A Champagne Toast

A Champagne Toast

A Champagne Toast

Shakespeare’s infamous quote, “That which we call a rose. By any other name would smell as sweet,” may be beautiful and inspiring. But, it is a good thing Shakespeare hails from England because in France they are a slight bit more particular about names.

Sparkling wines are produced in nearly every major wine growing region in the world, but if they are not bottled in the historic province of Champagne, France, they cannot employ the “Champagne” moniker. That means California bubblies, Spanish Cavas, Italian Proseccos and all their effervescent brethren are simply referred to as “sparkling wines.”

It is interesting to note, sparkling wines were discovered accidentally. To produce wine, grapes are harvested, crushed into juice, and fermented, which involves adding yeast to devour the sugar in the grape juice; thereby, producing alcohol and carbon dioxide. Fermentation stops when the sugar is depleted or when the winemaker determines the wine is at the appropriate level of sweetness.

A Champagne Toast

Back in the early days of wine, however, the processes which stopped fermentation were somewhat rudimentary. They could result in a wine for which fermentation was not stopped, but rather paused by cold temperatures.

After a year’s grape harvest in the fall, wines were fermented, bottled and stored in natural underground cellars which were sufficiently chilled in the winter months. When spring arrived and warmer temperatures crept into the wine cellars, the pause button switched off and fermentation began again. Since the bottles were sealed, the carbon dioxide did not have anywhere to go, resulting in the infamous bubbles.

There are a few techniques for making sparkling wines. Technology has afforded a number of variations on those processes, but the preferred general procedure currently known and used around the world is the Traditional Method. A base, still wine is made that is high in acid, low in alcohol and fermented dry (all the sugar in the wine has been consumed by the yeast.)

Multiple base wines may be blended together to form cuvées. The base wine or cuvée is bottled, a specific amount of yeast and sugar is added and the bottle is sealed with a temporary cap. The additional yeast and sugar, known as liqueur de tirage, initiates a second fermentation in the bottle. This second fermentation continues for about a month and the now sparkling wine is left to age. Once the wine has developed to the vintner’s satisfaction, an exhaustive process to compile and remove the sediment from the neck of the bottle ensues. After which, the wine is topped off, sealed and ready for sale.

So when the cork is popped at your next celebration, impress your friends with your substantial knowledge on the bubbly!

A Champagne Toast
California Dreamin’

California Dreamin’

California Dreamin’

California, the crown jewel of the United States’ wine producing empire, harvests over four million tons of grapes yielding 214 million cases of wine annually. That volume represents 90% of the total domestic wine production. It single-handedly skyrockets America to the impressive spot as the 4thlargest wine producer in the world.

The Golden State is divided into five major wine regions – North Coast, Central Coast, Central Valley, Sierra Foothills and Southern Coast. These regions comprise over a hundred American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) which are place-name designations assigned by the government’s Alcohol and Tobacco Trade and Tax Bureau.

The North Coast is where the wine industry dates back to the mid-1800s and is located north of the San Francisco Bay. It contains the heavy-hitters of Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino and Lake Counties.

California Dreamin’

Napa boasts over 300 wineries with 45,000 acres under vine. It is mainly known for its famous Cabernet Sauvignon and Bordeaux style blends. However, a quarter of the grapes grown there are white and the region is equally revered for its premier Chardonnays.

Neighboring Sonoma County features over 60 miles of coastline which allow for significant ocean influences. The cooler overall climate ripens the region’s flagship Pinot Noir grapes perfectly.

North of Sonoma, Mendocino County is more mountainous. It is noted for being the largest concentration of wineries that are certified organic in the country.

Lastly, smaller Lake County showcases only 8,500 acres under vine, but represents itself with deep, flavorful, well-respected Cabernets.

California Dreamin’

Moving further down the western seaboard is the Central Coast where Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are the popular varietals. The wines are stylistically lighter with most featuring medium-body and more youthful flavor profiles.

The main areas in the Central Coast are Monterey, San Luis Obispo, and Santa Barbara. Monterey is known for Chardonnay as it produces a fifth of all the California Chardonnays. The other areas are focused on red grapes, specifically Rhone varietals, including copious amounts of Syrah and Grenache.

The Central Valley is the largest wine region in terms of land size. It encompasses over half of the entire state’s vineyard acreage. Unfortunately, though, its location straight down the center of the state means much of the climate is too hot for growing quality grapes and a majority of the region’s output ends up being simple grape juice.

