♫ ♪ The snow glows white on the vineyards tonight. Not a footstep to be seen… ♪ ♫
Isolated on the frozen slopes, her potential was unknown until one particularly harsh winter, the ice and snow helped her concentrate. Finally, she has come of age and is ready to transform. With a stunning voice that’s pure and clear, smooth as golden honey and with just a hint of sauciness, Ice wine is Queen Elsa of wine styles!
What is Ice Wine?
Ice wine (AKA Eiswein or Icewine) is a sweet wine made from frozen grapes. The grapes are left to hang on the vines over winter and are harvested and pressed while still frozen. As only the water freezes, it can be removed by crushing to leave a much more concentrated, sweeter grape juice with which to make wine. This process was discovered in late 19th century Germany after farmers decided to leave grapes hanging on the vine for their animals to eat during a particularly harsh winter, then realised how lusciously sweet they had become.
Which grapes are used for Ice Wine?
More often than not, Ice wine will be white with Riesling being the most famously used white grape, especially in Germany. The Vidal grape is huge in Canada however and experiments are being done with both red and white grapes worldwide, such as Chardonnay, Seyval blanc and even Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon!
How it is different from other dessert wines?
Ice wine is different from Sauternes, Tokaji and Trockenbeerenauselese because the grapes should not be affected by ‘noble rot’ (botrytis cinerea). This is a rot that’s deliberately allowed in certain winemaking regions in order to shrivel grapes and concentrate the juice. What noble rot also does however, is impart a particular, marzipan-esque flavour to the wines. Ice wine grapes are made with pristine grapes without noble rot, so the resulting wine is a little fresher and purer in taste. For more information on noble rot, check out what Kitchn.com has to say about it here.
♪ ♫ The mould never bothered me anyway!* ♪ ♫
Ice wine must be made according to vigorous standards and very little is produced at a time, which is why it can be very expensive. It’s worth it though once you taste all those unctuous, tropical fruit-dipped-in-spiced-honey flavours. It really is liquid gold! Try it as an excellent foil to the saltiness of blue cheese or to match the sweetness of lemon meringue pie. I’m drooling now.
Ice Wine Tasting Tour
Ice wine 1: GERMANY (where it’s called ‘Eiswein’)
Germany, particularly the regions of Rheingau and Mosel set the benchmark for Eiswein that is pure, pristine and crystal clear (just like a snowflake) that gets more minerally as it ages. In German wine classifications, Eiswein is part of the ‘Prädikatswein’ quality category.
Canada is the perfect country for making Icewine with its consistently warm summers which fully ripen the grapes and consistently freezing winters to do the Icewine thing. Ontario is THE production area, with the Niagara Peninsular and its sub appellations in the south being the most significant area. Okanagan Valley in British Columbia is another well known Icewine production area and both use a lot of the Vidal grape but they also love a bit of Riesling and flirt outrageously with the red grape, Cabernet franc!
Ice wine 3: AUSTRIA (where it’s also called ‘Eiswein’)
Austrian Eisweins are richer and fuller than the German versions, just like their non-dessert wines. This is because the grapes have had a chance to ripen more fully before they freeze. Austrian producers also tend to use more of a mix of their native grapes such as Gruner Veltiner and Traminer.
Ice wine 4+: US and other European countries
New York’s Finger Lake region is not to be be ignored and there are many wineries in northern Michigan that produce good ice wine. Many other European countries also produce versions, such as Croatia, Italy, even Luxembourg (where it’s known as ‘vin de glace’), but none are as famous and revered as German Eiswein.
Stuff the Port; try Queen Elsa with your Stilton this year.
WB x *This brilliant line suggest by Robert McIntosh from ThirstForWine
I was intrigued by a recent invitation to taste some Provençal pink specifically in the winter, so off I popped to Hakkesan in Mayfair to taste some rosé wines with Asian food. It was really rather refreshing to walk in from the freezing cold into a warm room and be handed a glass of cool rosé. I pair wine with pink all the time in the summer, but hadn’t thought of it as the rain started to fall.
