Under Pressure!

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So… before anyone even thinks it! The title is with regards to Queens version of the song! Not Jedward’s version! Ok now that that is all cleared up we can go on to what this blog is all about- Stressing the Vines! You see it’s a common misunderstanding that wine grapes need fertile soil in order to produce the very best wine… WRONG! Actually what they need is to be stressed- so stressed in fact that they only produce low yields of grapes, but these are bursting with flavour! So I’ve picked out 3 areas where stressing of the vines might occur! 

1/ Irrigation- The French idea of terroir really goes against this. They believe that natural rainfall should be the only source of water for the vines. However…. that’s all very good in theory, but the real world is a slightly different story! So in hotter climates where rainfall isn’t as much of a certainty as it is here in Ireland then they need. But also because it’s a delicate balance- if the plants get too much water, then the rootstock’s are shallow and you just end up with a plant that is essentially a big bush of leafs and grapes… But if they don’t get enough water then some of the key plant components shut down- such as photosynthesis- and the grapes don’t get what they need. So timing is everything! During the budding and the flowering stages water is essential, but once the fruit is set there is a window before it starts to change colour where it won’t hurt the plant to hold back on the water…. This encourages the plant to focus on producing small berries, which are more flavourful!

2/ The soil is one of the more important factors with regards to good wine. Basically what you are looking for is a thin topsoil and subsoil so that it retains water ok, but not so much that the roots become saturated. Basically, by leaving it just out of reach you get plants that are constantly straining themselves to get a decent supply of water which means they are majorly stressed and we get little tasty grapes!

3/ The age of the vine can determine how stressed they are! Essentially after around 20 years the vines start producing lower yields of fruit, which as you may have guessed…. yes its full of flavour! So imagine how intensely small and flavourful grapes from a vine that is 120+years old would be! Pretty frickin tasty! One of the best regions for old vines is Barossa in Australia. You see most of the vines in Europe were wiped out in the late 19th century by the phylloxera epidemic- so it’ll take some time before we have really old vines in Europe!

So there you have it 3 examples of how a vine might be stressed! Hopefully ye found it interesting enough! On a side note for anyone who doesn’t know- our 100 summer wines promotion is still going on, and there is some fantastic value to be found in it! So hope to see ye soon!

Techniques for lowering alcohol content!

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So in our last blog I debated (pretty inconclusively I might add) on the Alcohol content  in wine… But as promised here are some of the methods used to reduce high alcohol levels in wine. This can be done either in the Vineyard when the grapes are ripening in order to reduce Sugar levels in the grapes, or in the winery to remove some of the alcohol. Hopefully this might bring us closer to an opinion on the whole thing!

In the Vineyard: So if the sun is the problem for increasing sugar levels than why not simply move to a cooler climate?? Nearer the ocean, or at high altitude should do it… But this is only really practical if you are starting off… and looking for a good place to plant. If you’ve already been growing grapes in one area for a while then changing could be pretty expensive. Another idea would be restricting irrigation- if the water is restricted around the time when the grape skins change colour (veraison) then the vines are stressed and their metabolism switches from leaf growth to maturing the fruit which results in less photosynthesis (remember that from the leaving cert?)  and therefore lower sugar accumulation in the grapes. Chemical Sprays- not really proven or anything, in fact biodynamic growers say the sprays it actually increases the sugar levels…. of course the counter argument to this is that…. well before biodynamic farmers came along spraying was much more prominent in the past when alcohol levels were generally lower… Nighttime picking- One for the Biodynamic heads out there! The thinking is that grapes take up water overnight and may also collect some dew which dilutes the sugar levels.

In the Winery: obviously there are certain things the wine maker can do after the grapes have picked to reduce those alcohol levels. One big one is to do with the yeasts which ferment with the sugar.  A lot of work is underway, Australia especially, with finding what yeasts will be less efficient at converting sugar to alcohol. Generally it si found that one of the best is actually wild yeast that will grow in the Vineyards. Also because of this the grapes are picked at lower sugar levels because they want to avoid the fermentation getting stuck because wild yeast will not multiply as quickly. Another method is to use open-top fermenters. This is where an open-top fermenter will allow some of the alcohol to be driven off. If this is combined with a warm maceration (basically when all the good stuff is separated from the bad stuff…) between 1 and 1.5% can be taken out of the alcohol. Adding water- pretty self-explanatory. Its legal in California (within limits) but illegal in most other places… obvious bad points of this- it ruins the wine if its done too much! It’s not Mi-Wadi!

Anyways there we go some of the techniques used for lowering alcohol levels in wine. A bit of a sciencey blog today, you can tell by the serious lack of exclamation points I used!!!!! So there you have it- hopefully ye found it interesting!

Alcohol in Wine!

