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Posts Tagged ‘sweet wine’

Wednesday’s Meritage – Wine Quiz Answer, #VerdejoDay Tomorrow, French Laundry Story, Generous Pour Is Back!, Of Clones and Varietals, and more

June 11, 2014 11 comments

PedroXimenezTrianaMeritage time!

Let’s start with the answer to the wine quiz #105, Grape Trivia – Blends, Part 9.

For the long time, the grape trivia series was focused on the single grapes. But now we are stirring things up, so all the questions in the quiz are about blends (well, even if it is a blend of one ), as most of the wines in the world are actually blends. As usual, there were 5 questions in the quiz.

Here are the questions, now with the answers:

Q1: Amarone, a powerful dry Italian wine, made out of the sun-dried grapes (appassimento), was actually a result of the accident (complete fermentation of all the sugar) during the process of making of the sweet wine in the same region. This sweet wine is still produced today, albeit in the very small quantities – but it used to be quite famous hundreds of years ago. Can you name this sweet wine?

A1: Recioto della Valpolicella. Recioto della Valpolicella, sweet wine from Valpolicella,  was very well known and well recognized way before Amarone was discovered for the first time. While production of Recioto dramatically decreased over the last few decades, currently Recioto is in the revival and it is drawing more interest, both among producers and consumers.

Q2: These two red sweet wines are primarily made out of all three types of Grenache grapes – Noir, Gris and Blanc, but one of them also allows the use of Carignan grape. Can you name these two wines (I’m looking for the name of appellations, not particular producers) and also specify which one of the two allows the use of Carignan?

A2: As it almost became a tradition for me with this Blend series, here is yet another question where I goofed up. Yes, the sweet wines of Banyuls in France are made predominantly from Grenache grapes – Noir, Gris and Blanc, and Carignan is also an allowed grape in Banyuls. But then there are more than one appellation which uses all three Grenache grape types in production of the sweet wines – Riversaltes ( this was my intended answer), Maury and Rasteau would all fit the bill here. Anyway, I keep learning, and anyone who answered  “Banyuls” is getting a point here.

Q3: This rare red dessert wine is made out of Nebbiolo grapes, and one of its characteristics is incredible aromatics. Can you name this wine?

A3: Barolo Chinato. This wine is made as Barolo, from the Nebbiolo grapes, but with the addition of aromatic herbs – it is a pure symphony in the glass.

Q4: This sweet wine, while typically made from the single grape variety, might claim the prize of “ultimate blend”, as it represents a blend of wines of many different ages, potentially tracing hundreds years of history in some of the bottling. Can you name this wine and explain about “hundred years of history”?

A4: Sweet Sherry, a.k.a Jerez, is typically made out of grape called Pedro Ximenez, and it is aged using so called Solera method – portion of the wine from the old (or oldest) barrel is bottled, and then the barrel is topped off with the younger wine. The barrel is never fully emptied and never cleaned, which means that even in the trace amount, but the very old wine is still present in the bottles, potentially going back to the year when the winery was built (and some of them are 250 years old…).

Q5: This delicious dessert white wine is made by the famed red wine producer in Napa Valley. The wine is made from the single white grape variety, estate grown in Napa Valley, which is of German/Austrian origin (and it is NOT Riesling). Name the grape, the wine and the producer.

A5: Silly me, I thought this would be a difficult question – nope : ). As many of you correctly answered, this dessert wine, called Eisrebe, is made by Joseph Phelps (the producer of famous red California wine called Insignia), from the grape called Scheurebe. A very delicious wine – try it if you will get a chance.

When it comes to the results, again – good participation and we have winners! Gene Castellino (no blog) and vinoinlove both correctly answered all 5 questions, thus they become the winners of this round and get the coveted prize of unlimited bragging rights! I want also to acknowledge Jennifer Lewis (no web site) who correctly answered 4 questions out of 5. Well done all!

Now, to the interesting stuff around the vine and the web!

Let me start from the bad news – for the second year in the row, Bordeaux vineyards experienced the hail storm, torrential rains and almost hurricane-strength winds. The areas around Médoc had been hit the most. I think we are [again] looking at a dim prospects of the 2014 vintage in Bordeaux… For more information (and the picture of hail, quite impressive) please click here.

