Archives for category: Wine Theme

Rioja is perhaps the most famous wine region of Spain. It produces over 400 million bottles every year – but that’s only (!) about 8% of all Spanish wine. It is mostly red (88% in 2016, usually 1 or 2 % lower) with some Rosé (5%) and White (7%).

The Red is made in four quality levels, from the highest: Gran Reserva; Reserva; Crianza; Generic. This [Wine Folly] graphic shows the rules, with the % of Red wine made at each level:



Gran Res’va 3

Reserva 19

Crianza 42

Generic 36


The Signature red grape is Tempranillo which accounts for about 80% of red plantings – followed by Garnacha (7%) and Graciano and Mazuelo (Carignan) about 2% each. White is almost as focused on one grape: Viura (which is 73%) with only one other white grape Tempranillo Blanco (10%) taking up more than 5%.

Rioja exports a lot of its wine – around 37%, a little more of the red and only 27% of the white. By far the biggest destination for that wine is the UK which takes in almost precisely a third of those exports – so nearly an eighth of all Rioja, twice as much as the next biggest importing country, Germany! So the British Rioja market should be a good sample of the styles, quality levels and innovations in Rioja.

The Rioja DO Wine region of Spain straddles the Ebro River for some 100 kms as it flows South East towards the Mediterranean. It is – mostly – in the central, Northern province of similar name: La Rioja. Not entirely though – roughly half – the Southern half – of La Rioja is mountainous and makes no wine at all, and some of the North bank areas are in Álava (which is Basque and accounts for about a quarter of all Rioja) or Navarra (about 5%).

Here’s a map:

You will see that Rioja is split into 3 sub-regions: Alta; Baja and Álavesa. The Álavesa sub region conforms to the administrative boundary  of Álava, and North of the river the Baja boundary conforms to Navarra’s. South of the River the Baja /Alta border follows the same general line just East of Logroño, with a few deviations to allow influential wineries (Marqués de Murrieta…) to be in Alta!

In general Baja is warmer, lower and better suited to Garnacha and maybe Mazuelo, as the Mediterranean influence moves up the Ebro. The Alta (and Álavesa) are higher (400-500m is typical), cooler and better suited to Tempranillo, Viura and Graciano. However the distinction seems pretty arbitrary near the actual borders and soil types and wine-making are much more important – here’s a soil map:

In the past the categories of red Rioja stood for clear stylistic divisions. Generic was plonk – Crianza was lightly oak-affected and showed strong tannin and acidity – Reserva was rounded, still woody but with a voluptuous fruit and Gran Reserva was getting towards an oxidative and secondary-, or tertiary-, flavoured style. Although Reservas had to have at least 1 year in oak, 2 or more was common – and GRs typically had 3 -5 years, and often the same again in bottle.

Now there is a trend to less oak, and fresher (modern!?) styles… The Wine Society categorises the wine styles thus:

Traditional: fragrant, silky and delicate wines from long ageing in cask (usually American oak) and bottle. These are mostly ready to drink on release.  Bodegas La Rioja Alta are an example of traditional style .
Modern-classical: younger, rounder wines that retain the delicious character of Rioja through cask ageing (often a mix of American and French oak) with the structure to develop in bottle. Bodegas Muga and CVNE,  fall into this category.
Modern: richer, velvety wines aged for less time in newer (usually) French oak, which are released earlier and mostly need keeping.


In fact I think the wine forms a wide spectrum and these three headings are but reference points. But it is true that there is a trend to more site-specific wines. Some growers are vinifying their better grapes from better sites in special Cuvées and using exclusively French (Tronçais or Allier…) oak for the time thought appropriate for the wine rather than the time set by the Gran Reserva (or even the Reserva) rules. The result is more elegant and more structured (and more Bordeaux-profiled) wine – a sort of super-Reserva!

