfectly representative of the area. Yes, there were other Barolo present in the tasting, but some were boring, and some where plain undrinkable due to the tannin attack (not just attack, a juggernaut rather). This wine was just perfect.
2010 Michele Chiarlo Barolo Cerequio, Piedmont – ++++, outstanding, clean, lavender, herbs
Continuing to explore the Northern Italy, we are now moving to Trentino, where we can find one of my favorite Italian Sparkling wines, Ferrari. While Ferrari wines are very hard to find in US, they are well worth seeking. Ferrari had 3 wines presented at the Tre Bicchieri, one better than another:
2004 Ferrari Trento Brut Giulio Ferrari Riserva del Fondatore – ++++, spectacular, notes of fresh dough, bread, yeast
2006 Ferrari Trento Brut Lunelli Riserva – ++++, very unique sparkling wine, undergoing maturation process in the oak casks, silky smooth palate
2007 Ferrari Trento Brut Perlé – ++++, beautiful!
Representing Campania, a few delicious wines. First, a beautiful white:
2013 Pietracupa Fiano di Avelino, Campania – ++++, fresh fruit on the nose, perfect palate with lemon and tart apples
And then the red and the white from the Fattoria Alois:
2011 Fattoria Alois Trebulanum Casavecchia, Campania – +++, rare grape, powerful tannins
2013 Fattoria Alois Pallagrello Bianco Caiati, Campania – +++, nice, acidic, clean, with some oily notes, unique and different. Plus, a new grape – Pallagrello Bianco.
A few wines from Puglia:
2012 Torrevento Castel del Monte Rosso Bolonero, Puglia – +++-|, fruity, open, beautiful ripe raspberries
2012 Torrevento Primitivo di Manduria Ghenos, Puglia – +++-|, playful, notes of tobacco and cedar
2012 Tenute Eméra Sud del Sud Salento IGT – +++, very good, soft approachable, reminiscent of Gamay, chocolate mocha notes
2013 Tenute Eméra Qu.ale Salento IGT – ++++, spectacular, great palate – not only this wine was outstanding, it was also a part of the very interesting project called Wine Democracy, which is all about making great affordable wines for the people and taking care of our little planet. Great cause, great wine.
Now, I need to mention another one of my favorite Italian producers – Jermann. Jermann wines represent Friuli Venezia Giulia, and I think these are some of the most thought-provoking Italian wines you can find. And as a side benefit, many of Jermann wines will age extremely well.
2012 Jermann W…. Dreams…. Friuli Venezia Giulia IGT – +++-|, spectacular, Chablis nose, light palate
2012 Jermann Vintage Tunina Friuli Venezia Giulia IGT – ++++, complex, delicious
2013 Jermann Pinot Grigio, Friuli Venezia Giulia IGT – +++
We are already at 9, and there are yet a few more wines I have to mention. I guess I’m really bad at math and self-control. Oh well, I hope you are still with me – here are few more wines, wineries and regions.
A very interesting wine from Lazio:
2012 Principe Pallavicini Casa Romana Rosso Lazio IGT – ++++, outstanding claret, perfectly classic
And then an excellent wine from Veneto. Of course Veneto is best known for its Amarone. And those who can’t afford Amarone, should settle for the Valpolicella, often made from the same set of grapes (Corvina/Molinara etc.). I generally not a big fun of Valpolicella, as I hadn’t been successful in finding the Valpolicella wines which would speak to me. Until now.
2012 Musella Valpolicella Superopre DOCG – ++++, simple, clean, with dried fruit on the palate, excellent! Wine is produced biodynamically, and probably the most amazing part is cost, at about €5! For the price, this is simply a stunning wine.
I would feel bad if I wouldn’t have at least one wine to mention from Sicily, where volcanic soils produce unique minerally-driven wines.
2013 Cantine Rallo Beleda Alcamo Catarratto, Sicily – ++++, spectacular, touch of sweetness, full body
And we are going to finish with some sparkling wines from Emilia-Romagna. There were lots of sparkling wines at the tasting, and many of them were outstanding. However, these wines really stood apart for me, as they were produced from the grape which generally commands very little respect – Lambrusco, and they were pretty much on par with any classic Champagne.
