A few weeks ago I was the guest of thetaste.ie at Fade St Social where Colly Murray from RetroVino was showcasing the wines from Quinta da Alorna. Representing Alorna was André Almeida, a true gentleman, who explained some of the philosophy behind each wine. The talented chefs at Fade St Social prepared a dish to match each wine. You can read a great report from the evening on the blog of my friend Laura.
I was very impressed with the wines overall, and will give a more in-depth report on the estate in the coming weeks. What did strike me was that the wines were very good value, and were versatile enough to be enjoyed on their own or with food. In other words, they would be great for a barbecue! Here are the “entry level” white and red:
Quinta da Alorna Branco Vinho Regional Tejo 2013 (RetroVino: Fade St Social, Brasserie Sixty 6, Rustic Stone, Taste at Rustic)
This white is a blend of two indigenous Portuguese grapes:
Arinto is known for its high acidity and citrus aromas and flavours. It’s also grown extensively in Bucelas (so much so that it is sometimes known as Arinto de Bucelas) and in Vinho Verde, where it is often blended with Alvarinho and Loureiro.
Fernão Pires has a more spicy aromatic character, often with exotic fruity notes. As well as Tejo it is also grown in Bairrada, sometimes under the pseudonym Maria Gomes.
The two grapes are pressed and vinified separately at low temperature (12ºC) in stainless steel tanks to preserve freshness. The two varieties are then blended, cold stabilised and clarified before bottling.
What this gives is a wine which can pair well with lots of different dishes, as different aromas and flavours from the wine are highlighted by the food. Seafood is well complemented by the lemon and lime of the Arinto and its cutting acidity. Asian and more expressive dishes are well matched by the exotic fruit of the Fernão Pires. Chili and lime marinated prawns on the barbecue would be perfection!
Cardal Tinto Vinho Regional Tejo 2012 (RetroVino: Fade St Social, Brasserie Sixty 6, Rustic Stone, Taste at Rustic)
Not to be outdone, this red is a blend of three indigenous Portuguese grapes: Touriga Nacional (30%), Castelão (35%), Trincadeira (35%)
Touriga Nacional is of course most famous in Port, and now “light” Douro wines, though it’s not the most widely planted grape in the Douro region. Often floral.
Castelão’s name is derived from the Portuguese term for parakeet. It is high in tannin so is often a component in a blend rather than a varietal.
Trincadeira is another Port grape, also known as Tinta Amarela. It produces dark full-bodied and rich wines, with aromas of black fruit, herbs and flowers.
Production methods were fairly similar to the Branco above, with the exception that fermentation took place at 23ºC to help extract colour, flavour and tannin.
This wine is another great example where a blend can be more than the sum of its parts. The tannins are soft and gentle, there are wonderful floral aromas on the nose, and lovely plum and berry on the palate. Just perfect for barbecued beef, or a juicy steak from one of Dylan McGrath’s restaurants!
Being a bit of a geek (in wine, but other things as well) and possibly with a few ADHD tendencies, I’m a sucker for patterns and lists. On my recent holiday in Portugal I started jotting down the different colours associated with wine, whether often used in descriptions, grape names or something else, and came up with A LIST.
Now, this is only from my own thoughts, so I’ve very happy to add any suggestions that you may have (leave a comment or send a Twitter message).
And did I mention I’m partially colourblind? That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it…
So, in alphabetical order…
A WSET term for a deep dark gold colour, often apt for aged / oaked / sweet wines.
Georgian Amber Wine is made in the traditional way in clay pots (a bit like amphorae) called Quevris which are buried underground.
As a general rule, the grapes that make red wine are black, not red.
Some always have black as part of their name – e.g. Pinot Noir – where there are different versions of the grape in different colours.
Some black grapes don’t usually need the suffix “Noir” as they are far better known than their siblings, unless a comparison is being made – e.g. Grenache is assumed to be the black version (as opposed to Blanc or Gris), but sometimes it is annotated as Grenache Noir.
The famous Black wine of Cahors which is a deep, dark, opaque Malbec blend.
The definition of Black Wine according to the motto of the Domaine Le Bout du Lieu: “If you can see your fingers through the glass, it’s not a Cahors.”
Pinot Meunier is sometimes known as Schwarzriesling – literally “Black Riesling” – in Germany!
Blau is of course German for “blue”, so this variety commonly found in Austria is a blue Frankish grape, evoking Charlemagne and his empire.
In Hungary the grape is known as Kékfrankos, which has the same literal meaning but sounds like a Greek ailment.
