***Faithful Readers, you’ll note a wee modification to our tried and tested format this week. I know, I promised no tweaks until the New Year, but as I find a style that works for those who regularly “tune in,” I am nothing if not open to positive feedback. One of our new readers mentioned that the Hugh Johnson System was a bit of a head-scratcher. I rather liked the quirkiness of it, but I also appreciate that it detracts from the clarity of a single rating. This week we’ve dropped the HJ system (sorry, Hugh!) and we’re sticking with my “Sip It!” or “Skip It!” recommendation, plus the usual five-cork scale. As always, comments, including effusive praise, are welcome!***
Each week I review two wines with my “Sip It!”-or-“Skip It!” recommendation. All Vintages and product numbers refer to the LCBO.
Kuhlmann Plata Gewürtztraminer, Alsace, 2013
Vintages #: 169474 | 750 mL bottle | $19.95
Wine Type: White
I suspect Gewürtztraminer is one of those love-it-or-hate it acquired tastes, like cilantro and blue cheese. The “ick” scribbled next to this wine in my tasting book tells me that I have yet to demonstrate the requisite appreciation for this noble Alsatian grape variety. What makes Gewürtz stand out are the pronounced aromas of roses on the nose and lychee on the palate. Depending on the age, much like Riesling, the flavour profile changes, with younger Gewürtzes demonstrating brighter citrus notes. This wine is pale, nearly water white, with a slight lemon tint. It’s off-dry, though some might say sweet, with a pleasant mineral texture on the tongue. The bouquet is floral–excessively so–and tastes of honey, cloves, allspice and lychee. The finish is rather short and marred, in my opinion, by a slightly unpleasant alcohol burn. I’d pass on this one and find a better expression of the grape.
Open Riesling-Gewurtztraminer VQA Ontario
LCBO #: 134965 | 750 mL bottle | $11.95 (though periodically on sale for $2 off)
Wine Type: White Blend
I admit, I like labels. I know it tells you nothing about the contents of the bottle, but it does help you pick a wine you’d otherwise pass right over. This was how I stumbled upon this quite quaffable, though unexceptional white blend, in what I call my “Gewürtztraminer Phase,” which lasted less than a week. Unlike the above example, this blend tones down those flavour notes I don’t really care for in the classic Gewürtz. On the nose, aromas of lime, lemongrass and lychee are complimented by a lovely stone-fruit flavour, rounded out by a crisp finish without even the slightest hint of alcohol burn. The finish is medium, the temperature on this puppy should be cold, and I imagine it would be an awesome pairing with spicy curries or Thai noodle dishes.
Dispatches from the world of wine – a roundup of blog and news articles of the week.
- Our country may be bilingual, but apparently our liquor laws are not. Vancouver’s International Wine Festival requires anyone wishing to serve alcohol to pass a course on alcohol service, which is only available in English. Cómo se dice “estúpido”?
- Congratulations to Between the Lines Winery and Southbrook Vineyards for being chosen this year’s official wines of the Ontario Legislative Assembly.
- For those of us who’ve watched Somm more times than we care to admit, Uncorked is the Esquire Network’s new binge-worthy series that follows six candidates as they prepare for the Master Sommelier exam.
- Mumm Napa’s Carlos Santana-inspired limited-edition sparkling wine was released this week. The blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Pinot Grigio retails for $25 US.
- “Going, Going…Fraud!” Christie’s has been accused of selling counterfeit wines at its auctions over a seven-year period, despite warnings from reputable wine merchants.
- A court has ruled in favour of Australian sparking wine expert, “Champagne Jayne’ Powell, who was sued for trademark infringement by the Comité Interprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne (CIVC), which represents the $6.7-billion champagne industry.
- Iranian President Hassan Rohani will not be dining at the Eylsée presidential palace this week after President Hollande refused to break with the French tradition of serving wine with state lunches and dinners. Ixnay on the wine…eh?
Wine world miscellanea – from varieties to regions, and from vine to bottle.
THIS WEEK: WINEMAKING STYLE
Sheeeeerry…Sherry, Baby: Making Fortified Wines, Solera-Style!
***Caution: This one’s a long one. I wanted to keep it short, but there’s just so much to say about sherry, I couldn’t help myself! If you’d prefer the Cliffs Notes version of this entry, check out one of my favourite two-minute videos.***
I admit, I’ve been avoiding fortified wines for no good reason. Over the past several months, I’ve enjoyed a few podcasts on the topic of sherry, one from the Guild of Sommeliers (with expert Peter Liem), and the other from the always-irreverent 3 Wine Guys. In my defence, my very first blog post featured a brief introduction to the Pedro Ximénez grape (not to be confused with the unrelated Argentine Pedro Giménez), which is one of a handful of varieties used in the production of sweeter sherries.
“Sweeter sherries,” you say. “Do you mean the saccharine, syrupy stuff tucked away in my grandmother’s liquor cabinet isn’t the only style of sherry out there?” Oh yes, Faithful Reader, the world of sherry is as exciting as it is diverse.
Like Champagne, the name “Sherry” refers to wines produced from grapes grown in a specific, designation-of-origin-protected geographic region; in this case, Andalucía, Spain. Anything grown or made outside it is a shameless imposter! (From what I can tell, however, the Spanish are less litigious than their Gallic neighbours, filing fewer lawsuits for the use and abuse of their name.)
