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 closed and even web site is down, but as I still like the posts I wrote, so I decided to re-post them in this blog. Also, in that project, posts were grouped into mini-series, such as “Forgotten Vines” you see here – I will continue re-posting them from time to time.
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…
Our first post in the Forgotten Vines series was dedicated to Jerez, a not-so-easy-to-find-but-worth-looking-for fortified wine from Spain. Continuing the series, let’s move a little bit to Spain’s west side neighbor, Portugal.
Talking about Portugal’s place on the wine map, what wine comes to mind first? Yes, of course it is Port. And while Port is single most famous Portugal wine, it is not the Port we want to talk about here (don’t worry, Port is squarely positioned in the line of “must-have” experiences, and we will talk about it later). We need to move a bit more down the map in the south-west direction, about 1000 km (600 mi) to the island of Madeira.
Madeira wine takes its name from the name of Madeira Island. History of Madeira, which started at around 15th century, is full of accidental discoveries, glory, overcoming of the hardship, raise and fall, and even love – if you are interested in the full story, you should take a look at Madeira Wine web site. In the 15th / 16th centuries, Madeira wine was created and transported in the barrels through the ocean to the far places such as India and China. It was found ( by accident, of course), that long ocean voyage improves the taste of wine compare to the original one which went into the barrel. After many trial and error experiments, it became apparent that prolonged exposure to the warm weather is the culprit, and then the method of heating the wine up to the 60C (140F) was invented. The process of heating up the wine is called Estufagem, and it is done after the wine is fermented in the oak barrels, same as any other wine – again, you can find more details online – you can find less colorful but more technical details on Wikipedia (click here). Just to give you a few more details from Madeira’s history, trade embargoes led to further improving Madeira by adding brandy spirits in order to preserve the wine. Barrels of Madeira left for prolonged time under the rain lead to development of the new style of Madeira wine, called Rainwater.
In the 18th century, Madeira was one of the most popular wines in the world, especially in England and United States. Madeira was used to toast United States Declaration of Independence, and was highly regarded as a drink of distinction. Unfortunately, first mildew and then phylloxera epidemic delivered way too powerful one-two punch, which Madeira wine industry was unable to overcome. Madeira subsided to nearly a cooking wine level, and was staying like that for the long time. Luckily, overall uptake on the wine industry throughout the world helps to revive Madeira industry, and now it is becoming possible to find a great drinking Madeira even in US – and you will see why. And I have to note that one of the great qualities of Madeira is in the fact that unlike practically any other wine, once you open a bottle of Madeira, it will stay the same more or less indefinitely, due to both Estufagem method and fortification with the spirit.
As we say here, time to open a bottle. Madeira comes in many different versions, from completely dry to the sweet. The Rainwater Madeira is somewhat of a simpler style, but still very enjoyable. This Sandeman Rainwater Madeira is deep and heavy on the nose, with hint of aged cheese and sweetness (overripe apple sweetness). On the palate, it shows the same concentration of the sweet notes, which is not really supported by acidity, so the wine comes somewhat unbalanced – however, as a desert wine to have with sharp cheese (like blue cheese, for instance), it will create a heavenly combination.
The next wine, Charleston Special Reserve Sercial is few levels up the previous wine. It comes as incredibly complex on the nose – nutty, with hint of sweetness and herbs, lots of herbs. Beautifully balanced on the palate with acidity and sweet delicate flavors of apple blending together perfectly. This Madeira has very long finish and can be used equally well before, during and after dinner – just take your pick. Definitely worth seeking.
Well, it is a great time to be a wine lover – abundance of experiences just grows daily. Now that you are empowered with the knowledge of Jerez and Madeira, it is time for personal encounter – find the bottle and enjoy it tonight!
It is Meritage time, so let’s start from the answer for the Wine Quiz #25 – Extreme Wines. The question was about wines which are not destroyed by heat, but instead, are “made” by it. And the right answer is… Madeira! Madeira wine, which was discovered as a by-product of a long sea journeys of the wine barrels, is commercially made using the method called estufagem, where wine is heated up to 130F for at least 90 days. If you haven’t tried Madeira recently, you should, as the Madeira is currently in the process of revival, and it has a lot to offer.
