How Sweet Wine Is

The sweetness of a wine is determined by how our taste buds interpret the interaction of a wine’s sugar content, the relative level of alcohol, acid and tannins. Sugars and alcohol enhance a wine’s sweetness; acids (sourness) and bitter tannins counteract it.

Among the components influencing how sweet a wine will taste is residual sugar. It is usually measured in grams of sugar per litre of wine (g/l). Residual sugar typically refers to the sugar remaining after fermentation stops, but it can also result from the addition of unfermented must (a German practice known as Süssreserve) or ordinary table sugar.

Even among the driest wines, it is rare to find wines with a level of less than 1 g/l. By contrast, any wine with over 45 g/l would be considered sweet, though many of the great sweet wines have levels much higher than this. The sweetest form of the Tokaji or Eszencia, contains over 450 g/l, with some vintages reaching 900 g/l. Such wines are balanced by the use of acidity. This means that the finest sweet wines are made with grape varieties that keep their acidity even at very high ripeness levels, such as Riesling and Chenin Blanc.

The sweetness of a wine is also controlled by factors such as the acidity and alcohol levels, the amount of tannin present, and whether the wine is sparkling or not. A sweet wine such as a Vouvray can actually taste dry due to the high level of acidity.  A dry wine can taste sweet if the alcohol level is increased.  

Medium and sweet wines are perceived by many consumers as being of lower quality than dry wines. However, many of the world’s great wines, such as those from Sauternes  or Tokaji, have a high level of residual sugar, which is carefully balanced with additional acidity.

People with more proteins in their saliva do not feel the drying effect of tannin as much as people with less. Another interesting fact is that the taste of tannin is reduced when paired with salty and fatty foods.

Our sense of smell also greatly affects our perception of sweetness. A wine that smells sweeter will also taste sweeter. Wine varieties are often referred to as ‘Aromatic’ because of their sweet floral aromas.  A few examples of this are Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Torrontés, and Moscato.

The sweetness scale for wine ranges from bone dry to dry, off-dry, semi-sweet, sweet and very sweet.

THE WHITE WINE SCALE

Bone Dry with flavours of lemons and minerals

  • Pinot Grigio (Italy)
  • Pinot Gris (France)
  • Albariño (Spain)
  • Garganega (Italy)
  • Dry Furmint (Hungary)
  • Gavi (Italy)
  • Muscadet (France)
  • Chablis (France)
  • Grenache Blanc (Spain, France)
  • Macabeo (Spain, France)
  • Vinho Verde (Portugal)
  • Grillo (Italy)
  • Arinto (Portugal)

Dry with Savory and herb flavours

  • Sauvignon Blanc (France)
  • Verdejo (Spain)
  • Grüner Veltliner (Austria, Hungary, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic)
  • Veroiccho (Italy)
  • Colombard (France, California)

Dry with flavours of grapefruit and green apple

  • Vermentino (Italy)
  • Sauvignon Blanc (New Zealand)
  • Dry Chenin Blanc (France)
  • Dry Torrontés (Argentina)

Dry with flavours of yellow apple and pineapple

  • Chardonnay (France, Australia, North America)
  • Marsanne (Switzerland, France)
  • Roussanne (France)
  • Sémellon (France, Australia)
  • Trebbiano (Italy, France)

Dry with flavours of peach and lemon

  • Pinot Gris (United States, Canada)
  • Viogner (France, Australia, North America, South America, New Zealand, South Africa)
  • Dry Riesling (Germany, Australia, Hungary, Washington State, Canada)

Off-Dry with flavours of honeycomb and lemon

  • Kabinett Riesling (Germany)
  • Spätlese Riesling (Austria)
  • Chenin Blanc (France)
  • Torrontés (Argentina)
  • Müller Thurgau

Semi-Sweet with flavours of tropical fruit

  • Moscato (Italy)
  • Gewürztraminer (Germany)

Sweet with flavours of sweet lemon and honey

  • Late Harvest white wine (Everywhere)
  • Sauternes (France)
  • Ice Wine (Canada)
  • Auslese Riesling (Germany)
  • Tokaji (Hungary)