Part of this is indeed soil (and more generally terroir), particularly the Agrilo-Calcaire found also in Bordeaux, Loire etc. This seems to be the soil in the most highly prized sites: for Tempranillo and Graciano; for carefully maintained older vines; vines used for single vineyard or restricted source wines (still a minority– though becoming more common in Rioja); and for more serious white plantings of Viura.

Another factor is grape variety. Red Rioja can contain Tempranillo, Graciano, Mazuelo (Carignan) and Garnacha. We tend to think of Rioja as a Tempranillo wine with some minority blending partners – a bit like Chianti and Sangiovese… But that’s not accurate at all. There are no rules about how much of each grape can be in a Rioja. So it’s possible to have 100% Graciano, 100% Mazuelo or 100% Garnacha! Indeed these seem not too difficult to find as growers move more to site-based wines, and single vineyard Graciano is a style to watch for…

I confess I am interested to see the outcome of these stylistic changes, and hope they don’t end up entirely “Internationalising” a lovely distinctive wine style. There is room for development of course, but there are still many beautiful examples of  Reservas and Gran Reservas, and I for one still enjoy the depth and voluptuousness of well-made classic Rioja, retaining a warmth, richness and sense of place.

Meanwhile the picture is very varied and flexible, for a while yet it will be a bit like Burgundy: it’s quite hard to know what you’re going to get! – so find a producer (or 3 or 4…) you like and follow them…

Very old Álavesa Viura Vines

For this month’s tasting we’ll start with a very old fashioned white (a very rare style nowadays!) – aged for 4 years in barrel and 6 in bottle.

Then we’ll try a couple of varietals – Mazuelo and Graciano; and a more classic Reserva and Gran Reserva, sandwiching a “modern-classic” “super-Reserva” highly rated wine.

Graciano Vines at Coto de Imaz, Oyon, Álava

I hope the tasting illuminates some of the issues discussed here. Anyway, notes on the tasting will be posted in 6 or 7 days, a little later than usual.

À Bientôt


We all know the basic wine overview of the Loire… It’s divided into 4 big areas, each with their distinctive grapes and famous names. Going from West to East these are: Nantais (Muscadet from the Melon de Bourgogne grape); Anjou (Chenin Blanc); Touraine (more Chenin and Cabernet Franc); Centre (Sauvignon Blanc and some Pinot Noir). This gives a mental picture that can be represented a bit like this:

All well and good, and in fact a pretty accurate general picture. However, the four areas aren’t really of equal size. Just looking at West-East extension – Nantais is nearly 60 miles, Anjou only 45 miles, Torraine over 70 miles, and then a 20 mile gap to the 50 mile wide Centre. Production is uneven too: Nantais produces a bit over 10%; Anjou nearly 40%; although the geographically largest, Touraine only yields about 20%; and Centre nearly 30%.

Here’s a much more accurate topographically correct map:
All the above notwithstanding, the naive generalisation isn’t too far off. Only the small areas of the Vendée are not covered in the West. In Anjou you will find bits of Cabernet Sauvignon, Grolleau, and Gamay here and there (Gamay actually appears across Touraine too). The East only real exception is the deceptive Pouilly-sur-Loire (not Fumé) area which makes wines from Chasselas!

The real variations to the general picture are within the Touraine area.

You can find all sorts of grapes here but there are three main departures, which form the basis of this month’s tasting:

  • In the North: the often neglected areas of Coteaux du Loir and (less significantly) Coteaux du Vendômois
  • In the North-East: the odd areas of Cour-Cheverny and Cheverny and the Solonge area in general
  • The increasing presence of Malbec – under its original name Côt – especially as you go East along the Cher River. Côt actually arrived here from its original home in Quercy at the time of the renaissance, before going to Cahors and thence to Argentina…

