Wine Gourmet  

Are we a nation of wino’s or suds drinkers?  (Photo: Flickr user, riebschlager)
Are we a nation of wino’s or suds drinkers? (Photo: Flickr user, riebschlager)

Wine news and oddities

by - Story: 60711
Mar 11, 2011 / 5:00 am

Wine Cellars:

Whenever I meet someone that is new to the wine industry, at some point we ask each other if we have a wine cellar and what there is in it. Sometimes the answers are a modest one while others claim to hold 1000 or more bottles. Some of the finer restaurants in Vancouver have extensive cellars, from the excellent Cin Cin or the Vancouver Club, which boasts a $2 million inventory. However, there is one restaurant which the offers its guests the largest wine list of any restaurant in the world and that is Bern’s Steak House in Tampa Bay, Florida.

Offering its customers a selection of about 500,000 bottles to choose from, a vinous nightmare for the indecisive, it was founded by Bern Laxer in 1956 and not only has the biggest wine cellar but they also have the biggest charcoal grill, 20 feet long which holds up to 200 steaks at once. As well, the steak menu is four pages long, devoted to the sourcing and preparation. Truly a wine lover and carnivores delight.

Are we a nation of wino’s or suds drinkers?

Canada has long been known (and a little proud of) as a nation of beer consumers. However, a recent study has shown that wine consumption in Canada is growing at six times the world average. Conducted by British research firm ISWR for Vinexpo, the biennial international wine and spirits trade show, researchers examined worldwide wine consumption trends from 2005 through to 2014 and found that between 2005 and 2009, Canadians increased their wine consumption to a total of 40.4 million cases, an increase of more than 22.5 per cent. If this trend continues, ISWR predicts that from 2010 to 2014, Canada's consumption will increase to 49.7 million cases, an increase of 19 per cent. By contrast, the world average consumption from 2010 to 2014 is predicted to rise to 2.73 billion cases, an increase of only 3.18 per cent.

Wine names:

Over the past decade, wineries have been engaging in brand marketing by attaching quirky and sometimes screwball names to their wines. The following are some bizarre names found on wine labels:

  • Elephant on a Tight Rope
  • Mad Housewife
  • Cleavage Creek (a winery in Napa Valley which actually donates 10% of its gross sales to fund breast cancer research and support)
  • Frog’s Piss
  • Le Vin de Merde (look it up, I can’t translate it for you here)
  • Cat’s Pee on a Gooseberry Bush (who would want to try a wine that smells like kiwi and ammonia)

    Expensive wines:

    The last time you went out for dinner and shared a bottle of wine with your date, what was the price of the wine? Typically they are marked up 100%, which is just part of the cost of operating a restaurant. Most of us will pay $50-$60 for a bottle of wine in a restaurant. But what about that rarefied category, estimated at around 2-3% of the population, who will part with the price of a small mortgage for a bottle of wine.

    Here is a list of some very pricey bottles of wine.

  • Heidsieck Champagne Vintage 1906 $275,000 per bottle. In 1916, about 3000 bottles of this wine were sent to the officers of the imperial army of Tsar Nicholas II, when the ship carrying the precious cargo was sunk by a German U-boat off the coast of Finland. Discovered in 1997, it is only sold at the Ritz-Carlton in Moscow.

  • Chateau Lafite 1787 $156,000. One of classic 5 Bordeaux wines in the world, Lafite was a favourite of former U.S. President Thomas Jefferson who would etch his wine with the initials “Th J”. The wine was sold at auction by Christie's London in 1985 to the Forbes Group. So the question remains, what did the wine taste like? Well, we'll never know. The Forbes family displayed the bottle improperly under a hot light and the cork shrank and fell in, ruining what was probably undrinkable as wine does not last that long.

  • 1945 Chateau Mouton-Rothschild Jeroboam (3L), $114,614. The wine crowd claim this vintage to be one of the finest of the 20thC. The 1945 Jeroboam bears a rare label by Baron Phillipe de Rothschild of a V mark for victory to indicate the end of World War II. In 2006, an unknown buyer bought a magnum case of 6 bottles for $310,000 at an auction by Christie's.

