Grapevine Archive for fortified

Thu 15 Oct 2015

Sherry: A Damascene Conversion

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David Mitchell, digital insights manager and a keen wine student, is seduced during a special staff tasting here at Society HQ in Stevenage with Beltran Domecq…

‘The most undervalued, dynamic and complex wine I have ever come across’

Our tasting with Beltran Domecq in full swing...Our tasting with Beltran Domecq in full swing…
To be completely honest, I have always seen sherry either to be mouth-puckeringly dry and bitter or teeth-achingly sweet and only really to gather dust at the back of a sideboard ready for the visit of an aged aunt.

I can now say that after this tasting this cannot be further from the truth!

What have I been missing over all these years!
The tasting started with a general history of sherry and how it has been made for more than 3,000 years; indeed the Romans made mention of it. It was known as ‘Sherry Sack’ in the UK – ‘Sack’ is believed to be a corruption of the Spanish name for drawing the wine from the bottom of the complex solera ageing system.

The soil that the main grape – palomino – is grown in is known as ‘albariza’, which has a high chalk content to help retain the high rainfall in the vineyards for the very hot summers. The palomino grape is used for the dry styles of sherry, whereas Pedro Ximenez (PX) and moscatel grapes are mainly used for the sweeter styles and used in blending.

I found it amazing that so many styles can be made from the palamino grape alone; depending on how the base wine (known as mosto) was aged through the solera system, and how the flor (yeast covering the top of the wine) developed over time.

A layer of flor yeast over ageing sherryA layer of flor yeast over ageing sherry

The first few sherries that were tried were fino, the driest style. These wines are aged under floating flor yeast, meaning that they develop ‘biological’ flavours rather than oxidative flavours as would usually happen in oak barrels. This gives finos a relatively light character with floral aromas and flavours of green apples, as well as a light nutty character of salted almond.

Manzanilla is a fino, but from around the port of Sanlúcar de Barrameda: the close proximity to the sea gives a much more pungent and intense flavour than a fino further inland. However, both gave very fresh flavours – great with tapas!

An aged fino was also tried, which had an average of between 6-8 years, and there was a slight increase in some of the oxidative flavours and slightly more woody and oaky notes due to a longer period of time in contact with the oak.

One thing to note is that the older the sherry is aged for, the more concentrated the flavours and alcohol. This is due to the fact that there is a 3-4% reduction in the overall volume of the wine where water evaporates from the oak barrels but retains the alcohol. This means that the alcoholic % increase over time but also brings added complexity.

The next few sherries tried were amontillados. These were selected fino barrels which had lost the flor layer part way through the aging process and were then fortified. Arguably these wines had the best of both worlds: they possess a fresh initial flavour but with the additional complexities of nutty flavours, mainly of hazelnuts. We tried a medium-dry blend which had the initial hit of sweetness much like a port, but then some of the vanilla characters from the oak barrels and a hazelnut finish.

A Palo Cortado was also tried. This is a sherry which was destined to become a fino or amontillado but then loses its protective layer of flor and starts to age as an oloroso (see below) and then fortified to stop the wine spoiling. This doesn’t happen that often, making this style relatively rare. The wine still had notes of fresh apples but with a light oxidative character and was both elegant and full-bodied.

We then tasted some olorosos: sherries which have no flor protection and so age oxidatively. These have a much darker colour and an intense, nutty aroma. You can definitely sense that these are fortified wines: they are much fuller with a much longer finish and have more of a hazelnut flavour rather than almond as found in the fino.

A sherry soleraA sherry solera
A medium-sweet oloroso blend had some additional notes of raisin on the nose; this would be due to part of the blend being made up from the Pedro Ximenez grape to give the additional sweetness. This sherry had an initially sweet hit, much like a port, but then evolves into the characteristic hazelnut flavours of an oloroso with a fantastic long finish. This went down especially well with those present.