Firstly the relatively little known area lying along Le Loir river about 25 miles due North of Tours. [Le Loir actually flows West, pretty well parallel to La Loire, for another 50 miles from here before joining the Sarthe just North of Angers.]
This area (sometimes referred to as North Touraine) is actually composed of three wine areas: Coteaux du Loir (CdL), Jasnières and Coteaux du Vendômois. You can read more by scrolling down to the post of January 24 2017…
Jasnières is an enclave within the general CdL area, capable of rather good Chenin Blanc – fierce acidity with a rich counterpoint. However the area’s oddity is the Pineau d’Aunis grape, a spicy, herby grape which must form 60% of the reds. Sometimes it’s 100% – and we’ll see what that’s like…

The area in the extreme NE of Touraine is the second source of strange wines. The story goes back to the renaissance ascent of the Château at Chambord – as a hunting home for Francois I in the early 16th Century. Many grapes, from Bourgogne and elsewhere, were planted there, nearby in the Solonge area and at Cheverny and Cour-Cheverny. The unusual white grape Romarantin is the main grape in the appellation of Cour-Cheverny… While Cheverny white is mainly Sauvignon Blanc, and red is a Pinot Noir / Gamay blend (recalling Bourgogne Passetoutgrains). Many grapes find their way into the Rosé from here and the surrounding area including Pineau d’Aunis again.
However other varieties also made their way to Chambord and despite being lost to phylloxera in their home some have survived. A couple moved from there to be in the Solonge winery of Henri Marionnet, Domaine de la Charmoise (you can read more about this winery by scrolling down to the September 20 2016 post).
As well as un-grafted Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin, Gamay and Côt, they have direct line descendants of the Chambord plantings of Romarantin and the otherwise extinct, Teinturier (red flesh), grape: Gamay de Bouze.

Finally – the eastern Touraine has an increasing preponderance of Côt. We’ll try an example from the Cher area, together with a Pineau d’Aunis Rosé sourced from the same grower..

Until soon…

This month’s ICC Wine Tasting will show wines form Uruguay.

Uruguay is a small Wine Country, producing less than a third on one percent of the world’s wine. That still makes it’s production about 30 times that of the UK, about the same as Slovakia & Czech Republic combined, and a bit less than Switzerland.

Main Uruguayan Wine Areas

The country itself is small, the second smallest in South America, and has a mostly maritime climate. It’s soils are clay, loam and limestone – though there is considerable variety as you move away from the coast and up in altitude.

Mostly the wines we see in the UK are Tannat or Tannat blends from Canelones and Maldonado, but that is slowly changing. I even remember sampling a Gewurztraminer some – probably over 10 – years ago.

Wine making has been going on in Uruguay for well over 250 years, but it was the French-Basque immigrant, Don Pascual Harriague who brought Tannat vines to Uruguay in the late 1800’s from France. Tannat proved to be a perfect match for the primarily clay-loam soils and temperate maritime climate of Uruguay, and has been the country’s signature wine ever since.

Tannat is still the most widely grown grape (36%). Other common varieties are Merlot (10%), Chardonnay (7%), Cabernet Sauvignon (6%), Sauvignon Blanc (6%), and Cabernet Franc (4%), but Syrah and Alboriño are new promising developments…

Other than these basic facts I no little of Uruguay wine, and I suspect most readers will be in the same boat. So it’s a pity that I cannot attend the tasting this week – it will be led by the very capable Janine. I look forward to reading – and posting – the notes in a few days.

Until then….

Tuscany is a wine area of Italy full of associations for an English wine drinker. A host of famous Denominazione, together with the coining (in the 80s) of the Super-Tuscan tag, have kept the wines in the public eye. In addition for a certain period it was a very fashionable part of the world to visit for trendy (though “establishment”) Brits – so Anglicised as to gain the term Chianti-shire!

For all that it is an important wine area. It has the third biggest production of the Italian Provincia, producing over 6% of Italian wine. Around 87% of it red, and about two thirds of the grapes are Sangiovese.

In fact very nearly 70% of all Tuscan wines have some Sangiovese in them – there are 8% or 9% each of Bordeaux-type wines or other red wines altogether (Pinot Nero, Syrah, local varieties…).

In addition 13% of Tuscan wines are white using Trebbiano, Malvasia, Vermentino and Vernaccia, the first two often in the white dried-grape style of sweet wine: Vin Santo.