  • 1784 Chateau d'Yquem, $56,588. Thought by almost everyone on the planet to be the best dessert wine in the world, the 1784 vintage of the Chateau d'Yquem is also said to be a favourite of Thomas Jefferson's. A Premium Cru wine from Sauternes in southern Bordeaux, it has been given many excellent reviews and in the wine classifications of 1855, Chateau d'Yquem was the only Sauternes to receive the prestigious ratings given other top wines, explaining its superiority and high price.

    Food Event:

    The Kelowna Jaycees are busy organizing the 4th Annual Smoke on the Water BBQ Festival, which has grown from approximately 1000 spectators in 1997 to roughly 10,000 and has become a great place to spend Father’s Day in Kelowna. This year the event takes place on June 19th.

    However, the event is so big now that the Jaycees are no longer able to provide all the volunteers required to organize the event and are looking to the community for volunteers to assist with the organization of this year’s event. You need not even have experience organizing events as they have roles for pretty much anyone and the time commitment is relatively small (a couple of hours a week) and very flexible. There are also some very delicious perks that come with being part of their team. I can attest to this from being a judge the past few years.

    Interested individuals may contact Tim Lynch who is the 2011 BBQ Head Organizer by e-mail at [email protected]. Hope to see you there.

    In Vino Veritas

    Weekend Wine Picks:

    The past three years has been tough on the imported wine sector with a lot of importers having to slash prices to move their stock. We and you the consumer are the beneficiaries of these reductions. Here are some wines for us to enjoy.

    An exception wine, the Bodegas Benegas Don Tiburico 2004 ($23 PWS...reduced from $30) reveals an opaque ruby/purple colour with intense aromas of black cherry, blackberry, ripe plum and dried black olives with smoked meat, chocolate, tobacco leaf and baked earth.  The concentrated core of rich black fruit, smoke and luscious, mouth coating texture is backed up by full-bodied, inky, black fruit flavours, balanced acidity and tannins and a heady, long finish.  This wine is a terrific value, even better that it's reduced.

    The 2004 Bodegas Barahonda Heredad Candela Petit Verdot ($29.90 PWS...reduced by $20 (was $49.90) from Spain is a deep, dark black cherry/purple coloured wine with huge rich, ripe blackberry and blueberry aromas followed by ripe black olive, sweet tobacco leaf, creamy milk chocolate/vanilla, licorice and a touch of Asian and black pepper spice. Full bodied with lots of ripe fruit on the palate, the texture is silky smooth, long and flavourful on the finish. Tastes like a $50 bottle of wine for $30. Great concentration and complexity at this price!

    One of the finest red wine values in on the market and under $17 a bottle, the 2006 El Burro Kickass Shiraz ($16 PWS) from the tiny Campo de Borja in Spain is a steal. Rich, deep purple colour with an approachable nose of sweet black cherry liqueur, raspberries and black pepper mixed with sweet melted licorice, roses and rich loamy earth. Full-bodied, amazingly elegant with a luxurious texture, this is a wine for enjoying over the next 1-3 years.

    The 2008 Fontanafredda Barbera D’Alba ($18 PWS…reduced from $23) is quite powerful and intense for a wine at this ridiculous price with aromas of ripe plums, black cherry, roses, licorice, truffles, leather and tar. Deep and concentrated but not overpowering, the palate is loaded with rich black fruit, spice, tobacco, smoke and cedar and a long finish with spice, dried herbs and berry flavours towards the end. An excellent candidate for the cellar, it will reward with another 2-3 years of cellaring.

    Dark-ruby in colour with tawny-reddish hints on the rim, the 2000 Bodegas Navalon Anciano Gran Reserva Tempranillo ($23 PWS) displays aromas are of sweet cherries and vanilla over a faint scent of fresh butter. The tart-cherry fruit flavours are surprisingly fresh for a ten-year-old wine at a modest price for a Gran Reserva, which would normally cost at least three times as much. There’s aromatic oak in the background but it doesn't dominate. A solid red for weekend consumption or cellar for another 5 years. Great value!!!