The prima ballerina of rosé wines
As you may have seen in my previous love letter to Provence, my Vinalogy for Provençal rosé is that it’s the Darcy Bussell of pink wine styles. This is because while it may look pale and delicate, it’s powerful on the palate and capable of complex twists and turns. Have you seen the power in Darcy’s legs?! Don’t let the colour make you think that these are not serious wines. They are.
Subtle, yet substantial
The message coming clearly from Vin de Provence and the producers we met was that Provençal rosé is very food friendly; the subtle fruit and licorice flavours won’t overwhelm, but this style of wine has a weight and structure that can stand up to many different dishes. The Asian cuisine we were generously given with the wines proved to be an excellent match with their subtle flavours, interesting textures and gentle spices. The cool salinity of the Provençal rosé style seemed to temper the heat too. Nothing clashed. Just like the food, the wines were subtle, yet substantial. It’s worth noting that wines from the appellation of Bandol will generally have more power so could provide a particularly good match for more flavourful dishes at Christmas.
Since this tasting dinner, I have shown Provençal wines at all my tastings as a suggestion for something crowd-pleasing to drink at Christmas or on Boxing day if you don’t want something too heavy. They went down incredibly well with many people being surprised because they ‘didn’t think they liked rosé’. I drink it as an aperitif, with the food itself and afterwards as a palate cleanser. It’s the ultimate versatile tipple. Really, this should be the inspector gadget of wines!
Chianti has always been one of the first wines that many people recognise on a wine list, in wine shops and so often give as presents so listen up, people! You need to know about the new, ‘ultimate’ Chianti: a new quality level that sits atop all that went before.
What is Chianti anyway?
Chianti is a red wine from the region of the same name in Tuscany, Italy. It’s all about the Sangiovese grape (wine must be at least 80% Sangiovese), but up to 20% other grape varieties may be used.
How many types of Chianti are there?
There have traditionally been three key styles* or rather, quality levels of Chianti to chose from: Chianti, Chianti Classico and Chianti Classico ‘Riserva’. Straight Chianti is like a rustic, unruly schoolboy with earth under his fingernails. Think of the inexpensive stuff we drink from beakers with pizza. His more refined, model student brother is Chianti Classico which is made according to stricter rules from a delimited ‘Classico’ production zone and offers a large step up in quality. Chianti Classico ‘Riserva’ is a quality step up once again with a more time aged in wood and bottle. He’s like the bookish scholar who spent years in the wood-walled library and is always the top of the class. Since February this year however, there’s a new Chianti in town and that’s Chianti Classico ‘Gran Selezione’.
* There are other style of Chianti, but these are the big ones to get to know first. Click for more detailed information here.
Literally, it means ‘Best Selection’. Chianti Classico ‘Gran Selezione’ came about because many Chianti producers felt they were able to produce even finer wines than their Riservas but had no way of labelling them so. A ‘Gran Selezione’ wine must come from the Classico production area and be made using the winery’s own grapes from their finest vineyards. They must have at least three years of bottle age and an alcohol level of 13% abv. minimum. They can also only be released into the market after a minimum of thirty months of maturation. (There are also geeky scientific requirements for acidity and extract but this ain’t that kind of blog!) The hope is that wines made according to these rules will have ‘enhanced organoleptic qualities’ and so offer an ‘unmistakeable Sangiovese signature’.
Are Chianti Classico ‘Gran Selezione’ wines actually better?
I went to the first UK tasting of these wines yesterday and these are my personal thoughts and discoveries: Some wines, like other Chiantis, are made with 100% Sangiovese and others have around 80% Sangiovese with other very different grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah or several indigenous Italian grapes. Blending in these other grapes changes the flavour profile considerably which made it quite hard to compare like for like. Also, while the first vintage for Gran Selezione was 2010, there were several older wines there as they had happened to tick all the right boxes for Gran Selezione anyway. These were essentially Chianto Classico Riservas with a new label. What I found most interesting to taste and to get a clearer picture of what the new name actually means however, were the wines made specifically to be Gran Selezione and with 100% Sangiovese grapes.