Sangiovese itself has several other names – they aren’t quite synonyms as they refer to differing local clones. Brunello (in Montalcino), Prugnolo (in the area around the town of Montepulciano – which has nothing to do with the grape of the same name), Sangioveto (in the North)….

There are 11 Tuscan DOCG. [Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita – the top level of Italian wine classification]. 

7 are Sangiovese based:  Chianti Classico; Chianti (with the option to indicate one of 7 sub-regions or Chianti Superiore); Brunello di Montalcino; Vino Nobile di Montepulciano; Carmignano; Morellino di Scansano; Montecucco.
Suvereto is based on Cabernet and Merlot with Sangiovese supporting; Val di Cornia also has Bordeaux grapes but 40% minimum Sangiovese.
Vernaccia di San Gimignano is a white wine from the East side of Siena province.
Elba Aleatico Passito is a dried red grape dessert wine from Elba.

The maps below give an indication of where the DOCG (and DOC) are located:

Central Tuscany

Central Tuscany


Outer Tuscany

Outer Tuscany

There are also 41 DOC [the next level Denominazione di Origine Controllata], these are similarly Sangiovese dominated and some are step-down versions of the DOCG (e.g.: Rosso di Montalcino rather than Brunello di Montalcino). There are also 6 wider IGP [Indicazione Geografica Protetta].

Chianti is the juggernaut of Tuscan wine. 3 of every 8 bottles bears the Chianti or Chianti Classico name. Yet frustration at the rather weird path of the Chianti rules gave rise to the Super-Tuscan boom and a wider diversity of styles in the 1980s and 90s.

Until 1996 Chianti had to be made to a formula which limited Sangiovese to a maximum proportion (70%) and required the use of other red and white grapes (Canaiolo and  Malvasia). The Sangiovese content was raised to a 75% minimum in 1996 (80% in Classico) and Canaiolo restricted to 10% maximum. Other “international” red grapes (Syrah, Merlot, Cabernet) were permitted up to 20% and the requirement for white grapes dropped. In 2006, in the Classico, white grapes were outlawed.

This meant that – until 1996 – wines with no white content, too much Sangiovese or some Cabernet (say) could not be called Chianti. Leading many producers to make wines that could only be labelled “Vino di Tavola”, despite sometimes costing 3 to 6 times as much as Chianti. These wines were called Super-Tuscan.The rules changes meant many – though by no means all – could use the Chianti name again – but many chose not to as their wines had become individually known by their Super-Tuscan name.

For me the issue now isn’t so much the name but the depth and style of wine. For wines that are 80%+ Sangiovese, the other 20% is more a matter of style than a change in type. The question is rather how age-able and serious is the wine.

There is a bit of a division among Sangiovese wines between relatively lighter, forward quite high-acidity wines that work with pizza and pasta – and deeper, age-worthy complex wines that work with richer dishes.

One can find very good examples of both… Most Sangiovese IGT, basic Chianti, Rosso di Montalcino, some Classico… fall into the first group. Brunello, Chianti Classico Riserva, most Super-Tuscans… fall into the second (and are twice, three times the price…). In addition there are some impressive and pleasurable wines in between, including some Chianti Classico and Vino Nobile.

What interests me is the structural profile of Sangiovese itself. With some very great exceptions it seems that the grape has a more even profile than Cabernet Sauvignon, with attack and middle palate prominently featuring sour-cherry acidity then a plummy (and with age – dried fruit) middle… However by the very highest standard some examples can fade slightly at the finish… a gap that seems tailor made for filling out with a dash of Cabernet…

We’ll try examples to test that thesis…

Notes will be posted in 4 or 5 days.

Until then…

For reasons I won’t reveal until I post the notes of the wines in 3 or 4 days, this month is something of a celebration tasting. For that reason I’ve decided to cast my mind back over my wine-tasting history and select some of my favourite wines.