California Dreamin’

However, there are pockets and enclaves in the Central Valley, such as Lodi, that produce reliable, fresh, fruit-forward everyday table wine.

White and red varietals are given relatively equal representation throughout the area with favorite whites consisting of Chenin Blanc, Muscat, and Chardonnay, while preferred reds include Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot.

East of the northern half of the Central Valley is the Sierra Foothills. Although sizeable in terms of geography, the actual vineyard acreage is small as the grapes are grown only on the high western peaks of the mountains. This topography disconnects the wineries from their neighbors and tends to keep them smaller with more family-owned, boutique operations than in other parts of the state. Wine making as a whole was introduced to the Sierra Foothills area during the California Gold Rush in the mid-nineteenth century. Present-day devotees to the area are drawn by its firm, full-bodied, fleshy Zinfandels.

Lastly, the South Coast is the smallest of California’s major wine growing regions. Located below Los Angeles, the area contains only 3,000 acres of vineyards. Its southern location provides the vines with warm, sunny days which are kept in check by cooling winds roaring in from the Pacific.

California Dreamin’

While the more temperate climate may be loved by the grapes, it is also loved by bacteria-toting vineyard pests which have led to the area battling a crippling blight called Pierce’s Disease.

Originally planted mainly with Chardonnay grapes, this plague has resulted in a switch to more resistant Italian grape varietals being produced in the area.

As you can see, California is one to treasure not only for its vastness, but also for its diversity, and it deserves the accolades as it continues its reign as the leader in our domestic wine empire. Cheers to the Golden State!

California Dreamin’
Hello Bordeaux

Hello Bordeaux

Hello Bordeaux

If the country of France is ground zero for wine lovers, then their motherland is almost always the auspicious region of Bordeaux. However, despite the notoriety of this infamous location, it is often fraught with confusion among uninitiated oenophiles.

The rules and restrictions are complex and the names are difficult for non-Francophiles to decipher. Surprisingly though, once the basics are grappled with, Bordeaux ends up being more easily understood than numerous other highly-regulated regions throughout the Old World.

To begin, Bordeaux’s red wines are blends. The blends are based mainly on either Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon or a combination of the two. Cabernet Franc, the third most widely planted red grape in the region, is a supporting player. It is followed by Malbec and Petit Verdot. Carmenère is the only other grape allowed in the blend; however, it is not commonly used in the present day Bordeaux.

Bordeaux is located in the southwestern portion of France. It is marked by two rivers, the Garonne and the Dordogne. Those rivers join in the center of the region to form the Gironde which flows westward to the Atlantic Ocean. This neatly divides the area into three distinct sections:  the Entre-Deux-Mers, the Right Bank and the Left Bank.

“Entre-Deux-Mers” directly translates to “Between Two Seas.” It is an apt descriptor as it is the land located between the Garonne and Dordogne before they join together. The soil in this area is overly fertile, so it is not considered prime terroir. The resulting wines lack concentration and do not possess the ability to age like their counterparts on the outer banks.

Although white grapes make up only about 15% of the grapes cultivated in Bordeaux, the majority of white grapes grown in Bordeaux hail from the Entre-Deux-Mers.

The varietals are mainly Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon. These are typically found in combination with a minor portion of Semillon balancing the acidic Sauvignon Blancs and labeled White Bordeaux. Additionally, this sub-region does produce Merlot grapes in significant quantities, as well.

The east and north of the Dordogne and Gironde is called the Right Bank. Liborne is its major city. Their wines are based largely on Merlot grapes. The prominent areas of the Right Bank are located around Saint-Émilion,  and to a lesser extent, in the area of Pomerol. They produce quality wines that can mature but do not feature the age-ability like those of the Left Bank. Wines originating in the peripheral areas of the Right Bank, as well as those made from the aforementioned Merlot grapes in the Entre-Deux-Mers, are considered basic, everyday drinking Bordeaux. And they feature correspondingly friendly price points.

Finally, the most prestigious subsection is the Left Bank. This area unfolds to the west and south of the Garonne and Gironde.

The wines, based mainly on Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, are concentrated. They require aging and possess the ability to mature for decades or more. The Left Bank is divided into Médoc in the north and Graves in the south. Médoc contains Haut-Médoc, which is an even more specific area of prominence in the upper reaches of Médoc. Graves consists of Pessac-Leognan and, below that, Sauternes, which is famous for its unparalleled botrytis-affected, sweet, dessert wines.