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So lets start at the beginning… as good a place as any to start… Fermentation is basically when the sugars ferment with yeast to create alcohol- nothing to out of the blue there it happens all the time! Elephants actually sniff out fruit that’s fallen from trees and has fermented, just to get their buzz on! Just like our friend here, who looks a bit like Babar after a few too many beers and doner kebabs. So alcohol is perfectly natural occurence and if it wasn’t in wine it would just be grape juice (which- let’s be honest nobody really wants…) However, the more sunshine a climate gets, the more sugars it will have in its grapes and therefore the more the yeast has to ferment with and before you know it you’ve got a wine that’s around the 15%  mark… Now one thing I’ve always taken as a given with wine is that no matter how high the alcohol is- if the wine is made right then it will be smooth and you won’t notice the alcohol at all…. well while you’re drinking it at least, the next day then yes you prob will! But that’s just the point isn’t it? Who cares if you don’t taste it while you’re drinking it if the next day its going to take you 3 hours to fully wake up??

Now, certain climates that do not get enough sunshine are allowed add sugar for the yeast to ferment with. This is a perfectly accepted practice and there’s nothing unusual about it! But ut the fact of the matter is- I’d say 1 in 4 people who come asking for wine, are specifically looking for a wine that doesn’t have high alcohol content. So people are getting sick of the high alcohol content FACT! So wine makers are responding to this fact (We’ll get back to how on the next blog) but then there’s the flip side of the argument…

Certainly there are wines that do not need to be high in alcohol- anything higher than 12 percent and they run the risk of being thrown off-balance. But, what about the wines that need to have that extra little bit of  alcohol?? Certainly a little extra alcohol won’t hurt a big grape like Cabernet Sauvignon with its big tannins and full flavours… if you didn’t have a high enough alcohol in that wine then wouldn’t it just be slighty flimsy and thrown off-balance???  So if they are intentionally reducing the alcohol content are they then not denying the wine its natural flavour??? Take for example the French- say they started (and they have) restricting the amount of alcohol that would naturally be in their wine, wouldn’t that then go against their entire philosophy of terroir? How can the natural expression of a region shine through if you have measures in place to restrict the natural process???

Having said all that though- its amazing the difference a drop in alcohol can make… and not really make… if that makes sense… Let me give you an example. Last year one of our best-selling wines was the Eternum Viti Toro 2007- a really nice wine that was incredible value! it weighed in around 14.5%. The 2008 vintage has been dropped by .5% which means they’ve had to go for an entirely new style! The result is a wine that is still full-bodied and smooth- but its a completely different style, and a completely different Wine all together.

So after rambling on about it for a while now I guess I should have some sort of opinion on it… I think I’m prob more confused now than when I started! Basically I think that if a climate gets enough sun to create wines that are around 15% then why should the producer shy away from keeping this wine that high?? (Only and I add Only!! If the producer is still capable of creating a balanced smooth wine at this percentage!) But at the end of the day all it really comes down to is Style- not terroir, not grape variety, not region, not even alcohol percentage! So like Eternum Viti if they feel a drop in alcohol is necessary then there better be a style that will go with it! Essentially I trust the Wine producers- I do! They are the ones who are creating a wine for us to enjoy (if we don’t enjoy it then we don’t buy it again- simple!) So in fairness I kinda think that this debate about alcohol is mute… I think that the Alcohol should have little or no influence on the choices we make as consumers- with the obvious clause of being responsible with your alcohol intake!- why someone would pass up a truly exceptional wine for something that is entirely different to what they are looking for purely based on the alcohol content…. just doesn’t make sense to me…

No obviously I’m not afraid to admit when I’m being totally wrong! And it may very well turn out that I am wrong about a load of this stuff…. but all I ask is that you call me on it! Feel free to leave comments because at the end of the day this is a topic that relates directly to you consumers!

Don’t WINE about the rain!!

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So did anyone doubt we were getting it? It was always inevitable sooner or later the rain was coming for us! Oh sure we had a good chuckle at Spain, Italy and France while we had Glorious sunshine and they had buckets of rain… but now its time to  eat some humble pie! The rain has come back to where it belongs good old Ireland!

Now I don’t know about you- but I’ve always like to note the subtle nuances between the different types of Rain we get. Take for example this batch we’re getting today-  Big thick lumps of rain, but surprisingly spread out. Oh you’ll get wet from it, but you almost have the feeling that if you were fast enough you could dodge them… Anyways as per usual I’m waffling on and on and you’re wondering what the point is! Well as with those blogs on Wine for the sunny days, the point is no matter what the situation there will always be a perfect wine for any moment. So while the rain is not quite as special as the sun- It’s not without its own charm! Sure I hate it when my clothes are wet and I’m miserable stuck out in the cold… but the charm comes in those minutes when I’m not out in it, and I’m sitting inside with my feet up and preferably beside a roaring fire. Now that’s where the rain is at its best I feel like I’m beating it, like I’ve got one over on the weather! TAKE THAT WEATHER…

So a situation like that warrants a Wine that will match it- for me its got to be red. Now obviously everyone is different, so what I like will differ to you, but here are my top 3 wines for this situation in reverse order!

In at number 3 we have Merlot! Only rececntly have i really gotten into this grape. I used to be put off by what I found to be a bit of heat on the back palate. But now I really like it, and its all down to that weight that Merlot has! It catches me off guard sometimes like a big explosion in my mouth- but I got to say, for a moment like this Merlot is perfect!