I’ve been involved in formal wine-tasting since 1992, and leading them myself since 1999.  Over that time, I think formal wine tastings and blind-tasting parties (“Sock Parties“) probably have put me in contact with over 6,000 wines. If you include also wines at other tastings (including suppliers’ tastings), in growers’ cellars, at restaurants and at home… the total is getting towards 10,000…

So many wines! How does one possibly choose one’s favourites? Of course – it’s impossible, so there has to be some way of narrowing the field. First of all it can’t be a matter of singling out the stunning vinous moments of particular wines in particular situations. That list is too long – and anyway the wine moments unrepeatable [the 1982 Chateau Montrose; the Musigny Blanc; the Jurancon sweet wine called (I think) Quat’centaire…]

So the first narrowing has to be to looking past individual bottles to types of wine… and then find examples of my favourite version of that type.

That’s still a big task, a long list of 20 or so is quite easy – but then???

First of all I’ve decided to omit Sparklers (Mailly Grand Cru Rosé since you ask), Rosé in general (pink Sancerre, or Rioja Rosada), Fortified wine (quite a long list including Manzanilla, Tawny and Baul…). I’ve also – even more reluctantly – decided to omit full dessert wines (Eiswein, Jurancon and sweet Chenin…) not least because we sampled some only last November.

That leaves “table” wines, and still there is quite a long list: Riesling (both traditional German off-dry and dry from Alsace and elsewhere); other Alsace grapes; Chenin (both demi-sec and sec); Gruner Veltliner (!); some dry South Italian styles (Greco, Fiano, Falanghina); some Rhone whites; and White Burgundy and that’s just on the White side.

We tried a transcendentally good traditional off-dry German Auslese in November– I don’t think I can better that so we’ll “settle” on a dry Riesling.

Of the other whites, the two grapes I drink most are Chenin and Chardonnay, so I think they are the wines I’d try to show. As it’s so useful for hors d’oeuvres, I prefer to start with an off-dry Loire Chenin. The Chardonnay will just have to be White Burgundy!

Over on the red side it’s no simpler. Favourites are Pinot Noir; Claret (particularly right bank); Chateauneuf; Barbaresco; Chianti; Amarone; some Portuguese styles and – of course – Cabernet Franc.

We tried Nebbiolo only in February, so we can leave that out. My leading candidate for the Portuguese (Ventente), was sampled in December and some of us attended a Chateauneuf tasting as recently as April so let’s omit those wines too. I think Pinot Noir has to be in, and so too Chianti.

So the final choice comes down to: Cabernet Franc or Right Bank claret – both lovely and too similar to include both…I had second, third and fourth thoughts about which to include and only decided when trying to identify the actual example to show.

So the list of styles comes down to:

Demi-sec Chenin         Alsace Riesling          White Burgundy

Red Burgundy          RB Claret / Cab. Franc                  Chianti

So… now to the problem of choosing the particular wines. The Chenin has to be Vouvray or Montlouis, and although the best example might be a 10 year old Huet, I can’t get that – so we’ll have to make do (!) with a 10 year old Montlouis from Berger Freres.

The greatest Alsace Riesling I ever tasted was the “flavour symphony” that was the 1990 Lorentz Altenberg GC, and although that’s all gone I do have the 2007…

White Burgundy is composed of many styles I like, the experience of Chablis (then 10 year old 1990 Fourchaume) with a warm Chaource salad in Chablis is still with me… lovely wines from Chassagne and Pernand-Vergellesses and “lesser” wines from Santenay, Givry, Rully, St Veran and even Hautes Côtes still ring a bell… but in the end I went with the quite restrained style I prefer – Chablis.

Over on the red side of Burgundy the choice is as wide – though not as vaunted (for cost reasons), the best 1er cru wines I’ve had (Chambolles, from Vogüé, Barthod and Roumier; Volnay from Devevey, Buffet and others) approach (or in the case of Vogüé – far exceed) the 3 figure barrier. So we are more in lieu-dit territory from Beaune or a leaner style from Maranges, which I eventually plumped for.

