Sunday, April 26, 2015



Usually I start with a map, or a historic picture, but the picture at left lets you in a bit more on who I am as a person.  You see, I have an immediate gratification problem.  The picture to the left is proof of that, because it is a classic bottle used for bottling German wine from Franken, one of the 13 wine regions of Germany.  As you probably guessed, like the Fiasco in Italy, this does not usually carry the best quality German wine, but it sure is a cool bottle.

It is also my FAVORITE part of the education I have received to date on Germany.  The Bottle you see is called a Bocksbeutel.  Funny right?  

I should probably translate, then surely you will get it.  Bocksbeutel in German translates to goat scrotum.  Now it is funny right!!!! Couldn't wait to get back home to type that. 

German wine is not unlike their cars.  It is crisp, it is well made, it is technical in its approach.  It is also great, and some might argue that a German Riesling is the best white wine made on the planet.  I will also say that like the cars, the good ones can be very expensive.  It is said that German wines represent place in much the same ways that the great Burgundy wines do.  Incidentally,  Burgundy is the other region often argued to have the greatest wines in the world both reds and whites.  Why we need to argue over whose is better, I will never know, I say drink them both.

As you can see the German wine region is largely distributed in the southwest corner of the country.  There are 13 wine making regions in Germany making varying levels and qualities of wines.  The country is so far North, that ripening of grapes is a challenge in most years regardless of where a vineyard is located.  The best vineyards face South, giving the grapes optimal sun exposure, and therefore the best chance of adequately ripening.  The best vineyards are protected either by forest, mountains, or by water from the elements and sometimes all of the above.  That is why German Vineyards hug the rivers on seemingly impossibly steep terraced vineyards.  Risidual heat off of the water, and the reflection of sunlight help the grapes ripen more predictably.

Since Germany is a country in which the biggest challenge is sunlight, and therefore the ripeness or sugar content of the grapes, it is little wonder that the quality standards revolve around how ripe the grapes are that will contribute to the finished wine. 

This is turning into a bit of a picture book, but at left, you can see the classification system for sweetness of the must.  This is important, because the must is sweet in all wines prior to fermentation.  We are not discussing Residual Sugar here, so wines can be sweet or dry at any point on this ladder.  The bottom 2 rungs of the ladder are simple quaffing wines.  Frequently sugar is added prior to fermentation because the grapes are under ripe.  Most of these wines stay in Germany so you will not find them frequently in the stores.

The more interesting wines are the Qualitatsweins or QbA wines (Quality wines) and the better Qualitaatswein mit Pradikat (Quality wines with attributes).  The latter are the wines from the best vineyard spots in Germany.  The lowest quality by sugar content is Kabinett, followed by Spatlese and Auslese.  The top two are generally over ripe and noble rot has generally set in.  They are BA or Beerenauslise, and TBA TrockenBeerenauslese.  These are always sweet.  Finally Eiswein (Ice Wine) is made after grapes have frozen.  The wine is pressed while the grapes are still frozen and the sugar is pressed out while most of the water in the grape remains frozen.  Therefore, the sugar and alcohol is high, and these wines have low yield, high acid, and are sweet.  Canada and parts of the united states also make good ice wines through the same process.  The wines are delicious and despite the high residual sugar, they have great balance from the acid left in the wine.

Sugar content is measured in Oechsle.  Water has 0 degrees and for every gram of sugar per liter, it increases the Oechsle by one degree.  Kabinett is 67-85 degrees, Spatlese is 76-95 degrees, Auslese is 83-105 degrees, Beerenauslese is 110-128 degrees and Trackenbeerenauslese is 150 to 154 degrees.  Eiswein is 110 to 128 degrees Oechsle.  In other words 1 liter of water at 67 degrees Oechsle would have a specific gravity of 1067.

There are 3 main grapes of Germany, but Riesling is the most important and most elegant.  You see, Riesling cares about the soil it is planted in very much, and Germany, particularly in the Rheingau and in Mosel have the perfect soils for the grape.  Riesling is also very tolerant of cold weather, and thus, even when it is less ripe, can make some very nice wines.   Other grapes grown of importance include Spatburgunder (Pinot Noir) and a hybrid white grape created in hopes of making a more cold tolerant Reisling called Muller-Turgau.  Muler was a cross between Riesling and Madeleine Royale, and produces mostly high yield vines that never lived up to Riesling's quality.

 In addition to the big 3, Germany also grows Pinot Gris (Grauburgunder), Pinot Blanc (Weissburgunder), Kerner, Bacchus and Silvaner. 
As one might expect from Germany, the wine labels of the country are full of information, in fact, you will know more about a German wine prior to opening the bottle than you will any other wine in the world.  You see, they will tell you what grapes were used, whether it is dry or sweet, where it is from, when it was bottled, and much more.  Unfortunately, all of this information comes at a cost.  Many feel that because the bottle is so full of information, that it is hard to read and understand.  This may be a big reason for the relative lack of popularity of German wines throughout the world.  Don't be scared.  Jump in, it is well worth the time.  One thing to know and that is any wine listed Troken on the label will be dry.  Halbtrocken will be off dry. Another way to find a dry German wine is to look for a GG (Grosses Gerwachs)on the label, and a third is to find a wine marked VDP with an eagle on the bottle.

There are 13 Anbaugebiete (Regions) of Germany.  They are Mosel (Formerly Mosel-Saar-Ruwer), Ahr, Mittelfhein, Rheingau, Rheinhessen, Nahe, Pfalz, Hessische-Bergstrasse, Baden, Wurttemberg, Franken, Sachsen, Saale-Unstrut.  In reading all of these names it occurred to me that German is not an easy or beautiful language in any way.

Within those regions are still more classifications.  Anbaugebiete have grapes coming from several sites without regards to region.  Bereich are made from vineyards within a district of any region, and wines coming from those can take on the name of that region.  Village wines are made from 2 or more vineyards within the same village.  Grosslagen group together a name of several vineyards.  These names can be very long.  Einzellagen is a single vineyard and in that case the label will carry the name of the village and the vineyard. 