A term used to describe Californian rosé, especially the sweetish stuff made from Zinfandel.
What any self-respecting wino does when drinking the above wine (miaow!)
Obviously a shade of red, it’s usually connected to older red wines
For some reason Burgundy as a colour only ever refers to the region’s red rather than white wines.
Quite well established as a colour outside of the wine world…I bet few garment wearers think of Pinot Noir…
The oft litigious organisation that represents Champagne, the CIVC, don’t like Champagne being used as a colour when not directly connected to one of their member’s products.
However, it’s probably too late, the cat is out of the bag for describing a silvery-goldy colour – and to be honest, should they really complain if it’s an Aston Martin?
The well known term for red Bordeaux wine.
However, the term actually originates from Clairette, a dark rosé style wine still made in Bordeaux (and was actually how most Bordeaux looked back in the day).
Now often used to mean wine- (or blood-) coloured.
A WSET approved term for a mid shade of red, in between Ruby (another gemstone) and Tawny.
Mature and / or sweet white wine is often described as gold, particularly Tokaji.
Burgundy’s heartland subregion of the Côte d’Or is literally the “Slope of Gold”.
While “green wine” might not sound that pleasant a concept, it is of course the literal translation of Vinho Verde from northern Portugal.
By extension, used as a term for certain flavours which either invoke youth or the taste of something green (e.g. asparagus in Sauvignon Blanc)
Mid coloured grapes such as Pinot Gris (yay!) or the Italian equivalent Pinot Grigio (boo!)
Vin Gris (literally “Grey Wine”) is the term used for a white(ish) wine made from black grapes.
Often has a little more colour than a Blanc de Noirs, e.g. the Gamay-based AOC Côtes de Toul from Lorraine.
Quite a trendy type of wine at the moment, basically making a wine from white grapes using red wine methods, particularly lots of contact between the juice and the skins – different but interesting.
Orange Muscat is a variant of the ancient but popular Muscat family
Also a wine growing town in New South Wales, Australia, whose symbol is an apple – go figure!
In fairness, orchard regions are often good for making wine.
David Bird (author of Understanding Wine Technology) makes a valid point asking why we use the term rosé in English when we say red and white quite happily instead of rouge and blanc.
While reading a book on Port I came across a new colour category of grape: Roxo
Many grapes – and actually many wines – look quite purple, but Portugal is the first country I have seen to actually have a recognised term for it.
Obviously the huge category of red wine as a whole.
Tinta / Tinto, the Portuguese and Spanish words for red (when applied to wine) is used for many grape varieties and their pseudonyms, including Tinto Aragon and Tinta Cão.
One of the few grapes in French to have red in its name is Rouge du Pays, also known as Cornalin du Valais or Cornalin.
However, without Red Wine would faux-reggae band UB40 have been so popular? Everything has its downsides…
A bright shade of red, usually signifying a young wine.
A style of Port, often the least expensive, bottle young and so retains a bright red colour.
The grape Ruby Cabernet is a cross between Cabernet Sauvignon and Carignan, though usually included in cheap fruity blends.
A light shade of red, tending to brown, usually signifying an older but not necessarily fully mature wine
A style of Port which has usually been aged in wood rather than bottle, with colour fading over time.
White wine, of course, which covers a multitude of grapes and styles
White grapes (well many of them are of course more green than white) particularly those whose name includes white (in English or any other language) to distinguish them from darker coloured siblings, e.g. Pinot Blanc / Pinot Bianco / Weissburgunder.
Of course the Jura’s famous “Vin Jaune” (literally “yellow wine”) leaps to mind here.
Ribolla Gialla (thanks Jim) is the yellow version of Ribolla, generally found in the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region of northeast Italy and over the border into Slovenia.
They say a picture call tell a thousand words. This might be true, but I’d say a glass of wine could tell even more.
Earlier this year I was invited by my friends at The Corkscrew Wine Merchants to attend a tasting of Champagne Drappier at Saison Restaurant in Dublin. My account of the event is in the new Issue 7 of Glass of Bubbly Magazine:
Here’s a sneak peek at the Drappier article:
Whilst tasting through some of Drappier’s fabulous range, it struck me that some of their choices are actually commercially quite risky. Producing the Brut Zero Sans Souffre (neither dosage nor SO2 added) depends upon a fastidious approach to quality, including an almost draconian approach to hygiene.
The grapes have to be perfectly ripe, but not overripe, so that fruit flavours can shine without the addition of sugar.