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    Making wine can be a mucky business.  (Photo: Flickr user, tzapata)
    Making wine can be a mucky business. (Photo: Flickr user, tzapata)

    Green wine making: what is it?

    by - Story: 60552
    Mar 4, 2011 / 5:00 am

    Before reading the article, if you could be so kind as to send me a quick email [email protected] as to how you would like this article to be formatted. Do you enjoy the informative dissertation about different regions and wines or would you just like a selection of wines for the weekend?

    Your response is VERY important to me as it will give me an indication of what to write about. Looking VERY much to hearing from you.

    Making wine can be a mucky business. Just ask anyone who has crushed grapes, either at home or helped in a winery. Take a look at the vineyards and wineries during harvest time and you will have an idea of what I mean.

    But also the process of growing the grapes can be a very dirty and somewhat unhealthy business. During the growing season, growers spray pesticides, fertilizers and weed killers in their vineyards. And the grape industry is not the only one that does this. Living here in the valley, we see this every spring, tree fruit growers are out there in their space suits spraying stuff on their trees.

    The wineries need clean equipment and sulphur has long been used to sterilize. How does this impact the process?

    Then there are the farm vehicles, the trucks, tractors and other fuel-burning heavy machinery that wineries use to work in the fields, hauling grapes and wine around. And we have not even started on the heavy glass bottles that are transported by air, land and sea and their contribution to everything.

    How much of a “carbon-footprint” are wineries creating? With all of this going on, is there any possible way to make the wine-making process truly “green”? If so, how do you go about it? Do you have to become Amish (maybe they have something there)? And how will this change in practices affect the final product? Is it possible to make “green” wine that tastes good?

    Organic farming is not a new phenomenon. It has been the way food was produced for thousands of years up until the use of synthetic fertilizers and chemicals in the last century.

    The popularity of organic farming principles surged in the late 1960s and 1970s, and soon afterward, the US government banned the use of DDT. By the 1990s strong consumer demand for organic produce created the necessary momentum to establish standards for certifying organic foods.

    It seems as though the term “Green Winemaking” is being talked about quite a bit these days. Usually, it is used in conjunction with other words like organic, biodynamic and one of my favourites, sustainable. These all evoke warm, fuzzy feelings as if by buying wines labelled as such, we are helping to saving the planet.

    Organic Viticulture is, in a nutshell, the elimination of pesticides, herbicides and fungicides that are used to control weed growth, any infestation of pests or any vine diseases that can affect the growth of the vine.

    Biodynamic Viticulture uses the basic principles of organic farming but also integrates such practice as planting or harvesting during the alignment of planets, phases of the moon, and other new-age rituals.

    Sustainable Viticulture has the same objective as organic or biodynamic viticulture. However, while some vineyards and wineries may practice this, sustainable grape growing is an all encompassing approach to the environment and not just the crop itself. It is a commitment to improving environmental practices throughout all winery operations including vineyard management, habitat management and the winemaking process. Yet, there is some confusion around this as this is more of a philosophy or way of life than a set of rules or regulations and can be interpreted differently. In addition, there is no legal obligation to follow any of the criteria for sustainability.

    There also seems to be a trend in marketing where the term ‘Green’ presents to the consumer the impression that certain products are organic. With the wine industry in Canada, if you are labelling your wines ‘Organic’, they have to be certified by Certified Organic Associations of BC or COABC. This governing body also is regulated under the Canada Organic Regime, which is part of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, the acknowledged authority overseeing the classification. COABC adopted the Canada Organic Standard as the criterion for the BC Certified Organic Program as of Jan 1, 2009. For more info on this, check out their website at www.certifiedorganic.bc.ca.

    It is interesting to note that with the term ‘Organic Farming’, most people think of it in terms of what is NOT allowed to be used, produce grown without synthetic pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers or GMOs (genetically modified organisms).

    However, simply removing chemicals from the equation is just not enough to turn an ordinary farm into an organic one. To farm organically is a very labour-intensive process.