What I found with many of these wines was a beautiful, pure expression of the Sangiovese grape, just as the marketing bumf said it should be. The style isn’t as voluptuous as in Brunello di Montalcino, but on the whole they did seem fuller and more, well, fine than many of the Chianti Classico wines I’ve been used to tasting: incredibly fresh and not too heavy, yet full of sour cherry flavours with dried herbs and a touch of dark chocolate. My favourite thing about them though was that they still tasted quintessentially Italian and not just that; Tuscan. While many of the other wines with other grapes blended in were delicious, they might have come from anywhere in the world. Below are some of my favourites. They’re currently quite hard to get hold of, but please call the suppliers noted (Lay & Wheeler are particularly helpful) to discuss what they have and what they can get hold of. Prices vary, but on average, they’re hovering around the £25-30 mark.
A love letter to Sangiovese:
Castello d’Albola, Chianti Classico DOCG Gran Selezione ‘Il Solatio’ 2010. Zonin.
Barone Ricasoli, Chianti Classico DOCG Gran Selezione ‘Colledila’ 2011. John E. Fells.
Castello di Volpaia, Chianti Classico DOCG Gran Selezione ‘Il Puro -Casanova’ 2010. Lay & Wheeler.
Villa Calcinaia, Chianti Classico DOCG Gran Selezione ‘Vigna Bastignano’ 2011. Berry Bros & Rudd.
Wines with other grapes:
Isole e Olena, Chianti Classico DOCG Gran Selezione 2006. Lay & Wheeler
Il Grigio da San Felice, Chianti Classico DOCG Gran Selezione 2010. Boutinot, Atlas Wines.
Have you tasted any yet? Tell me what you think!
What is ‘vintage wine’? It is the year written on the bottle; the year that the grapes were grown. The climatic conditions during that year will dictate whether the vintage is a good one or not.
One of last week’s wine experiences was short, but very sweet: I got do a little experiment to see the effect that different vintages had on what was otherwise exactly the same wine. Now, when I say the same wine, what I mean is the same vines, one single grape variety (Cabernet Sauvignon), the same vineyard, the same winemaker and just about the same winemaking techniques.
In my recent video explaining what ‘vintage wine’ means, I mention briefly that vintage is considered to be more important in countries where the climate is marginal as there is more variation from year to year; places like Bordeaux and Burgundy, for example. While this is true, vintage variation in the New World cannot be ignored. The variations I found when tasting four wines from Santa Rita’s stunning flagship Casa Real range were really interesting.
Casa Real is all about one grape: Cabernet Sauvignon and the vineyard is situated in the gravelly Upper Maipo Valley which the locals describes as the ‘Haut Medoc’ of the Maipo Valley. Here, Cecilia Torres, the winemaker for the past 25 years, manages to coax out a cedary, elegant Cabernet from her vines that is much more like the left bank Bordeaux lovelies than the Ribena berry fruit bombs that much of Chile produces. Using the ‘ideal vintage’ of the 2010 as a benchmark which was elegant and mineral cool as if wearing a silky, cassis smoking jacket, I took a tour of three other, quite different vintages:
1998: Cold and wet vintage.
2008: Frost at first, then good, warm conditions.
2010: Ideal conditions all year.
2011: Cool, but not wet.
What is clear the world over is that cold, wet conditions make for light and very leafy, autumnal red wines and the 1998 was exactly that. The tertiary aromas that come from age were to be amplified to the max! At a lower 13.5% alcohol too, this had the most different personality to the other wines.
The 2008 showed what happens when yields are lowered because of the early frost, but then the sun comes out. This was a wine that was still very elegant for a Cabernet but had much more of a concentrated, blackcurrant kick thanks in part to the lower yields (less grapes) and a warmer, minty finish taking the alcohol up to 14.5%, thanks largely to the later addition of sunshine.
The 2011 was cool but not wet and the wine, while still young to taste, was concentrated and fine with more stringent tannin. Less voluptuous in fruit and slightly lower in alcohol (14%) as there has been less sun. Time will soften this big boy up!