Mosel Vineyard over the Mosel River
I will cover a few of the villages of note here, but know that there are 13 in total.  The first of these is the Mosel.  This area is noted for its beautiful Riesling grown in blue slate soils.  These wines are pure, light, and low in alcohol.  A Mosel Kabinett Riesling is super delicate.  It is shimmering and star bright with flavors of green apple, slate and candle wax.  They are racy with high acidity, and frequently only carry 8% abv.  Many wines from the region are sweet, but there are many producing Grosses Gewachs or Troken wines as well.

The next region of note is the Rheingau.  This is Germany's home of modern wine making.  Here the church was the first to demark single vineyard sites in much the way they did in Burgundy.  This, like Mosel is Reisling country with nearly 80% of the vineyard acreage being planted with the noble grape.   Johannisberg is a community of the Rheingau, and the Rhine river runs through the middle of the vineyards.  It is thus no surprise that two strains of Riesling come from this area "johannisberd Riesling and Rhine Riesling which are recognized the world over for the highest quality.

The soils in the area are Slate at the top of the slopes and a mixture of clay, loess, alluvial sand and red slate at the bottom.  These soils allow the Rheingau to produce more powerful wines than produced in the Mosel.  Additionally, Rheingau wines are produced in brown bottles while Mosel producers use green.

Rheingau also produces spatburgunder (Pinot Noir) in the city of Assmanshausen.  The best of these wines may be found at the Hollenberg vineyard.

Pfalz is one of the warmest growing regions in Germany and it is marked by complex layered soils.  As a result we are starting to see some very good Pinot Noir coming from the region in addition to Riesling.  Nahe produces sweet Rieslings mostly with its two best sites being Oberhauser Brucke and Hermannshohle (Careful pronouncing that if front of the kids)

Ahr is a smaller Anbaugebiete but makes 88% of its wine as Spatburgunder.  This community is on the Ahr river.  The slopes are rocky and volcanic which also helps with warmth.  The Spatburgunder from this region is light in color with bright acidity and red fruit in a leaner structured pinot.

Franken is ont he main river and near Frankfurt.  The region produces a lot of beer.  Silvaner grapes thrive in the region producing smoky, full mineral driven white wines.  Franken is also the place that bottles in the "Goat Scrotum" bottle shown at the beginning.  Thank God for them.

Mittlerhin sits on steep slate riverside terraces similar to the Mosel.  Most of the wine from the region is dry or off dry.  Hahn Grosse Lage vineyard is among the region's best.

Hessische Bergstrasse, Baden and Wurtenberg, and Sachsen and Saale-Unstrut are hard to find in the us, and therefore are less noteworthy here to discuss.

WARNING:  Please be careful pronouncing some of the German Wine terms, you might hurt your throat.

Friday, April 17, 2015


Portugal Wines Minus Madeira and Port... Ok, maybe a bit of Port and Madeira

With the aforementioned decline in the sales of fortified wines, Portugal is looking to do something with all of its extra grapes.  Don't get me wrong, Portugal has made wine, and good wine at that for years like their Iberian Brothers in Spain.  They have all the makings of a world superpower in wine.  Great topography, various micro climates, wonderful soils, wine making technologies, passionate winemakers, and a food and wine oriented culture. 

What they do not have is the same history of the French getting all up in their stuff.  Remember that part of the history and reasons for Spain becoming a wine superpower stems from the phyloxera issues in Bordeaux, and the French wandering until they found a place with grapes that could make good wine.  In Portugal, they had no such luck.  Thus, Spain's neighbor is stuck being known for their fortified wines, and much less known for their still unfortified wines.  It is not good wines that Portugal is lacking, because they have plenty of that, it is good marketing.  In the face of the international palate requiring the usual suspects of grapes, Cab, Merlot, Pinot, etc, Portugal remains steadfast in its commitment to its native berries.  This may make it confusing for many who know they like Cabernet, but are less sure about Touriga Nacional as a grape.  Perhaps this will motivate you to go out and learn more about the value wines of Portugal.

The story of Portugal and wine goes WAY back in time to the Phoenicians, but the Greeks, Celts, and Romans also played a role.  Situated on the Atlantic Ocean, Portugal explored the region vastly thus claiming Madeira.  To endear themselves with the local people, they set fire to the island so that it could better be farmed.  Madeira became a great port of trade, and thus the wine was distributed throughout the region.

The reason Portugal became known for their fortified wines was this trade.  As mentioned in the last blog, fortified wines traveled better by ship, and thus alcohol was added to the wine as a preservative.  Port has the exact same history as Madeira in that regard.

Due to climate and worldly bad luck, mildew impacted Portugal  in the 1850s and phylloxera hit the Douro in 1876.  Only Colares near Lisboa was spared from the louse due to its sandy soils.  This was devastating to Portugal as it was to the rest of the world.

Cork Tree
In the wake of the Phylloxera epidemic, many of the vineyards were never replanted, and Portugal instead turned to the cork industry.  To this day, Portugal remains the number one producer of natural cork in the world.

In the 1930's Portugal instated the Junta Nacional do Vinhos again kickstarting the wine industry.  Part of this was the consolidation of small vineyards into co-ops, and in doing so, the quality suffered.  Portugal is now part of the EU, and in this transition, the co-ops have lost their power.  Government grants have lead to small estates (Quintas) popping up again and making their own wines.  They have since put in a new appellation system DOC, and since have complied with the EU transitioning to the DOP system.  Portugal's Table wines have a long history of varied quality, but I am optimistic that the unique wines being produced and the increase in quality will lead to Portugal producing wines that will be very prevalent in the US in coming years.

In order of "Quality" wines from portugal can be found from IGP, (Table wine) to VR (Regional Wine) to DOP (Best).  Many of the lesser wines are produced in the DOP regions but either do not live up to the requirements, or the wine makers chose not to follow the laws.