Very Sweet with flavours of golden raisin, fig and apricot

  • White Port (Portugal)
  • Moscatel Dessert Wine (United States)
  • Passito (Italy)
  • Vin Santo (Italy)

THE RED WINE SCALE

Bone Dry with a bold, bitter finish

  • Tannat (France, Uruguay, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, South Africa, Italy
  • Nebbiolo (Italy)
  • Sagrantino (Italy, Australia)
  • Malbec (France)

Bone Dry with savory flavours

  • Chianti (Italy)
  • Bordeaux (France)
  • Tempranillo (Spain)
  • Mourvèdre (France)
  • Anglianico (Italy)
  • Barbera (Italy)
  • Montepulciano (Italy)

Dry with flavours of vegetables and herbs

  • Sangiovese (Italy)
  • Carménère (France)
  • Cabernet Franc (France, Canada)
  • Lagrein (Italy, California)
  • Cabernet Sauvignon (France, Canada)

Dry with flavours of tart fruits and flowers

  • Mencía (Spain)
  • Valpolicella (Italy)
  • Rhône Blend (France)
  • Beaujolais (France)
  • Burgundy (France)
  • Syrah (France)
  • Merlot (France)
  • Trincadeira (Portugal)

Dry with flavours of ripe fruits and spices

  • Garnacha (France, Spain)
  • Amarone Della Valpolicella (Italy)
  • Negroamaro (Italy)
  • Pinotage (South Africa, Brazil, Canada, Israel, New Zealand, United States, Zimbabwe
  • Cabernet Sauvignon (Australia, Argentina, Chile, California)
  • Merlot (United States, Canada)
  • Alfrocheiro (Portugal)
  • Alicante Bouschet (France)

Dry with flavours of fruit sauce and vanilla

  • Shiraz (Australia, Chile, California)
  • Monastrell (Spain)
  • Malbec (Argentina)
  • Nero D’Avola (Italy)
  • Petite Syrah (United States)
  • Primitivo (Italy)
  • Zinfandel (California)
  • Grenache (California)
  • Touriga Nacional (Portugal)

Semi-sweet with flavours of candied fruit and flowers

  • Lambrusco (Italy)
  • Brachetto D’Acqui (Italy)
  • Recioto Della Valpolicella (Italy)

Sweet with flavours of fruit jam and chocolate

  • Port (Portugal)
  • Banyuls (France)
  • Maury (France)

Very sweet with flavours of figs raisins and dates

  • Tawny Port (Portugal)
  • Vin Santo (Italy)

Final Thoughts

Depending on where a grape is grown, the characteristics may change somewhat.  The climate and soil can be a great influence over taste.  For example Pinot Noir from Burgundy, France can be very different from the same varietal grown in Canada or the United States.  The same applies to any other varietal grown in multiple climates.

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Romanian Wines

When Romania joined the European Union in 2007, it began the task of creating a good reputation for producing quality Romanian wines.  Five years were spent reviewing and organizing its wine industry. New wine laws covering production standards and labeling have been put in place and they have continued to evolve.  The three quality categories are Vin de Masa (Table Wine), Vin cu Indicatie Geografica (IGP) and Denumire de Origine Controlata (AOP/DOC equivalent).

There has been an emergence of good quality, small Romanian wine producers. These wineries have a completely different approach to wine making than the large volume producers. This has resulted in the development of some premium Romanian wine.  However, there is still a lot of low-quality, high-volume production. It has been reported that only about a third of Romanian vineyards use high quality grapes. This is the lowest percentage in Europe.

International Organisation of Vine and Wine (OIV) statistics place Romania as fifth in Europe and tenth in the world for the area under vine. This puts Romania in a similar situation to Chile and Portugal when comparing the portion of the country under vine.  Wine production is slightly above that of New Zealand.

The Romanian wine-making industry suffered during the communist era as a result of quantity being prioritized over quality. With the end of communism the country had to deal with hyperinflation and hard economic times and the wine industry suffered further as a result.  During this time mass market wine, “cheap plonk”, became the main export, giving Romanian wine a bad reputation for producing low quality wine.

However, since then the wine industry is improving.  During the past few years a new generation of wine makers has been developing. These small, craft producers have taken advantage of EU funds to invest in new winemaking technology.