There’s nothing like tasting wine together for the differences to really pop out, so thank you Caroline Park and Helen Chesshire for the tasting opportunity.
Tomorrow is Beaujolais day. Huzzah! Sounds like a fantastic excuse to drink wine, but what does it actually mean? Let me explain…
The third Thursday of November every year is known in the industry as ‘Beaujolais Nouveau day’: the day that the new vintage of Beaujolais Nouveau is released. There was traditionally a race to get your hands on the stuff and drink it as quickly as possible because when it’s gone, it’s gone!
What is Beaujolais anyway? Beaujolais is a light-bodied, French, red wine made from the Gamay grape and hailing from the region of Beaujolais, immediately south of Burgundy proper. Beaujolais Nouveau however has its own very specific style, not to be confused with the others (Beaujolais, Beaujolais-Villages and the 10 Beaujolais ‘Cru’) despite all being made from Gamay. Beaujolais Nouveau, meaning literally ‘new Beaujolais’ is not a wine made for ageing. In fact, you want to drink it almost as soon as it’s bottled to get the most out of its strawberry bubblegum juiciness. Even after a year, it feels tired and unfresh. Beajoulais Nouveau is not for everyone, but it’s a great style of wine to be familiar with. Look around town and you’ll find plenty of places offering Beaujolais breakfasts next week. Craziness!
If Gamay were a person, she’d be a cheerful red head. A finer Beaujolais may be more like Lily Cole… See my video guide to the Gamay grape and Beaujolais below:
Enjoy your Bojo Novo!
I’ve come across a few things lately that I think would make great wine-related gifts for Christmas, so I thought I’d put them all in one place to be helpful. Please note that I am not being paid to advertise them, nor have I received free samples of them unless explicitly stated. This post will be updated as I find new toys!
Aerating your wine quickly unlocks flavours and aromas, so the idea with this sexy new Black Velvet Wine Weaver is to bring out the best of your bottle in record time. This particular model is £24.99 but there are other on their website. They can also add a smart gift box for an extra £3.50. Great price point for a wine gift, methinks.
A good looking, sturdy flask that apparently keeps cold drinks cool for 25 hours and hot drinks hot for 12. I was sent one recently to test, so will post an un-boxing video very soon! They say it’s “the most beautiful, best performing insulated bottle ever” thanks to new insulation technology. Great for taking wine places that glass bottles aren’t allowed. Approximately £30 from corkcile.com and other kitchen shops.
This year’s Christmas gift set focusses on the iconic, powder pink Billecart-Salmon rosé that has been put together in a handsome, matte black gift box with two tasting glasses. These ‘Absolu’ Lehmann glasses have been designed specifically for this wine to enhance its delicate fruit flavours. This is a Champagne that tastes as good as it looks! £89.95 from www.champagnedirect.co.uk.
Yes, this is blatant plug, but I wrote this book for those just beginning their wine journey and it’s perfect for Christmas. It’s light-hearted, a little quirky and very informative, based on the concept that images and stories are easier to remember than dry facts. Did you know that Cabernet was the rugby player of wine grapes? Or that Nebbiolo was the lady boy? In Vinalogy, I show you where to start when you want to learn about wine, introduce you to the personalities of the top ten red and white grape varieties and answer those frequently asked wine questions. There’s a wine top trumps section in the back too that reminds you at a glance that your Chablis is made of Chardonnay and your Sancerre from Sauvignon Blanc… This has ‘secret santa present’ written all over it! Not literally. £8.99 from Amazon and all good online stores. Also available on Kindle.
I had to add this clutch because who doesn’t need to carry a spare bottle of Champagne with them to parties? (Especially if they’re serving a dodgy Cava). Ha ha. I love it! It keeps the bottle cold for an hour too. £64.99 from Selfridges
I only discovered Vinoa via Twitter yesterday and I love the concept: every month, receive four, 50ml wine samples from a famous wine region to give you a fantastic overview of the styles of wine they produce there. It’s like a deliciously simple wine club that teaches you something along the way! Prices start at £29.95 for three months, then go up to £54.95 for six months and £109.99 for a year. Given the wines they show you that they’ve sent in the past on the website (Achaval Ferrer Malbec? Yes please!), I personally think these prices are pretty darn good. See more here.
