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Vermouth is a fortified wine, flavored with aromatic herbs and spices (“aromatized” in the trade) such as cardamom, cinnamon, marjoram and chamomile. Some vermouth is sweetened; unsweetened, or “dry” vermouth tends to be bitter. The person credited with inventing the vermouth recipe, Antonio Benedetto Carpano from Turin, Italy, chose to name his concoction “vermouth” in 1786 because he was inspired by a German wine flavoured with wormwood, a herb most famously used in distilling absinthe.
Today popular brands are Noilly Prat, Dolin, Lillet, Dubonnet, Martini and Cinzano.
Sherry is a fortified wine, produced in the southern tip of Spain. The demarcated area around the towns of Jerez de la Frontera, Sanlúcar de Barrameda and El Puerto de Santa María in Andalucia, forms the Denominaciónes de Origen of Jerez-Xérèz-Sherry and Manzanilla-Sanlúcar de Barrameda.
How is it Made?
The grapes are harvested, pressed and fermented. The lagriña, or free run juice of grapes from the albariza soils, is invariably used for finos and other musts and the remainder of the press tends to be made into oloroso. PX and moscatel grapes are partially air-dried before fermenting and the wines remain naturally sweet. Classification of the light wines follows for the next six months or so. The classification produces the following wine types:
Wines that are delicate with fine flavours and aroma—suitable for fino and amontillado—fortified to 15 %
Wines that are richer and fuller-bodied—ideal for oloroso— fortified to 17.5 %
Wines that will be allowed to develop before classifying— fortified to 15%
Wines unsuitable for sherry—to be sent for distillation
The sherry is then transferred to 500–600 litre American oak butts. These are filled to 5/6 ths capacity or two-fists from the top ; and will either grow the flor (those with 15 % fortification) and become finos or begin to age oxidatively (those fortified to above 17 %) and become olorosos.
The fortifying alcohol is a blend of 50 % high-strength brandy at 95.5 % abv and 50 % wine at 12 % abv and is known as mitad y mitad, or half and half, giving an average of about 54 % abv. At this first stage the wines are called sobretablas, and can now be used to refill the solera.
The solera system is used to age almost all sherry. The system is comprised of as many rows, criaderas, as the ageing sherry requires—but each individual set of barrels is rarely stacked higher than four on top of one another—and the wine flows down through the scales into one final layer, the solera. Less than 30 % of the solera wine may be siphoned off for blending and bottling in any year. On occasion, wines destined to be oloroso are left as sobretablas and these are known as añada wines, unblended wines of one year.
Thus, the new refreshes the old (and with finos, breathes new life into the older flor) and the old gives character to the new. In this way consistency is achieved and an harmonious balance is created between the structural complexity of age and the freshness and vibrancy brought about by youth.
Sherry Maturation and Development
It is easiest to illustrate the evolution of sherry by describing what it becomes. Wine that grows flor becomes a fino or manzanilla, these age under flor for up to 10-12 years, but can be sold as young as three years old.
Fino A wine that must have experienced flor keeping it pale, delicate and fine. A dry, fresh, aperitif wine with hints of almonds. An ideal accompaniment to fish dishes, olives or on its own. As it ages it becomes softer and can lose its flor, becoming an amontillado.
Manzanilla - A fino aged in the seaside town of Sanlúcar de Barrameda. The cooler summer days here promote greater flor growth resulting in wines of even greater finesse and delicacy although less complexity. Lighter and drier than finos these wines quite often pick up a salty tang from the sea air. Older manzanilla becomes a pasada—literally leftovers.
Amontillado - In its true form it is bone dry ; essentially a very old fino or manzanilla. After about a decade the flor dies and the wine subsequently interacts with oxygen gaining colour and a nutty complexity on the palate. Amontillado can live for many decades.
Palo Cortado – A wine that starts off life as a fino but inexplicably loses its flor and develops like an oloroso. The transvestite of the sherry world, this wine combines the elegance of amontillado with the full-body and subtlety of an oloroso ; can age for many years developing great power and persistency.
Wine that has never seen flor is designated either oloroso or raya (inferior) often the basis for blended sherries.
