Spooktacular Halloween Wines

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First up the Velvet Devil, described by its winemaker Charles Smith, a former rock and roll manager as ‘PURE VELVET! Milk chocolate, wild blackberry, baking spice, rose oil…beautifully perfumed Washington in a glass….Velvet Devil? HELL YEAH!’

In 2006, Charles Smith created Charles Smith Wines: The Modernist Project, which centers around the trend that most people generally consume wine without delay. The intent is to create wines to be enjoyed now, but with typicity of variety (Merlot that tastes like Merlot) and true to the place of origin. The wines are full of flavor, balanced, and approachable.

Next up an old favourite, d’Arenberg’s Dead Arm, this was a though choice because Chester Osbourne winemaker at d’Arenberg has some great names like the Derelict Vineyard and Daddy Long Legs. The Dead Arm is named after a vineyard disease that plagues viticulteurs worldwide, and kills of half of the vine. Partially fermented in oak, wines from d’Arenberg’s various top parcels of Shiraz are then matured in barrel for a total of 24 months, the best selected for inclusion in this premium blend. Full-bodied, spicy and rich with cinnamon, chocolate and earthy tones really coming to the fore, perfectly complementing the immense backbone of ripe red fruit.



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Inhabitants of the Italian peninsula and islands have been making wine for thousands of years but it was only in the 1960s that a comprehensive, nation-wide program regulating the entire sector was adopted.

Denominazione di origine controllata is a quality assurance label for food products, especially wines and various cheeses. It is modelled after the French AOC. It was instituted in 1963 and overhauled in 1992 for compliance with the equivalent EU law on Protected Designation of Origin, which came into effect that year.

There are three levels of labels:

DOCG — Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (controlled designation of origin guaranteed)

DOC — Denominazione di Origine Controllata (controlled designation of origin)

IGT — Indicazione Geografica Tipica (wines typical of those produced in those areas but that don’t fall under DOC/DOCG)

DOC — Denominazione di Origine Controllata (controlled designation of origin)

VdT — Vino da Tavola, Table wine the lowest level of wine produced similar to vins de table

  • DOCG : the highest classification for Italian wines, introduced in 1963. It denotes controlled (controllata) production methods and guaranteed (garantita) wine quality. There are strict rules governing the production of DOCG wines, most obviously the permitted grape varieties, yield limits, grape ripeness, winemaking procedures and ageing specifications. Every DOCG wine is subject to official tasting procedures. To prevent counterfeiting, the bottles have a numbered government seal across the neck.
  • DOC : a step below DOCG, the DOC classification accounts for the majority of wines produced in Italy. The quality control regulations are less stringent (but similar in style) than those applied to DOCG wines.
  • IGT: The IGT classification was introduced in 1992, to allow a certain level of freedom to Italy’s winemakers. Prior to 1992, many wines did not qualify for DOC or DOCG status not because they were of low quality, but because they were made from grape varieties (or blends) not sanctioned under DOC/G laws. The IGT classification focuses on the region of origin, rather than grape varieties or wine styles.
  • VdT : means ‘table wine’ in Italian. VDT wines are typically of lesser quality than those labeled with IGT, DOC or DOCG.

Italy’s 2nd Renaissance

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Our modern view of Italian wine scarcely begins to tell the story of its people’s perennial links to the vine. The nature of the place – the influence of Mediterranean sunshine and mountain air currents on the hillsides of the elongated peninsula and islands.  Italy’s wine heritage dates back some 4,000 years to when prehistoric people pressed wild grapes into juice which, as if by magic, fermented into wine. The ancient Greeks, expanding into Italy’s southern reaches dubbed the colonies Oenotria, the land of wine.  Mean while the Etruscans were  practitioners of the art of winemaking in the hills of central Italy, as attested by the art and artefacts left in their  tombs. Then came the romans with their cult of Bacchus bringing the fruit of the vine to all corners of their Empire. Then in the 19th century as techniques improved Italy once again flourished. Names like Chianti and Barolo became known throughout the world.