This is quite a geeky game for wine novices and enthusiasts alike. It’s a bit like Monopoly, but with grapes and vineyards where you can test your wine knowledge and build vinous empires. Questions are ‘EASY’ such as “Is wine made in the Canary Islands?” or ‘DIFFICULT’, such as “Where would you locate the Famatina Valley and Cafayate wine regions?”. It definitely appeals the the wine geek in me! £27.50 +P&P from their website here.
Simple but effective, keep this in your freezer and use it to cool down reds that are too warm or maintain the chill of a bottle of white. At around £19 from many kitchen shops, it’s a good price point for a gift too. Corksicle also now make other products for cooling whisky and beer among other things! See more here.
I recently met Greg Lambrecht, the inventor of Coravin and heard him speak about its benefits. It’s now on my very own Christmas want list! This product is for you if you fancy a glass (or lots of different glasses) of wine but don’t want to waste a whole bottle by actually pulling the cork. You can use it to taste fine wines from your cellar, then go back to them months or even years later. Greg is a wine-loving surgeon from the US who was ‘good at needles’ and he developed the system whereby a hollow needle pierces the cork and pressurises the bottle using inert, argon gas. This pressure then forces wine back up the needle, allowing you to pour it into a glass. The oxygen in the bottle is replaced with the argon gas so there is no wine spoilage and the cork reseals itself because the needle so fine. Clever, eh? It’s still pretty pricey at £269, but would be a great little gift for the serious wine lover. Available in the UK at Harrods.
Having just returned from Switzerland and the fantastic weekend that was the Digital Wine Communications Conference 2014 (more on that later), it seems apt to post a Vinalogy for the country’s flagship white grape variety: Chasselas. I asked many people over in Montreux what its Vinalogy would be and got some interesting answers:
“It’s the watchmaker” said Steven (whose full name will appear when I find it!). “Quintessentially Swiss and humble without an overbearing personality, yet capable of real complexity”.
“It’s a writer” said Joelle of Alpine Wines. “It’s got understated complexity and isn’t flashy”.
“An actress?” suggested Robert McIntosh, one of the organisers of the conference. “One who has delivered stunning, mesmerising, performances, but at the same time having played quite ‘ordinary’ characters as well”. Helen Mirren perhaps? I thought maybe Tilda Swinton or a simple blank canvas myself… even a painted canvas by William turner? Aaargh!
Then Twitter got involved:
Chasselas is the Blank Canvas of wine grapes
Neutral, but full of promise. Will the canvas be used by a master of the arts or by a three year-old wielding a brush? In the right hands and location, the result could be something complex, subtle and enduring. In the wrong hands, it’s just a bit simplistic and uninteresting. Everything hangs on where exactly you find it and who has been handling it.
Think of a bookish, old school professor sweeping autumn leaves from his pathway or gathering redcurrants. He is dressed in a worn, red cardigan flecked with pencil shavings. And while he’s of elegant stature, the man is quietly confident: rights to his textbooks have recently been sold, so his reputation is spreading worldwide!
It took a while, but you can now find delicious wines made with Cabernet Franc in regions around the world where you might least expect them! As far as the classics go however, Cabernet Franc is a well known feature in France’s Loire Valley (as well in red Bordeaux blends), where it makes light to medium-bodied red wines that sing with crunchy, redcurrant flavours and autumnal, leafy notes. These are earthy, old school wines with a slight whiff of lead pencil. Lighter and leafier than Cabernet Sauvignon*, you can glug Cabernet Franc for lunch (chilled can be quiet nice) or dinner as the nights start to close in. Come to Mr. Franc for Autumn in a glass!
*FACT 1: Cabernet Franc is father to the beefy, international ‘rugby star’ grape: Cabernet Sauvignon.
