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Saturday, November 20, 2010

Balance: What is it in wine?

A frequently asked question by wine lovers and normal consumers, who are not necessarily wine experts or professionals is how to determine the quality of a wine, regardless of price and without the normal jargon of professional tasters and reviewers. Fair enough. Not everyone has taste buds that determine the different flavours, aromas and taste of particular fruits in a wine. What most consumers are concerned with, is the actual final taste or palate. But as in everything else tastes are subjective and differ from one person to the next. In any case, to determine if your favourite wine, produced from a particular grape variety is good or not compared to another wine made from the same varietal and possibly a different country, here are some basic hints which apply to all wines:

There are four characteristics which one should consider to assess a wine, which when taken together will bring us to the fifth and most important characteristic, viz: BALANCE.

TANNIN: The content of this substance comes from the grape skins, stems, pips and even oak barrels used for aging many wines. It is a natural preservative permitting wine improvement in the bottle. Tannin is not actually a taste but a tactile mouth sensation. The drier your mouth feels after you sip a wine, the more tannin that wine would have.

ACIDITY: All wine has a certain amount of acidity. White wines usually have more acidity than reds. If you are unsure what acidity is, smell and then taste fresh lemon juice or vinegar. If the acidity is too high, the wine is unbalanced, sour and even harsh in the mouth, but on the other hand if the acidity is too low, the wine will taste flat and insipid.

ALCOHOL: Alcohol is the wine product achieved during fermentation of the grape sugar. In Europe fermented grapes juice should reach at least 8.5% alcohol before it legally constitutes wine. The technical European legal maximum alcoholic strenght for wines that have had no alcohol (or sugar) added , is 15%.

BODY: The body or mouth-feel of a wine is an assessment of how light or heavy the wine feels in the mouth. It is related to alcohol levels. Wines that contain more alcohol (e.g. 13% plus by volume) would feel heavier in the mouth. If the body is light think of water; if it is medium think of milk; if it is full think of cream. In some cases full-bodied, premium wines leave a trace , which are sometimes referred to as fingers, inside the glass.

BALANCE: As I said before, Acidity is vital to the balance of a wine's flavour and structure, unless detrimentally affected by residual sugars in the bottle. A balanced wine is one in which none of its components dominates. That is, where tannins, acidity and alcohol, residual sugars and fruit balance each other out to give a smooth and lingering finish to the palate.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

A Taste of Australia: South Australia (1).

The wine regions of South Australia form a ring around the City of Adelaide and include among the most well known regions and districts like Adelaide Hills, Barossa Valley, Eden Vale, Clare valley, Coonawara, Padthataway, Mclaren Vale and Wrattonbully. More than half of all Australian wine is produced in South Australia, including many of the country's best known Shirazes, Cabernet Sauvignons, Chardonnays and Semillons.

For this first, premium wine, tasting, review and rating feature of such a large country cum continent such as Australia, I have chosen two award winning, limited release, exceptional red wines, produced by the same winemaker, from vintage harvests of the Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon grape varieties from the regions of McLaren Vale and Wrattonbully respectively.

These wines are the:

(yellow tail) by Casella Wines - McLaren Vale Shiraz 2004 - Limited Release;

and the:

(yellow tail) by Casella Wines - Wrattonbully Cabernet Sauvingnon 2004 - Limited Release.

Both these wines showcase the great winemaking talents at the Casella winery as well as the terrific vineyard resources the family draws upon from these two, of Australia's great wine producing regions. Wrattonbully is on the Limestone Coast and shares the neighbourhood with Coonawara to the South and Padthaway to the North West. These regions are renowned for their massive success with World Class harvests of Cabernet Sauvignon. McLaren Vale with its loamy soils is renowned for the finest Shiraz, for which Australia is acclaimed for all over the world. Shiraz has long been a variety that Australia produces with excellence, in fact this country, boasts the second-largest plantings of this grape variety in the world.

1. (yellow tail) by Casella Wines - Mclaren Vale Shiraz 2004 - Limited Release.

This wine has been internationally recognised for its excellent quality and concentrated flavours, and has been awarded the Gold Medal 2005 in the Royal Old Wine Show as well as more recently the highly prestigious Syrah Du Monde Gold Medal 2007.