    Here in BC it is better to think of Organic farming under the umbrella of Sustainable Viticulture. Promoting the sustainable health and productivity of the ecosystem the soil, plants, animals and people is what sustainable farming is all about. Organic farming is not so much about what chemicals are not used in the vineyard but more about interacting and protecting the soil and surrounding environment.

    One of the wineries at the forefront of organic farming in BC is Summerhill. Certified as an organic farm for quite a few years now and certified on the production side since 2007, they are also in the process of becoming certified Biodynamic by Demeter Biodynamic. With over 50 member countries, Demeter Biodynamic is the oldest traditional organic certification in Europe and is regarded as the highest level of organic farming certification in the world.

    From the vineyard all the way through to the winery storage tanks and hoses used to clean them, everything is administered and accounted for by the Pacific Agricultural Certification Society (PACS), which is overseen by the COABC. PACS was formed in 2001 in order to provide organic certification to an ISO (International Standards Organisation) Guide 65 compliant standard.

    The COABC is extremely strict when it comes to materials used in an organic production facility, whether it is a winery, vineyard or an orchard. The list of permissible substances is governed by the Canadian General Standards Board (CGSB) and it is long a full 23 pages of what is allowed to be used in organic production.

    To be certified organic, the vineyard must remain chemical free for 3 years. After that, the vineyard would have a scheduled visit by a Verification Officer (V.O.) once a year who could also drop by unannounced at any time. All records pertaining to materials used in the vineyard and winery must be available to the V.O. for inspection.

    If the vineyard or winery has been found to be using banned substances, they are de-certified for 5 years. Then they can start all over again, which means waiting another 3 years while in transition. A total of 8 years for screwing–up.

    In BC, the organic movement as pertains to winemaking is expanding. Currently, there are 7 wineries certified with 6 in transition to being certified along with several vineyards that are certified and in transition.

    Today, organic farming is practiced in almost every country in the world. More than 86 million acres of agricultural land are certified according to organic standards (data as of the end of 2008), according to the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements.

    As Ralph Waldo Emerson once said "We did not inherit the Earth from our forefathers, we are borrowing it from our descendants."

    In Vino Veritas

    Weekend Wine Picks:

    The 2005 Villa Cerna Chianti Classico Riserva ($38) is a blend of 90% Sangiovese and 10% Colorino Toscano, aged 14 months in oak and a further 10 months in bottle. Loaded with dense aromas of black plum, black cherry, raspberry, cedar, tobacco, licorice, cocoa, smoke, mushroom, saddle leather, black olive and vanilla, the flavours are absolutely delicious with an abundance of black and red fruits, licorice, smoked meat, cocoa, roasted coffee and dried herbs. This definitely goes best with food, preferable Italian or could be cellared for another 10+ years.

    Do not let the name dissuade you from buying a bottle. If you are looking for an ass-kicking wine, look no further than the 2007 El Burro ‘Kickass’ Garnacha ($19 PWS). This remarkable wine is produced from one of the top wineries in the Cariñena region of northeast Spain, Bodegas Ayles. Dark as the night and loaded with fresh blackberry and raspberry jam, leather, licorice, menthol and black pepper spice, the palate is lush and full with rich juicy black fruit flavours, spicy cocoa and chocolate, vanilla and Asian spice box. Velvety soft acidity and ultra firm tannins mark this as a wine to enjoy over the next 2-3 years.

    The 2006 Moda Montepulciano D’Abruzzo ($20) is a better than excellent value for the money, it is an outstanding buy. Slow to open up, after 30 minutes look for rich, spicy black cherry, aromatic tobacco leaf, spicy smoky, plum, prune, licorice and graphite. Velvety soft acidity, medium tannins, it is absolutely perfect with homemade Chicken Cannelloni. Rady to enjoy now, this wine is able to be cellared for another 2-3 years.