And now for the sipping, errr – wine news section. Wine Blog Awards winners had been announced at WBC12 – here is the list. Congratulations to all the winners!
Decanter magazine just announced that Wine Grapes book is ready to be published. The book is written by Jancis Robinson and the team, and it provides information on 1,368 (!) wine grapes – looks like I got long ways to go in my Wine Century quest.
For those of us who missed Wine Bloggers Conference 2012, here is the summary by Tom Warks. I know that The Drunken Cyclist also attended WBC2012 – I will be very interested in reading his prospective on the conference.
Quick reminder for the upcoming wine holiday (NJVinoMan, please take notice : ) ): 3rd Annual Cabernet Day (#CabernetDay hash tag on Twitter) will be celebrated on August 30th – I hope you have enough time to decide on that special bottle.
That’s all for today, folks. Cheers!
Of course time had being here forever, always moving, and always in one direction (someone, please prove me wrong!). Wine had being around for about 8,000 years, first appearing in the ancient Georgia (no, not the one down south, but the one from the Caucus region, on another continent). Wine is one of the few products literally not changed for such a long time in its form and its production methods – sans reverse osmosis machines, electrical presses and micro-oxygenation boxes. Considering such a long history, you can imagine that relationship between wine and time is very complex, and you would be right.
First, time is a necessary part and an attribute of the wine making process. For the vast majority of wines, if you read winery’s description of the wine, you will see something like “aged for so many month in …”. Sometimes the wine is aged in stainless steel tanks. Sometimes the wine is aged in clay vessels (very popular in Georgia now, the vessels are called Kvevri and produce very distinct wines). Lots of red wines are aged in oak barrels – American oak, French oak, Hungarian Oak, new oak, old oak – variations are endless. For many wines, duration and the type of the aging is a sole decision of winemaker (no pressure, but this decision will greatly affect quality and the taste of wine, and will define success and failure for it). For some of the wines, aging in a specific type of barrels is mandatory before the wine can be released – Rioja Gran Reserva should be aged for a minimum of 2 years in oak barrel and 3 years in the bottle to be officially designated as Rioja Gran Reserva. Barolo must be aged for 3 years, at least two of them in the oak barrel, and Barolo Riserva should be aged at least for 5 years. During the aging process, the wine is changing. Oak imparts very specific flavor, which we, humans, tend to like. Oak aging also acts as a preservative and helps wines to live long life.
Once all the aging is complete (in the tanks, barrels and bottles – whatever the aging was), wine is released – and this is when the second phase of the wine and time relationship kicks in.
This second phase is as tricky, if not trickier, as the first. Have you heard the phrase “needs time” in relation to the particular bottle of wine? If you will look at the wine reviews in Wine Spectator or any other publication which provides wine reviews, you would often see one of the phrases “Drink now”, “Best 2014-2020”, “Best after 2013” – these are the suggestions for how long the wine should be kept in the cellar before it should be consumed.
Why is that? What with all this aging? Why not open the bottle right away and just drink the wine? What was discovered at some point (don’t ask me when, but it was long time ago) is that wine actually changes its taste as it spends time in the bottle (the aging). And it doesn’t just change the taste arbitrarily, it tastes better. Young wines are often sharp, or somewhat single-toned in their taste – you might get pronounced acidity, or only sweetness, or lots of white apples – but only white apples. During aging, trace amounts of air are making its way into he bottle, and they lead to the wine changing its taste, improving to the better in majority of the cases – it becomes complex, bite softens up, bright and diverse fruit tones compensate for the pronounced acidity and the wine brings a lot more pleasure compare to the young wines. Mature wines deliver more pleasure – this is the whole philosophy behind wine aging.