The Syrah grapes for this wine were harvested from fifteen year old, vines from the Currency Creek and Mclaren vale regions, which are well known for their loamy soils which provide good moisture for the vines to ripen the fruit quickly and consistently. The Mediterranean type climate with the moderating influence of the sea in these regions, help to temper the summer heat. Vineyards like these are rare, and in turn make super-premiun wines.

On arrival at the winery , the hand picked grapes are de-stemmed, crushed, fermented on the skins, pressed and clarified before undergoing natural malolactic fermentation in new American oak barriques. This vintage was racked and blended into tanks before returning to oak for maturation. Final bottling took place with minimal filtration and no fining.

This wine is deeply concentrated fruit, full-bodied, with a deep dark red colour . It has aromas of ripe black cherries, blackberries, and chocolate, accentuated with fragrances of pepper and spice. A sweet aok aroma is also present.
On the palate it is crammed with ripe fruits and berries. It is complex with well structured tannins and a good balance and an alcohol content of 14% complete this wine.


2. (yellow tail) by Casella Wines - Wrattonbully Cabernet Sauvignon 2004 - Limited Release.

This is another award winning, presitgious and top quality, premium wine from Casella Wines, having been awarded the Gold Medal in the 2005 Royal Old Wine Show.

The grapes for this wine were sourced from low yielding vines from the vineyards on the Terra Rossa soils of Wrattonbully, a region that is accalaimed for its World Class Cabernet Sauvignon.

The wine was part barrel fermented in new American oak barriques and was left in oak for 18 months to give a perfect balance of fruit, oak and wood and a softly rounded feel in the mouth during maturing. Prior to bottling the wine was minimally filtered with no fining.

This Cabernet Sauvignon is a highly elegant wine, full bodied, dark red in colour, giving a dense palate of blackcurrant and plum, integrated oak and fine, sweet and long tannins. It has a bouquet of ripe fruit, black cherries and spearmint. The structure is fine and complex with a long and lingering finish conversant with the vintage Cabernet fruit.
Alcohol content of this wine is 13.5%


The wines showing the prestigious  gold medal awards.
 The price range for these two wines is around $50/Eur40

Food pairing for both the Shiraz and the Cabernet Sauvignon: All kinds of red meats, beef especially braised, grilled, roasts; Aged fine cheese; Roasted duck, game and game birds; Lamb, braised, grilled, roasted or full rack of; Prime beef steaks especially with pepper sauce; Tuna, venison.
Strictly no white fish or seafood.

A taste of South Australia -Quality at its best.
Aging potential for both wines: 10 to 15 years in a good cellar.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Cork. Is a good cork important?

Selected corks of wines I drank and reviewed.
 As a stopper for bottles, cork has excellent characteristics for wine. Looking at cork under a microscope, one can observe that it is formed by a net of millions of cells. Each cell wall is formed by an organic substance named suberine, which originates from a transformation of cellulose and is known for its waterproof and elastic characteristics.

Although it has its critics,Cork has been used for such a long time to seal wine bottles that one tends to overlook its remarkable characteristics which are born from simple tree bark. In fact, cork is the external covering of the cork oak, a tree species that grows mainly in Spain, Portugal, France, Sardinia, Algeria and Morocco.  The bark is harvested  every nine years from selected cork oak trees, and no damage is really done to the environment as the tree does not have to be cut, but simply the bark is peeled of, which then grows again over a period of some months.

Thanks to cork, the wine receives very small doses of oxygen that allow it to evolve over time. This is due to two elements: 1. the natural porosity of cork, and 2. the small space that remains between the bottle's wall and the cork's lenticels. These are small imperfections on the cork which may be seen with the naked eye. They are openings through which oxygen passes from the atmosphere into the tree. In the case of a cork, wine, bottle stopper, lenticels are very important. The greater the amount of these openings, the less a cork will last, therefore cork stoppers have to be selected with due care and dilligence if premium wine is to be aged in bottles for a lenght of time. For premium wines, corks must be long, as smooth as possible and without lenticels. Corks with more lenticels may be used to keep wines that will be aged for a short period of time.

"Screw caps" were introduced in 1959 by a French company, which had introduced the Stelcap-Vin cap which had already proved successful for a range of spirits and liqueurs. These screw-caps are inert and can last for many years, in fact they have kept certain wines, red and white, in good condition for more than 30 years. However, controversy still remains over whether they are the best closure type for red wine destined for long ageing and for some styles of white wine. While some scientists argue that wine ageing is an anaerobic process most successful in the complete absence of extrinsic oxygen, others suspect that the tiny particles and amounts of oxygen that are transmitted by the less than perfect seal of corks, is important for red wine ageing. Only long term trials with red wines sealed under different closures, will eventually resolve the issue.