FACT 2: Synonyms for Cabernet Franc include ‘Bouchy’ and ‘Breton’ in France, ‘Bordo’ and ‘Cabernet Frank’ in Italy.
CABERNET FRANC TASTING TOUR
Cabernet Franc tops the bill in France’s Loire Valley and you’ll find doses of it in ‘Meritage’ or ‘Bordeaux Blends’ around the world. Here are three styles to try:
Loire Valley – Start with a classic from Chinon, Saumur-Champigny, Anjou or Bourgueil. This Saumur-Champigny below is light with crunchy cranberry flavours and herbal, earthy notes. If you fancy something with more concentrated, darker fruit and a cool, saline lick however, then try the Anjou-Villages:
Chile – A bit of sun can actually work wonders for this grape as the wine below shows: Fuller-bodied again with spicy red fruit, chocolate and tobacco leaf flavours. It’s soft, easy drinking and tangy. Try:
The lighter styles from France or Italy work particularly well with vegetables, but are also often served with roast chicken, turkey, ham and even steak frites. Heavier styles such as those from Hungary, Chile, Australia and California will do well with mushrooms and heavier meat dishes, like stews.
Last Sunday’s Drinkypoos session on Channel 4’s Sunday Brunch with Tim Lovejoy, Simon Rimmer and me was all about Malbec: the polo player of wine grapes! Here’s what we talked about and what we drank…
What is Malbec? Malbec is the name of a wine grape, originally from South West France but flourishing in Argentina where it is now their flagship grape.
What’s the Vinalogy for Malbec? A Vinalogy (wine-based analogy) is a memorable image that ties in all the classic characteristics of a wine grape to make it easier to remember and Malbec is the Polo Player: Smooth and athletic rather than rugby player chunky. Think of them with lustrous, chocolate brown hair and raspberry pink team shirts as the lomo steaks sizzle on the BBQ, because that’s Malbec: rich and chocolatey with raspberry flavours and notes of grilled meat.
What are we tasting? Three styles of Malbec from the three regions most famous for it: Cahors in South West France, Mendoza in Argentina and France’s Loire Valley.
Wine 1: ‘Chatons du Cedre’ Cahors, Malbec 2012. Oddbins £9.50 (12.5% abv)
Though most people probably think of Argentina for Malbec these days, the grape originated in this part of the world. The region of Cahors in South West France is famous for Malbec-based wines in a particular style i.e. inky black, super dry and almost dusty, with dark, mulberry spice. Remember that in France, wines are often named after region rather than grape. Think Cahors, think Malbec; though it’s often also called Auxerrois (amongst other things). It’s a great example of ‘old world’, Malbec. Eat with Cassoulet and stews. Vinalogy: retired polo player – more savoury and dusty! Stockist: Oddbins
You can’t do Malbec without going to Argentina, and this one is everything you’d want from your Polo Player: Rich and chocalately, but with lots of blueberry and raspberry fruit. Slightly meaty but there’s freshness too. Brilliant value. This one also show’s one of Malbec’s signature traits really well: pink tears dripping down the glass. You can guess what it is by looking at it! It’s been oaked for 12 months in French oak which gives it that spicy, structure (dryness). It’s a proper wine but not too serious. Vinalogy: Classic polo player with all the above notes thrown in! Stockist: The Wine Society
The Loire Valley is a lesser known region for Malbec, but one that wine lovers should know about nonetheless. The style is always much lighter in body and alcohol thanks to the cooler climate of the Loire and it offers something a bit different. Normally I’d show a Loire red first as it’s lighter, but this has taken ‘different’ and run with it. It’s a bit of a legend in the wine trade. Vinalogy: like an elegant polo playing lady who’s been taken for a wild night out in Essex, she’s spoliing for a fight, her hair is everywhere and she’s been rolling in horse poo, but she’s still really rather moreish. One to drink with funky game dishes. Note: It’s funky because it is a ‘natural wine': nothing has been added and nothing removed including Sulphur which normally acts as an antioxidant and antiseptic. Stockist: Winebear.com
Want a little more information on the polo player of wine grapes? Here’s my video!