Oloroso – The true oloroso reacts with the oxygen from day one and develops into a big, full-bodied, rich wine with notes of dried fruit and nuts.
Pale Cream – A light, sweetish wine made from lower quality finos and rayas. Normally decoloured to look more attractive.
Medium – A blend of sweetened rayas with the colour and body of amontillado or oloroso, often labelled as such.
Cream – A blend of sweetened olorosos with or without colour ; many of these have great balance and a velvety palate with a touch of PX flavour.
Pedro Ximénez & Moscatel Sherry’s only naturally sweet wines made by sun-drying the grapes thus concentrating the sugars, flavouring elements and acids. The resulting high-sugar level is simply too much for the yeast, which after partially fermenting the must dies, leaving high levels of residual sugar. These wines are then fortified and aged in solera in the usual fashion producing amazing, rich, unctuous, molasses-like wines of great intensity.
Port is a sweet fortified wine from the Douro Valley in northern Portugal; the Douro River runs from west to east, from Oporto on the Atlantic Coast through to Spain. Only 40 % of all the wines in the region may be made into port each year, with the governing body, the Instituto dos Vinhos do Douro e Porto (IVDP), decreeing each vineyard’s annual production limits.
Port lends itself to ageing, both in wood and bottle, producing a number of differing styles within the closely defined IVP system. The IVP allows for three different types of port wine according to how it has been aged : ruby, tawny and white.
Basic Ruby -A blend of young wines generally aged in barrel or vat for two to three years. Reserve Ruby Usually grapes from better vineyards with perhaps four to six years of age in wood. These wines normally have brand names avoiding any use of the word ruby. These included Cockburns special reserve, Krohn Rio Torto and Warres Warrior
(Filtered) Late Bottled Vintage (LBV) Wine of a single year, cask aged for four to six years; subsequently chill filtered, stabilised and bottled with a stopper cork. Such as Grahams and Taylors ports.
(Unfiltered) Late Bottled Vintage (LBV) Very high- quality wine of a single year given a minimum of four years and a maximum of six years in cask. Bottled without fining or filtration and with a driven cork; it will continue to improve in bottle for up to a decade and will throw a sediment or crust. Popular unfiltered LBV ports are Krohn, Niepoort, Noval, Warres Traditional, Crusted Essentially a blend of un-bottled vintage wines, the eldest of which will be about four years old. Cannot be released until it has had three full years in bottle and will continue to develop for up to 15 years. Lighter and ready to drink earlier than vintage ports these wines represent tremendous value. Grahams produce a very good crusted style Port.
Vintage Declared only in exceptional years (three to four times a decade) achieving perfect balance in excellent growing conditions. A blend of fine wines from the best quintas, given two years in cask and bottled without fining or filtration ; can require 15–25 years ageing. Some of the most sort after vintage ports are Taylors, Grahams, Fonseca, Noval Nacional, Warres and Dows. Excellent vintages are 1963, 1966, 1970, 1977 1983, 1985, 1991, 1994, 2003, 2007
Quinta/Branded Vintage As a vintage from one estate or in the case of the brands, two or more. These wines are normally somewhat lighter than a full vintage, can be produced every year and will develop well in bottle.
Simple Tawny Can be a blend of white and ruby or lesser wines that have been aged in cask. Tawny with an age st atement Aged in cask for at least seven years so it develops soft, silky characteristics. Can be labelled as Reserve, 10yo, 20yo, 30yo, or 40yo. These are made from very high-quality wines that have been set aside in undeclared years. The age does not always indicate the youngest wine in the blend, but indicates an average as many of these wines are regularly refreshed.
Colheita – A wine of a single vintage, aged in cask and not bottled until it is at least eight years old ; essentially a vintage tawny.
White From gouveio (verdelho) and malvasia fina grapes ; white ports are generally fermented drier than the reds and are about three years old, although age statements are not allowed. The wines vary in style depending on the length of ageing and can be as low as 16.5 % in alcohol.
