I was recently asked to write an article for a publication called Midwest Wine Press. The audience for that publication is primarily wine producers in the Midwest and sophisticated wine enthusiasts interested in the technical aspects of Midwest wine making. The article itself discusses using hybrid grapes to make sweet wines. As a rule of thumb, sweet wines need a little more acidity to balance out the sugar. This makes hybrid grapes, which almost always have high acidity, well suited for such wines.
As part of my research for the article, I was privileged to visit 3 of Minnesota’s best wineries: St. Croix Vineyards in Stillwater, Alexis Bailly Vineyard in Hastings, and Cannon River Winery in Cannon Falls. What follows are my tasting notes and recollections. Read the rest of this entry »
Not too long ago, I wrote an article explaining the differences between Late Bottled Vintage Ports and other styles of Port. I made a couple of claims in that article that I wanted to follow up on.
- LBV Ports without a traditional cork don’t age well -
A couple of my friends who read this blog questioned me when I claimed that LBV Ports with a cork stopper, as opposed to a traditional cork, don’t age well. Most people are under the impression that just about any type of port can be aged. The fact is, I stand by my assertion that, unless your port has a traditional cork, it will not age. To test my theory, I decided to consume the oldest bottle of LBV I could find.
Needless to say, this bottle of Sandeman’s 1989 Late Bottled Vintage Port was not good. It had absolutely no fruit left and was nothing but alcohol on the palette. I suppose if you were desperate you could probably have choked it down, but I wouldn’t recommend it. Read the rest of this entry »
Having discussed some of the best known sweet wines, Port and Sherry, I thought it might be fun to briefly examine two lesser known styles of sweet wine; late harvest and ice wines. Both are made from grapes picked very late in the season, but there are some key differences.
Late Harvest Wines
Late harvest wines come in many different shapes and sizes. From France’s famed Sauternes (“saw-tairn”) to Hungary’s precious Tokaji (“toe-kai,” like when you say “hi”), there are hundreds of “late harvest” wines. Not all late harevest wines are created equal, though. Sauternes and Tokaji are some of the most sought-after and high-priced wines in the world, whereas a late harvest “Auslese” Riesling from Germany might only set you back $15. The difference in price comes partly from how the grapes are harvested and vinified and partly from the quantity produced, but more on that later.
By definition, all grapes used to make late harvest wines are allowed to hang on the vine longer than those intended for dry table wines. This causes the ripening process (véraison in French) to continue through late fall and early winter, which greatly increases the sugar content of the grapes. The “Brix” of grapes, which is a measurement of their sugar content, is often around 24° to 26° for dry table wines, but it can be over 35° in late harvest wines. Each 1° Brix represents approximately 1 gram of dissolved sugar per 100 grams of liquid. Table grapes, as a point of reference, typically have around 17° to 19° Brix, which gives you an idea of just how sweet wine grapes are when harvested and how very sweet late harvest wine grapes would be if eaten. Read the rest of this entry »
I have a love named Sherry. Don’t worry, it’s not a woman. It’s a wine. Truth be told, it’s one of the most underrated wines in the world, which causes me to love it even more because it’s cheap. Not cheap like a frying pan from the dollar store, though. Perhaps inexpensive is a better word for it.
Either way, I’m not sure why more people don’t drink Sherry. It could be that it has a reputation, much like Marsala, of being nothing more than a cooking wine. It could also be that it’s an incredibly confusing wine that comes in many shapes and sizes and people, including many wine professionals, just don’t have the time or patience to unravel its mysteries. In fact, there are so many wines covered by the name “Sherry” that telling someone you had “Sherry” is like saying you bought a new pair of shoes. What kind of shoes? Tennis shoes? Slippers? High heels? Some people may love tennis shoes and hate high heels. The same holds true for Sherry. You may hate one type and love another.
If you’re reading this, though, I assume you’re willing to spend at least a little time getting to know this lovely wine. I’ll try to keep this as short and sweet as possible, but it won’t be easy…
Sherry is a fortified wine, like Port. Unlike Port, it is made from white grapes, the main variety being Palomino. It can also contain Pedro Ximénez or Moscatel grapes, but their use is less common. The grapes must be grown in an area of Spain known as the “Sherry Triangle,” which is a roughly triangular geographic region formed by three cities; Jerez de la Frontera, Sanlúcar de Barrameda, and El Puerto de Santa María. The soil in this region is very unique combination of chalk, limestone, clay and sand. Locally, it is called Albariza. The soil is white in appearance and serves the dual function of reflecting sunlight back to the vines, which helps with ripening, and preserving moisture for Spain’s hot summer months. Read the rest of this entry »