The grapes have to be perfectly healthy so that there is minimal chance of spoilage which sulphur would normally prevent. Only own estate fruit is used for this Cuvée
Malolactic Fermentation (MLF) is allowed to proceed so that the acidity is softened and has less need of sugar for balance.
Extended lees ageing gives the Champagne character, but also helps to preserve it for longer and also lessens the impact of no dosage.
All of these factors have to be in perfect tension. Here is my first attempt at an infographic capturing this relationship.
If you’re a budding wine drinker (or you know one) looking to ensure you have the most essential wine accessories, but without laying out big bucks, this is the right guide for you.
PART 3 – Something to drink the wine out of – glasses
Although you could drink wine out of almost any kind of drinking vessel, glass is pretty much the best material for your …erm… glass known to man. Coffee mugs and polystyrene cups can hold liquid, but nothing beats the real thing. So, now we’ve established the material, it’s time for a fairly fundamental statement:
The type of glass you use makes a significant difference to how a wine smells and tastes.
As you’re reading a wine blog I’m assuming that this is of some importance to you. Here is a summary of the important characteristics of a good wine glass:
A proper wine glass needs to have a stem by which it can be held. This ensures that any chilled white wine isn’t heated up too quickly by a grasping hand and the bowl isn’t smudged with fingerprints (which makes examining the wine much more difficult). Of course, if you want to put it down on a flat surface then it will also need a foot to rest on.
It’s far more pleasant to drink from a thin wine glass than something which could double as a coffee mug. A cleaner edge means that you have precise control over how much you pour into your cakehole – which is a good thing, surely.
The glass should be transparent, not coloured, and not etched. Being able to see the wine properly is an important part of evaluation and appreciation.
A good glass needs a wide bowl with a narrower rim so that the aromas are gathered within the glass rather than evaporating out into the ether. It also means that when the glass is swirled to get the wine in contact with air, the wine stays in the glass…
Swirlability also depends (in tandem with shape above) on the capacity of the glass – it’s a lots easier with a bigger glass. Many wines, particularly reds and / or oaked wines, need space in the glass to breathe, so they are better if the glass isn’t too full. A bigger glass means a reasonable pour without filling it too high.
Let’s start by naming and shaming a few different types which you should avoid if looking to acquire some glasses:
1. Paris Goblet
The standard vessel of many French restaurants – those without at least a Bib Gourmand at least. They fulfil the very basic task of holding wine, but don’t hold enough and no good for swirling.
What am I, a fecking peasant? Tumbler’s are fine for water and water of life, but not for wine.
3. Champagne Flute
Traditional Champagne flutes are dead. Flutes might look pretty, but they aren’t that great for anything other than basic Prosecco or Moët. Anything I serve at home with a high Pinot content or significant ageing gets put into a white wine glass as a minimum, or even a (larger) red wine glass.
Now, I do have a few Riedel flutes, and they’re are wider than most, so they’re not too bad for the basic stuff.
4. Champagne Coupe
Supposedly made in the shape of a famous French woman’s breast (though the story varies), the coupe is great for making Champagne towers, but not for drinking the stuff – the aromas dissipate too quickly and so do the bubbles.
5. Cut Crystal
Waterford crystal by John Rocha. Don’t get me wrong, it’s really pleasing on the eye, worth of display in a cabinet, but it’s about as much use as a chocolate fireguard when it comes to appreciating wine. The lip is too thick, the pattern interferes with examining the wine and the lack of a decent bowl shape means if you swirl a wine you’ll probably end up wearing some of it.
6. INAO/ISO tasting glass
This might be a surprise for some, but although “official” tasting glasses are de rigeur on most wine course and at some trade tastings, they’re actually too small for many wines. As an example, when I was tasting a subtly oaked white Louis Jadot Burgundy earlier this year, the oak was over-emphasised by the ISO glass.
At bigger pro-events the tasting glass of choice is usually the Riedel Vinum Chianti Classico/Riesling, a significantly larger glass.
So, if you are on a budget, what sort of glass should you go for?
There are several high quality glass manufacturers, and many of them make different ranges which get more and more wine-specific and correspondingly more and more expensive!
But if you’re on a budget these are out of reach. I would suggest you could do with something cheap and cheerful such as this:
Even better would be something with a taller bowl, such as this:
If you drink quite a lot of white wine as well as red, then it’s worth getting some slightly smaller ones for white so that the wine doesn’t warm up too much – important for sweeter wines, for example.