Portugal has 14 IGPs which include Minho, Transmontano, Duriense, Terras de Dao, Terras de Cister, Terras de Beira, Beira Atlantico, Tejo, Lisboa, Alentejano, Peninsula de setubal Algarve, Terras Madeirenses, and finally Acores.  The climate is heavily influenced by the Atlantic Ocean in the North and the Mediterranean Sea in the south.  Temparatures are similar to much of Spain.  As a location gets closer to the Atlantic, it gets cooler, and wetter.  It is therefore dryer and hotter as you travel inland with the driest region being the Douro Valley.

Some definitions to know before we go on include Garrafeira (Private wine cellar) which requires reds or (Tinto) wines to be aged 30 months including at least 12 in a bottle.  White wines must be aged a minimum of 12 months with at least 6 in bottle.  Vintage Garrafeira Port is aged for 8 years in glass, and finally Portugese Riserva wines must have higher Abv (.5% higher than standard wines) .  Sparkling wines must be aged 12 months on lees to gain reserva status.  Colheita Seleccionada must be 1% higher abv or more and all of this may be more strict than national laws depending on the region.

There are over 200 local grapes (Castas) grown in Portugal (I will not cover them all, don't worry).  The most prevalent grape grown is a red grape called Castelao (or Periquita) which is a red grape that produces meaty, full bodied red wines with tannins, and red fruit.   While Periquita is the most popular, the best grape in the region is Touriga Nacional.  Touriga Nacional is used in port, but also can be made into table wines.  It is a dark, inky full bodied grape that makes great structured, ageable wines.  Most of the countries best wines are a blend of Touriga Nacional that have been aged in French Oak.  Other names for the grape include Bical Tinto and Mortagua Preto.

Other reds of note are Alfrocheiro, Trincadeira (Tinta Amarela), Baga and Aragonez (Tinta Roriz or in Spain, known as Tempranillo).

White wines are also produced.  Fernao Pires (Maria Gomes) is the most planted white in the country.  It is an early-ripening aromatic grape that is largely produced in Bairrada and Tejo.  It produces honeyed wines that are prone to oxidation and low acidity.  Encruzado is a grape from the Dao that produces much more elegant wines with floral and citrus notes that gain a nuttiness when aged.  Oak is sometimes used with Encruzado benefiting the wine's complexity.

Arinto is an old grape variatal native to Portugal.  It produces mineral driven wines and is grown everwhere, with the best examples coming from Bucelas.  Antao Vaz is important in Alentejano and Alvarinho (Same as albarino in Spain) is also beautiful as its Spanish sister.  Sercial is a high acidic grape used in the making of Madeira and is known as Esgana Cao (THE DOG STRANGLER) on the mainland.  It is NOT Cercial which is used in the Dao in its white blends.  These two grapes despite being homophones are genetically distinct.

In Portugal, all wines must be at least 85% from the region stated on the bottle to claim that region.  In other words, if a wine contains 85% of its grapes from the Douro, they can claim the appellation.  If it is 80 percent, they cannot. 

So with that, lets start going through the DOPs of Portugal.  The first DOP that we will look at is in the tip of the Northwestern corner of the country.  Minho and Vinho Verde .  The two Appellations share the same geographic boundries.  It is cool and rainy, and influenced heavily by the Atlantic ocean.  This is the area of Rot, so the vines grow and are trellised high off the ground in a Enforcado system.  They grow high and create a canopy, under which grow other crops, thus limiting the risk of disease.  Vinho Verde means GREEN WINE.  This is not toxic waste, it is green in that it is young.  There is red and white made in this region as well as rosado, but no green colored wine anywhere to be found.  The region borders the Minho river and actually meet up with Spains vineyards of the Rias Baixas.  The soils are granite in the best vineyards.

Loureiro is the most prevelant grape in Vinhno Verde but they also grow Trajadura (Treixadura, Avesso, Pederna (Arinto), and Alvarinho (Albarino).  Red wines are made from Vinhao (Teinturier), Espadeiro, Borracal and Alvarelhao but are rarely exported.  

The white wines of the region are often light and floral with high acidity and low levels of alcohol.  Additionally the wine is a bit fizzy quite often do to CO2 which is injected just before bottling.  Teh reds also sparkle a bit due to Malolactic bacteria that does its thing in the bottle.  All of these wines should be drunk in the year of their release.

Vinho Verde can be broken into 9 subregions including Moncao e Melgaco, Lima, Cavado, Ave, Basto, Sousa, amarante, Paiva, and Baiao.

East of Transmontano IGP (Tras-as-Montes DOP) is located just east of Minho on the spanish border.  There are 3 sub-regions here  that are disconnected.  These are Chaves, Valpacos and Planalto Mirandes.  Here it is dry, hot and full of mountains.  As a result the wines are ripe, full bodied and in high mountain vineyards, you still get ripeness but the acid is better maintained.

Red grapes include Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, Bastardo (Trousseau, Toriga Francesa, and Trincadeira.  White grapes include Fernao Pires, Siria, Viosinho, Fouveio, Malvasia Fina, and Rabigato (All household names of course).  Interestingly Douro and Porto were once included in this region prior to the creation of the Duriense IGP.

As mentioned above the Tras-os-Montes DOP is made up of the sub-zones Chaves, Valpacos and Planalto Mirandes.  They require min abv as follows:

Branco and Rosado 11%
Tinto:  11.5%
Vinho Espumante:  10%
Vinho Licoroso (Fortified): 16.5%

Sparkling wine must be aged for 12-24 months for Riserva, 24-36 months for extra reserva, and a min of 3 years for Grande Riserva/Reserva Velha.

Duriense contains both Douro and Porto.  Duriense IGP is a thin IGP in the Eastern mountains of the Douro River Valley and sits just south of the Transmontano.  This was the first protected wine region in Portugal.  The vineyards here hug the river and are situated up the sloping clifs.  Here there is a continental climate with severe hot summers and cold winters.  It is also dry and gets drier as you approach Spain.