And now, on a more positive side…. Tomorrow, June 12th, don’t forget to celebrate #VerdejoDay! As I understood from the comments to my post about upcoming #VerdejoDay festivities, Verdejo wines are not that unfamiliar to many of the wine lovers, so I’m sure you will have no problems either to join the festivities in person or at least find a bottle of Verdejo and have fun! I plan to be at the celebration in New York at Tavern 29, so if you will be there, please let me know – will be glad to meet and raise the glass together!

One of the most fascinating restaurants for me in US is French Laundry, located in Yountville, in the heart of Napa Valley. I never visited it, but I read a lot about the restaurant and its star chef, Thomas Keller. As with most of the other success stories, there is not much magic or luck in Thomas Keller’s success-  it is only a lot of hard work and perseverance. The reason I’m talking about Thomas Keller is that I just came across a very interesting article about his recipe for success – you can read it for yourself here. And I really hope one day to write a blog post not just about success of the French Laundry,  but about an actual dining experience there.

Wine [and steak] lovers, rejoice! The Capital Grille just announced a comeback of their Generous Pour program for the summer of 2014. Starting July 7th, 7 wines from California and Oregon, hand selected by The Capital Grille’s Master Sommelier George Miliotes, will be offered at The Capital Grille locations for $25. I always take advantage of this program, and I can’t recommend it higher to anyone who wants to have a great wine experience with their food.

Last but not least for today, I want to turn (again) to Matt Kramer, the columnist for the Wine Spectator. Matt Kramer recently wrote an excellent series about wines of Portugal, but I just want to bring to your attention one article from that series, where he is talking about the need for the mix of grape varietals in one vineyard, almost a field blend, either clonal or the real varietal, to produce great wines. This might be a very controversial positioning – but read the article for yourself and, of course, feel free to comment.

And we are done here. The glass is empty – but the refill is on its way! Cheers!

Oh, My Sweet Valentine… – 2005 Version

February 8, 2012 2 comments

Inniskillin Cab Franc Ice WineAs I did recently with the post about Champagne, let me present you with an article written for the same Stamford Times newspaper in 2005 – talking about sweet wines for your special Valentin’s day, which is coming up in less than a week. For what it worth, here it is in its entirety.

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Well, Valentine’s Day is around the corner. All stores are full of heart-shaped things, candies in particular. Seems that “sweet” is closely entwined into our tradition of Valentine’s Day celebration, and sweets and romance usually go together. While we are on the subject, did you ever think of where the word “honeymoon” came from?  If you know the answer – great, you can skip the last paragraph, if not – please keep reading and you will get an answer at the end.

Now, let’s talk about the sweet substance which usually doesn’t come in the heart-shaped form, but nevertheless is worth mentioning – let’s talk about sweet wine. So how come the wine can be sweet? Do they add sugar to it? No, usually, nobody adds sugar to the wine. Sugar is developing in the grape as it ripens, and it is a result of photosynthesis ( no sun – no sugar  – no wine, very simple formula). As the grape ripens, the amount of sugar is increasing, thus the idea is very simple – the longer time grape spends under the sun, the sweeter it becomes. The later harvest is, more sugar the grape will have. Have you seen the words “late harvest” on the wine label? What it telling you is that the grape spent more time on the vine and was harvested late, thus you should expect that the wine under such label will generally be sweeter.

Well, then, if sugar is naturally present in the grape, how come most of the wine we drink is not sweet at all – they are so-called dry wines? After grapes are pressed, when grape juice is fermented by adding yeast, the fermentation process stops by itself once all sugar is converted into alcohol – this is why we usually don’t taste sugar in the wine. Based on that fact, we can see that if grape has too much sugar, we might get wine very high in alcohol, which will usually defeat the purpose. The fact that the amount of sugar in the grape needs to be controlled often dictates the starting date of harvest. But when the goal is to produce sweet wine, the grapes are usually left on the vine for as long as possible, they shrivel under the sun, almost becoming raisins, plus very often it is desirable that the mold, called Botrytis cinerea, or “noble rot” will develop on the grapes. This will ensure that grape will have the maximum concentration of sugar, which will be then only partially fermented into alcohol, thus producing a sweet wine.