    As set forth in the BC Wine Laws, icewine grapes MUST BE naturally frozen on the vine.  (Photo: Flickr user, rivard)
    As set forth in the BC Wine Laws, icewine grapes MUST BE naturally frozen on the vine. (Photo: Flickr user, rivard)

    Okanagan Icewines

    by - Story: 60397
    Feb 24, 2011 / 5:00 am

    It is believed that wine-making is the second oldest profession in the world. And amongst all the different wines, there are many diverse styles, dessert wine being one of them. From the famous Ports of Portugal, the classic Sauternes of Bordeaux, Madeira from the island of the same and Marsala, the sweet wine of Sicily, these wines define the country or region from where it is produced. So it is with Icewine or Eiswein as it is called in Germany. While it is produced in many different countries, Germany and specifically Canada are the world’s largest producers.

    Although it’s origin is often debated, it is generally assumed that Icewine originated by accident in Germany in the late 18th century when a vineyard owner was away on business at harvest and a quick temperature drop caused the grapes to freeze. He harvested the grapes anyway and produced what was called Winter Wine. It remained a German secret and it was not until the 1960’s that production began to spread throughout Europe.

    Throughout the 19th century and up until 1960, Eiswein harvests were a rare occurrence in Germany. Since 1858 when the first documented vintage was produced at Schloss Johannisberg, only six vintages had been produced. The infrequency of the vintages seems to indicate that the production was the result of freakish weather conditions and that very little effort was expended to produce these wines.

    Until 1961. This was the year that the Pneumatic Bladder Press was invented. Now German Eiswein producers were able to press the frozen grapes easier so the production of German Eiswein increased, which was also fuelled by the popularity.

    In Canada, Icewine was first produced in BC in 1973 at the Hainle Vineyard Winery in Peachland, B.C. German immigrant Walter Hainle produced forty litres from grapes that had frozen on the vine from an unexpected quick arctic freeze much like the first Eiswein. There was no intention of selling the wine - Mr. Hainle was just saving the crop the only way he knew, by producing a wine that he remembered from Germany. Icewine was not the household name it is now as no one in the Okanagan was familiar with it.

    But as he sipped this golden nectar he started to think of possibilities. This type of wine was perfect for the cold climate that descends on the valley in November and December. In 1978, Walter Hainle and his son Tilman released 156 - .375ml bottles of the first commercially made Icewine in Canada.

    Mr. Hainle and Tilman continued to produce Icewine every year from a grape with the dubious moniker, Okanagan Riesling and opened their own winery in 1988. They planted correct Riesling vines, which started to yield some spectacular Germanic-styled Icewines.

    In 1990, the BC Wine Act along with the VQA program came into being, mandating how specific wines can be produced, including Icewine.

    So what is this wine and exactly how is made. First, it can only be made from varieties that are set forth in the BC Wine Laws and the grapes MUST BE naturally frozen on the vine.

    There was a winery about a decade ago which tried to freeze their grapes by trucking them up the Okanagan Connector when the required temperature was not forthcoming. The grapes must be transported by the most direct route, from the vineyard to the winery. No detours up into the mountains.

    The best varieties for Icewine are Riesling and Vidal as these are quite winter hardy and can withstand the longer hang time.

    At least six hours is needed to harvest and press the grapes with the harvesting usually started in the wee hours of the morning. Harvesting is done by hand, often with volunteers who are enthusiastic (crazy) Icewine lovers and want to experience the harvest first hand.

    Once all the grapes are picked, they are pressed to extract the liquid nectar. This is done with hydraulic presses under much higher pressure than for regular grapes as Icewine grapes are literally frozen marbles. As the composition of the grapes are mostly water, this is left in the press as shards of ice and the sticky, sweet syrup that will become Icewine is transferred to a fermenting vessel. The yield for Icewine grapes is much lower than for table wines - the average is approximately 15% of grapes harvested for table wines.

    The air temperature must be -8º C or lower and the grapes pressed continuously while still frozen. If the temperature should rise above -8º C, the wine cannot be called Icewine and the winery loses approximately half its Icewine revenue.