There are 3 subzones in the Duriense.  The Baixo Corgo has the hghiest density of plantings, the Cima Corgo with the highest vineyard acreage, and the Douro Superior which stretches to the Spanish border.  Table wines and some Licoroso Moscatel do Douro are produced in the Douro DOP as well as Porto under Porto DOP.  50% of the wine released in the region is port.

The Douro produces red, white and rosado wines and the list of grapes are mostly the same as those for port.  Reds include Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Cao, and Tinta Barroca.  whites include Malvasia Fina, Viosinho, Rabigato, and Gouveio.  These wines range from fruity and fresh to big and  and bruting.  Moscatel Galego is used for fortified wines which may be aged like a tawny port.

Douro Riserva wines must have at least 11.5% or 12% for white and rosado wines or red wines respectively.White riserva must be aged 6 months and red must be aged a year,  They must also achieve through the IVDP exceptional reviews in blind tastings to use the term Riserva.  Colheita Tardia (Sweet wines) may be produced as Douro DOP. 

Beiras is South of Duriense and Minho spanning the whole width of the country.  This region used to be one IGP, but it has since been divided into 4 new regions.  These include Terras do Dac, Terras de Cister, Terras da Beira and finally Beira Atlantico.  Dao DOP and Lafoes DOP lie within the newly unveiled Terras do Dao IGP wich borders Minho IGP to the north and claims a huge portion of the former Beiras inland area.  Bairrada DOP is located on the Atlantic coast with a sub-zone called Terras do Sico.  Tavora-Carosa DOP  produces sparkling wine in a small appellation.  Finally Beira Interior DOP is a larger appelation that shares a border with Spain.  Here most of the wine is bottled by co-ops.  It too contains three sub-zones Beira Castelo Rodrigo, Cova da Beira and Pinhel.

The wines produced here must have 11% abv for whites, Branco Seleccao 12%, Tinto 12%, Tinto Seleccao 13%, Tinto Palhete 11.5% and Espumante 11%.  Whites must be aged for 6 months, reds 12 months and espumante 9 months on lees.

In Dao DOP some of Portugal's best dry reds are produced.  Criticized by many for their lack of fruit, they now emphasize freshness. Touriga Nacional is a major component of these wines, which are usually more elegant than their bruiting Douro counterparts.  Dao is between three mountains which shield it from the Atlantic climate and from rain.  Granite soils are everwhere do to the mountains, and thus the fines struggle and maintain their acidity for balance.  Dao producers may label their wines Farrafeira according to the standard aging but min ABV must  be 11.5% from the 11 typically required.  Reserva wines must be aged 2 years for red and 6 months for whites.

Another designation is Nobre wines which require a minimum of 15% Touriga Nacional and a max of 85% Jaen Rufete, Alfrocheiro and Aragonex.  They must age for a min of three years and be at least 12 percent abv.  White Nobre wines must contain a min of 15%Encruzado and a max of 85% cercial bical, malvasia Fina and Verdelho.  They undergo one year of aging and must have 11.5% Abv.  Due to the ging and alcohol, Nobre wines may be labled as either Reserva or Garrafeira.  Nobre reserva reds are aged 42 months while whites are aged for a year.  Red nobre Garrafeira require 48 months aging including 18 in bottle and whites require 18 months total aging with nine spend snug in a bottle.

West of Dao is Bairrada DOP.  Bairrada experiences a colder damper climate.  Bairrada produces mostly reds although both whites and Rosado wines are allowed.  The main grape of the region is Baga which is very astringent and thrives in clay soil.  Whites iunclude Maria Gomes and Arinto which are planted in sandier soils..

50% of reds must be the Baga grape but it may be blended with Touriga Nacional, Camarate, Castelao, Jean or Alfrocheiro.    Reds must have a minimum of 11 percent abv, but those that have 12.5% can be called Barrada Classico.  The most famous Bairrada wines are made by Luis Pato.  Look for the duck on the label.

So that concludes the trip through Northern portugal, we will now take far less time on the south.  Coastal Lisboa IGP runs south from Beiras to the capital where the Tagus River meats the Atlantic Ocean.  There are 9 DOPs here.  Bucellas, Colares, Carcavelos, arrunda, rtorres Vedras, Alenquer, Obidos, Lournha, and Encostas de Aire.  Most of the southern wines have a reputation for low quality high yield.

Alenquer and Encostas de aire in the nrth show primise, and regions nearest the capital produce wines that are frequently good.

Bucelas produces dry whites from Arinto (Min 75%), Colares produces reds and whites from ungrafted Ramisco (Red)and Malvasia (white), and Carcacelos has minimal vineyards remaining due to urban sprawl.  These are fortified wines that are aged for at least 2.5 years.

Peninsula de Setubal IGP includes the DOPs of Palmela and Setubal.  This is a Mediterranean climate.  Wines made here are made from Castelao (Reds) msut contain at least 66.7 percent of this grape.  White wines are blended with Fernao Pires and Arinto.  Rosado, espumante and Licoroso wines are also allowed.  International varieties may also be found in this region.

Tejo and Alentejano get their names form the Tagus or Tejo river.  This is a landlocked IGP with Lisboa to the west and Beiras to the North.  It is a geography like most of the south with high yealds and lower quality.  Red, white and rosado is produced from many local grapes.  Most frequent reds are made with Castelao and whites with Fernao Pires.  This is largely a white wine region.

There are 6 subregions that you are welcome to look up on wikipedia if you would like.  I am not covering them here.

Alentejano IGP covers 30 percent of Portugal's landmass.  many of the cork trees are located here. It has 8 subzones and produces largely red wines.  Traditional wine making is done in large clay pots, grapes are still trod by foot, and aging occurs in chestnut or oak barrels.  Marques de Borba reserva is the best known wine from the region with rave reviews from critics.

Algarve VR is located on the southern coast of Portugal  You won't find their wines unless you travel there as almost none is exported.  Here there are 4 DOPs.  The hot climate is not well suited for fine wines, and thus resorts have displaced vineyards in the region.