Most of the Champagne produced today is “Non-vintage”, meaning that it is a blended product of grapes from multiple vintages. Most of the base will be from a single year vintage with producers blending anywhere from 10–15% (even as high as 40%) of wine from older vintages. If the conditions of a particular vintage are favorable, some producers will make a “Vintage” wine that must be composed of at least 85% of the grapes from vintage year. Under Champagne wine regulations, houses that make both vintage and non-vintage wines are allowed to use no more than 80% of the total vintage’s harvest for the production of vintage Champagne. This allows at least 20% of the harvest from each vintage to be reserved for use in non-vintage Champagne. This ensures a consistent style that consumers can expect from non-vintage Champagne that doesn’t alter too radically depending on the quality of the vintage. In less than ideal vintages, some producers will produce a wine from only that single vintage and still label it as non-vintage rather than as “vintage” since the wine will be of lesser quality and the producers have little desire to reserve the wine for future blending.
A cuvée de prestige is a proprietary blended wine (usually a Champagne) that is considered to be the top of a producer’s range. Famous examples include Louis Roederer’s Cristal, Laurent-Perrier’s Grand Siècle, Moët & Chandon’s Dom Pérignon, and Pol Roger’s Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill. Perhaps the original prestige cuvée was Moët & Chandon’s Dom Pérignon, launched in 1936 with the 1921 vintage. Until then, Champagne houses produced different cuvées of varying quality, but a top-of-the-range wine produced to the highest standards (and priced accordingly) was a new idea. In fact, Louis Roederer had been producing Cristal since 1876, but this was strictly for the private consumption of the Russian tsar. Cristal was made publicly available with the 1945 vintage. Then came Taittinger’s Comtes de Champagne (first vintage 1952), and Laurent-Perrier’s Grand Siècle ‘La Cuvée’ in 1960, a blend of three vintages (1952, 1953, and 1955). In the last three decades of the twentieth century, most Champagne houses followed these with their own prestige cuvées, often named after notable people with a link to that producer (Veuve Clicquot’s La Grande Dame, the nickname of the widow of the house’s founder’s son; Pol Roger’s Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill, named for the British prime minister; and Laurent-Perrier’s Cuvée Alexandra rosé, to name just three examples), and presented in non-standard bottle shapes (following Dom Pérignon’s lead with its eighteenth-century revival design).
Blanc de noirs
A French term (literally “white of blacks”) for a white wine produced entirely from black grapes. It is often encountered in Champagne, where a number of houses have followed the lead of Bollinger’s prestige cuvée Vieilles Vignes Françaises in introducing a cuvée made from either Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier or a blend of the two (these being the only two black grapes permitted within the Champagne AOC appellation). Although Bollinger’s wine is famed for its intense richness and full-bodied nature, this has more to do with the way the grapes are planted and when they are harvested than any intrinsic property of blanc de noirs Champagne, which is often little different from cuvées including a proportion of Chardonnay.
Blanc de blancs
A French term that means “white of whites”, and is used to designate Champagnes made exclusively from Chardonnay grapes. The term is occasionally used in other sparkling wine-producing regions, usually to denote Chardonnay-only wines rather than any sparkling wine made from other white grape varieties. A famous example is Ruinart.
The rosé wines of Champagne are produced either by leaving the clear juice of black grapes to macerate on its skins for a brief time (known as the saigneé method) or, more commonly, by adding a small amount of still Pinot noir red wine to the sparkling wine cuvee. Champagne is typically light in color even if it is produced with red grapes, because the juice is extracted from the grapes using a gentle process that minimizes the amount of time the juice spends in contact with the skins, which is what gives red wine its colour. Rosé Champagne is one of the few wines that allows the production of Rosé by the addition a small amount of red wine during blending. This ensures a predictable and reproducible colour, allowing a constant Rosé color from year-to-year
Due to the comparatively high risk and cost of using the saigneé or ‘skin contact only’ technique, there are very few producers who habitually do not add any additional red wine. These include Laurent Perrier, Louis Roederer, and Guy Charbaut.
The amount of sugar (dosage) added after the second fermentation and aging varies and will dictate the sweetness level of the Champagne.