Bona fide sherry comes from grapes grown in and around the famed “Sherry Triangle,” which includes Jerez de la Frontera, Sanlúcar de Barrameda and El Puerto de Santa María. The humble Palomino grape is used to produce most of the fortified wines, ranging in style from dry table wines to aperitif or dessert wines. To achieve a sweeter style, Palomino grapes are often blended with Pedro Ximénez and Moscatel — two other grape varieties that, on their own, produce nuttier, darker, sweet sherries once the grapes have been sun-dried, reducing their moisture content and concentrating their sugars.
Sherries can be produced in myriad ways, but most typically either through biological aging (like the dry Fino and Manzanilla types) under a blanket of indigenous yeast, called flor, or through oxidative aging, in the absence of flor (like Oloroso sherries). Amontillado and Palo Cortado, among the various sherry types we’ll discuss momentarily, undergo a hybrid production approach, beginning biological aging under flor, but, as the flor die off, maturation continues oxidatively.
Sherries are often fractionally blended, through a system known as “solera” — a system that dates back to the 18th century (pictured below). Without going into too much detail as the solera system really warrants its own blog entry, I’d say the most important take-away for consumers is knowing that a number on the sherry label doesn’t denote a total aging time. Rather, fractional blending means that young wines have been mixed with older ones, so that your sherry might only contain a few drops of decades-old juice! A lunch bag let-down, I know.
I could digress here in order to cover the soil types in the Jerez region (like the white chalk-limestone known as albariza), but I fear some of my readers might start skimming. I could also get carried away with the exciting history of wine production in Spain, first by the Phoenicians, then the Romans, then the Moors, who, upon conquering the Iberian Peninsula in the early 8th century A.D., introduced the process of distillation in wine and spirit production, but, I’m sure what everyone really wants to know is how to navigate that wine list, so let’s get to it. Here are your main sherry types:
Fino and Manzanilla, as I mentioned just a moment ago, are dry styles of sherry, both produced through the same biological aging process under flor. Fino is made in the Jerez D.O., while Manzanilla is really just a Fino, but made in Sanlúcar de Barrameda. Both sherry types are known for their flinty, saline taste — the result of the production method — though some say the salinity comes from the gentle ocean breezes. While the Brits are among the top international consumers of sherry, in Spain, the bone-dry Manzanilla outsells every other variety. Finos and Manzanillas, like any dry white wine, should be served chilled. After all, you don’t serve your Pinot Grigios warm, do you?
Amontillado and Oloroso sherries are, perhaps, what made the great sherry trade between Spain and England, in the 14th century, famous. Finos are light, dry and meant to be drunk young — wines that were far from ideal for transport across the English Channel. Instead, the Amontillados and Olorosos, with their sweeter and fuller bodies were shipped abroad and, no doubt, helped inspire the excessively sweet Harvey’s Bristol Cream we’ll discuss in a moment. Both sherry types are interesting because the former is achieved inadvertently: the flor unintentionally die, whereas, in the Oloroso style, they are destroyed by the cellar master. Amontillados begin their life as Finos, until something goes horribly, horribly wrong. (I’m being dramatic here, of course.) Once the flor dies off, oxidation takes over in the barrel, aging the wine and imparting a darker brown colour and nutty, sometimes caramel flavours and aromas. Oloroso sherries, whose flor are intentionally destroyed, on the other hand, can be dry or sweet, depending on whether Palomino or Moscatel grapes are used, and can be barrel aged for decades. Palo Cortados are the unicorns of the sherry world, a magical hybrid between the Amontillado and Oloroso varities, beginning as Amontillados, but aging like Olorosos. These are considered to be rarer types of sherry.
Finally, PX/Dulce/Cream sherries are your grandmother’s sherry. These are the fortified wines that make great ice cream toppers and can be cloyingly sweet, to be avoided by all committed calorie-counters. Typically, they’re sweetened and coloured “artificially,” through the addition of concentrated grape must. PX takes its name from our old friend, the Pedro Ximénez grape, but it’s probably the cream sherries that you know best, including Harvey’s Bristol Cream, which was made its debut in the second half of the 19th century.
So, I hope that the next time you find yourself looking for a holiday dessert wine, you’ll do two things: first, you’ll reach for a Sauternes (check out my earlier primer and reviews) or a Tokaji instead to satisfy your sweet tooth, and second, you’ll give drier Fino-type sherries a try. They’d be great with a tapas spread of Iberian ham, Manchego cheese, olives and other Spanish staples. And, for heaven’s sake, lay off the Bristol Cream!
THE ONE-MINUTE WINE TUTOR
Curious about the best resources to learn about wine? Here I review books, videos, podcasts and other educational tools in under a minute.
Jancis Robinson’s James Beard-award winning Wine Course (the video version, not the companion book that I managed to snag for under $3) is available online. At first I was sure this was some blatant violation of copyright laws, but it seems that the First Lady of Wine was, in fact, behind it (despite me stumbling across them on some random guy’s YouTube channel).
It has been about two decades since the series was first released, but the ten videos are still authoritative and educational, spanning everything from grape-growing and vinification techniques, to special half-hour long segments dedicated to our beloved noble varieties, like Riesling, Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir.
What I enjoy most is the pomposity, not so much from J.R., but from the winemakers she interviews. My hands-down favourite episode is Chardonnay for one scene alone: a Meursault winemaker takes a sip of, and promptly spits out, Australian Chard. Incredible, mostly because I’ve had some pretty mediocre Meursault, despite its reputation for high-quality white Burgundy.
While the production quality of these videos isn’t spectacular, the content is entertaining and informative. I wonder, were this series made today, whether the wine world has changed enough to warrant a slightly different treatment. Might there be a larger place in a wine course for the New World? After all, there are more places that grow Pinot Noir than just Oregon and California, though Jancis’ ’95 course only takes us that far.