Riedel Sommelier and Zalto glasses belong in another post entirely…
The greatest wines on earth aren’t made by co-operatives. Whether your preference is for Claret, Barolo, Burgundy or Champagne, co-operatives aren’t ranked in the upper echelons of each region’s producers.
Way down the quality scale, a lot of ordinary wine is made by co-operatives – owned by a multitude of producers who can’t afford their own vinification and maturation space and equipment – who make wine to suit growers’ yields and production decisions rather than quality.
It’s often the lower common denominator type of wine – it follows the DO / DOC / AOC regulations and is somewhat faithful to variety and terroir, but it’s just a bit ordinary. Dilute, but rarely bad. Humdrum. Boring! (There, I said it!)
Acknowledging all of the above, this series aims to highlight the better co-operatives…those which, if they don’t hit the heights, certainly make wines in the top quartile of quality, that are both interesting and value for money. The better co-operatives are becoming increasingly skilled not just at wine-making but also at marketing specific bottlings designed to look and taste every bit as distinctive as the individually produced competition.
The worst co-operatives play almost exclusively with subsidies and politics. Co-operatives are at their strongest in areas where wine’s selling price is relatively low and where the average size of individual holdings is small, although co-operatives are also quite significant in Champagne and there are several in the Médoc, for example. The majority of wine co-operatives were formed in the early 1930s in the immediate aftermath of the Depression.
As you will see, most of the co-operatives covered in this series are in Europe, specifically France.
The former is down to ownership patterns, particularly those jurisdictions that have Napoleonic inheritance laws (splitting properties equally between children of each generation). With a growing population this can result in vignerons (and other farmers of course) owning smaller and smaller land holdings to the point where, unless the land is in one of the very best appellations, there isn’t sufficient economic scale to justify making, bottling and maturing wine on the property.
This leaves a “grape farmer” with restricted choices – sell his or her grapes to a négociant or join a co-operative. The first usually carries lower risk, though certainly lower income. The second has the potential for a little more control and a share in the surplus.
And why will this series focus on France? The simple reason is that I am far more familiar with French wine than that of any other European country!
Yet another INXS reference, and yet another link to an article on The Taste – but I make no apologies, and expect more in the future!
Please click through to read the full article here.
So, dear reader, do you have a preference for either Old or New world? Please leave a comment, I would be interested to hear.
Personally, I probably drink wine outside of mealtimes more often than with food, so this perhaps has a bearing on what I like to drink. But then I really love good Riesling, even when the producer says it’s “difficile à aimer” (difficult to love) on its own as it’s crying out for food.
The reasons why we like the wines we do need a great deal more research – though Tim Hanni MW has made a good start.
“Old world new world / I know nothing / But I’ll keep listening” – INXS
This clip is from a 1983 concert performance – when Michael Hutchence still thought he was the second coming of Mick Jagger – but before they became internationally famous.
The track itself is from their third studio album Shabooh Shoobah (1982), which also features “Don’t Change” and “The One Thing”
Have you ever wondered why white wine varies in colour?
Some are almost water white, while others can be lemon though to golden amber. Surely there must be somelogic to this?
Of course there is, but there are lots of inter-related factors which affect the colour of white wines. Let’s have a look at them one by one. Hold on to your hats, this might get a bit geeky by the end…
More specifically maturation in new(er) small(er) oak barrels adds colour. Certain types of wine are more likely to be barrel aged – Californian Chardonnays, for example – so much so, in fact, that you can see the difference before your nose gets anywhere near the glass.
The sweeter a wine is, the darker it will generally be. If you take a dessert wine (such as Hungary’s famous Tokaji) which comes in varying levels of sweetness, the depth of colour is a good guide to the level of residual sugar.
In fact, even on the basis of a mobile phone snap on twitter, I’ve had people make a good guess as to the number of Puttonyos* of a Tokaji – totes amazeballs, as the kids say nowadays.
(* putts for short, refers to the number of buckets of sweet grape paste added to a vat of fermenting wine)
As a general truism, red wine gets paler with age and white wines get darker. An illustration: the unique red and white wines of Chateau Musar in Lebanon move closer and closer in appearance as they mature in bottle. Even Champagne goes golden when mature.
If you’ve got a bottle of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc that looks quite golden though a clear glass bottle, the chances are that it is past its best…
This factor is the one that most people would guess at. Some white grapes have a slightly darker juice than others which affects what you see in your glass. Good examples of this from my favoured region of Alsace are Gewurztraminer and Pinot Gris.