* Brut Natural or Brut Zéro (less than 3 grams of sugar per litre)
* Extra Brut (less than 6 grams of sugar per litre)
* Brut (less than 12 grams of sugar per litre)
The most common is Brut, although throughout the 19th century and into the early 20th century Champagne was generally much sweeter than it is today
Champagne is a sparkling wine produced by inducing secondary fermentation of the wine. It is produced exclusively within the Champagne region of France from, which it takes its name.
The primary grapes used in the production of Champagne are Chardonnay, Pinot noir and Pinot Meunier. Champagne has a protect name (Protected Designation of Origin), this means that the wine has to come from the designated region to be allowed to be called champagne.
Champagne first gained world renown through its popularity with the kings of Europe. They would spread the message of this wonderfully, luxurious and expensive wine throughout the aristocracy of Europe.
It gave Champagne the image of wealth and power which still exists today. This popularity today has been endorsed by rock stars, footballers and other celebrities drinking the super luxury brands of Louis Roederer Cristal, Dom Perignon, Armand de Brignac -Ace of Spades, Bollinger, and Laurent Perrier Rose.
Contrary to legend and popular belief, Dom Perignon did not invent sparkling wine.The oldest recorded sparkling wine is Blanquette de Limoux, which was apparentl invented by Benedictine Monks in the Abbey of Saint Hilaire near Carcassonne in 1531. Over a century later, the English scientist and physician Christopher Merret documented the addition of sugar to a finished wine to create a second fermentation six years before Dom Perignon set foot in the Abbey of Hautvillers and almost 40 years before it was claimed that the famed Benedictine monk invented Champagne. Merret presented the Royal Society with a paper in which he detailed what is now called méthode champenoise in 1662.
Calvados is a brandy from a limited and strictly controlled area of Normandy in north-west France, where the temperate, maritime climate has long been perfect for fruit orchards. Calvados must be distilled from cider and/or perry, and aged in oak barrels for a minimum of two years.
The delimited region has three crus with differing production regulations and fruit requirements. All Pays d’Auge calvados is made from 100 % apples whilst a minimum of 30 % pears is mandatory in Domfront. Interesting to note, is that to maintain the influence of the pear in the Domfront, all orchards in this region must be planted with a minimum of 15 % pears and after 16 years the legal minimum is 25 %.
What is Calvados Made From?
It is made from apples and /or pears ; both of which are members of the rose family.
Neither the apples nor the pears used are eating varieties ; they are very small, highly aromatic, extremely acidic and ideal for distillation. Calvados needs a broad palette in terms of aromas and tastes in order to produce a balanced, complex spirit. Therefore, as many as 48 different types of apples are permitted, which are classified into four groups :
bitter (e.g. Kermerien)
bitter/sweet (e.g. Mettais)
acidic (e.g. Rambault)
sweet (e.g. Binet Rouge)
Calvados must contain a minimum of 70 % bitter and bitter-sweet varieties and maximum of 30 % acidic varieties. Pears tend to be sweeter and bring discernible differences to calvados producing more feminine, elegant brandies with bouquet and fragrance. As with all appellations, the stated age must be that of the youngest constituent part of the blend.
3 stars Minimum 2 years ; except in Domfront where it is 3 years
Vieux/Reserve Minimum 3 years
Vieille Reserve/VSO P Minimum 4 years
Hors d’Age/Age Inconnu Minimum 6 years
Extra/XO /Napoleon Minimum 6 years
single vintage year/age statement
Maturation first briefly takes place in new oak casks, either Limousin or Tronçais, with a subsequent transfer to old Norman oak casks. Norman oak is a very dry wood, and when old does not give much in the way of character to the spirit. However, it does allow for a gentle evaporation, and therefore, concentration of the calvados.
Armagnac is a brandy made from grapes from a limited and strictly controlled area in the Gers, Landes and Lot-et- Garonne départements of south-west France. It is produced from white wine, distilled, aged in oak barrels for a minimum of two years, and bottled at a minimum of 40 % abv.
Unusually for a wine or spirit of quality, armagnac comes from sandy soils in an area that was once a deep undersea valley between the Pyrenées and the Massif Central.