2013 Cantina Della Volta Lambrusco di Sorbara Rimosso, Emilia-Romagna – +++, excellent, fresh, crisp
2010 Cantina Della Volta Lambrusco di Modena Brut Rosé, Emilia-Romagna – ++++, classic Champagne nose
2010 Cantina Della Volta Lambrusco di Modena Brut, Emilia-Romagna – +++, excellent!
Yep, this is the end of my report. As I said before, this is only a small excerpt from a great selection of spectacular wines – but I have to draw the line somewhere. I’m curious in your opinion if you had any of these wines. Cheers!
The inner snob (unsilenceable). The charade of expectation. All together in a conundrum. Yeah, I know I’m not making sense. Please allow me to explain myself.
Just came back after a small party at a friend, who doesn’t drink much, but always makes sure he has an ample wine supply for the guests. He stores wines in the dark, cold room in the basement, so the conditions are good. But the wines sometimes get lost there. Not in any bad sense – they simply might stay there for years.
When he brought up a magnum of 2004 (!) Rosemount Shiraz/Cabernet Sauivignon South Eastern Australia (53% Shiraz, 47% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14% ABV), the inner snob made a quick assessment – “oh, sh!t”, he said. I just recently had bad experience with 2005 Shiraz, which was supposed to be magnificent, but was not, and with 2012 Shiraz of a [supposedly] high pedigree, so you have to excuse that little snob guy. Rosemount is a well known producer from Australia, but it is a mass-producer, and this Shiraz/Cabernet Sauvignon from a current vintage can be acquired today for a whooping $7 on average, according to the wine-searcher. So $7 wine, aged for 11 years – what would you expect? I would assume you see the conundrum now.
Well, there is only way to find out – the truth is in the glass, right? The wine is poured, and it is … delicious. Inviting nose of the dark fruit, nothing extra. On the palate – plums, blackberries, touch of spices, sweet oak, soft tannins, very present acidity and overall, very balanced wine. The wine was delivering lots of pleasure, and as one glass was finished, the next one was desired almost immediately. Drinkability: 8-
So here is the story, of the humbled snob and exceeded expectations (greatly exceeded). Is there a moral here? I think there is, and it is rather simple: give the wine a chance. You never know what is in the bottle – whether it is $7 or $107 bottle of wine, you still don’t know it. Yes, you have expectations, but the ultimate truth is inside of your glass. Stay humble, my friends, but expect the best. Cheers!
Actual title which I wanted to use for this short post was talking about SSP (Shameless Self Promotion, of course), but then I decided against it. However, this is what this post mostly is all about – a SSP, consisting of some “asks” and updates.
First, the “ask”. SAVEUR, the “definitive culinary and culinary-travel magazine” (their own wording), is running its annual SAVEUR Blog Awards. There is at least one category there, “Best Wine Coverage”, where this blog might apply. If you like what you are reading and think this blog is worthy of a nomination, here is the link to do so:
Note that nominations will close on March 13th, so you have less than 2 days left. Apparently, the more nominations, the better it is, so … thank you!
Now, a few small updates regarding Talk-a-Vino and social media overall. After long hesitation, I created a Talk-a-Vino page on Facebook. The page had been live for about 9 month, and in addition to all of the blog posts, I share interesting wine news and articles there as well, so you might find it useful. Here is the link so you can follow the Talk-a-Vino page if you are not doing so already:
In case you are using a blog reader, such as Bloglovin’, you can find my blog there as well – below is the “follow button” for your convenience:
Last note regarding social media – about 6 month ago, I finally made it to Instagram. I didn’t create a specific blog account there (yet), instead I created simply an account for myself, so while you will find some pictures of food and wine there, most of the stuff simply relates to the travel, places, nature, flowers and so on. I’m thinking about blog-specific Instagram account, but I don’t know how to manage two with an iphone – if you have any ideas, I would greatly appreciate an advice. In any case, feel free to connect with me on Instagram (@anatoli.l).
And before we close here, a “local update”. In general, I pay very little attention to the ratings of the specific wines. However, I’m curious to know the average ratings for the wines in the specific region for the specific year. That information can be found in so called Vintage Charts. There are many sources for the various vintage charts – some are region specific, and some cover whole lot of different regions. In case you ever need to find and compare the different vintage ratings, I created a new page here in this blog which you might find helpful – here is the link. On the page, you will find a collection of various Vintage Charts from the different sources.
And this is all I have for you on this Wine Wednesday. Have a glass of something tasty and cheers!