A 30-year-old oloroso was fantastically complex with the nutty character, very concentrated flavours and an amazingly long finish. At £21 per bottle, the price worked out on average at 70p per year, considering the whole solera in which the wine was aged would be 40-50 years. This is fantastic value for this level of ageing!

The last sherry we tried was a 30-year-old Pedro Ximenez, one of the sweetest of all wines with intense raisin flavours, along with notes of figs, dates, caramel and fudge. Despite its sweetness and fullness, the wine was still in balance and very enjoyable.

I hope the above shows that that there will be a style of sherry to suit everyone!

In summary…

Types of sherry and their flavours:

Fino sherry is the lightest and freshest tasting with flavours of apples and almonds.
Manzanilla is a more intense version which is fuller in style.

Palo Cortado is the most elegant and intense version of fino-derived styles, with fantastic freshness.

Amontillado has the initial freshness of a fino but also has the added complexity and nutty character of an oloroso – a great ‘best of both’ sherry style.

Oloroso has a more intense nose with added aromatics and colour, and the flavours lean towards hazelnuts rather than almonds with a long finish – a joy to drink and savour.

Pedro Ximenez is very sweet and used in blends to increase the sweetness, on its own it gives flavours of raisins, figs and caramel.

A few other tips…

The longer a sherry is aged for, the more intense and complex it becomes. There is also a slight increase in alcohol due to water evaporation; however, this adds additional flavour concentration.

Treat lighter sherries much like you would a white wine: it should be served chilled and be used within a week or so. Other Sherries such as oloroso will last slightly longer once opened, but should be consumed fairly soon after opening – not stuck in the back of a cupboard!

Sherry is very good value for money considering its long ageing and complex nature, not to mention the joy of trying so many different styles.

• Most importantly, perhaps – treat sherry as a wine! Use a normal wine glass and enjoy the aromatic notes and flavours that develop in the glass.

No other wine give so much complexity and enjoyment for the price – find as many opportunities to enjoy sherry as you can!

Some suggestions to try:
• Light but intense – Alegria Manzanilla (£7.95)
• Still light but with added nutty complexity and a whisper of sweetness – Romate Maribel A Selection of Amontillado Medium Dry (£8.50)
• Slightly sweet but with complex nutty flavours and amazingly long finish – The Society’s Exhibition Mature Medium Sweet Oloroso Blend (£11.95)

David Mitchell
Digital Insights Manager

Categories : Fortified, Sherry, Spain
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Wed 07 Jan 2015

Treasures From The Roussillon

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We are uncovering wonderful vinous treasures from the Roussillon.

The present Fine Wine List contains a number of venerable wines, the oldest being a 1948 Rivesaltes from Domaine de Rancy. These are all remarkable wines, matched by a history that is no less remarkable.

Rivesaltes The Wine SocietyThe Roussillon is French Catalonia. The Catalan flag flies alongside the tricolour and Catalan is widely spoken. It is border country with castles dominating much of the landscape.

Up until the arrival of the railway, this was an almost forgotten backdrop. The railway made transporting freight to the French capital suddenly feasible and so the huge agricultural potential of the Roussillon could be untapped.

The Roussillon is the hottest region of France and viticulture had always been important. The wines were more Iberian like than French: strong and often oxidative in character, sometimes sherry like but not at the stage fortified. That came later when entrepreneurs began shipping these sun-drenched wines to a much wider audience.

It was roughly in the middle of the 19th century that the first of a succession of powerful brands were created. Many like Dubonnet and Byrrh were responding to a need from the French government to provide overseas officials and the military with protection from Malaria.

Dubonnet was marketed especially to the French Foreign Legion. The idea was to add quinine to wine along with herbs and spices. The wine base would be fortified and sweet, and modelled on port and Madeira. The town of Thuir became the hub of production and to this day houses a huge cellar with the largest oak vats. Byrrh, Dubonnet and Saint Raphael are all made here.

Roussillon vineyardsRoussillon vineyards, giving a good impression of the area’s striking landscape.