Good quality cork, is imprevious to air, almost impermeable by water, difficult to burn, resistant to temperature changes and vibration, does not rot, and has the ability to mold itself  to the shape and contour of a container it is put into, such as the neck of a wine bottle.

There are also agglomorated corks that are made from small particles of cork that are bound together. These are useful for wines that are bottled for immediate consumption.

Bad quality cork may produce a chemical substance called TCA,2,4,6-Trichloroanisol, a feaful chemical substance that gives a wine a bad taste of humidity and mould. This leads to the very undesirable "corky" or "corked" wine, which wine would have a musty aroma of wet newspapers, mushrooms and rot. Although drinking corked wine is not harmful to one's health, it makes a wine very unpleasant to drink, and is not recommended. If you are ever served a "corked" wine in a restaurant, do not hesitate to refuse it, politely but firmly.

Monday, November 1, 2010

A Taste of Spain.

1964 Vintage-Exceptionally good.
A few days ago I attended a Spanish Wine Masterclass which was conducted by Carlos Read a well known master on Spanish wines.

In all we taste-tested six wines, two whites and four reds, but I personally have only found two wines that are really worthy of a review in this site. The other four wines, although acceptable and very good for everyday drinking, are not what I would call top of the range premium wines. So I shall restrict myself to the the real McCoys in the selection.

The two wines which I have selected to bring to your attention are the:

which is produced by R. Lopez De Heredia Vina' Tondonia S.A. of  Rioja;

and the other is the:

which is produced by Bodegas Bai Gori of Rioja.

The Vina' Tondonia Gran Risereva 1964 is a wine that was produced, as the name implies, 46 years ago from a blend of vintage Macabeo blended with Malvasia grapes.
This wine was aged for about eight years in oak casks, racked periodically by hand and clarified with egg whites., before bottling in special wax-sealed bottles.

After 46 years, having aged for so many years in the bottle, this wine has an extraordinary deep and intense golden yellow colour, with a bouquet of fine sherry and an exotic combination of orange peel, almonds and mineral flavours.

It is rich on the palate, with a lemony and citrus sense of freshness and maintains a good balance with fresh acidity.

It is a premium, vintage dry white wine, and pairs well with all kinds of fish, seafood and white meats.

Serving temperature recommended is 14 to 16 Deg.C. This wine is not to be chilled so that its aromas and natural flavours are retained.

The production of this wine consisted of only 12,000 bottles, so it can be quite difficult to get hold off, after the 46 years which have elapsed since it was produced.

Alcohol content of this wine is 12% by volume.

The cost of a bottle is in the region of $300, but recent enquiries made indicated that one might have to pay in excess of this figure to acquire a bottle, but for a true, white wine connoisseur, this price would be worth it.


The second wine which I liked was the BAI GORI DE GARAGE 2005 RED.

This wine is produced from 100% Tempranillo grapes, which in my opinion are Spain's answer to Italy's Nebbiolo and France's Cabernet Sauvignon grape varieties. The grapes for this wine have been harvested from very old vines yielding small quantities. The grapes are then hand selected grape by grape using sorting and vibrating tables.
Careful production processes makes for very limited production volume of this wine, depending on each year's harvest, but generally it is one of the exclusive wines produced by this winemaker, and the 2005 vintage is considered to be one of the best.

After pressing, fermentation with a  long maceration period is carried out under controlled temperature conditions in wooden barrels, which allow the primary aromas of the grapes to be extracted. Malolactic fermentation of the wines on the lees is carried out in new French oak barrels to obtain natural stability and an alcohol content of 14%.

Tasting & and review of Bai Gori de Garage 2005.

The wine has a deep, cherry red and very clear colour with aromas of herbs, and figs and dark fruit.
On the palate it is rich and lush and is very round with a good balance between tannins given by the French oak and the grape variety itself. The taste has sensations of liquorice, oak, and a trace of black berries.

The finish is long and persistent, and leaves long legs on the inside of the glass, due to its concentrated full body.

It is a premium, excellent and full bodied red wine and well worth its price tag.

Food paring: Grills, roasts and prime red meats.

Alcohol content: 14% by volume.

Price range: Eur50/$70 per bottle.