International Chardonnay Day May 23rd

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Right so to add more confusion to Sherry Day which runs for 5 days from 20th of May till the 25th, International Chardonnay Day falls on the 23rd smack dab in the middle of Sherry day! Why celebrate chardonnay? Well there are as many reasons as there are chardonnay wines. To Celebrate Chardonnay Day we’ll be hosting a tasting in the shop from 7pm to 8pm on Thursday 23rd May, all welcome to check out what we think are some great chardonnay wines from all over the globe.

Heres  our spiel on chardonnay.

Chardonnay is a green-skinned grape variety used to make white wine. It originated in the Burgundy wine region of eastern France but is now grown pretty much wherever wine is produced, from England to New Zealand. For new and developing wine regions, growing Chardonnay is seen as a “rite of passage” and an easy entry into the international wine market.

The Chardonnay grape itself is pretty neutral in terms of flavour (many of the flavours commonly associated with the grape  coming from the way the winemaker treats it eg oak and from its terroir). It is  turned into loads of different styles, from the lean, crisply mineral wines of Chablis, to New World un oaked styles with tropical fruit flavours to big oaky monsters, that when produced with care can be great food wines. Much of its bad reputation comes from cheap attempts at oaking using oak chips in place of proper barrel aging.

Chardonnay is a must for many sparkling wines around the world, especially Champagne, where many of the top wines are made solely from it Blanc des Blancs. A  trendy phase in the late 1980s and early 1990s gave way to a backlash – among most people thanks to the above mentioned cheap oak chip wines. Nonetheless, it remains one of the most widely planted grape varieties, second only to Airén among white wine grapes and planted in more wine regions than any other grape – including Cabernet Sauvignon.

Sherry: It’s not just for Granny

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Ok its International Sherry Day (20th 25th May), I know it’s more than one day and that’s because sherry is more than one wine. I know we all think of it as the stuff in trifles or that stuff our gran drinks, but it is so much more.

What is Sherry?

Quite simply it is a fortified wine from southern Spain with history that stretches back over 3000 years – the word sherry originates from the Arabic word, “Sherish”. The main grape is Palomino which makes most of the top wines and all the dry ones.  The sweet ones are made of PX (Pedro Ximenez). Most Sherry is made in the town of Xeres (or Jerez) but a small town down at the coast at a called Sanlucar de Barrameda produces its own style called Manzanilla.

Barrel cut away showing Flor in action.

Most Sherry starts its life as a dry white wine at about 12 % alcohol. Fermentation done, the winemaker has a choice: will the wine become Fino or Oloroso? Those wines that show more elegance and finesse grow up to be Fino fortified to around 15% and bigger bolder ones become Oloroso fortified to around 18%. The magic ingredient that makes Fino and Manzanilla wines is called the Flor. This Flor is a layer of yeast that grows on surface of the wine when it is aging in barrels in the bodega. It protects them from oxidation and changing the character of the wine, adding a unique nutty, salty character.

The wines are then aged in a system called the Solera. This is a way of ageing and blending wines to ensure consistency. In its simplest form, it can be imagined as an inverted pyramid of barrels. Every time the bodega needs to bottle some wine, it draws some off from the bottom barrel, topping it up with some wine from the barrels above. This next level of barrels is then filled with wine from those above and so on and so on. Many soleras in Jerez are many decades old and since no barrel is ever emptied, there is always some of the oldest wine in the final blend.

Sherry Styles

Fino

What is it? The most famous style of dry Sherry made in Jerez and fortified to just 15% or 15.5% making it the lightest style too.

What does it taste like? When just opened it will be fresh, light and savoury with a nutty, almond-like character. Keep it in the fridge and drink it quick, though. The all-important freshness will disappear within a week or so.

Drink it with: Something salty – smoked almonds, the very best jamon, olives.

Manzanilla

What is it? A Fino made in the coastal town of Sanlucar de Barrameda. The seaside climate adds an extra saline tang and degree of freshness.

What does it taste like? Like a really good Fino with an extra spring in its step.

Drink it with: Seafood.

Amontillado

What is it? A Fino where the Flor has died away and the wine has begun to oxidise. Beware commercial versions of Amontillado that are sweetened with a dollop of Pedro Ximenez.

What does it taste like? A good dry amontillado can taste of hazelnuts and spices, cinnamon, butterscotch, with a slightly-bitter bite.

Drink it with: A porcini mushroom risotto.

Oloroso

What is it? An Oloroso sherry are fortified to a higher strength than a Fino and ages without the protection of Flor giving it a rich flavour and more oomph. It can be dry or sweet; the latter are blended with sweet Pedro Ximenez wine.

What does it taste like? Full-bodied, robust and rich. Dry versions often have a tangy Seville orange notes while sweeter wines are like Christmas cake in a glass.

Drink it with: Dry wines with big robust meaty main courses.

Pedro Ximenez

What is it? A grape! Usually used to make some of the most intense, complex sweet wines in the world.

What does it taste like? Treacle tart. Only better.

Drink it with: Rum and raisin ice cream. Even better pour it over the ice cream.

 

Oh The Times They Change

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Yesterday evening as the rain lashed down as normal here in Galway our neighbours over in Charlie Byrne’s Bookshop (a treasure trove that must be visited) dropped over a book that had come into their possession that they thought might be of interest to us, ‘The Penguin Book of Wines’ by Allan Sichel (2nd Ed. 1972). Now while I have not read the whole book I did notice some interesting points as I glanced through it that I have to share with you the wider world. The Entry on new Zealand is as follows: –

New Zealand

On the North Island there are about 2 square miles of vineyards, producing 850,000 gallons of wine – a yield per acre comparable with the Provencal area of France. All sorts of wines are made and drunk in the country, reinforced by imports amounting to another 130,000 gallons. Australian wine-growers are interesting themselves in New Zealand and it is possible that wine production may increase. (p.252)

That is a huge 66 Words, dedicated to what is now considered one of the world’s top producers of wine, Marlborough Sauvignon anyone?

The other humdinger in terms of entries was that of Algeria, now generally ranked down around 30th position in terms of bulk tonnage of grapes produced for wine production (incidentally that’s about 15 or so places lower than New Zealand) is given a page and a half which given the time and its colonial likes to France is probably to be expected but the line ‘ it is possible that they will one day compete with Portugal and Spain’ (p.245) for supplying good, sound wine is an interesting take.

Oh how the times Changed how both of these Countries entries would read today nearly half a century later. As I read through the book I will post what observations I find that are both humorous and interesting, it is truly great to be able to read the opinions of wine folk before I was even born!