Fortification was not new. In French it is known as mutage and its inventor was Arnaud de Villeneuve in the 13th century. The process, as with port, uses added alcohol to stop fermentation as yeasts are inhibited by high alcohol. In the past alcohol was added after racking and this is known as mutage sur jus. In the other method, known as mutage sur Marc, fortification takes place in presence of grape skins. This method tends to make fuller wines with more depth and weight.

Production peaked during the inter-war period and has since been in decline. The days of empire are long gone and, of course, better ways to combat malaria have been found. The market too has changed with these strong aperitif wines losing out to spirits or table wine.

A lot of grape production has since been switched to making table wine and there are now vines of chardonnay and sauvignon. Luckily wiser heads made sure that the more traditional varieties remained – often to make table wine, under the Côtes du Roussillon label. But the best vineyards have in many cases been preserved to make fortified wine. Rivesaltes is the largest appellation but there is also Maury and Banyuls.

Different styles

Banyuls harbourBanyuls harbour
Fruitier styles have become more popular. These can be red or white and are given ageing, often in tank away from oxygen. The whites are often made from muscat. The best wines though tend to be red and aged like vintage port. These wines often have a vintage on the label and can be known as Rimage.

Other styles are more traditional and the wines are extensively aged, sometimes in barrel, but sometimes too in glass demijohns. The very best are sometimes aged for part of time out in the open and produce wines of great intensity. These are sometimes known as Rancio. Terms like Ambré and Tuilé can also be used, referring to colour.

Grape varieties
Grenache is the workhorse and comes in three colours: red, white and grey (gris). All three can be used in red wines and are then fermented together. Grenache gris always produces long-lived wines and so is an essential ingredient.
Carignan is often used in red wines, typically to 10% of the blend. It adds fragrance and structure.
Macabeu is another Catalan variety and is used for whites, sometimes on its own or with a little grenache blanc or gris.
Muscat, fragrant and grapy, tends to be used on its own in wines like Muscat de Rivesaltes.

Three great appellations
Rivesaltes covers the largest area, extending into Fitou.
Maury covers a tiny area in the valley of the river Agly. Vines tend to be planted on black schists and the wines are typically full-bodied and sweet.
Banyuls, right by the sea and just short of the Spanish border produces a wine that has more complexity and finesse.

These wines are collectively known as vins doux naturels meaning naturally sweet and are of course great food wines.

The reds go really well with chocolate all chocolate-based desserts but are brilliant too with cheese, especially blue cheese. The whites make also good cheese wines and desserts. Old wines are probably best served as an after-dinner treat.

Marcel Orford-Williams
Society Buyer

Mon 24 Oct 2011

Uncle Dick: ‘The Wise One’ of Bleasdale

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'Uncle Dick' Potts, as depicted on the label of The Wise One 10 Year-Old Tawny
Bleasdale’s The Wise One 10 Year-Old Tawny, which is exclusive to The Society in the UK, has become quite a talking point since its release. Mostly (and quite rightly) concerning what’s inside the bottle.

This delicious Aussie fortified wine stopped me in my tracks at the winery last year and I bought it immediately. It’s made in the style of a Tawny Port using grenache, shiraz and verdelho before being aged in barrels placed next to the winery’s hot tin roof. It will appeal to fans of Port, Madeira and sweet wine, and critics such as Jancis Robinson and Fiona Beckett have already reviewed the wine favourably.

However there has also been some conjecture about the rather quirky label, which depicts Bleasdale’s own ‘Wise One’, Richard Potts, better known as Uncle Dick. We asked Bleasdale to give us a little more information.

Uncle Dick was the youngest of Bleasdale founder Frank Potts’ eight sons. He left school at the age of 12 and claimed never to have worked a full day in his life, funding his various (rather eccentric, it would appear) pastimes with his inheritance. He died in 1956.

His purported prowess is detailed in the autobiographical song ‘Oh, Drinkin’ (Don’t mind if I do)’. Feel free to sing along should you wish, and do try The Wise One. I think it’s the perfect Christmas drink, and for £10.50 for a full 75cl bottle, you get a lot of wine for your money.