Acores make wines similar in style to Madeira.  Pico DOP are the most highly regarded of these wines, however again, few are exported.  They must have a min of 165 Abv and be aged for at least 3 years.Terras Madeirenses IGP is where Madeira and Madeirense are.  madeira is made on one side, and dry wines on the other.  These may be red, white or rosado.

If you would like to know more about the wines of the south, please feel free to comment.  I will tell you where to go.  HAHAHAHA.  Kidding of course.  One can only retain so much.


Friday, April 10, 2015

Fortified Wines

Fortified Wines

The tour of wine nations has been interrupted this week to bring you this brief mention of fortified wines.  What is a fortified wine you ask?  As the name indicates, it is a wine, made the same way as a normal run of the mill wine, but then the process changes.  When the fermentation is done, or near done, the winemaker adds grape brandy to bring up the level of alcohol.  Yeast can only survive at alcohol levels up to 15-18 percent depending on the yeast strain, so by adding alcohol, the yeast dies, fermentation stops, and the wine's Residual Sugar, or sugar that the yeast has not turned into alcohol remains.  Obviously, alcohol levels rise, and the wine becomes much more stable, giving it the ability to be aged for a longer time. 

The three types of fortified wines that I will write about today are Port, Sherry, and finally we will discuss Madeira.

Port comes from the Douro Valley in Portugal, and only from there.  There are Port style wines that come from other places, but they are most definitely not Port.  Despite being made in Portugal, most of the port makers are British, owning back to the 17th century British traders who were cut off from their supply of Bordeaux due to a war with France.  The British found that their new "Wine Dealers" did not make wines that traveled well, so they started fortifying the wine with grape brandy to protect it during travel.In 1933 the I.D.V.P (Instituto do Vinho do Porto) was formed to regulate the production of this sacred drink.

The Douro region is the same as the region by a similar name in Spain, and in fact is also on the slopes of the Duero River.  It is hot, and hilly with terraced vineyards.  The rocky schist soils heat up during the day and produce grapes with high sugar content.

There are 3 lobes to the region, the Baixo Corgo, the Cima Corgo, and the Douro Superior.  These regions grow over 48 grape varieties, but the most important are Touriga Nacional, Touriga Francesa (Which has nothing to do with France), Tinta Roriz, Tinto Cao, Malvasia Fina, Codega, Sousao, and Bastardo.  These grapes are fermented in the traditional wine method, and then get dosed with brandy (Beneficio).  The Beneficio is a liquor with 77% Abv, and they use it to bring the final Port up to 18-20% abv.  By law, no more that 1/3 of a company's port can be released in any single year.

Port comes in a few flavors.  First, in great years, Vintage Porto is released.  This is the very best port and is all from the growing year listed on the label.  This year, the 2011 Ports were released and they received high acclaim.  The best wine of the year from 2014 was a 2011 vintage Taylor Fladgate.  

There are also White ports made with white grapes or red grapes removed from their skins,  that have received recent popularity.  They come in both dry and sweet varieties.  Sweet white Port will be labeled Lagrima (Tear).  Ruby Ports are the least expensive and spend less time on the skins than their darker brothers.  Ruby ports come in regular, Vintage Character Port or Reserve,  Late Bottled Vintage Port, meaning they age in the barrel rather than the bottle, or Crusting or crusted Port.

Tawny ports are made by blending a ruby and a white port.  They come without age designation or with age statements.  Age designation usually will dictate that the port has been aged in cask for 10, 20, 30 or 40 years.  There are also Garrafeiras that are aged in in wood, and then demijohns (Think giant water bottles that sit on top of the water machines in an office).  Tawny ports are aged in barrels for at least 7 years in oxidative conditions, taking on a nutty oxidized flavor.

One final note on Port.  in England, people pass port around a large table of friends each person taking a bit.  If you want more, it is rude to ask, so a person will say, " Do you know the Bishop of Winchester?"  Most will know that will quickly pass that person more Port.  In the case that one does not know that, the person issuing the statement then will say, "He is an awfully good fellow... but he never passes the Port."  I for one would be far more direct.

Sherry is a fortified wine from Andalucia on the southern coast of Spain.  in the 1870s it was also a favorite of the British, and as a result was one of the first protected appellations in Spain (1933).  Perhaps the best quote about Sherry came from Falstaff who said, "A good Sherry has 2 effects, it goes to your brain, removes the stupid sad thoughts that darkens it, unties your tongue and spirit, then it warms your blood and chases cowardice."  Falstaff may have been smart, but he could not count to two.

Sherry is made in 3 towns, Jerez de la Frontera, El Puerto de Santa Maria and Sanlucar de Barrameda.  the grapes don't have to come from these locations, but the wine must be aged and shipped from here.  The two DO designations are Jerez-Xeres- Sherry and Manzanilla-Sanlucar de Barrameda, the later is in a seaside town and produces a Sherry with a higher Salinity as a result.

Sherry is grown in Albariza soils which reflect the sun and are cooler soils, the barros and arenas becoming more sandy progressively.  There are also two winds in the region, the Levante or hot winds, and the Poniente or cooler winds.  The hot winds help to ripen the grapes, while the Poniente bring humidity good for forming the yeast which help with wine maturity.

There are 3 grapes authorized in the production of Sherry, all are white grapes.  They are Palomino (Listan), Pedro Ximenez (PX) and Moscatel.  Palomino is a neutral grape that makes borring wines on its own of lo acid table wines, but is 95% of the planted grapes for the production of Sherry.  Palomino tends to be highly oxidative.  Muscatel and PX grapes are used for sweetening.

Palimino must be pressed quickly after picking to reduce risk of oxidation.  A max of 72.5 liters of juice ma bye pressed from 100kg of grapes.  The must (mosto de yema) is divided into 3 stages:

1.  Primera yema or free run juice
2.  Segunda Yema or first press wine
3.  Mosto prensa poor quality wine for distillation

Traditional producers added plaster to aid in clarification of the wine.  Today, tartaric acid is added and the producers serially rack the wine (Desfangado) to clarify.  The wines were traditionally aged in 600l American Oak Butts...ha he said butts.  today however most wine makers use temp controlled SS tanks.