In the Bordeaux Classification System of 1855, it was determined that the Châteaus (or wineries) would each qualify for a certain class level based on the quality of their wines. These standings were to be permanent designations. Five Châteaus took top honors and were regarded as Premier Cru. Four of those Châteaus, Lafite Rothschild, Latour, Margaux and Mouton Rothschild, reside in Médoc. The fifth, Haut-Brion, makes its home in Pessac-Leognan.

As with any wine region, one can delve deeply into the specifics regarding Bordeaux and revel in its complexities. But with the basics down pat, it makes sorting the finer particulars of this complex region much easier. That being said, all this education means it is time to sit down with a nice glass of Bordeaux and appreciate the dedication that went into ensuring and sustaining the quality of such an amazing wine location.

Oenophile’s Oktoberfest

Oenophile’s Oktoberfest

Every October, beer lovers around the globe grab their growlers and tip their hats to Germany’s world-class offerings. What does a devoted oenophile do? Celebrate Germany’s stellar wine selections! How does one do that? Aside from simply enjoying the vino, demystifying Deutschland’s distinct wine classification system is a good start.

Wine classification systems are created on the national level. Since there is no worldwide regulatory body standardizing or policing how this is done, they vary widely from country to country. Old World wine powerhouses, such as France and Italy, have very stringent regulations governing which grape varietals can be grown and what production processes can be used in a given location.

Oenophile’s Oktoberfest

Conversely, New World wine kingpins, such as the USA and Australia, are mainly concerned with enforcing only that a wine is properly labeled with the place where the grapes were grown.

Additionally, a myriad of other wine producing countries adhere to countless variations overlapping these two ideologies.

In Germany, environmental conditions are harsh and not ideally suited for growing grapes, meaning wine makers must labor assiduously to produce their wines. The cold, frost-prone climate makes it extremely difficult for grapes to ripen and develop sufficient sugar content. This makes ripeness, or sugar content, a main factor in determining grape quality and, therefore, plays a major role in the German wine classification system. To that end, Germany’s wines are sorted and graded based on geographic location and the degree of ripeness of the grapes at harvest.

Grape ripeness is critical to the process of making wine. Grapes are crushed, resulting in juice with a high sugar content. Yeast is added to the juice where it consumes the sugar. As it consumes the sugar, it creates alcohol as a byproduct. If there is not enough sugar, the percent of alcohol in the wine will be low, so a vintner may need to add table sugar to increase the alcohol content. This process is called chaptalization and is allowed only in the lower quality levels of Germany’s wine level designations.

There are three main categories in the German wine classification system: Wein, Geschützte Geographische Angabe (GGA) and Geschützte Ursprungsbezeichnung (GU).

Oenophile’s Oktoberfest

Wein consists of basic table wine in which the grapes can be from any location and chaptalization is allowed.

Wines included in GGA must have at least 85% of the grapes grown in one of Germany’s major wine regions and chaptalization is allowed.

GU is subdivided into two categories: Qualitätswein and Prädikatswein. Wines in the Qualitätswein subcategory must come from one of thirteen specified wine growing regions and have approved grape varieties that meet a minimum sufficient ripeness. Despite this, chaptalization is still allowed at this level. Prädikatswein has the same requirements as Qualitätswein, but chaptalization is not allowed.

The wines that make it to the Prädikatswein category are further ranked by grape ripeness: Kabinett wines are light with only 7-10% alcohol, Spätlese wines feature more intense flavors as they are harvested after a specified date, Auslese wines have a required sugar level before harvest so their alcohol content can reach 14% or more,

Oenophile’s Oktoberfest

Beerenauslese (BA) wines are sweet dessert wines, Eiswein wines are made from grapes harvested after freezing on the vine, so much of the water in the grapes is discarded as ice, leaving a very high sugar content, and Trockenbeerenauslese (TBA) wines are some of the world’s most renowned dessert wines derived from grapes left on the vines until they have shriveled into raisins. Although the highest categories of quality are reserved for sweet wines, Germany does boast excellent dry wines and there is a vast amount of diversity in flavor profiles amongst the country’s selections.