They have begun replanting older vines with better quality clones and are experimenting with the winemaking style, taking a new world approach to the process.  Grape-growing expertise has been brought in from France and Germany to help make the most from the terrain.

These niche producers dedicate a percentage of their produce to premium, high-quality wine that feature the best grapes and have the highest care and attention. In response to the growing demand for quality wine, some of the well-established large producers have also started to make more premium wine.

Most Romanian wine producers are now making wine from a mix of international and indigenous grapes, although there are a number of producers that focus exclusively on international grape varieties. Many of the high-quality clones are French.  While Romania’s domestic preference is for white wines, red varietals are on the rise to compete with the international market.

The most popular international white grape varieties are Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc, while the reds include Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Pinot Noir.

There are also some Romanian grape varieties that can be very good as well.  These include:

  • Fetească, which is used to make dry, fresh, perfumed white wines. It has some body and can be barrel fermented for more complexity.
  • Tămȃioasă Romȃnească (‘frankincense grape’) or Romanian Muscat, which is a clone of the Muscat Blanc à Petit Grains, one of the world’s oldest grape varieties. It results in perfumed and aromatic white wines.
  • Fetească Neagra is a red wine which is full-bodied and contains a medium amount of tannins. These wines become velvety with age and contain aromas of spice and black or red fruit.

Romanian wines have the name of the grape varietal on the label, making it easier to identify the type of wines you like.

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Israel’s Wines

Israel is located in the Middle East at the very eastern edge of the Mediterranean Sea. The modern Jewish state’s famously controversial borders were created at the conclusion of World War II. Its wine industry has its roots in the late 19th century, but has largely developed in recent decades. 

A number of ‘international’ wine grape varieties have proven to be successful in Israel. Among these are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Chardonnay and even Gewurztraminer.  Several members of the extensive Muscat family, which retains its historic links with this part of the world, are also to be found here.

Although small compared to most modern wine-producing nations, Israel’s wine production has attracted attention from all across the wine world. This is not only due to the development of new cooler-climate terroirs such as the Golan Heights, but also to the quality-conscious approach of the nation’s wine producers.

Many parts of Israel are too hot and dry to be a reliable producer of high quality wine. However there are some suitable microclimates that are either well established or showing good potential.

Throughout much of the 20th century, wine production was focused on Kosher wine to be exported around the globe. These wines were generally sweet and made from high yield vineyards. Carmel Winery was the first to produce a dry table win, as late as the 1960s. Today sacramental wine accounts for only about a tenth of Israel’s wine output.

The revival in quality winemaking began in the 1980s. This was aided by an influx of winemakers from France, Australia and the USA, and a corresponding modernization of technology. The 1990s saw a marked rise in the number of boutique wineries. By 2000 there were 70 wineries and by 2005 this number had doubled.

Today Israeli wine is produced by hundreds of wineries ranging in size from small boutique enterprises to large companies producing over ten million bottles per year.  In 2011, Israeli wine exports totaled over 26.7 million bottles.

It has been observed by several wine authorities that Israel’s approach to winemaking has evolved from being an Old World producer to developing into a stylistic New World producer.

The demand for kosher wines throughout the world has reinforced the development of the Israeli wine industry over the past few decades. However, not all wine made in Israel is kosher.  Modern Orthodox Jews believe that for wine to be considered truly kosher, the wine should only be prepared by Jews. Some Jews consider non-Jewish wine (known as yayin nasekh) to be kosher if it has been heated; the reason being that heated wine was not used as a religious libation in biblical times and its consumption is therefore not sacrilegious.  Therefore, mulling, cooking and pasteurizing wine renders it kosher in the eyes of many Jews.

The modern Israeli wine industry was founded by Baron Edmond James de Rothschild, owner of the Bordeaux estate Château Lafite-Rothschild. Today winemaking takes place in five vine-growing regions: Galilee, Shomron, the Judean Hills, Samson and Negev. Some of the Israeli defined wine-growing regions, such as the Judean Hills, refer to areas that are largely Israeli-occupied territories. Because of this the definition of wines produced in such areas are subject to legal contention abroad.