During 2011 I wrote a number of posts for the project called The Art Of Life Magazine – of course talking about my favorite subject, wine. The project was closed and even the web site is down, but as I still like the posts I wrote, I decided to re-post them in this blog. Also, in that project, posts were grouped into the mini-series, such as “Best Hidden Secrets” and “Forgotten Vines”. The post I’m offering to you today was from the mini-series called “Liquid Pleasures Beyond Wine”, and the subject of this post is Whiskey. Well, it is almost an original – I had to make a few small edits.
Also note that the series was written for a slightly different audience – I hope none of my readers will take offense in the fact that sometimes I’m stating the obvious…
In the previous post about Whiskey, we focused solely on Scotch, a malt Whisky produced in Scotland. The whole world of Whiskey (see, we are even changing the spelling from whisky to whiskey to accommodate the change) is much larger, with various kinds of whiskey coming the from different places all over the globe.
Let’s take a look at those places. We can and should start from Ireland – a close neighbor of the Scotland. Despite the “geographical closeness”, Irish Whiskeys are typically very different in style from the Scotch – to be more precise, they are much lighter. There are a few factors which define the lighter taste of the Irish Whiskeys. First, they are usually triple-distilled, versus double distillation process used in production of the Scotch. The next factor is reduced use of a peat smoke (actually, it is practically not used with some exceptions, such as Connemara, which is nicely peated). Lastly, many Irish whiskeys are made from the mix of grains as opposed to the malted barley used in Scotch production, which also leads to the lighter tasting final product.
Irish Whiskeys are probably the oldest distilled spirit produced in Europe – at least based on information in Wikipedia, with the first notices going back to the 12th century. While there are only four acting distilleries in Ireland, one of those four, Old Bushmills Distillery claims to be the oldest officially recognized distillery in the world, tracing its history to 1608 (hence the name of one of their Whiskies, 1608). Each one of the four distilleries produces a substantial number of different lines of whiskey, so there is a good variety of the Irish Whiskeys available in the stores today. Some of the best known examples of Irish Whiskey include Jameson, Bushmills, 1608, Tullamore Dew – but of course there are lots more.
Let’s move to the United States, where a number of different whiskeys had being made for centuries. Some of the most popular kinds include Bourbon, a whiskey made out of the corn mash (mash should contain at least 51% of corn), and Rye Whiskey, which is, of course, made out of rye. As any other whiskey, American whiskey undergo a process of fermentation of the mash, distillation (usually single), and oak barrel aging. Sometimes a special filtration process is used in order to remove impurities and have softer tasting final product. Jack Daniels is probably one of the most famous examples of Bourbon, along with many others:
Some of the examples of the Rye whiskies include Old Rip Van Winkle, Whistle Pig and many others:
History of Bourbon and Rye Whiskey accounts for a few hundred years and includes interesting chapters such as Prohibition (you can read more about different kinds of American Whiskey here). What I have to mention is that today we are literally are living through the Whiskey revolution in the US – in addition to all the “traditionalists” in Tennessee and Kentucky, amazing Rye, Bourbon and Malts are produced in New York, Oregon, Texas, Utah, North Carolina, Colorado – and these are only some of those I’m aware of, I’m sure there are lots of others. It will make it for a very long post if I will start naming all those Whiskeys, so let me just give you a few examples in the pictures:
In addition to US, a number of other countries should be mentioned here as the world-class Whiskey producers (I would be curious to know if you would be able to guess what those are, so pause your reading for a moment). To answer my own trivia question, here are some of them – Japan, Taiwan and India (surprised?).
In all of those countries, blended and single malt whiskeys are made in the best tradition of Scotch Whisky. Whiskeys from those countries are quite rare and hard to find, but definitely worth seeking. One of the most famous Japanese Whiskeys is called Yamazaki and it is made as 12 and 18 years old single malts, using copper pot stills very similar to those used in Scotland. Another Japanese whiskey which is somewhat available in US is Hibiki, which is a blended 12 years old (there is also Hibiki 18, but it is even harder to find). Both Yamazaki, Hibiki and many others are owned by Suntory, a Japanese conglomerate.
Then there is Amrut, which produces whiskey in India, again using the Scotch methodology – with very good results. Amrut produces a number of single malt and blended whiskeys – for more information and tasting notes you can read this blog post.