    The Brix level, which is the measurement of the sugar of the pressed grapes, must not be less than 32% after being transferred to the fermentation vessel, and have a combined average of at least 35% from all the pressings in the fermentation vessel. And the residual sugar in Icewine when it is bottled must not be less than 100 g/L. To give you an idea of how sweet this is, a regular bottle of dry white wine would have a residual sugar level of 5g/L.

    A normal table wine is usually fermented in about a week. But because the Icewine juice is very sweet, it can be very difficult to ferment and take a long time, up to three to four months to complete. Once fermentation is complete and the wine is “stabilized”, it is ready to be bottled and sold.

    Pairing Icewine with food is not very difficult. A good rule of thumb is not to pair it with anything sweeter than the wine. A fruit and cheese plate at the end of the meal is a classic. Try a selection of kiwi, pear and sliced apples along with some blue cheese.

    Also, try to think beyond dessert. Try Icewine with pan-seared foie gras or a rich pâté as appetizers.

    It may have been the Germans that invented it, but it was the Canada who turned Icewine into one the world's most expensive and delicious dessert wines.

    In Vino Veritas

    Weekend Wine Picks:

    One of the more impressive Icewines is the 2009 Tantalus Riesling Icewine ($70). Sourced from the winery’s own 31 year old Riesling block, the wine is a rich honey-gold in colour, intensely sweet with rich, unctuous aromas and flavours of red apple, pear, pineapple, apricot, mango and honey balanced by super, crisp acidity, a rich, elegant palate and a incredible, long finish.

    The 2008 Poggiotondo Rosso Toscana IGT ($25 PWS) is a blend of 40% Sangiovese, 30% Merlot and 30% Syrah, the Merlot and Syrah being previous not permitted. From vineyards surrounding the Tuscan town of Vinci, the hometown of the Renaissance’s Master Leonardo, this is a delicious wine with a deep ruby red colour, fresh and juicy flavours of ripe strawberry, cherry and blackberry, followed by subtle spices as well as hints of tobacco and chocolate. It is rich and dense in the mouth with intense ripe and juicy tannins, a very good mid-palate and a delicious finish.

    From the Central Coast of California, this Syrah is absolutely stunning. The 2005 Beringer Syrah ($18 PWS...reduced from $27) is a delicious, deep ruby/purple-hued Syrah, offering loads of peppery berry fruit touched by roasted Provençal herbs, black currant fruit, black pepper, crème de cassis, mushrooms and underbrush characteristics in its full-bodied, deep style. It possesses supple tannin, impressive purity and overall harmony, and a surprisingly long, layered finish. With good underlying acidity and ripe tannin, it should evolve nicely for 5-7 years. Fantastic with a standing rib roast.

    The 2007 Domaine Camp Galhan ‘Les Perassières’ Vins Des Pays D’Uzes ($30 PWS) is a ultra-concentrated 50-50 blend of Syrah and Grenache, displaying incredibly black/purple colour with aromas of roasted meat, pepper, black raspberry, cassis and kirsch liqueur-like fruit followed by gorgeous aromas of licorice, smoke, sandalwood, leather and a hint of new oak. The palate is full-bodied and spicy with roasted sausage, black and red fruit, herbs, incense, and spice. The finish is full-bodied, and opulent with soft, velvety acidity and very firm tannins, which is in keeping with this top-notch vintage. Cellar and drink this marvellous wine over the 10+years.

    A spectacular value in Chilean wine, the 2008 Viña Maipo Carménère-Cabernet ($11.90) is an 85%-15% blend of the two delicious grape varieties. The colour is a deep ruby red with rich complex aromas and flavours of blackberry, raspberry, and cassis with hints of Asian spice, chocolate and vanilla. The finish has soft acidity and medium tannins with elegant flavours of licorice, cocoa and dark forest fruits of wild blueberries and blackcurrants.

    The 2010 Viña Maipo Sauvignon Blanc-Chardonnay ($11.90) is a juicy 85%-15% blend of these two mouth-watering varieties, light straw in colour with aromas of ripe tropical pineapple, grapefruit, and melon aromas, combined with fresh passion fruit and gooseberry. The palate is crisp and round with fresh grapefruit, apple and pear flavours, a hint of sweetness and zesty acidity on the finish.