A century ago several Italian wines were already recognized as among the finest of their type: mainly Piedmontese and Tuscan reds from the Nebbiolo and Sangiovese vine varieties, but also white wines, still and sparkling, dry or sweet, merited international respect.  But there was still cheap and dodgy wine to account for and for decades responsible producers had been trying to tighten regulations and put the emphasis on premium quality. But it was after the Denominazione d’Origine laws were passed in the 1960s that provided the basis for what came to known as the “modern renaissance” of Italian wine.

Vernaccia di San Gimignano became the first DOC in 1966,  and the list has grown to include nearly 300 other zones, delimited geographically, within which a multitude of wines are controlled for authenticity.  DOC/DOCG wines represent less than 20 per cent of the total wine produced in Italy. Just below them, and often of no less quality come a growing number of wines that qualify under the recently introduced category of Indicazione Geografica Tipica (IGT). The typical category applies to wines that range from locally admired to internationally acclaimed such as the Super Tuscans.

Despite the reduction through this century, Italy still has more types of vines/grapes planted than any other country, including natives and the complete range of the so-called international varieties. The number of approved grape varieties runs well into the hundreds. This heritage of vines permits Italy to produce a greater range of distinctive wines than any other nation. Though Italy is most noted for its noble reds for aging,  ti also produces very drinkable  Rosso wines and even the Vini Novelli (similar to Beaujolais nouveau) to be drunk within months of the harvest.

Italy is also a serious producer of white wines, with all styles represented; from light and fruity to oak-aged wines.  Some regions are famous for bubbly wines, Prosecco, whether the lightly fizzy frizzante or the fully sparkling spumante. It seems that the Italian wine Renaissance was a complete success and without staking claims to supremacy, it seems fair to say that numerous Italian wines stand up to the international elite. But the most interesting thing about Italy’s wines is they offer a sense of something new and exciting especially now that Italians have become increasingly committed to quality and character at every level of price.

My little Sweet one

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One of a few new arrivals from Barale winery in Piedmont to hit our shelves in the coming weeks is the Dolcetto D’Alba. Dolcetto means ‘little sweet one’ in Italian and maybe a reference to the hills where the grape is grown or even to the sugar levels in the grapes themselves, what ever the reason we don’t really mind as the wine produced by Sergio Barale from this grape is delightful. Produce from 3 vineyard parcels, grown around the famous village of Barolo where the Barale Cellars are located. This wine is treated to six months in oak after 8 days of fermentation. The wine is then bottled with no fining or stabling  whatsoever.

The wine itself is ruby-red with violet accents. The nose offers up delicate red and black fruit aromas with a hit of violets. The palate is medium to full bodied at only 12.5%, it offers flavours of raspberry and blackberry with a hint of spice and bitter almond.

What is Residual sugar?

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Was a question posed to us today so here’s what we came up with as an answer. Residual sugar seems like an obvious concept. Residual sugar. Sweet stuff, left over. In wine. But like many concepts in the wine world, it’s not that simple.Yeast eat sugar to make alcohol. This much we all know. So why would the yeast stop before all the sugar is gone? It’s a good question, and it’s one that’s not always easy to answer. But one (or more) of the following is often the matter:

  • Too much sugar ­– and too much alcohol resulting from too much sugar. It’s kind of gross to think of it this way, but yeast will die from wallowing in the alcohol left over after they eat the sugars. Like people, different yeast strains have different alcohol tolerances, but most cop out around 14-18% alcohol by volume (ABV).
  • Fortification –  fortification is both a way to make and a way to deal with accidentally sweet wine. If you want to stop yeast from finishing off the sugar remaining in a wine mid-ferment, adding a bunch of distilled grape spirit (enough to bring the batch up to at least 18% ABV) is the easiest way to do the trick. Fortification is also an efficient way to keep an accidentally sweet wine from spoiling. With all of that sugar sitting around sweet wine is an easy target for spoilage microorganisms, but there are very few yeast or bacteria that can grow in 18% alcohol. This is how port and other sweet fortified wines are made.
  • Malnutrition – Probably the most common reason why yeast lose their mojo. Yeast need more than just sugar to survive, and if they run out of something else first—nitrogen and cell wall components are the most common limiting factors—they won’t finish the fermentation.
  • Something killed them – if a winemaker wants to create a sweet wine without fortifying it, he or she can filter the wine to remove the yeast and then optionally add preservatives to ensure that a few cells don’t multiply and restart the fermentation or contaminate the batch. In addition to sulfur dioxide, potassium sorbate or potassium benzoate is often added to keep yeasts and fungal spoilers at bay.