The Spanish region of Rueda is known for its excellent yet inexpensive whites made from the fairly clear Verdejo grape, but wines of the same vintage do vary in hue. This is down to a certain proportion of Viura in the blend, a permitted grape in Rueda and Rioja plus Catalonia under the name Macabeo. So there you go!
Oxygen is both the friend and the enemy of all wine, red, white and all the diverse colours in-between.
a) Oxidised– when exposed to too much oxygen white wines go darker in hue quite quickly. When it happens this can be known as premature oxidation, or premox for short, and has spoiled many a white Burgundy lover’s treasures.
b) Oxidative – this descriptor is used when a wine is deliberately exposed to oxygen, for example with traditional white Rioja. This style of wine will generally be darker than one in a non-oxidative style.
6. Skin contact
The biggest fundamental difference between red and white wines is not the colour of the juice when grapes are pressed – with some exceptions, the juice is normally clear. The difference in colour is down to the time that the juice for red wines has in contact with the skins so that colour, flavour and tannin is leached out.
A very short time gives a rosé, an extended period can give an opaque, dense looking wine.
If you use the red wine approach with white grapes you get….orange wine! This is actually a very ancient method of wine making that has become trendy again. It’s arguable that, rather than being a darker type of white wine, orange is actually its own class of wine by itself.
This is a fancy French term for stirring with a stick (which sounds somewhat less glamourous). After fermentation some styles of white wine are left to stand on their lees, i.e. the spent yeast cells which have turned sugar into alcohol. It is particularly useful in Burgundy where it gives a certain creaminess to Chardonnay.
Wines made with lees contact tend to be markedly paler than those fermented in stainless steel and then transferred to cask for barrel maturation because darker pigments are absorbed by the lees.
White wine colour is also affected by the wine’s levels of pH and the amount of acid (usually given as the equivalent in grams of tartaric acid for the chemists out there). Very simply, more acidity leads to paler white wines.
As part of the modern winemaking process, wines are usually filtered before bottling to remove any tiny particles which might give them a cloudy appearance. It depends on the substance used, but some such as charcoal will lighten a wine as tiny coloured particles (as well as some of the flavour) are removed.
Sulphur occurs naturally in wine, which is why pretty much every bottle in the shop has the caution “Contains Sulphites”. Sulphur Dioxide (SO2) is added as a preservative agent at different parts of the wine-making process, and in different amounts. There is a growing movements among artisan and “Natural” winemakers to reduce or even eliminate these additions.
Particularly in tandem with a low pH (i.e. high acidity), high SO2 concentration has a bleaching effect and removes colour from wine.
Of course, it’s difficult to see the effect in isolation as those producers who don’t add sulphur are often the same ones who allow skin contact…
Of course, these factors don’t act in isolation, and it might be several of them in concert which apply to a particular wine. For example, a traditional white Rioja is likely to be made from Viura, barrel matured and made in an oxidative style. Add a few years in the cellar then you will have quite an amber wine.
It’s not possible to point to any of these factors individually, but we can have a damned good guess!
A cursory search through my blog reveals that Blanc de Blancs is one of the wine styles I write about very frequently – mainly because I really like it as a style, and if there’s a bottle shown at a trade tasting I will make a beeline for it.
So when Mike over at Please Bring Me My Wine asked for suggestions beginning with B for New Wine This Week #53, I naturally piped up with Blanc de Blancs – and would you believe it, other voters on the poll (narrowly) agreed with me.
So a few important questions to be answered – what exactly is it? why do I like it? and what should a neophyte try?
What The Heck Is a Blanc de Blancs?
In my mind a true Blanc de Blancs is a white wine made with white grapes where there is a possibility that black grapes could also have been used. The vast majority are traditional method sparklers such as Champagne:
But before we dive into sparkling, there is a much less well known version; if you’re a real Alsace geek like me then you might think of different Pinots being used in white wine, and as long as the juice is taken off the skins quickly, even black grapes can be part of the blend. If it’s just from white Pinot grapes – i.e. Pinot Blanc – then it can be labelled as a Blanc de Blancs:
So after that small detour, let’s get back onto the main road.
Champagne was the region that popularised the term, and there it usually means a white fizz made from just Chardonnay without any juice from the black grapes Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. There are some very small plantings of other grapes in Champagne that could go into a Blanc de Blancs, but they are rare indeed.
In other parts of France where traditional method Crémant is made, popular local grapes can be used to make a Blanc de Blancs, especially if they are high in acidity – Chenin Blanc in the Loire, Sauvignon in Bordeaux, Pinot Blanc in Alsace.