With this we are finishing our exploration of the world of Whiskeys – and remember that paper exercise can not replace an actual experience which a good whiskey can bring. If you never had whiskey before, you need to resolve to try it now. For those who already knows the beauty of the Whiskey spirit – pour some of your favorite in the glass and cheers!
During 2011 I wrote a number of posts for the project called The Art Of Life Magazine – of course talking about my favorite subject, wine. The project was closed and even the web site is down, but as I still like the posts I wrote, I decided to re-post them in this blog. Also, in that project, posts were grouped into the mini-series, such as “Best Hidden Secrets” and “Forgotten Vines”. The post I’m offering to you today was from the mini-series called “Liquid Pleasures Beyond Wine”, and the subject of this post is Scotch Whisky.
Also note that the series was written for a slightly different audience – I hope none of my readers will take offense in the fact that sometimes I’m stating the obvious…
Moving from grapes to grains (last week’s subject – Brandy), now is the time to talk about literally my favorite spirit: Scotch Whisky, or simply Scotch for a shorter name. Scotch is a part of a broader category of spirits which are called Whiskey, which is a distilled alcoholic beverage made from the fermented grains. While Whiskey can be produced anywhere in the world, Scotch Whisky can be produced … yep, only in Scotland (by the way, note the spelling difference – Whisky versus Whiskey, and make no mistake using the right spelling when talking about Scotch – it is Whisky).
First mentions of the Scotch Whisky (will just refer to it as Scotch from here on) go all the way back to the end of the 15th century, so this alcoholic beverage has quite a bit of heritage and knew very turbulent times in its half a millennia history. Scotch can be made from different grains such as barley, wheat and so on, but many particularly famous Scotches are made from malted barley, and typically are called “malt”. And then if you ever paid attention to Scotch, I’m sure you heard of a “single malt” – that is a Whisky which is made out of malted barley at a single distillery. So just to emphasize – “single” here refers to a single distillery, and an opposite of single would be “blended”, in case Scotch from two or more distilleries is blended together. By the way – don’t be afraid of the blended Scotch – a lot of them are on par with the best single malts.
Making of the malted Scotch starts from the barley, which is steeped with water for some time to start germination process – during this process, complex starches will be broken down and converted into sugar. Next step is drying of the barley, which is typically done in the pit, using heated air. The heat is coming from burning of the peat (fossil fuel), which imparts the smoky flavor on the grains; later on the smoke becomes the part of the flavor profile of the final product – the intensity of the smoke varies greatly among different areas and different producers. Dried grains are coarsely ground and will be steeped with the hot water and will become a sugary liquid.
Next step is cooling off and then start of the fermentation process, which technically results in the beer with 7%-8% alcohol. From here on, the liquid goes through the first and second distillation process, which will get the level of alcohol anywhere between 40% and 94%, and then it is put in the oak barrels to age. The minimum age for Scotch is 3 years, but if we are talking about single malts, majority of them would age for 10 or 12 years (12 years seems to be a very popular demarcation line for introductory level Scotch from a lot of producers), and from there it can continue aging until it reaches 18-19 years (anything in between also goes). 25 and 30 years also seem to be a popular option, and 40-50 years old are not so rare – but keep in mind that the age of the Scotch will be appropriately reflected in the price (you expected that, right?).
Before Scotch is bottled, the decision is made regarding the strength of the alcohol in the final product. Sometimes it can be released at so called “cask strength”, which can be anywhere from 50% to 60% ABV or even higher. But more often than not, it is diluted with water to get to 43% – 46% of alcohol in the final beverage. One important note – unlike wine, Scotch doesn’t age in the bottle – however, once it is opened, again unlike wine, it doesn’t spoil and can be kept indefinitely in the bottle, just don’t forget to put the cork back every time you pour a glass.
With the same process used across the board (fermentation of the malted barley and [typically] double distillation), and the “fruit” (err, grain) being effectively the same (barley) versus many hundreds of different grapes used in the winemaking, would you expect that all the Scotch of the same age will taste the same? Well, it truly does not. What makes Scotches taste different? First of all, it is water, which is different in every Scotch-producing region. Then it is the type and intensity of peat smoke used for drying of the germinated grains. Of course the number of distillations matters, but more importantly it is the type or types of casks used for aging (some Scotches undergo aging in a few different types of casks before they are bottled) and the time of aging. Lastly, it is the type of filtering (or no filtering at all) which will also affect the taste of the final product. Oh yes, and a little bit of magic.