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Cheese Pairings

Wine and cheese are two of my culinary pleasures, and finding a good match can be a delicious endeavor. As with any wine and food pairing, there are a number of considerations such as texture, acidity, fat and tannin.

The first thing to decide is whether you want to give the starring role to the wine or to the cheese. If it’s the cheese, pick a wine with less character that will complement it. If you want the wine to be the star, select a cheese with less forcefulness.

Cheeses can be divided into six categories:

Fresh Cheese

These are soft rindless cheeses that are made with cow, goat or sheep milk. They’re not aged and have a mild, slightly tangy flavour.  Cheeses considered in this category include:

  • Mozzarella
  • Burrata
  • Chèvre (goat)
  • Feta
  • Ricotta
  • Mascarpone
  • Stracchino
  • Boursin
  • Very young Selles sur Cher

Wine pairings with fresh cheeses include:

  • Crisp, dry and young white wines such as:
    • Albariño Soave
    • Pinot Blanc
    • Muscadet
    • Vermentino
    • Verdejo
    • Arneis
    • Sauvignon Blanc
    • Young Chardonnay
  • For salty cheeses like Feta, off-dry whites such as:
    • Gewürztraminer
    • Riesling
  • Very young, fruity, unoaked red wines such as:
    • Loire
    • Cabernet Franc
    • Pinot Noir
    • Gamay
    • Valpolicella
  • Crisp, dry rosé.

Bloomy Cheese

These cheeses are named for the bloom of white mold that they are contained within. They tend to be the richest and creamiest type of cheese, with a soft, spreadable texture. The rind is edible, and it has a stronger flavour than the inside.

Bloomy cheeses include:

  • Brie
  • Camembert
  • Robiola
  • Chaource
  • Coeur du Neufchatel
  • Crottin de Chavignol (goat)

Wine pairings with fresh cheeses include:

  • A variety of white wines including:
    • Dry, traditional-method sparkling wines
    • Light-bodied, dry, unoaked Chardonnay (Chablis)
    • Dry, light-bodied Sauvignon Blanc (Sancerre)
    • Dry young Riesling
    • Dry Chenin Blanc (Vouvray)
    • Grüner Veltliner
    • Semillon or white Rhône varieties such as Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc
  • Dry and light-bodied red wines that are young, fruity and unoaked such as:
    • Pinot Noir
    • Dolcetto
    • Barbera
    • Gamay
    • Cabernet Franc

Washed Rind Cheese

These are cheeses that are soaked in brine, beer or wine that produce an orange rind. They are rich and creamy, and will be of soft or semi-soft texture.

Examples of washed rind cheese include:

  • Fontina
  • Epoisses
  • Reblochon
  • Taleggio
  • Langres
  • Chaume
  • Livarot
  • Munster
  • Vacherin de Mont d’Or

Wines that compliment washed rind cheese include:

  • White wines such as:
    • Dry, traditional-method sparkling wines
    • Dry and off-dry, unoaked white wines like:
      • Gewürztraminer
      • Pinot Gris
      • Chenin Blanc
    • Dry, structured whites such a:,
      • Marsanne
      • Roussanne
      • Semillon
      • Riesling
  • Red wines such as:
    • Beaujolais Villages
    • Pinot Noir
    • Poulsard
    • Trousseau

Semi-Soft Cheese

Semi-soft cheeses are not spreadable nor do they break in shards like a hard cheese. They tend to be creamy with a fairly mild flavour. Many are excellent to melt and perfect to slice. Some cheeses like Gouda are semi-soft in younger styles, while when aged, their texture turns hard.

Included in this category are such cheeses as:

  • Gruyère
  • Gouda
  • Havarti

Wine pairings include:

  • Slightly oaked white wines such as:
    • Chardonnay
    • Pinot Gris
    • Rioja
  • Gently oaked red wines such as:
    • Côtes de Rhône
    • Corbières
    • St-Chinian
    • Chianti
    • Mencía
    • Young Bordeaux blends

Hard Cheese

These cheeses are aged and are quite firm and crumbles or breaks into shards. They tend to have nutty and complex flavours. Some are fairly pungent and salty.