This is the story of old Dick Potts,
The wise one if you may,
He left school at the age of 12
and he never worked a day.

He’d open his umbrella to the wind,
to propel his bike along.
In his very deep baritone voice
he’d sing his favorite drinkin’ song.

Oh, Drinkin’ (Don’t mind if I do).

While those around him sweltered,
In the relentless summer heat,
He’d pour cold water in his knee high boots
and walk proudly down the street.

He spent his life at the winery
that he inherited from his pop,
To keep the old Dick warm in the winter
he’d put his mattress on the boiler top.

Oh, Drinkin’ (Don’t mind if I do).

Categories : Australia
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Tue 18 Oct 2011

Two Ports of call

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Adrian Bridge

On Monday evening 100 members and their guests were treated to a wonderful tasting of Fonseca and Taylor’s Ports, presented by the MD of The Fladgate Partnership Adrian Bridge, aided and abetted by The Society’s Port buyer Mark Buckenham. Adrian spoke with great enthusiasm and clarity, also fielding the numerous questions, many coming from interesting angles, with aplomb. This 319-year-old company is certainly being expertly  steered through the 21st century with Adrian at the helm.

Five wines from each house were tasted, in pairs. As an experiment 140 character tasting notes were tweeted as we tasted (which engendered both positive and negative feedback with some enjoying the interaction and joining in the banter, while others felt bombarded by too many tweets – we’re still learning when it comes to social media).

The 140 (max) character notes, complete with stylistic errors, went as follows. Caveat: These are of course my own personal, spur-of-the-moment, tasting notes.

Fonseca ’70 Genteel butterscotch, smooth and very easy to drink.

Taylor ’70 More heat of alcohol, more structure than Fonseca. Still beautifully mellow. Leather, tobacco and soft red apple skins?

(NB, both of the above will be available on our November Fine Wine List, priced at £135 per bottle)

Fonseca ’83 Lovely lifted, slightly leafy, perfume. Fresh, sweet red fruit and liquorice on palate.

Taylor ’85  savoury in character, edgy, nervy, bitter orange prevalent. Prunes and dates on finish.

Fonseca Guimaraens ’98 Rich violet nose. Smells like teen spirit! Rich chunky smooth black fruit. Pontefract cakes.

Taylor Vargellas ’01 table wine, rather than fortified, nose – light, structured, delicate berries and chammy leather.

Fonseca 2000 – Rubenesque, reclining, voluptuous, inviting, bursting with blackberries. Ripe, ripe, smooth tannins

Taylor 2000 – upright, edgy, mineral, damson, licorice, structured, delicious, tannins need to soften. Tight (the Port, not me!)

09s have a light gunpowder tea aroma about them. Mineral edge. Fonseca immediately softer on the nose than the Taylor.

Both 2009s rich on palate, Fonseca still showing more velvety texture. Deeper. Spirit hidden by bags of fruit. Taylor has finesse.

The 2009s can be found in our Port opening offer.

It was an excellent evening drinking some glorious Port wine. If anyone else would care to comment below with their own notes and opinions, whether you were present or not, we would be most interested to hear them.

Ewan Murray
Head of Tastings & Events

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Tue 21 Dec 2010

Strong and sticky

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We’re on a roll with Jancis Robinson as she includes the following wines in her top 40 fortified and sweet wines for Christmas.

Herederos de Argüeso, Las Medallas Manzanilla NV Very light and delicate. It doesn’t even taste 15% alcohol. Juicy and fluid and refreshing. £6.95 for 75 cl The Wine Society


Sánchez Romate, Fino Perdido NV Very pale tawny. Chock full of character. Really light, dry and zesty. Screwcap with señorita label. £7.95 for 75 cl The Wine Society

Sánchez Romate, Cayetano del Pino Palo Cortado NV Obviously very old and super tangy. Lots to lose yourself in here though overall much more delicate than most Palo Cortados. Seriously interesting. £17 for 37.5 cl The Wine Society