One more fact would be interesting to note – as it is necessary to wait until the grapes are “raisiny” enough to be made into a sweet wine, usually a small number of suitable grapes is harvested, and also such suitable grapes should be picked by hand multiple times. This translates into the fact that very often sweet wines carry a high sticker price (however an exception, but some German Rieslings, for instance, can go for $400 per 375 ml bottle)

To make sweet wines even more concentrated, as unusual as it sounds, next after sun and heat come frost. This is how so-called ice wine is made – grapes are harvested well into the winter months when the temperature drops below 17°F. Frost leads to the further dehydration of grapes, thus ensuring even higher levels of sugar and flavor in the grape. The grapes are pressed while frozen, and usually, a very limited quantity of the grape juice is extracted, which in turn means once again – you guessed it right – high prices. Just to add a historical perspective, ice wine was first produced in Germany at the end of 18th century and since then it is becoming more and more popular and it is now produced in other countries with great success (Austria and Canada are two of top contenders).

So where sweet wines are made? The answer is – pretty much everywhere. While covering all different sweet wine regions in this article would be impossible, let’s take a quick tour around the world.

We will start in … France, of course. Some of the best sweet wines in the world are produced in the region of Bordeaux called Sauternes. Sauternes wine is made primarily out of grape called Semillon. The most famous wine in Sauternes is made at Chateau d’Yquem – you wouldn’t regret having Chateau d’Yquem served at your romantic dinner.

While we are in Europe, let’s make another stop – Germany. Assumingly, German Rieslings don’t need much introduction. Riesling wine is made out of the grape with the same name – Riesling. There are different levels of sweetness (five of them) in German Rieslings – starting from the one called Kabinett, which is a semi-dry wine, and going to the one called Trockenbeerenauslese ( TBA in short), which makes very rich, sweet, honey-like wine ( the price also follows the trail).

Of course, when talking about wine, we can’t forget about Italy. While most of its fame is coming from the red wines like Barolo and Barbaresco, there are a number of well known sweet wines coming from that beautiful country. Asti Spumante, a sweet sparkling wine, would be one. Moscato di Asti would be another one – lightly fizzed wine with a fresh and delicate aroma. Vin Santo out of Tuscany (produced in the Chianti region) might also sound familiar.

Let’s cross the ocean now – in the United States, sweet wines are produced in the number of regions, best of them arguably coming from upstate New York and the state of Washington. These sweet wines are usually made out of Riesling grape. Canada is also worth mentioning as since 1973 it became a very respected producer of ice wine and compete very well in that category with both Germany and Austria.

While there is more to the geography of the sweet wines ( we didn’t even get to talk about Australia, Chili, Spain, Portugal, and others), let’s talk about how and what to serve them with. The serving temperature range for the sweet wines is rather large, from 50°F to 65°F. You can choose the serving temperature depending on what characteristic of the wine you want to bring out – for the sweetness you can serve it warmer (57°F – 65°F), but if you want to stress the light and refreshing side of the wine, you can serve it colder (50°F – 57°F).

What to serve with the sweet wine?  One possible choice – nothing. After all, there is plenty of sugar in that glass to qualify as a dessert by itself. But if you want to have the sweet wine with food, the rules are the same as for any wine in general – it can either complement or contrast the food. You can serve sweet wine with dessert to complement it, or you can contrast – serve a nice Riesling with blue cheese, for instance.

One thing left before we conclude – the answer to the “honeymoon question”. The word comes from ancient Persia, where it was a tradition for the father of the bride to provide a month-long supply of alcoholic beverage called mead (made out of honey) for the groom to be enjoyed after the wedding. As lunar calendar was used at that time, hence the “honeymoon” word.

With this, we will conclude our short journey to the world of sweet wine. This Valentine’s Day, bring a bottle of sweet wine to your sweet Valentine, and to make sure it will taste the best – enjoy it together! Cheers!

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