The choice of Cab Franc or RB claret was resolved for me by similar considerations (Troplong-Mondot 2005 would be £150+) – but last year some of us tasted 13 Cabernet Franc blind and I happen to have two bottles of the winning wine (scoring 17.37/20): Château de La Grille 2001.

The driveway to Felsini

The driveway to Felsini

The Chianti is rather easier – my favourite Chianti is from a grower called Felsina, located in the South of the Classico, East of Sienna. My favourite (which some of the group shared at an organised WING meal at Broadway in 2007{?}) is the 2001 Rancia Riserva and I happen to have 2 bottles left – so I’ll conclude my “favourites” tasting with them!

Tasting Notes will be with you in 3 or 4 days…

Until then…

Margaret River is – by Australian standards, a small wine area. It’s a western promontory in the very South Western corner of the country.  More or less rectangular in shape, it has a West facing seaboard about 90km (55 miles) in length and runs about 30km (18miles) inland.

Wine growing in the region only developed in the early1970s with the founding of wineries that are still famous: Vasse Felix; Moss Wood; Cullen; Pierro (all founded by Doctors); Cape Mentelle; Sandalford and Leeuwin…

Margaret River is one of 9 areas that make up the Western Australian wine region, albeit the most important. Western Australia makes a bit under 5% of all Australian Wine, and Margaret River about half of that. Its total production is similar to the Savoie region in France – about 30m bottles.

Margaret River, however punches well above its weight in quality terms, in fact they claim 20% of Australia’s “premium” wine comes from the area. This claim implies that about half their production is in the top 5% of all Australian Wines – which seems plausible.

With a relatively cool climate and small scale growers, Margaret River has a more European twist than some of the other famous wine areas further East. The climate, protected by the Leeuwin current to the West, is actually quite even and similar to a maritime Mediterranean zone. There is low rainfall in the growing season and a variety of aspects due to a landscape with an abundance of small creeks and gentle valleys, within the “West Coast” general character.

There is a variety of soil types – based on ancient gravelly or gritty sandy loam that has formed directly from the underlying granite and gneissic rock. Prize sites have pebbly ironstone gravels with a limestone strata and then clay underneath giving good drainage and permitting deep rooting ideal for red grapes, especially Cabernet.

There are some variation of climate, soils and suitability for different grapes within the region. In fact there is a proposed division into 6 six sub-regions based on climate and soil types, namely: Yallingup, Carbunup, Wilyabrup, Treeton, Wallcliffe and Karridale (going vaguely North to South – see map below). Thus an appropriate terroir for a variety of classic grapes and wine styles can be found.

MR regionmap
All these factors make for a purity of fruit that permits ripeness and freshness and offers a more restrained and elegant style that recalls, but doesn’t exactly replicate, old world wines.

Cabernet Sauvignon was the first to win acclaim for its consistently high quality. The style has evolved over the decades – the common threads are ripe grapes that provide a sweet core to all the wines, with little leafy or herbal character and more often with slightly earthy tannins depending on local terroir.

Chardonnay soon attracted similar attention for concentrated, more complex, more viscous and tangy wines without any tendency to become overly cloying.

Latterly Shiraz – perhaps better called Syrah – is gaining good reviews for flexibility of style between more restrained – but recognisably big Australian styles, and even lighter wines.

Although, the region’s reputation is founded on Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc is actually the most widely planted grape, and the Bordeaux white blend (Sauvignon / Semillon) is even more widespread than the Bordeaux red blends (Cabernet / Merlot) into which a good portion of the Cabernet finds its way.

The main grapes grown are: Sauvignon Blanc (20.8%); Cabernet Sauvignon (18.0%); Semillon (17.9%); Chardonnay (15.6%); Shiraz (11.9%); Merlot (7.3%); Other Grapes (Riesling, Malbec, Petit Verdot, Zinfandel… 8.6%).

We’ll try a few styles, typical and less so, notes will be posted around May 8th.