Number 2… I’m going for… hmmm…. difficult one…. but i think it will have to be Shiraz-Viognier! Ya I know it’s a little BBQish… but technically this is still our summer! So if I have to be huddled in beside a fire in the month of July, then I want a Summery Wine!!!

And finally, Who takes the crown as our perfect wine for this occasion?? (was going to say perfect occasion… but we all know being stuck inside because of the rain is less than perfect…) It’s only a Cabernet Merlot blend!! OH but wait… not just any Cab Merlot- one form Coonawarra in Australia! Slightly Bordeauxish, but still with that new world influence! Also the addition of Merlot gives it that extra little bit of weight in the mid-palate. Remember that bit of an explosion with the Merlot I was talking about? Thats what I mean!

I know it’s all reds- but to be fair whites in this situation don’t really suit for me… sorry! Anyways if anyone has their own wines they would have in this situation then please let me know… Looks like this rain isn’t going anywhere so we could have a long summer to try some others…

Champagne- When to cellar and when to drink!

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So obviously there is a bit of a misconception in wine that all wine tastes better after years of ageing… I’m afraid it’s just not true… So basically how do you tell a wine that can be aged Vs a wine that is best drank sooner than later?? I got to say what most people do is base how long the wine will last for on how expensive it is…  And it occurred to me that Champagne is pretty pricey… So on first look Champagne at €50 might just be the best thing to let cellar for about 15 years or so… but be careful because if you see NV on it, then it is a Non-Vintage Champagne which is not as suitable to ageing as a vintage Champagne would be…

So now we have to go into what a Non-Vintage Champagne is- essentially, as is the case with any wine, the major determining factor is always down to the climate! So some years may produce fantastic grapes and some years might produce not so great grapes… but there always needs to be Champagne- maybe a new ship needs to be christened, a formula one driver needs to celebrate or maybe some rapper needs to take a bath in the stuff! Whatever the reason people will always need Champagne! So Non-vintage Champagnes are produced using a base wine from the most recent vintage, blended with varying proportions of older wines which have been held in reserve by the house. The blending is intended to maintain the house style and to maximise quality, but in the event of a poor vintage these can be very difficult demands. In simple terms- they hold onto to some of the really good stuff so that each year they can guarantee a certain standard, even if the grapes that year weren’t particularly great. In exceptional years though- they will not only hold onto some of the wine for blending with later vintages, they will call a vintage and that’s when you’ll see the year printed on the bottle!

But here’s where we get to the problem with ageing Champagne… There’s some debate about how long Non-Vintage Champagne can last for. Some say its best to drink it right away, others that it will last another 2 maybe even 3 years! Both valid points- the stuff will prob last that… but how do you know how long its been in the bottle already???? It could have been sitting on the shelf 3 years already…. So another 3 years cellaring will only harm that wine then! Top tip- ask them in the store you’re buying it in! Also ya 3 years is great and will bring out some more complexity… but a vintage Champagne can last 12-15 years and more depending on the vintage!

So when it comes to cellaring champgane- don’t look at the price tag! Look at the Vintage- if its written on the bottle then there’s a pretty good chance that it is from a year that will last for some time! Also final tip- Those special occasions can pop up at any given moment (or so I like to believe) so it’s never any harm to have a bottle at the ready in the fridge!

Refosco!

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Debated whether or not the title for this Blog should be Refos-go-for-it! But decided that might be taking the wine puns a little too far! The reason I have decided to blog about this wine is two fold- firstly, it’s not all that well-known even though it is a great wine. Secondly- we had Nicola from Antonutti Wines into us yesterday. Now anyone who comes into the store and looks at our Italian section will know that we stock a lot of Wines from Antonutti, and to be fair they sell pretty well for us! But this was a real treat to meet one of the producers of their wines, and to have him talk about them for a while! Anyways enough about me droning on about the delightful evening we had with Nicola! Time to get to the point!

So Refosco-  when i was reading up about it (yes I’m not an Encyclopedia of Knowledge on all things wine related I do occasionally have to look certain things up…) I found a website that said that Refosco was a grape “Of ancient and somewhat mysterious origins”.  Are they really trying to sex the grape up that much??? Ancient and somewhat mysterious origins??? It is true that it has been around for a while a while that there is a little bit of uncertainty around its origins…. but it’s not the Da Vinci Code!!! I can’t imagine good old Robert Langdon running around Italy trying to discover its origins before the French wine association kills him because they want to keep the secret all to themselves… Actually that’s not a bad idea… Maybe I should give Dan Brown a call!

Anyways, Typically Refosco is one of those Grapes that is quite powerful and tannic- which actually makes it a great pairing for pizza! But what really stood out last night was how smooth it was! Nicola also said that this was wine that would last another 5-10 years, which is great news… but I don’t think anyone has brought this wine with the intention of laying it down for another 5 years… Anyways after a couple of years in the bottle this should develop a lovely floral quality! Anyways that’s it for now on Refosco… I guess all that’s left to say is refos-go-for-it… that was awful… apologies…