Royal Tokaji, Late Harvest 2008 Tokaji The painless way to enjoy Hungary’s most famous wine. A super-fruity blend of the three Tokaji grapes: the great Furmint, Hárslevelu and Yellow Muscat. Shows the freshness that defines Tokaji without any of the complication. Super clean. £10.95 for 37.5 cl The Wine Society


Ch La Tour Blanche 2003 Sauternes Really luscious for drinking now. So big and round and unctuous. Yet it’s saved from flab by its structure. There’s a beginning, middle and end to this wine with some very agreeable toastiness in the undertow. Great stuff. Enjoy it while you may. £37 The Wine Society

Ch de Fesles 2005 Bonnezeaux Mid gold from the mid Loire. Nutty start and then beautiful, contained sweetness with a savoury streak. Impossible to spit. Great intensity with a hint of dill pickle. So long, so complete. Lovely already yet I’m sure it will last beautifully. £29 per 50 cl The Wine Society

The Times’ Jane MacQuitty has listed her 50 best summer whites, and these include the following Society wines:

McHenry Hohnen Semillon-Sauvignon Blanc 2009 £8.50 (cf Tanners £10.05)

David Hohnen and his winemaker daughter Freya reckon that this is their best sem-sauv vintage yet, and so do I. From a cool, fruit-concentrating year and made from almost equal parts of each grape but grown in different areas of Margaret River for added complexity, it makes for this stylish juicy summer aperitif. Harvesting at night and fermenting cool in stainless steel enhances this white’s tangy, tingly, herby, green pepper-stacked fruit.

Stella Bella Chardonnay 2008 £12.50

Stella Bella is one of the shining lights of Western Australia, though you’d never know from the quirky labels. It is made from hand-picked, separately vinified chardonnay grapes collected from eight different vineyards in the southern Margaret River area, in order to capture complexity. This ’08 barrel-fermented and aged Aussie chardonnay truly does stand comparison with white Burgundy. I loved its elegant smoky, toasty, hazelnutty fruit and so will you.

Soave La Rocca, Pieropan, 2007 £22 (cf £25 at Majestic)

Soave from the Veneto region in northeast Italy is awash with watery, faintly lemony whites that are just not worth the money. The Pieropans have long bucked the trend with full-bodiedm flavoursome SOaves made from the traditional garganega grape grown on their 30ha of superior, lower yielding vineyards. The family’s single vineyard offerings, such as La Rocca from vineyards high on the Monte Rocchetta hill just below its medieval castle, are their greatest Soaves. These are picked late, often at the end of October. La Rocca’s fine, waxy, floral, apple and pear fruit is a real summer treat.

Samos Anthemis 2003 £11.50

A 15% fortified Greek vin doux, or vin de liqueur, as this Samos sticky proudlu bills itself, is a post-prandial bottle that most Top 100 drinkers would pass by either here or in Greece. What a pity. Within lies a gorgeous, fat, smoky, raisiny pudding wine, spiked with aniseed and made from the oldest and noblest member of the muscat family, the muscat blanc à petit grains. Fortified immediately after pressing and matured for five years in French oak casks, this spicy muscat has an ancient pedigree that makes it probably the world’s oldest-known grape variety. Served cool, Anthemis is perfect with bold summer desserts such as a fruit crème brulée or praline and honeycomb ice cream.

Las Medallas de Argüeso Manzanilla £6.95

My editor thinks this is one of the worst sherry labels ever and, alas, he has a point. But it would be a tragedy if you ignored this gilded, bemedalled bottle because within lies oneof the best manzanillas: a magnificent, yeasty, tangy, floral and iodine-charged, five year old explosion of flavour from one of the best Sanlùcar Sherry bodegas of all, Herederos de Argüeso, founded in 1822. Manzanilla comes from the seaside town of Sanlùcar de Barrameda; the spongy layer of flor yeast that gives the drier sherry styles of fino and manzanilla its flavour grows more vigorously here. Hence this magnificent fortified wine.