The coolest part about Sherry is that it can become many styles, but the maker lets the wine decide what it wants to be.  Is that not a romantic notion?  There are two divergent paths that each Sherry can take.  They can become a Palo or a gordura.  Palos are fortified with 15% to 15.5% abv and are styled to become more delicate in style (Called Fino or Manzanilla style Sherry).  Mines marked as gordura are fortified with more alcohol at 17 to 18% making bacterial growth (called Flor) impossible and will become Oloroso Sherries.

Both wines are fortified with a mixture of spirits and mature Sherry called Mitad y Mitad, both are transfered to American Oak Sherry Butts... hehe, said butts again.  Fino and Manzanilla styles undergo biologic aging, or aging with flor present (See the white bacterial cells floating on the wine in the barrel picture above).  Oloroso Sherry undergoes oxidative aging.

The Flor is at the heart of Sherry making, and ultimately determines weather the wine becomes Fino Sherry or in the worst case vinegar.  Flor means flower, and in most wine making processes, unwanted organisms ruin wine.  In this case, the Flor is a special yeast that comes and stabilizes the glycerin, alcohol and volatile acids in the wine.  Flor requires contact with the air, and so it forms a film on the top of the wine that is thick in the spring and fall but thins and greys in the summer and winter.  In the past flor was a mystery, now makers have a bit more of a hand in determining the wine's fate.  Finos are produced largely from albariza soils and come from the primera yema, whild Olorosos are produce in other soils or come from the segunda yema must.

There are many classifications of Sherry.  Palma is a fine delicate Sherry in which the Flor has done well at protecting from oxidation.  Palma Cortada is a more robust fino, palo cortado is a rarity.  Flor is present, but it also gets an oxidative path.  At a certain point the flor will be destroyed on purpose by the cellar master and brought to 17 percent destroying the flor, and allowing for oxidative aging.  Raya comes from a fino with a poor flor, further fortification occurs and the wine emerges as a Oloroso.  Dos Rayas the for has disappeared but it becomes rough and coarse with high levels of VA.  Often these wines become Sherry Vinegar.

Sherry is aged in a Solera (Left).  In this system, a third of the wine is removed from the bottom row to be bottled,  The wine from the second row (First Criadera or Nursary) then fills the first row, leaving them a third empty.  The wine from the second Criadera then replaces the wine from the second.  New wine then replaces the wine removed from the top row.  In many cases, there has been a mix of wines in this system for hundreds of years.  Again, a romantic notion.  New wine is constantly mixed with old wine which has been a part of the system forever.

I should mention that sherry comes in many levels of sweetness from bone dry to Pedro Ximenez made from rasinated grapes.  this is a sweet dark wine made only from PX grapes aged in the sun, fortified, and then aged in solera.  It is cloyingly sweet, but balanced with acid making it a fantastic after dinner wine.

Madera wines are made in the Madeira Islands off the coast of Africa.  the islands are pare of portugal, so you can think of this as an Oreo cookie blog with two Portugese wines as cookies and a Cream Sherry filling from Spain.  the islands have a warm climate with high humidity.  Madeira wines were exceedingly popular in the 17th and 18th century and once again it was the British at the center of its popularity.

In the 18th century, brandy was again added to the wine as a means of protecting it on ships.  The East India Trading Company became the biggest distributor picking up pipes of Madeira and shipping it across the ocean.  they soon realized that the act of shipping actually improved the wine.  This was due to two factors.  First, the heat, and second the motion of the ocean.

Most of the island is volcanic and they grow many grape varieties.Bual, Verdelho Malmsey and Sercial must be at least 85% of the grape mix, but they may also contain Bastardo, Moscatel, Terrantex, and Tinta Negra Mole (For cooking).

The grapes are fermented either in Stainless or in wood.  In sweeter wines, the grapes (Bual and Malvasia) are fermented on their skins to extract phenols (A bitter compound) to balance the sweetness.  Dry wines are made from Sercial, Verdelho and Tinta Negra Mole are separated from their skins prior to fermentation.

Madeira is special and different because of how it is aged.  It is aged in hot and oxidative conditions.  There are 3 methods for doing this.  The first is the cheapest method called Cuba de Calor.  The wine is put in SS tanks and heated with piping or coils that allows hot water to circulate.  the wine is heated for a minimum of 90 days to temperatures as high as 130 degrees.  Sometimes the wine caramelizes leading to a burnt and bitter flavor.  After the heating in the "Estufa" the wine is allowed to cool and rest for 3 months, and then it is transferred to wooden barrels for aging.

The second method is the Armazen de Calor Estufagem.  In this method, the wine is placed in wooden cask in a room like a sauna.  Steam heats the room and gently exposes the wine to heat.  The wine is then allowed to cool for 3 months (Estagio) and then transferred to wooden casks to be aged.

The best method is the Canteiro Estufagem method.  The casks are aged in the sun (See picture above).  the beam they are resting on is called the canteiro.  These wines are far more fruity then wines of other methods namely because they do not caramelize.   However, the heating process takes a lot longer.  For every 3 months in estufa, the canteiro method requires 5 years to obtain the same results.  By this method, heating may take anywhere from 20 to 100 years.  Therefore patience is a virtue.

Madeira must have at least 85% noble grape, and be aged for a long time.  Riserve must be aged a min of 5 years, Special Reserve 10 years and be without artificial heat, extra reserve over 15 years, colheita or harvest will indicate the year of harvest and must say Colheita on the label, Frasqueria or vintage must be aged 20 years.  There is one last style that is worth mentioning called rainwater.  This is a lighter style usually served before a meal made from verdelho or Tinta Negra Mole in which water is added after vinification and aging.