There are five official areas where Scotch is produced – Lowland, Highland, Speyside, Campbeltown (never tasted anything from this area) and Islay. There are also a number of small islands which produce Scotch in a very distinct styles (like Skye, Orkney and others), but they are technically considered the part of the Highland region. Each distillery produces Scotch in its own unique style, but there can be some general similarities between scotches. If we paint flavor profile for the different regions, using very wide brushstrokes, we can say that Scotches from Highlands are typically very balanced and round, with good balance of acidity, flavor and spiciness. Lowlands flavor expression is usually toned down, and Speyside are very delicate and nuanced – Orkney scotches (Scappa) are similar to Speyside in their expressions, but probably add a touch more body. Islay and Skye produce very powerful and assertive scotches, exhibiting tremendous amount of peat (read: smoke); those who like them (me!) find them very pleasant.
When you are looking at the bottle of Scotch, you would typically be able understand if this is a single malt or not, how old it is (10, 12, 14, 15 and so on years), or the year when it was distilled and when it was put in a bottle, as well as the type of finish – Madeira, Jerez, Port and many others types of barrels this scotch was matured in. Of course alcohol content, cask strength or not and type of filtering would also be typically denoted on the bottle. Well, as a popular trend, that exact age statement can be nowhere to be found on the bottle nowadays – but this should be a subject for a separate post…
There are hundreds and hundreds of distilleries making great single malt and blended Scotches. If you want to learn about all of the distilleries, you can start from Wikipedia link, or Malt Madness web site. At the same time, I would be glad to share the list of some of my single malt favorites: Ardbeg Alligator (Islay), Cardhu 12 (Speyside), Lagavulin 16 (Islay), Laphroaig 16 (Islay), Glenfiddich 15 (Speyside), Scappa 14 and 16 (Orkney), Talisker 10 (Skye). Of course the world is not limited by the single malts only. When it comes to blended whisky, there are a number of Whiskies which I can recommend – Johnnie Walker (Black, Gold, Blue), Chivas Regal 12 and 18, Monkey Shoulder, Compass Box, Blue Hanger, Black Bottle – and many others.
I hope I was able to share my passion for the Scotch Whisky – but I’m curious to hear what do you think about Scotch? Also, just so you know, in our next post we will insert only one letter ‘e” into the word Whisky, to discover to whole huge world of Whiskey. Until then – happy dramming!
During 2011 I wrote a number of posts for the project called The Art Of Life Magazine – of course talking about my favorite subject, wine. The project was closed and even the web site is down, but as I still like the posts I wrote, I decided to re-post them in this blog. Also, in that project, posts were grouped into the mini-series, such as “Best Hidden Secrets” and “Forgotten Vines”. The post I’m offering to you today was from the mini-series called “Liquid Pleasures Beyond Wine”, and the subject of this post is Brandy.
Also note that the series was written for a slightly different audience – I hope none of my readers will take offense in the fact that sometimes I’m stating the obvious…
As you could’ve expected based on the last post, we are going to explore the world of “liquid pleasures beyond wine”, the world of spirits. Let’s start with Brandy, as it is closest to the wine world. To be more precise, wine is a foundation of a Brandy.
Brandy is produced in many different countries, but we should start our journey in France, where it was originated. While Brandy is a generic name for any wine-based spirits, in France Brandy mostly exists under other noble (and protected) names, such as Cognac, Armagnac and Calvados.
Of course Cognac is the most famous French spirit, however let’s start our journey from Armagnac, as historically it was the first region to produce brandy, starting in the 14th century. Armagnac is a region in the south of France, which has a status of AOC – it means that similar to the French wines, production of Armagnac is strictly regulated from start to finish. Armagnac is made out of grapes (about 10 different grapes can be used in production). Once grapes are harvested, pressed and fermented, the resulting liquid undergoes a process of single distillation, and then the spirit is placed into the oak barrels for aging. Armagnac’s age designation is similar to Cognac, which we will discuss a bit later in this post. Taking into account single distillation, Armagnac initially is harsher than the cognac, but it mellows down as it ages in the oak barrels for a minimum of two years.
