Monthly Archives: June 2017

A Frozen Delight

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Growing grapes to make wine is not a job for anyone who values certainty.  The weather, vine diseases and pests can all intervene and make the difference between a glorious success and a total loss.  And, with the weather, especially, there’s not much you can do to influence things.

Spring frosts will damage or destroy tiny vine shoots, rain during the flowering period (early summer) will interfere with pollination and cool or wet summers will restrict ripening.  Rain during the autumn harvest can introduce rot or dilute the juice. And, hail at any time can destroy an entire crop in minutes.

But, even if the weather behaves as you would like, a number of vineyard diseases can be a nuisance – albeit most are treatable – and lovely sweet, ripe grapes are a great attraction to birds and often mammals, too.

So, not surprisingly, there are often big celebrations when the harvest is safely gathered in.  For most, that will be by late autumn – unless you’re trying to make Ice Wine (“Eiswein” in Germany and Austria).  For this, you need to leave your grapes on the vine (and untouched by pests) until late November or even December when the temperatures reach -8˚C (18˚F) – cold enough to turn the water content of the grape pulp into ice. Then, pickers go out into the vineyard and rush the grapes back to the winery press before they thaw.  The press releases the sugar in the berries but leaves the water content behind as ice pellets.  In this way, the sugar is greatly concentrated and wonderful, sweet wines result.

Given the process and the risks involved, you won’t be surprised to hear that Ice Wine is quite rare and incredibly expensive (expect to pay £30 – £40 a half bottle retail, rather more in restaurants).  Apart from Germany and Austria, some of the best comes from Canada.  A local Bristol restaurant, Adelina Yard, had an example on their list when we visited with some good friends recently and, of course, we couldn’t resist. 

Ice wine 1 (2)Stratus’s Ice Wine from Niagara on the Lake in Canada is made from Riesling – probably the best variety for the style giving a wonderful balancing acidity to the surprisingly delicate, but intense sweetness of the wine. 

A real delight and a triumph for the growers.

 

My Kind of Lesson

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I used to hate history lessons when I was at school.  I just couldn’t see any reason for learning about things that had happened so long ago.  And geography wasn’t much better.  Why should I be interested in places that, at the time, I never thought I would visit?

Of course, I know better now – I’ve been to some of the places I learnt about and realise that much of what is happening today is as a result of what happened in the past.  And, through my interest in wine, both history and geography have come to life – something my teachers could never manage to do.  For example, the back label of a bottle of wine I opened recently told me that the Aglianico grape from which the wine was made had been grown in the Campania region of southern Italy for over 2000 years.  But that bare fact hides something more: the name Aglianico (“alley-annie-co”) derives from “the Hellenic (or Greek) one”, so we know that, although the grape has been grown in Italy for 2 millennia, it was originally brought there across the Aegean Sea by early Greek traders.  History and geography in a single bottle!

But, what about the wine? 

AglianicoTerredora di Paolo’s Aglianico (Waitrose, £12.99) has a typical southern Italian intensity and richness with attractive wild berry and cherry flavours and a distinct underlying acidity that helps it go so well with food – try it with grilled lamb chops.  And, despite the warmth of Campania, the alcohol is quite restrained (13%) giving the wine a nice balance.

I’m sure my history and geography teachers would be proud of me now – I certainly gave them no reason to be at the time.  But then, their lessons couldn’t explain things in my kind of way – through the medium of wine!

 

Too Young? Too Old?

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I guess that anyone reading this Blog enjoys drinking wine but many will think it’s almost as enjoyable talking about it and discussing it.  And from there, it’s just a small step to arguing about it!  Of course, such arguments can never really be resolved – we’ve all got our own likes and dislikes and everyone’s sense of taste is unique to them.  So, when a good friend of mine tells me (as he does regularly) that I always open bottles when they’re too young and I, in return, accuse him of leaving them until they’re well past their best, we’re both right in our own minds.

But, a couple of bottles my wife and I have enjoyed recently have made me wonder if I should have a bit of a re-think.  I ordered a bottle of Moulin-a-Vent, one of the village Beaujolais, when we tried an excellent new Bristol restaurant, Box E, last week.  Now, I would expect to drink this within, perhaps, 3 or 4 years of harvest at most, yet the bottle I was served (a 2009 vintage) was deliciously fresh with lovely fruit and, despite already being more than 7 years old, clearly would have had several more years of pleasurable drinking ahead of it.

And then, at the weekend, we opened a bottle of Fayolle’s ‘Sens’ Crozes Hermitage (Corks of Cotham, £15.99).

  CrozesThis one was 6 years old (2010) but was full of silky, youthful blackberry fruit flavours and hints of pepperiness.  But, accompanying this were distinct tannins – showing a wine that was still young and, indeed, would certainly improve if carefully stored.  (A word of warning: decant this before serving and pour carefully as you’ll find plenty of sediment in the bottle).

So, this leaves me with the question: should I wait a few years before opening all my 2015 and 2016 wines?  Probably not!  But, I may take a chance on a few and will, hopefully, be pleasantly surprised.  And, if you’re like me, why not try the same? 

One final thought: if you open something in a few years time and wish you’d have drunk it sooner, you’ll probably have forgotten that it was me who suggested it!

 

A Bargain Montalcino

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Brunello di Montalcino is one of Italy’s most prestigious red wines.  It’s made exclusively from Sangiovese grapes, the same variety used in Chianti, in a designated area around the small town of Montalcino in southern Tuscany.  Here, in the warm, dry climate, the Sangiovese (known locally as Brunello) reaches maximum ripeness leading to fuller, richer wines than many of those found in Chianti.  14% alcohol and more is not unusual, particularly in a hot year.

The rules for Brunello demand 4 years ageing at the winery (at least 2 of which must be in oak barrels) before the wine can be sold.  And even once they are on the market, most Brunellos still need considerable time before they really reach their peak – 10 -15 years after vintage is a commonly suggested drinking window.

But, with 4 years to wait before producers get any income from sales of Brunello, most also make another wine, Rosso di Montalcino, usually from younger or less well-sited vines.   This only has to be aged for a year after which it can be sold.  In normal years, a Rosso di Montalcino from a good producer is an attractive, approachable red wine ready for early drinking but, in warm years like 2015, when there was a large harvest of almost uniformly high quality grapes, it becomes a really interesting proposition.  The producers, eager for some early income, won’t want to put all their grapes into their Brunello even if the quality might allow them to do so.  No, in these years, some go into the Rosso making it altogether richer and more characterful.

Rosso di MontalcinoAnd that is exactly what had happened in the example I opened recently from Gianni Brunelli.  This is quite complex and full of lovely bramble flavours.  There’s still some tannin there – we decanted it and drunk it with some grilled herbed lamb – but it would certainly improve for another couple of years or so.  And, compared to the same producer’s Brunello (£34 for the 2012 vintage from the Wine Society), the Rosso (£15.50, same supplier) is a real bargain.