    Fortified wine is a style of wine which has had a neutral spirit, normally grape brandy, added to the wine, which in turn raises the alcohol level.  (Photo: Flickr user, jacquiek)
    Fortified wine is a style of wine which has had a neutral spirit, normally grape brandy, added to the wine, which in turn raises the alcohol level. (Photo: Flickr user, jacquiek)

    Fortified wines

    by - Story: 60234
    Feb 18, 2011 / 5:00 am

    Every year since 1996, the Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival has featured a regional focus such as wines from a specific country and starting in 2004, a global emphasis. This year, it is the Wines of Spain with the global focus being Fortified wines.

    When thought about, fortified wines usually fall under the Port or Sherry banner. However, almost every warm wine region in the world produces some sort of fortified wine. Along with Port and Sherry, the category includes Madeira, Malaga, Marsala and the Vin Deux Naturels from France, Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise, Muscat de Rivesaltes, Banyuls and Maury. The little known Vin de Liqueur also falls under the Fortified wine banner. And from Australia, one should not forget the fabulous fortified Muscat from the Rutherglen district.

    Fortified wine is a style of wine which has had a neutral spirit, normally grape brandy, added to the wine, which in turn raises the alcohol level. This was originally done to stabilize the wine during its voyage from Europe to England. Most often than not, the fortification is done during fermentation so the wine is left naturally sweet although some wines are fortified before fermentation and others after.

    Port is probably the most famous of all fortified wines. But not because it’s been around the longest. In all probability, it was the British wine market which fuelled the popularity of this style of wine. It is produced exclusively in the Douro Valley region of Portugal, one of the oldest defined wine regions in the world, having been established in the mid 1700’s. About 30 different varieties are grown for the production of Port but normally only five are considered to be of exceptional quality Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Barroca, Tinto Cão, and Touriga Francesa.

    During the production of Port, the fermentation process is stopped at an alcohol level of about 7% by the addition of pure wine alcohol of 77%, in a ratio of around 1 — 4. The unfermented grape sugars are left in the wine making it a naturally sweet wine with an alcohol content of between 19% and 22%. By varying the quantity of alcohol and when it is added, Port can be made a little sweeter or dryer.

    Sherry is produced in what is called the “Sherry Triangle”, an area in the province of Cádiz between Jerez de la Frontera, Sanlúcar de Barrameda and El Puerto de Santa Maria. Here the dominant grape is Palomino and approximately 90% of the grapes grown are intended for Sherry. Pedro Ximénez or PX as it is also called is used primarily to produce sweet wines while Moscatel, which is similarly to Pedro Ximénez, is less commonly used.

    Fermentation starts off normally as for a white wine but when the wine is placed in barrels, they are only partially filled. This allows the wine to come into contact with the air, a destructive force normally but an essential part of the Sherry process. This curious method develops, without human intervention, a pale film of yeast on the wine called Flor.

    When the new wine has been classified, it is racked (drawn off the lees from one cask to another), tested for alcohol content and adjusted if needed. Fino’s are adjusted up to about 16%, while an Oloroso, which has no Flor, is about 17% or 18%.

    Madeira is a wine produced on the island of the same name 360 miles off the coast of Morocco and just north of the Canary Islands. An Autonomous region of Portugal, wine has been produced there since the mid-1700’s and the trade of the wine is tied to that of Port and England.

    There are four grapes varieties used and are named on the label. Ranging from the sweetest to the driest style they are: Malvasia (also known as Malmsey), Bual (or Boal), Verdellho, and Sercial. Recent regulations enacted by the EU state that 85% of the grapes in the wine must be of the variety on the label.

    Production of Madeira starts off normally and depending on the level of sweetness desired, the fermentation is arrested at some point by the addition of neutral grape spirits. What makes Madeira unique in the world of fortified wines is how it is aged. In the 1700’s and 1800’s, the aging was done by shipping the wine in casks to India and back. This was done to mature and age the wine by exposing it to the extreme heat of the tropics. Nowadays it is done by heating the wine in an “Estufagem”.