Simple and easy, right? Well, this is were everything becomes complicated and confusing – as not all the wines should be aged (do not try to age Beaujolais Noveau, please) and also it is very tricky to make sure you would drink the wine at its peak – as whatever comes up, goes down in mother nature. This is where time transforms from the friend to the foe – and as a foe, it is merciless. After reaching maturity and staying there for a while, the wines are typically starting their decline in the taste (wine loses fruit, become very acidic, may be oxidized – and it stops delivering pleasure). Different wines made in the different styles will have different peak times and different lifespans. Some of the Jerez, Madeira and similar wines can go on literally for the hundreds of years. Good Rioja, Barolo or Bordeaux can be perfectly aged for 50 years or longer. Simple Cote du Rhone might only last for 3-5 years, same would be true for many of the Chardonnay wines. There is not crystal ball telling you precisely how long the wine will last and when will it taste the best – human trial and error is the best way to find that out. Of course there are many factors which might help you to decide whether to age the wine and if yes, for how long – the winery, the winemaker, the region’s wine style, success of the vintage and many others – but in the end of the day you would need to do the work (err, I meant the wine drinking) as the wine ages to find out when it tastes best to you.
So, does it worth to age wines if you don’t know what will happen to them in the end? For anyone who is into wines, and who had an opportunity to try a mature wine, the wine which reached its optimum taste, I’m sure this is a no-brainer question – yes, of course, and please, please give me more.
How one can experience aged wines? You got a few options. First, you can age it in your own cellar. Second, you can buy aged wines, either in a good wine store, such as Cost Less Wines in Stamford or Benchmark Wine Company. Note that you have to buy aged wines only from the trusted source – not aging the wines in the right conditions will simply ruin them, so you have to trust your source. Third option is to attend a wine tasting, such as PJ Wine Grand Tasting, where you can taste really amazing wines. However, you don’t have to wait of the Grand tasting, which takes place only once a year. If you live in a close proximity to Stamford, CT, you can attend a wine tasting at the Franklin Street Works gallery on Thursday, January 19th at 5:30 pm (here is the link for RSVP). The event is free and open to all. Here are the wines which will be presented in the tasting (the list might change at any time):
2003 Riesling, Mosel Saar River, Germany
1998 Merlot, Italy
2009 Stag’s Leap Hands of Time, Napa Valley
2009 Stag’s Leap Hands of Time, hyper-decanted using Nathan Myhrvold’s methodology.
So you should come and experience the relationship between time and wine for yourself – there is a good chance that you will even enjoy it! Cheers!
Why coffee? First, this is the answer to the last “What is it” post – it is actually Kona coffee berries (picture taken at Greenwell Farms in Kona, Hawaii). The reason to chose that picture was simple – I was fascinated by a number of similarities in coffee production and wine making – in both cases I’m talking about very good coffee ( Kona is one of the best coffee types in the world) and very good wines. Coffee berries are picked by hand, and also they are picked selectively – only individual ripe berries are taken from the bunch, and the rest is left to ripen. Coffee beans have their skin removed (sounds familiar?), and then they are left to dry under the sun (same as the grapes used for production of Amarone, one of my favorite wines). Once the coffee beans are dried and cleaned, they are left to rest for at least a month or two, before they will be roasted – and this is the step which is enforced by the years of experience and tradition, and nobody asks for explanations – this have to be done just because it has to be done. Again, the same element of mystery and tradition as in production of a good wine. And last, but not least – complexities of the final beverage. Good coffee, similar to the good wine, has layered complexity and brings a lot of pleasure. Anyway, I will look for more obvious picture for the next “what is it ” game.
Now, let’s talk about updates. First, the Treble certificate from the Wine Century Club has finally arrived! Not that I want to brag, but let me share the picture with you:
‘nuf said – getting to the Quattro level will not be too easy, so don’t expect to see a picture of another certificate any time soon.
Lastly, I’m continuing writing posts for The Art of Life Magazine. Last two posts were in “Forgotten Vines” series, talking about Jerez (Sherry) and Madeira, both wines are hard to find, but worth seeking – you can find posts here and here.
That’s all for now, folks. Cheers!