A fact often overlooked is that Chardonnay is sometimes permitted in the AOP rules for a fizz when it’s not allowed in the local still wine – sometimes even a 100% varietal Chardonnay such as this Crémant d’Alsace:
Other traditional method sparkling wine is often made with the main three Champagne grapes, whether Tasmania, Marlborough, California or southern England.
Why Do I Like It?
When it’s young, it’s fresh, floral and citrusy, and can be on the simple side. But there’s nothing wrong with that – the perfect aperitif.
The best examples, particularly from the Côte des Blancs’ Grand Cru villages, have a haunting purity about them.
With extended lees ageing it takes on biscuit and brioche characters; while this is obviously true for other sparklers, Blanc de Blancs seem to be more coherent and integrated.
And of course many of the long-lived prestige cuvées are Blanc de Blancs – think of Charles Heidsieck’s Cuvée des Millénaires, Salon Le Mesnil, Krug Clos du Mesnil, and so on.
Do Try This At Home
If you see any of the wines above in the shop, then snap them up!
I also heartily endorse the Sainsbury’s Non Vintage Champagne Blanc de Blancs that Mike recommended on his site. If you’re lucky you might see it on promotion when it can be ridiculously good value for money.
Some other Blankety Blanks that I’ve really enjoyed:
Clover Hill Sparkling 2003 (O’Briens, €31.99)
Leon Launois Grand Cru Champagne Blanc de Blancs 2006 (Aldi, €26.99, also covered here)
Ruinart Blanc de Blancs Champagne NV (£44.98, Majestic)
Wiston Estate, Blanc de Blancs NV (Le Caveau, €47.70, also covered here)
Gusbourne Estate Blanc de Blancs 2009 (James Nicholson Wine, £31.95 / €46.99, also covered here)
Nyetimber Blanc de Blancs 2007 (Berry Bros, £35.95, also covered here)
Now get supping!
Also check out Confessions of a Wine Geek’s post here
It’s not all straw baskets and fava beans! Chianti is a delimited area between Siena and Florence in Tuscany. The name has been in use for over 700 years and on wines for at least 600 years, but has changed a lot over that time.
The Chianti wine producing area was one of the first to be officially demarcated anywhere in the world by the Grand Duke of Tuscany’s 1716 decree. At that time various different grapes were used, including Canaiolo, Mammolo, Malvasia and Sangiovese.
In 1872 the Florentine statesman Baron Bettino Ricasoli (who later became Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Italy) decided upon and promoted a blend for Chianti based on 70% Sangovese, 15% Canaiolo, 10% Malvasia and 5% other local red varieties. As it happens it was a Ricasoli wine that gave me my first taste of quality Chianti!
In 1932 the Italian government significantly expanded the area allowed to use the term Chianti on their labels, and created seven subdivisions within it: Classico (pretty much the original Chianti heartland), Colli Aretini, Colli Fiorentini, Colline Pisane, Colli Senesi, Montalbano and Rùfina.
In 1967 the DOC regulations were introduced for Chianti, accompanied by a further expansion of the boundaries and mandating the use of the Ricasoli “recipe” – so all producers were forced to use 10% white Malvasia. The expansion in vineyard area was done without great attention being paid to clones (Sangiovese mutates easily like Pinot), rootstocks or soil types, and quality fell markedly.
First Amongst Equals
The noble Florentine Antinori family (Marchese means Marquis in Italian) trace their entry into the wine trade back to 1385, though in all likelihood they cultivated grapes on their estates before then. The current firm was founded in 1895 by the brothers Lodovico and Piero Antinori, and expanded within Tuscany and into Umbria by Piero’s son Niccolò.
It was Niccolò’s son Piero who really lit a fire under the company after taking the reins in 1967. He increased the land under vine by fifteen times and constantly strove to innovate with the assistance of his oenologist Giacomo Tachis. Now joined by his three daughters, the company has around 1,800 ha in central Italy and a further 400 ha overseas, particularly Napa.
Antinori is the biggest but also the most important producer in Chianti, and perhaps all of Italy. They are founding members of the Primum Familiae Vini – the First Families of Wine – an association of family owned and run wineries which are in the top echelon of their respective region.
Chianti Saved by the Super-Tuscans?
Constricted by the reliance on Sangiovese, ban on foreign grapes and insistence on the inclusion of white grapes in the blend, Piero Antinori and others began experimenting outside the DOC laws. Tignanello was released in 1971 under the humble Vina de Tavola label. It was a Sangiovese / Cabernet Sauvignon blend aged in small barrels (quite different from the huge botti which were the norm) and caused the world to look at Tuscany again.