Thursday, April 2, 2015



Vitis vinifera is the species of grapes that the best wines are made from.  They have been in Spain so long, it is believed that they pre-dated people.  So, unlike many of the places we have discussed in this blog, many of the grapes in Spain, are from Spain.  These vines have been in Spain for over a million years.  It is therefore no surprise that Spain has the largest acreage of planted vineyards in the world, and ranks 3rd in total production behind only Italy and France.  Again NO SURPRISE.  The people of Spain tend to party like rock stars.

Spain got passed around by civilizations kind of like (to stay with a theme) a groupie at a rock concert.  The Phoenicians, the Romans, the Moors (Not to be confused with the Moops).  I will stop here to say that as Muslims, the Moors were conflicted about the grapes due to the religious stance of not drinking, and all that saved the vines were the grapes that were eatable for the soldiers on their marches, oh, and the money that the wine was able to bring back to Spain.

In 1492 Columbus went to the new world, and with him came the wine trade.  Particularly Sherry and likely a very oxidized and strong wine went to the new world for trade.  The English also liked the Spanish wines, and particularly the Sherry until the Spanish defeated the English in the Armada of 1588.  this is proof once again that if you are in sales, and you take a client golfing, sometimes it is a good idea to let him win.  After the Armada, the English tended to buy far less Spanish wines.

The next major event, in the face of declining quality, or more specifically the quality of the other European wines getting better, came in the 1850s.  It came in the form of a little aphid called Phyloxera which struck France, leaving the French with no wine to make.  After all, the best wines are made from grapes according to the French, and they had none.  They therefore came to Spain looking for some of their grapes.  The Bordeaux winemakers trained the Spanish, and quality quickly improved.  It is also why Rioja uses many techniques from the Bordeaux region including aging in Bariques.  The one caveat is that the Spanish tend to use American barrels.  Unfortunately, Spain also got hit with Phyloxera in the early 1900s.  this followed by the Franco government, and trade with Spain plummeted.  After Franco's death in 1975 however, there was a revival.  Miguel Torres used the first Stainless tanks which allowed the Spanish winemakers to control the amount of oak.  The wine laws came into play in the 70s, and Spanish wines were challenged by more modern techniques.  Today, they are some of the best values in the wine industry.  I like them a lot, and drink my fair share of them.

The DO laws were finalized in 1972.  DO stands for Denominacion de Orgen.  Each DO has a police officer of wine (Consejo Regulador) to ensure the wine makers are doing what they are supposed to.  The agency responsible for the reguladores is the INDO (Instituto Nacional de Denominaciones de Origen).  

Spanish wines fall into 5 categories ranging from table wine (VDIT), VCIG, DO, DOC, and finally DO PAGO for the best single vineyard wines in Spain.  As of 2003 there were 15 DO Pago wines in all of Spain.  This was an attempt to classify vineyards of highest quality, like their friends in Bordeaux.  These include Marquis de Grinon, Guijoso, Arinzano, Otazu, and Pago Ayles to name a few.

Wines can be Joven (Less than 12 months in oak), Crianza (6 monts in oak and 2 years aging in a bottle (In Rioja it requires a year in oak, plus one in a bottle), Reserva (3 years aged with one in a barrel.  Whites and Roses must have 2 years aged and 6 months in oak), and Gran Reserva which requires 5 years of age with 18 months in barrel (24 months for Rioja).  Even Gran Reserva whites and Roses must be aged 4 years with 6 months in oak.

You will also see a new aging system with Noble (18 months),  Anejo (24 months) and Viejo (36 months).

Spain sits on a massive plateau known as the Meseta.  The climate has influences from both the Mediterranean and the Atlantic with the Eastern side being cooler, and typically making better wines.  Most of Spain is in a rain shadow so it is dry (Except for in Galicia).  Due to hot summers, the best vineyards of Spain are at higher elevations.  There are also rivers throughout Spain.  The Ebro, from whence comes the name of the Iberian Peninsula, the Duero, the Tajo, the Guadiana, and the Guadalquivir are the most important for the growing of wine.

Spain's weather make things like Mildew rare.  There is also a low yeild due to the dry climate as well as the poor soils.  As a result, vines are generally spaced at least 8 feet apart, making the yields low.  This explains why Spain is 1st in vineyard acreage, but only 3rd in production.

Be careful when buying a Spanish wines because the traditional wines of Spain are exposed to a very Oxidative process and can therefore be an acquired taste.  The more modern wines are more commercial, and tend to be more fruit forward due to the adoption of new technologies, and the use of Stainless tanks.

There are over 600 grape varieties in Spain.  DON'T WORRY, I will not cover them all.  Some worth noting are Albarino (White) Granacha, Godello, Temmpranillo, Viura (Same as Macabeo- White), and Malvasa, and Airen (most planted in Spain-White) to name a few.

Ysios in Rioja
The most important region in Spain is Rioja.  It is broken into 3 sub-regions Rioja Alta (Most age worthy), Rioja Alavesa (Vino Joven), and the Rioja Baja (Mostly Garnacha).  Grapes from the Baja tend towards Garnacha, but the main grape of the region is Tempranillo.  Others include Mazuelo (Carignan), and Graciano, and Maturana Tinta.  85% of Rioja must come from these grape varieties.  Other grapes like Monastel or Cabernet can make up the remainder.  Viura (Macabeo) is the dominant white grape followed by Garnacha blanca, Malvasia and Maturana blanca.   Chadonnay, Sauv Blanc, and verdejo may be used as well but must make up less than 49% of the blend.  Rosado (Rose) wines are also made and must contain at least 25% red grapes. Generally wines from Rioja source grapes from the Alta, the Alavesa and the Baja for their blends.  Lopez de Heredia produces single vineyard wines from his Bosconia and Tondonia vineyards.  Ysios does the same.

Navarra produces similar style wines to Rioja from Tempranillo and others, but uses far more grape varieties in its blends.

Autonomia of Aragon is more of a Garnacha region.  As is Campo de Borja, and Calatayud.