Similarly to Armagnac, Cognac is also produced from the grapes (mostly Ugni Blanc, but some other grapes are also used). History of Cognac started in 16th century, when it was distilled from the local wine in order to withstand long ocean journey to the destination. Initially it was thought that after the ocean voyage, addition of water will convert spirit back to wine, but then it was found to be quite appealing on its own.
Same as the French wines regions, Cognac is an AOC, which is divided into 6 different zones, with Grand Champagne, Petite Champagne and Borderies being located in a middle of the appellation, and Fins Bois, Bon Bois and Bois Ordinaire surrounding them from all sides. Zone is usually designated on the bottle of cognac. There is also an additional designation of Fine Champagne, which is used if Grand Champagne and Petite Champagne are blended together. Again, same as with wines, the smallest appellation is the most restrictive as to what grapes can be used for the production of the cognac – for the cognac to be called Grand Champagne, all the grapes should be coming strictly from the Grand Champagne region, where for the bottle just labeled as Cognac, the grapes can come from anywhere within Cognac AOC.
In order to make cognac, it is necessary to start with wine. The grapes are harvested, pressed and fermented exactly in the same way as they would be for the wine production. Wine is typically fermented for 2-3 weeks, after which it undergoes process of double distillation (which removes harshness), and the resulting spirit is placed into the oak barrels (Limousine oak is typically used in cognac production) for aging. Cognac spends at least 2 years in the barrel, then it is typically blended with the cognac from different barrels and different ages to achieve persistent taste (here blending process is very similar to the one for the Champagne), and then it gets bottled. Of course some of the cognac spends 10, 15 and more years in the barrel, yielding a more mellow, more aromatic and complex beverage.
Looking at the bottle of cognac, you can always have an idea as for how long the cognac was aging in the barrel. If the label has letters VS (Very Special), it means that cognac spent at least 2 years in the barrel. VSOP (Very Special Old Pale) means that cognac was maturing for a minimum of 4 years, and XO (eXtra Old) has spent at least 6 in the barrel (but on average, XO is aged for about 20 years). There are some other designations, such as Napoleon, which typically designates age between VSOP and XO. One more interesting fact about cognac is that while there are about 200 producers, about 90% of the whole volume of the cognac attributed only to the four companies – Courvoisier, Hennessy, Martell, and Rémy Martin.
Our next stop is Calvados, where brandy is produced from apples. About 200 different types of apples (sweet, sour, bitter…) are used to produce Calvados. Production of Calvados started in 16th century, and it reached peak of popularity in 19th century, when grapes in the other regions were devastated by Phylloxera.
Production of Calvados starts from the harvesting of the apples, then pressing them and fermenting into dry apple cider. After that the liquid undergoes a process of distillation (both double and single processes are allowed), and then distillate is stored in the oak barrels for the further aging. Calvados should age for at least 2 years in the barrel before it can be released. In many cases it ages for anywhere from 2 to 6 years, but can go for 10, 15, 20 years and longer. Good Calvados, like the one from Adrien Camut, is a wonderful and fragrant drink, with hint of apples both on the nose and the palate, very balanced and delicious.
Leaving France, we have many potential Brandy destinations to visit – however, nobody can really compete with the France for the top spot in Brandy production. Nevertheless, we should mention a few other examples.
Georgia and Armenia started producing brandy in the 19th century, and taste-wise they were quite competitive with the actual French cognacs. They lost some of their edge after both countries became independent and experienced a lot of economic and political issues, but now they are slowly restoring their brandies back to the world class level. In both countries brandies are produced from grapes (wine). Just in case you are curious, you can look for Sarajishvili (Georgia) and Ararat (Armenia) brandies – both should be available in the stores.
I would like to mention two more brandies. First one, coming from Greece, is called Metaxa. It is a wine-based brandy, which is aged similarly to the French cognac, in the limousine oak barrels, and then blended with aged Muscat wine to create final product, which is typically very smooth and mellow (might be a touch too sweet, depending on your preferences).
Second one is coming from Italy and called Grappa. Grappa is made by fermenting of the grape must (skin, seeds and stems leftovers after wine production). Grappas are typically very strong with 53%-55% alcohol (typical brandy is 40%). As of the last 5-8 years, single grape grappas became very popular – and they have distinctive and delicate taste, despite still high concentration of alcohol.
There are many more countries to visit in our brandy journey – however, I hope you got the idea already. Enjoy a glass of your favorite brandy tonight – but if brandy is not your thing, please wait for the next post, where we will be talking about Whisky. Until then – cheers!