Antinori also made Solaia, and helped to launch Sassicaia. Together these wines improved the image of Tuscan wine and encouraged Chianti producers to up their game.
It also encouraged the wine authorities to rethink their stance on grape varieties (in particular).
Antinori Chianti Classico Tasting with Allegra Antinori
And so to a recent tasting in Dublin in the delightful company of Allegra Antinori.
Allegra took us through four of Antinori’s Chianti Classicos, from everyday quality to seriously premium:
Stockists: O’Brien’s Off-Licences; Next Door Off-Licences; Redmond’s of Ranelagh, Dublin; Carpenters of Castleknock, Dublin; Savages of Swords, Dublin; Bradley’s of North Main Street, Cork; O’Driscolls, Cork; Mortons of Galway; Le Caveau, Kilkenny; Terroirs, Donnybrook; Mitchell & Sons
This is a fruity, accessible style of Chianti Classico designed to be drunk withing a year or so of purchase. The grapes are grown on the Pèppoli estate between Sienna and Florence; 90% Sangiovese is complemented by Merlot and Syrah. A light touch of oak adds a bit of chocolate and vanilla to give a little complexity and approachability, but this is unmistakably Sangiovese – plenty of ripe red cherry fruit with acidity and marked, but silky soft tannins. The finish is dry but long, and far from austere.
A great introduction to Chianti Classico!
Villa Antinori Chianti Classico Riserva 2011 (due in Ireland Q2 2015)
This bottling was specifically designed for the US market (Italian wine does very well in the States) but has become so popular that it is being released in Europe as well. After opening their new Chianti Classico cellars Antinori wanted to pay tribute to their classic Villa Rosso Chianti Classico Riserva.
Again Sangiovese dominates the blend at 90%, but this time it’s an all-Bordelais Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot top up. As you’d expect with a Riserva, it’s a definite step up in intensity, both on the nose and on the palate. There’s more fruit, with raspberries being supported by darker berries, but also more tannin to give a savoury balance.
One of the jewels in the Antinori portfolio is the 160 ha Tignanello estate, known for the Super-Tuscans Solaia (Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese, and Cabernet Franc) and Tignanello (Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc) itself. These two icons are selected from vines covering 60 ha, but half of the estate is dedicated to the production of the “Marchese”.
In the glass the wine is deep ruby with a youthful purple rim. Red and black fruit jump out of the glass before you’ve even managed to take a sip. The first thing which strikes you in the mouth is how smooth and rich the Marchese is – just so voluptuous to drink.
The flavours encompass red and black cherries, raspberries and blackberries, liquorice, smoke and vanilla. There are grippy tannins which frame the fruit but give it context rather than detract.
Definitely a serious wine, but a fine one at that.
Badia a Passignano Chianti Classico Riserva 2008 (RSP €42-€44)
(once the 2008 vintage is sold through, the next vintage – 2011 – will fall under the new Gran Selezione classification)
Antinori bought the Badia a Passignano estate (a few kilometres from the Tignanello monastery) in 1987 and set out to create the ultimate expression of Tuscan Sangiovese. Clones were specially selected to give velvet and acidity and planted with a vine density of 5000-7000 plants per hectare. Maturation is in French barriques and “double-barrels” of 500 litres for 14 to 15 months in the cellars under the Abbey
At the tasting, it was easy to see who had picked up their glass of Badia for a sniff – the astounded and awestruck looks on their faces. It has an amazing nose of red and black fruit, but these are joined on the palate by rich dark chocolate. It has an international sensibility but is unmistakably Chianti Classico.
This wine is special, and in my opinion, despite having the highest price tag, it’s the best value of the four we tasted.
Do you like oaked wine? Do you just slip it into your trolley at the supermarket, and hope that no-one sees it? Or do you buy it from your local wine merchant and ask them to wrap it in a brown paper bag to hide your shame?
Oaked wines are still pretty unfashionable in the main, though perhaps judicious use of oak is becoming acceptable again as the race for clean, ever-cooler climate wines comes back from the edge.
Fashion aside, what are the different variables in play when it comes to oak in wine? There are lot of them as it turns out, so let’s have a look:
Oak flavours in wine come from different levels of “naturalness”. Oak was first used because of its suitability as a storage vessel – we’re talking barrels here. Barrels come in lots of different sizes (see below) and are quite expensive.
The next level down, and significantly cheaper, is to use a few oak staves – just chuck them into the wine as it ferments or matures. Apparently, this is what gives Diemersfontein’s “Coffee & Chocolate” Pinotage it’s funky flavours.