Carinena is also in the Ebro valley.  The area gets its name from the grape called Carinena.  Garnacha, Tempranillo and Carinena reign supreme here.  Viura is the main white grape.

Somontano uses grapes like Alcanon (White) and Parraleta (Red) along with other international varieties.

Galicia and the Basque Country in the North is our next stop.  Perhaps the most important part of this region is Rias Baixas where they make a white wine from Albarino.  This wine is 100% Albarino unlike others that are blend.  This wine has stone fruit, citrus flowers, and sometimes has the suggestion of bubble gum.  Also, many of these wines have a salinity to the finish.  Ribeiro is known for whites made with Treixadura, a red is made with Caino, and a dried wine is made called Vino Tostado which is a lot like vin santo in Italy.

Ribeira Sacra or the Sacred Bank, so named because of its concentration of churches has pitched vineyards that hug the river.  This region makes a nice red wine from Mencia grapes and whites from Treixadura and Godello.

Valdeoras and Monterrei are small regions with Valdeoras making a very clean fruit-driven white from Godello that is high in acid and great for food.

The Basque country can be summed up by saying the words are hard to pronounce, and I am not even sure how to pronounce them even when they are written out.  There are 3 DO zones.  Getariako Txakolina, Bizkaiko Txakolina, and Arabako Txakolina.  They produce white, red and roses.  Ondarrabi Zuri makes the best whies and the majority of wines in the region.  Ondarrabi Beltza makes the best reds and the rare roses known as Ojo de Gallo are made as blend from the two grapes above.

Castilla y Leon is most known for the Ribera del Duero.  Other DOs of the area include Arlanza, Cigales, Rueda, ToroTierra del vino de Zamora, Arribes, Tierra de Leon, and Bierzo.  Castilla y Leon is located between the Atlantic and Mediterranean but still sees extreme high temps and low temps.

Bierzo DO and Tierra de Leon DO makes great use of the Mencia grape.  It must be present in a minimum of 70% of the reds of the regions, and 50% of the roses.  Many of the wines are made from 100% Mencia, and due to top producers some are getting top dollar.  Whites are also made here from Godello and Dona Blanca.  Palomino is still the most frequent grape grown.  Another grape that grows in the area is the Prieto Picudo which produces high acid, high tannin wines that are very cellar worthy.

Ribera Del Duero DO, Tinto del Pais (Tempranillo) gets planted with Bordeaux varieties and even Pinot Noir.  Vega Sicilia has long been the most influential maker in the region, but others like Pesquera, Pingus, and Aalto make great wines as well.  In 1982 Ribera del Duero achieved its DO status, and it had only 9 producers.  Today there are nearly 300.  Only reds and a few Rosados are made here.  Tempranillo is the main grape.  Crianza wines must age 2 years with one in cask, Teserva must age 3 years with 1 in cask, Gran reserva wines must age for 2 years in cask and 3 in the bottle for a total of 5 years.The best wines of the Ribera del can be very expensive and frequently go for hundreds of dollars.

Rueda produces whites from Verdejo, which is prone to oxidation, but with the right technique produces a beautiful aromatic wine.  Sparkeling and reds are also made in Rueda.

Toro is responsible for the anatomically correct, non neutered bulls all over the Spanish countryside.  They are made from Tinto de Toro (75%), a local strain of Tempranillo.  They also produce whites from Verdejo and Malvasia, and rosados.

Tierra del vino de Zamora DO produces all three colors as well with reds coming largely from Tempranillo,  They benefit from proximity to Rib del Duero, but are generally not nearly as good.

Cigales DO produces reds from Granacha Tinta and Tinto del Pais (85% combined) but is noted for its rosado and nuevo rosado.

Arlanza DO is a DO that got its designation in 2007.  Here both Duero valley varieties as well as those from Bordeaux go into the blends.

Catalonia has  10 DOs.  The most important of these is Priorat.  Priorat DOCa is in the Southwest of Catalonia.  Rene Barbier came to the region  to produce a new kind of wine after working in Burgundy and neighboring Spanish regions.  Granacha and Carinena are the traditional grapes.  The yields here are particularly low due to the poor soils.  The best vineyards have Llicorella soils which is very dark black slate.  They require the vines to dig down for water.  There are 12 villages of note in Priorate.  They are Bellmunt del Priorat, Gratallops, El Lloar, Masos de Falset, La Morena de Montsant, Poboleda, Porrera, Scala Dei, Les Solanes, del Molar, Torroja del Priorat, La Vilella Alta, La Vilella Baixa.

Montsant surrounds Priorat and produces wines from Garnacha and Carinena.  These wines are a value alternative to Priorat as the prices continue to rise.

Tarragona DO makes Cava and communion wines.

Terra Alta, Concao de Barbera, Costers del Segre and Pendes also make wines in the Catalan.DO

Also of note, CAVA can be made anywhere in Spain and is the spanish version of Champagne.  Not really though, because it is refreshing and cheap.  Grab a bottle of Cristalino Cava for 10-20 dollars and you will have a great drink.  Basic Cava is aged 9 months, Reserva 15 and Gran reserva 30 months.  None of that really matters though.  The wine is plain refreshing.

In the South, Jumilla, Yecla, Bullas, Valencia, Alicante, Utiel-Requena, and others make wine as well.  Of those, I will just briefly cover Jumilla, Yecla and Bullas where wine is made in sandy soils that resisted Phylloxera until the 1980s.  This allowed a renewed focus on quality.  Monastrell is the grape in this region.  Thick-skinned and drought resistant this is the perfect grape for the region.

There are many other places in the South of Spain, but I will not cover them here.  The one last note I will make is Sherry is the South's greatest contribution, but I will cover that in another discussion.

I will end the same way I began, by saying that some of the best deals in the wine biz can be found in Spanish wines.  For 20-30 dollars you will find high quality wines.  Spend a bit more, and you will find wines that are incredible.  This is a part of the world worth looking into.  I suggest you do.