During 2011 I wrote a number of posts for the project called The Art Of Life Magazine – of course talking about my favorite subject, wine. The project was closed and even the web site is down, but as I still like the posts I wrote, I decided to re-post them in this blog. Also, in that project, posts were grouped into the mini-series, such as “Best Hidden Secrets” and “Forgotten Vines”. The post I’m offering you today was an opening post in the mini-series called “Liquid Pleasures Beyond Wine”.
So far in this blog we mostly talked about wine, wine as an experience. We tried to uncover some of the hidden secrets of the wine world, such as Rioja, second labels of the famous wines, or French sparkling wines. We looked at the wines which were famous, then almost disappeared and now slowly coming back, such as Madeira and Jerez. We also searched for wine values, by comparing wines made from the same grape but coming from the different places. Did we explore enough the world of wines? Not really, we didn’t even touch the tip of a tip of an iceberg. Nevertheless, as we are looking for experiences, let’s take a step outside of the wine world, and let’s take a look at the other “liquid pleasures”.
I’m talking about the group which is collectively called “spirits”, otherwise also known as “distilled beverages”, which is a name which is used in Wikipedia. Overall distillation is a process of separating liquids with the different boiling points, and its application goes way beyond the world of alcoholic beverages. Distillation first was uncovered about 2000 years ago, but first use for production of the “spirits” happened less than a thousand years ago. When applied to the wine or any other fermented substance (meaning that some degree of alcohol is present in the liquid to begin with), the end result of distillation is a liquid with increased concentration of alcohol.
Historically, such high-alcohol liquids had various uses – one of the most important ones, which also has nothing to do with drinking the liquid, was medicinal. Strong alcohol is an excellent antiseptic; it is used in order to disinfect the area of the body, to kill any potential bacteria thus preventing any possible contamination. However, while this very important, such applications are completely outside of the scope of this blog, so let’s go back to the stuff we drink.
There are many different kinds of the spirits produced in the world. Some have more universal appeal and can be produced in many countries following the same basic methodology, but some can be also unique for particular place (but if it is any good, it is extremely hard to keep a secret). Let’s take a quick look at the various types of the spirits – we will discuss some of them in detail in the subsequent posts.
Let’s start with Brandy – brandy is a spirit which is produced from wine. This can be an actual grape wine, or it can be a fruit wine – both can be used for the production of brandy. For instance, Cognac and Armagnac are both made from the grapes, and Calvados, another famous French brandy, is made from apples. Brandy is produced in France, Spain, Italy (where it is known as Grappa), Georgia, Armenia, US, Mexico and many other countries.
Next spirit we need to mention is Whisky, which is made out of grains (barley, rye, wheat, corn). This group includes Scotch, which is made in Scotland, and then Whiskey, which can be made in many different countries – for instance, Irish whiskey is made in Ireland, and in US you can find both Whiskey, which is often made from rye, and Bourbon, which is corn-based. Whisky is also produced in Japan, India, Canada and other countries.
Then comes Vodka – made all around the world, from all possible ingredients. It is made in France, Russia, Poland, Italy, US, Canada and many other countries. It can be made from grapes, fruits, grains, potatoes and probably some other ingredients we can’t even think of. Vodka is often called a “neutral spirit” as it is typically produced flavorless (some flavor can be infused before bottling), and thus it is a popular component in many cocktails.
To complete the “big scale” list of spirits, we need to mention a few more. Tequila, which is produced from the Blue Agave plant, is a very popular spirit coming from Mexico. I can’t resist to mention Mezcal, which is also made in Mexico using Agave plants, but it has distinctly different taste (and very hard to find). Then we need to mention Gin, which is also a popular cocktail ingredient and has a very distinct taste as it is produced from Juniper berries. And last but not least comes Rum, which is produced from sugarcane, and yet another popular cocktail staple.
As we are looking for the great experiences, should we even look at all these “hard liquors” as they often called in the United States? Absolutely. Moderation is a key when it comes to alcohol (this universally applies to any kind of alcoholic beverages – beer, wine or spirits) – but once this is understood, one can definitely enjoy immense richness and variety of flavors coming from all these spirits. They definitely create a lot of great experiences and unique memories, and they bring lots of pleasure. In the coming posts, we will take a closer look at some of them – and until that time – cheers!