Cheaper still is the use of oak chips, sometimes in a permeable bag. This teabagging (steady at the back there!) can often result in bitter flavours leaching out of the wood into the wine.
The final, least natural and authentic method is to use oak powder. This really is scrapping the barrel (erm sorry) in terms of quality, but if you’re buying the cheapest bottle on the shelf this is probably all that the producer could afford.
So now we know the importance of the format, we can assume that it’s barrels we’re talking about…
In general as barrels get older they impart less flavour to the wine they hold. Some winemakers like the impact of new oak, particularly if there is a lot of fruit and tannin (for whites) to match. Others prefer the micro-oxygenation that oak barrels can bring, but don’t want the flavour to dominate, so they use older barrels. For example, Steve Webber of De Bortoli Yarra Valley uses new oak barrels on his standard wines so they are “seasoned” to be reused on his premium wines.
White wine producers in cool climates have another factor in play. When the temperature of their wines drops during winter translucent tartrate crystals precipitate out of the wine. Over several years of use these harmless crystals build up as a lining on the vessel and prevent any contact between the wine and the actual wood.
For the most expensive “Icon” wines, it is not unknown for 200% new oak to be used – that is, the wine spends a year in new oak and then it is racked off into an entirely new set of barrels for another year. Doesn’t make for easy drinking on release, but does make for a long life.
A rule of thumb is that smaller barrels have a more marked impact as the ratio of volume to surface area is lower. The standard barrel of Bordeaux is the 225L (300 bottle) barrique, and this has become the default. Burgundy’s tradition encourages the use of the slightly larger 228L pièce or 300L Hogsheads; these are more common where a producer is trying to create something akin to Burgundian Chardonnay.
Port was traditionally shipped in a pipe – a pipe of Port was a traditional gift bought for a (presumably well-to-do) child around the time of their birth so that it would be ready for drinking upon their majority.
In some parts of Europe, much larger formats are used, particularly for aromatic whites where oak flavours are considered undesirable. In Alsace the term foudreis used (usually with an oval end) whereas the Italians are proud of their botti.
There are two distinct stages in the wine-making process where oak can be used, fermentation and maturation. Makers can use oak during either, neither or both, all down to their preferences.
This is a biggie – the longer wine stays in oak, the more of its flavour it will take on. In Rioja, for example, the length of time in oak is enshrined in the quality classification, though of course the age of the wood is not specified.
Another way that producers temper the use of oak is by only putting a certain proportion of their wine into oak for maturation – the remainder usually being in stainless steel or concrete vats. All the vessels’ contents are blended at the end so that the resulting wine is moderately oaky.
7. Geographic Origin
Oak from different places gives different flavours and allows different levels of oxygen to get to the wine. The main sources are below.
French oak is generally regarded as the gold standard, and is often the most expensive – mainly down to the fact that staves have to be split out manually with the grain rather than sawn into shape. Within France there are several areas with oak forests used for wine barrels, with Limousin, Tronçaisand Neversthe most renowned. French oak often gives subtle, smoky flavours.
American oak can be sawn across the grain and still remain watertight, and hence is cheaper to use in barrels. It is a different species from European oak (there are actually hundreds of different species, of which only a few are suitable for barrels. American oak is traditionally used in Rioja and other regions of Spain as well as in the USA. It gives smooth vanilla tones.
Slavonian oak is confusingly from Croatia rather than Slovenia which it sounds so much like. It has long been the oak of choice in Italy, and tends to be hand sawn which allows lots of tannin to leech out into the wine; Sangiovese and Nebbiolo can handle the tannin but larger formats help.
Portuguese cork trees are a species of oak, but obviously have a different role to play. The oak more suitable for barrel making is grown in the greener north and is cheaper than the more prestigious French sources.
Once the staves have been seasoned by drying in the open air or a kiln, they are ready to be assembled into a barrel. Part of that process is the toasting, or charring of the inside over an open fire. The amount of toasting has a significant impact on the wine which is then put into it – both on the aromas and flavours.
Now this is the really geeky bit – some wine producers are so particular that they will even specify a particular cooper (barrel maker) as well as the source of the wood and the toasting it receives.
10. Other woods
So after all that, are there any other woods which get used instead of oak? Yes: chestnut, cherrywood, pine, acacia and even redwood have been used. The vintners of the Veneto sometimes use cherry to accentuate the cherry flavours in their wine. Some of the other woods are used for cost reasons, and because they impart undesirable flavours they are coated inside before use.