There are a loads of other causes of “stuck fermentations”—fermentations that stop before all of the sugar is gone when the wine isn’t intended to be sweet—but they’re quite technical and really boring. Why is residual sugar important, well residual sugars add to the sweetness of wines as perceived in the mouth by the tongue, and an old trick to make half decent plonk is to leave a small amount of residual sugars to mask the flaws in the wine. Now that is not to say that all wines with deliberate residual sugars is flawed some of our favourite wines are off dry style whites like Spatlese from Germany

What’s in my wine

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Recently we’ve had a lot of people in the shop asking questions about what goes into wine, and one lady even asked why unlike beer wine does not carry an ingredients list on the back. This got us thinking many wines don’t tell you how they were aged or even what grapes are in the blend, the best you get is a geographic location like Languedoc, Bordeaux or South East Australia. So when we came across this article ‘Vintner With Nothing to Hide Finds That Few Are Looking’ by the New York Times last Thursday we felt the need to share it.

In the article it points that most consumers maybe of put by some of the more common things used in wine production like egg whites and isinglass, a protein obtained from fish bladders used to fine wines removing impurities, but that leave no trace in the wines, or that old bugbear SO2 Sulfur Dioxide, which is responsible for the warning on all wine that reads contains sulphites. But as one advocate and wine maker for the addition of an ingredients list David Page of Shinn Estate Vineyards “I do think consumers would understand the price differences in wine if they saw the ingredients that went into an $8 bottle with a kangaroo on the label,”. An it’s not only the Kangaroo labels but the curved bottle necks with wines classified as Vin de Pays Européen, and many others beside.

Trust them its got their name on IT!

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First produced in 1962 the concept of The Signature was born from a comment made at the annual dinner of the Adelaide Stock Exchange. The then Prime Minister, Sir Robert Menzies declared, “Gentlemen, this is the finest Australian red wine I have ever tasted.” The Signature is the best wine of the vintage and honours individuals who have made a significant contribution to Yalumba’s success. This iconic label by Yalumba has a proud history from its first release in 1962. Quite possibly the quintessential Australian Shiraz Cabernet blend, ‘The Sig’ shows vibrant Barossa aromas of dark fruit and spice and a concentrated palate that is long and deeply flavoured. With the ability to age wonderfully well, The Signature is a deserving part of any wine aficionado’s collection.  The Signature wines of Yalumba have saluted the very best of the vintage. They also have acknowledged the skills and dedicated service of people who have enhanced the traditions and culture of Yalumba. The Cabernet Sauvignon/Shiraz blend is a distinctively Australian style, and The Signature has set the benchmark for this iconic style, drawing heavily on Yalumba’s great Barossa resource of Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz vineyards. Deep and intense, the wine displays full palate weight with powerful fruit and soft American oak which was hand-coopered at Yalumba – a wine made for longevity, very much The Signature style.

The 2005 vintage acknowledges the contribution of Queensland’s Jeffrey Smith and New South Wales’ Gregory Pullen, both of whom work for tirelessly for Yalumba.  Lifted redcurrant, warm exotic fruits and dark chocolate combine with subtle eucalypt flavours. The wine has a generous yet stylish palate, showing dark plums, cassis, chocolate and long fine tannins giving a wine structured for ageing.

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