Wine = Memories. Well, okay, we need to correct that statement. Great Wines = Memories, now that is better. Of course we remember the wines we drink, and this is how the opinions are formed and this is how the wine list in the restaurant doesn’t look that intimidating anymore. But this should be characterized more as a general knowledge, not specifically as “memories”. Great wines, on the other hand (I’m not going to define the term “great wine” – this is highly personal, you define it for yourself), become memory anchors. We remember when, why and how, we remember who we shared it with, and we can retrieve those memories on the moment’s notice. That is what “great wine” can do to you.
Case in point – a great evening with friends, which had all three elements at its perfection – the wine, the food and the company. An evening, when the time flies so fast, you don’t understand how late it is already. And the wines – stunning, each one in its own right. We started with Gosset Grand Réserve Brut Champagne – a non-vintage Champagne from one of the old and classic producers. I have to honestly admit that I was never impressed with other Gosset wines in the past, but this Grand Réserve, poured from the magnum, was outstanding – round, creamy, yeasty just enough, with a touch of apple and fresh bread on the palate – an excellent start of the evening.
Then the awe inspiring, almost 50 years old 1967 Gaja Barbaresco was gently uncorked. It was not simple, as cork did crumble – but this is nothing which strainer and decanter can’t fix. The first whiff – nothing smells off, which is a great sign of relief. While we put the wine aside to let it breathe a bit, we reached out for another white – 2007 François Cazin Le Petit Chambord Cour-Cheverny AOC.
This is a rare French white wine made from 100% Romorantin grape. I remember a few years back trying this wine at a 10 years of age – and I remember been simply blown away by the exuberant beauty of this seemingly unassuming wine (new vintages retail at around $15 – the QPR is through the roof on this). The nose of that 2007 was amazing, with fresh white fruit, guava, mango, honeysuckle, lemon and lemon zest. On the palate, behind the first wave of Riesling-like appearance with touch of sweetness and tropical fruit notes, there were layers and layers of acidity and minerality. After about 10 minutes of breathing time, the wine was almost bone dry, very crisp and refreshing. I still have 3 bottles of the 2007, and now the trick will be to keep my hands away from them, as they still benefit from time.
Time to get back to that 1967 Barbaresco. We were somewhat waiting for the main course to start drinking it, and I was concerned that as it happens with many older wines, this wine might also succumb to the neverland if not consumed within that short window of time. Silly me. The wine kept going and opening for the next 2 hours. It had all those sweet plums, sapidity of the onion peel, minerality, all weaved around a well defined structure with perfect acidity and perfect balance. The “wows’ kept flowing until there was nothing left in the decanter – this was definitely a treat. And a perfect memory anchor, an experience which stays forever.
Our next wine was also very interesting and delicious in its own right, by fate or the accident made from the exact same grape as the Barbaresco, the Nebbiolo -2004 Ar.Pe.Pe Rocce Rosse Riserva, Valtellina Superiore Sassella DOCG, Italy. Valtellina red wines are typically made in the way similar to Amarone – with the grapes drying out after the harvest for about 120 days, and only then pressed and vinified. The Sassella Rocce Rosse from Ar.Pe.Pe stands apart, with Nebbiola grapes (locally known as Chiavennasca) left on the vine to raisin, and then pressed. Fresh, succulent plums and cherries on the nose and palate, together with effervescent lightness and firm structure (this might not make sense right away, but this is the way I perceive it), which I always find in Ar Pe Pe wines. Again, a delicious red.
Our last wine was 2003 Sella & Mosca Anghelu Ruju Rosso Passito Riserva Alghero DOC, Sardinia, Italy – very unique and interesting fortified wine, made out of partially sun-dried Grenache, locally known as Cannonau. This wine was mostly resembling the Port, with a hint of dried fruit on the nose, supported by perfectly balanced, soft body of plums and sweet oak, with perfect amount of sugar to make it a light dessert wine, but not an overbearing sweet monster.
Here we are – a perfect set of very memorable wines, compliments of dear friend Stefano (Clicks & Corks/Flora’s Table), and an evening with friends which will stay in memory, anchored by that 1967 Barbaresco. Considering that I’m finishing this post right on the Open That Bottle Night, I hope you increased your memory bank with some spectacular experiences, both of wines and the company – and I will be glad to hear about them. To the great life experiences! Cheers!