    Estufagem dates back to 1794 and is the most important stage of Madeira production. It is meant to duplicate the aging process that took place on the voyage to India and back. The wines are heated or “cooked” for three to six months depending on the style of Madeira being made. Other producers may store their Madeira casks in “hot rooms” which are heated with steam-filled pipes however the finest of Madeira’s go through the Estufagem naturally in casks placed in the attics for around twenty up to one hundred years.

    Some wines are selected to be age in “Canteiro”. These are wines that have not gone through the Estufagem process but rather are aged in casks, usually in the top floor of the wineries cellar where the temperature is higher and they are exposed to the sun's heat. This oxidative aging process develops complex aromas and intense flavours with the resulting wines having a fresh fruity taste with little of the caramel, butterscotch aroma. They also typically need much more time to develop than those produced via Estufa. As a rule of thumb, 5 years in Canteiro equal 3 months in an Estufagem.

    Canteiro wines stay in cask (barrels or pipes of 480 liters) for a minimum of twenty years and most of them for a much longer time, up to one hundred years or more. During this time the sun's heat leads to further concentration and oxidation. The level of extract, acid, sugar and alcohol rises considerably over the decades due to reduction and concentration so extra care must be taken during this aging.

    Madeira is classified as to how long it is aged. A Reserve is aged for a minimum of 5 years, Special Reserve is a minimum of 10 years and Extra Reserve is 15+ years. Colheita is a wine from a single vintage and is aged for a shorter time than vintage Madeira. A Vintage or Frasquiera Madeira must be aged for at least 20 years. A Solera is a designation reserved for extraordinary wines that have been in “Canteiro” for a minimum of five years. The labels may indicate the starting date of the Solera.

    There are many other spectacular fortified wines produced around the world and probably the best place to try them will be at the Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival. Click on the link to order tickets or call the Playhouse Box Office toll-free at 1-877-321-3121 or 604-873-3311.

    In Vino Veritas

    Weekend Wine Picks

    Winemakers in Rutherglen have been making this luscious fortified dessert style of wine for almost 150 years and the wines are ranked as being some of the finest wines in the world. To enjoy these is regarded as an ethereal experience. The Rutherglen Estates Muscat NV ($33 LDB) is produced for the Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains or Brown Muscat as it is called it is harvest later than usually after developing a dehydrated condition. Orange- brown colour with green olive rim, aromas of toffee, marmalade and crushed raisins, followed by a hint of very fine brandy spirit. The palate is rich and delicious with a lush mouthfeel and flavours of honeyed, crushed raisins and a very fine honeyed, spiced, raisiny and marmalade aftertaste.

    Castello di Querceto is located in the north-eastern side of the Chianti Classico area, in a small valley in the commune of Greve in Chianti. This 100% Sangiovese wine is aged 12 months in barrique (French oak barrels) and comes from a vineyard planted in 1973. The 1999 Castello di Querceto ‘La Corte” IGT ($55 PWS) is a full bodied, sexy red wine - think Chianti meets Pomerol - with plump, juicy cassis, black cherry, plum, ripe prune, chocolate pudding and vanilla flavours. The palate is full of lush red and black fruit flavours, hints of tobacco, ripe supple tannins and a long satisfying but lovely, soft finish. This is a great tasting Tuscan from an excellent vintage and with some age to it. Don't be afraid of pulling the cork.

    If ever there was a Chardonnay that personifies the California style it’s this one. Just not another oak-flavoured wine, the 2009 Rombauer ‘Carneros’ Chardonnay ($59 PWS) shows a light straw-gold colour with a green tinge, luscious aromas of citrusy lime, pineapple, mango and papaya. The palate is rich and full with gobs of luscious tropical and orchard fruit, honeysuckle, creamery butter and crisp spicy acidity. The slight hint of nutmeg on the lush finish adds that little extra layer of complexity. A fantastic example of Chardonnay for those who like the rich, buttery style.

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