So, don’t be intimidated by the lengthy monikers. Head down the German aisle on your next trip to the wine shop and pick up a delicious selection to ‘cheers’ with your friends at an Oenophile’s Oktoberfest!

Hooray for Rosé (Part II)

Hooray for Rosé (Part II)

Welcome to the second half of “Hooray for Rosé.” In last month’s article, we discussed the definition of a rosé as well as the various color shades and sweetness levels in which they are found. Now, we are ready to delve into the methods of producing rosés.

It is important to note that very low-end bulk wine producers employ numerous blasphemous methods of production that are not allowed in standard quality wine production. These dastardly practices encompass wines of all types, including rosés, and are not covered by this article.

Quality rosés, even value-driven economical ones, are made with one of three very specific methods of production – Vin Gris, Saignée or Direct Pass.

Vin Gris is the most common approach. In it, the wines are made just like red wines (grapes are crushed, juice is fermented, wine is filtered to remove skins, wine is bottled) except that the juice spends significantly less time fermenting on the grape skins than the juice of red wines does. The fermentation for a rosé made in this manner can be as short as a few hours or as long as a few days.

The next avenue for making a rosé is called Saignée, which is the French word for “bleed.” This involves crushing the red grapes, allowing them to ferment for a few hours to a few days and then bleeding off a small portion to bottle as a rosé while leaving the remainder of the wine to continue fermenting to produce a quality red wine. Saignée is frowned upon by traditionalist winemakers as it positions the rosé as an afterthought to move some product to market for cash flow while waiting for a red wine to age.

Finally, there is the Direct Pass technique, which follows that the red grapes are crushed, pressed and the skins are removed immediately. The wine is then fermented and bottled the way a basic white wine would be produced.

Rosé is arguably the oldest type of wine made. It is produced around the world with a wide variety of quality grapes. It is protected by the same laws and restrictions that govern red and white wines in prestigious wine-making regions spanning the globe. Vintners are dedicated to perfecting their rosé wines just as they are their reds and whites and wine lovers everywhere are enjoying the results of those efforts.

So, if you shudder thinking about the White Zin craze and haven’t even glanced at a rosé since, please reconsider.

This is the season to try a light, fruity, fun, summer alternative to the usual lineup of bubblies and cocktails. You will be so glad you did, you’ll say Hooray for Rosé!

Hooray for Rosé (Part I)

Hooray for Rosé (Part I)

With the summer heat upon us and the “Rosé All Day” promotion in full force, it seems fitting to discuss a very common yet misunderstood category of wines. Clearly, rosé suffers from nothing more than an erroneous negative reputation because when speaking to folks in the wine industry, there is only praise and appreciation for the class. However, the regrettable era of White Zin lingers, clouding the casual wine drinker’s opinion of the entire group of wines to this day.

 

Sommeliers around the country lull themselves to sleep at night repeating the refrains: No, rosés are not made from pink grapes; no, rosés are not red and white wines mixed together; no, rosés are not all sweet; no, rosés are not considered entry-level wines for the uninitiated. Henceforth, it is helpful to note what exactly rosés are and to debunk these misnomers one by one.

 

Simply put, rosés are pink-hued wines made from red grapes. Rosés differ from red wines because, during the production process, the extracted grape juice is in contact with the red grape skins for only a short amount of time. This limits the rosé wine’s ability to acquire the vibrant red color of their red wine brethren whose juice is in contact with the red grape skins for an extended period of time.

Even casual rosé drinkers are likely to note the variety of shades in which the wine presents itself. From pale baby pink through burnt sunset orange to cherry soda red, the tints are determined by the amount of time the juice spends in contact with the grape skins, the grape variety that comprises the wine and the winemaker’s preferences.

In all wines, including rosés, the winemaker determines the sweetness of the wine by stopping fermentation when the wine has reached the desired level of residual sugar. During the process of fermentation, yeast continually consumes sugar and produces alcohol until the sugar is completely depleted or until the winemaker halts the process to leave some amount of sugar to balance the resulting wine. This means that rosés, like all other wines, come in versions ranging from very sweet to very dry. If a rosé is sweet, it can be called blush. It is helpful to remember, though, that blush is not a synonym for rosé because even though all blushes are rosés, not all rosés are blushes.

Check back with us in September’s issue of Cape Style Magazine for the second half of this article where we will delve into the numerous processes used to make rosé wines. Until then, please remember to say Hooray for Rosé!

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