The region’s temperate climate has two maritime influences : that of the Atlantic, ameliorated by the Landes Forest, and that of the Mediterranean brought on the Autan wind. These help to moderate temperatures and subsequently the fully fermented wines for distillation only achieve 9–10 % alcohol.
On the 25th May 1909, the region was delimited and on the 6th August 1936, the 15,000ha Armagnac AOC was born with three crus.
Bas Armagnac Lying lower than the other sub-regions (hence its name) and to the west the region’s 1er cru is an area of forested, rolling hills, on whose slopes lie the vineyards. A very heavy topsoil, known as boulbène, rich in limestone, lies over a somewhat acidic combination of sand, clay and pebbles. In some places this is mixed with iron giving rise to the term sables fauves (literally tawny sand). To the northwest of the sub-region the soilbecomes predominantly clay giving supple brandies that are relatively quick to mature and evoke associations of prunes, plums and tobacco.
Tenareze. Very rich in boulbène over clay and chalk, combining here to give brandies with slightly more finesse and a more rounded, aromatic, fruity style, with undertones of violets and which are capable of great age.
Haut Armagnac Located to the east of the region on clay and chalk slopes, this region can produce quality brandies
VS/Three Star Minimum 2 years
VSOP Minimum 5 years
XO/Napoleon Minimum 6 years
Hors d’Age Minimum 10 years
Single vintage year/age statement – These are minimum ages following the year of harvest and represent the youngest armagnac in the blend. Growers have five years from the harvest to declare brandies they wish to sell as vintage or age statement, however these must be aged a minimum of ten years before bottling.
Traditional casks are either 350 litre fûts or 540 litre tierçons and are made of oak. Old oak plays a considerable part in cognac maturation as 72 % abv spirit could leach excessive character from a new barrel. The spirit is affected in a number of ways during cask ageing ; it slowly, but positively oxidises, extracts colour and character from the oak, and evaporates slowly through the pores in the wood giving further concentration. Old, quality cognacs will obtain their colour and complexity of character from these interactions and after approximately a generation, especially with brandies that have been distilled sur lie, one detects notes of rancio charentais, a certain oily richness discernible only in great, old cognacs. Younger cognacs can boost both their colour and character by the addition of spirit caramel and boisé—a concentrated cognac solution ; the results tend to be less balanced, less complex and less integrated.
An important part of the maturation process is the amount of cognac that evaporates each year through the wood. The region’s climate and the humidity in the chais (cellar), itself dictate the differences ; a cask in a cooler, damper chais will result in a greater loss of alcohol whilst one in a warmer, drier chais would see a greater loss of volume. The evaporation concentrates the spirit by reducing it, imparting a creamy velvety, rich character. During the ageing process the spirit extracts and makes soluble the colour, lignins, vanillins, tannins and sugars from the barrel. The spirit then breaks them down whilst interacting with oxygen and gaining colour. Ultimately, the brandy mellows and its colour and character emerges.
High-strength spirit can potentially extract too much from a cask. In order to lessen the impact, the cellar master may reduce the brandy to approximately 56 % abv immediately after distillation. Alternatively, he may put the high strength alcohol into new oak for a very short period of time, as little as one to three months, and then transfer it to old oak effecting a reduction between the two and then allowing for a second, more gradual reduction, in the years running up to bottling.
Irish Poteen is a separate and succinct spirit category that has been produced for several centuries and for nearly the last 300 years has been referred to as Ireland’s Moonshine whiskey. During the period 1666 until recently, in various forms it has been illegal to sell it in Ireland. It was not until 1997 that all restrictions were lifted and it could be sold on the mainland in Ireland.
Whilst within the last 10 years several illicit stills were producing limited quantities, the raids carried out by the Garda (Irish Police) have reduced this to a few. With the recent discovery of dead rats in some of the mash that has been confiscated, few people will now drink illegal poteen, despite the substantial saving on the Irish Excise Duty!
Irish Poteen in its legal form over the past decade, has achieved world-wide acceptance, as a separate category of Irish Spirit. There now remain only three family-owned Irish Poteen brands. Knockeen Hills is recognised internationally, as the Irish premium deluxe brand, being either triple or quadruple-distilled and has won over 10 major awards at the International Wine and Spirit Competitions.
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