Actually, sweet wines aren’t really all about just desserts. Sweet wines can make an appearance at many stages of a meal, and also sometimes just for sipping.

Before we go any further, let’s be clear that there are two aspects of a wine that might be called sweetness. First is the actual sugar in the finished wine, called Residual Sugar and which is technically measurable in grams per litre (g/l). Pretty well everyone would call a wine with only single-figure g/l dry… beyond that it gets complicated (though most “sweet” wines are 45 – 200 g/l)… That is because there is a second aspect to sweetness: the overall impression of the finished wine. This may be very different because of the level of acidity in the wine. A wine with quite a lot of Residual Sugar and very high acidity may seem drier than a wine with (say) only half the sugar but much lower acidity. In fact, I would go further and say that the higher acidity wine will seem fresher, less cloying, less sweet, more food friendly and all round just better than the lower sugar wine.

This is the key really – good sweet wines tend to have good counterpointing acidity. The sort of thing one expects from high acid grapes: Riesling, Chenin, Semillon… and unsurprisingly these are the base grapes for the most highly regarded sweet wines…

All wine making starts with a grape juice (called must) with significant levels of sugar – maybe 210 g/l – which is converted to alcohol by fermentation. For normally harvested grapes, by the way, this will be more or less equally glucose and fructose. Late Harvest grapes have more fructose – which appears sweeter (and fruitier!) to the palate.

So immediately there are two ways of making sweet wines. One is to stop the fermentation before all the sugar is converted to alcohol, the other is to start with more sugar in the juice.

The first group – wines with arrested fermentation – includes Muscato d’Asti, Traditional German Rieslings, Vins Doux, Ports, Madeira and similar wines. In the first two cases the fermentation is stopped by chilling: a deliberate choice nowadays but originally a natural impact of cold winter climates in German vineyards. More common is stopping the fermentation by increasing the alcohol (yeast can’t live above about 15% abv) by dosing the mixture with grape spirit or brandy. Most wines made this way use a neutral alcohol so the flavour is determined by the original grapes.

The second way of making sweet wine is to start with more sugar in the must than can be fermented to alcohol. This can be done in a variety of ways, simple later harvesting will yield higher sugar (especially fructose) levels. If one waits until the grapes start to dry out on the vine, even more sugars will exist relative to the volume of juice. One could go even further and let the grapes freeze – which has an even more pronounced effect. In addition one could replicate these effects off-the-vine, drying picked grapes This is often done on straw mats, either for a few days in the sun, or over winter in airy buildings. The method is common in Mediterranean climes specially Italy where it is called Passito. One could even freeze picked grapes, an example is Bonny Doon Vin de Glaciere, made by Randall Grahm freezing Muscat grapes (It’s about £18 for ½btl). Of course any of these methods can also be combined with stopping the fermentation at a certain point.

However the most famous method of arriving at concentrated sugars is from the action of Botrytis Cinerea, or “noble rot”. This is a fungus that can attack whole bunches of grapes in continually damp conditions, causing loss. But if it takes hold on individual berries and there is a dry period after infection the fungus consumes the water and concentrates everything else in the grape, including sugars and acid. Most great sweet wine – Sauternes, Bonnezeux / Quarts des Charme / Vouvray in the Loire, some German sweet wines, Tokaji, some Muscat based wines – are produced using Botrytis affected grapes. In the cases cited above, the grapes will be Semillon, Chenin Blanc, Riesling and Furmint.

Botrytis does have a flavour impact on the wine – notes of marmalade and honeysuckle are often cited – with a warm slightly bitter note on the palate too, which echoes the marmalade reference.

However the best examples keep the balance between the Botrytis and the natural flavours of the grape – producing (e.g.) butterscotch with Semillon, passion-fruit with Chenin…

This month we’ll have 2 arrested fermentation wines, together with wines that combine approaches and a couple that are Botrytis dominated. Notes of those wines will appear in 3 or 4 days….

Until then…

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