Cheeses included in this category are:

  • Cheddar
  • Double Gloucester
  • Parmesan
  • Pecorino
  • Manchego
  • Grana Padano
  • Beaufort
  • Cantal
  • Emmenthal
  • Sbrinz
  • Comté

Wine pairings for hard cheese include:

  • White wines such as:
    • Vintage traditional-method sparkling wines
    • Amontillado Sherry
    • Palo Cortado Sherry
  • Red wine pairings include bold wines with some age:
    • Nebbiol0
    • Sangiovese
    • Aglianico
    • Rioja
    • Bordeaux blends from cooler climates

Blue Cheese

Veins of blue mold run through these cheeses. They can be soft and creamy, or semi-soft and crumbly. Some are sweeter and milder, but all contain a fair amount of sharpness and tang.

Blue cheese varieties include”

  • Cambozola
  • Danish Blue
  • Gorgonzola
  • Roquefort
  • Stilton
  • Fourme d’Ambert
  • Bleu d’Auvergne
  • Cabrales

Wine pairings to coincide with blue cheese include:

  • White wines such as:
    • Noble Rot sweet wines like:
      • Sauternes
      • Barsac
      • Monbazillac
      • Riesling Beerenauslese
      • Trockenbeerenauslese
      • Quarts de Chaume
    • Dessert wines from dried grapes:
      • Vin Santo
      • Jurançon
      • Recioto de Soave
    • Late-harvest wines:
      • Riesling Spätlese
      • Gewurztraminer Vendanges Tardives
  • Sweet fortified red wines such as:
    • Vintage Port
    • LBV Port
    • Maury
    • Banyuls

If all of this is too mind boggling and you want just one wine to match any cheese the experts suggest choosing one of either Amontillado Sherry, Rivesaltes, tawny Port or Madeira. They complement any cheese as they are not too delicately flavoured.  All of these wines are considered to be crowd-pleasers.

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Wine and Eggs

If you listen to the ads on television, eggs are no longer just for breakfast and thus could be enjoyed with a glass of wine beyond the traditional mimosa, which is champagne and orange juice.

There’s a reason why mimosas are a brunch mainstay. Dry sparkling white wines like Champagne, Cava, and Prosecco are the number-one pick for any egg-based dish. Eggs, particularly the yolks, are rich and coat your palate with their savory flavor, which means their flavour lingers when you take a sip of wine. That makes the wine taste a little funny; maybe bitter or metallic or it’s difficult to taste at all. Sparkling wines, however, have that effervescence that actually cleans out your palate. They also tend to have high acidity, which does the same thing, as well as cuts through the natural richness of eggs. So that lingering egg yolk washes away and you can taste the wine again.

Below is an assortment of egg dishes that have been paired with a complimentary wine for enjoyment as a lunch or dinner entree.

Quiche Lorraine

Quiche Lorraine is the original form of quiche, from the French region of Lorraine. It is an open savory pie, filled with a cream and egg custard, and usually containing pork in one form or another, often bacon.  Quiche pairs well with Riesling.

Classic Rancher’s Meal

The Classic Rancher’s Meal consists of eggs, potatoes, pork (ham, sausage or bacon), and toast.  The combination, with the exception of the toast, is fried in a skillet.  Due to the nature of this fried meal, it is best paired with a Sauvignon Blanc.

French Toast

Chenin Blanc is a White wine grape variety from the Loire Valley of France. It is high in acidity to help cut the sweetness of French Toast with maple syrup.

Eggs Benedict

Eggs can be poached on the stovetop or in the microwave, and then set on English muffin halves topped with a slice of back bacon and a spoonful of creamy Hollandaise sauce. Chardonnay or Rosé will pair well with this rich delicacy.

Breakfast Sandwich

This ham, egg, and cheese sandwich on toasted bread or an English muffin pairs well with Lambrusco which is one of the oldest wines of Italy.  It dates all the way back to the Bronze Age. 

Huevos Ranchero

Huevos rancheros, or “ranchers’ eggs”, is a classic Mexican breakfast. Fried eggs are nested in a bed of refried beans, sour cream and salsa and served atop a warm tortilla. Try adding a bit of your favourite hot sauce for a touch of heat.  Pair with a Gamay.

Whatever egg dish you choose, there will be a wine that will pair well with it.

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The Wines of Croatia

Croatian wine has a history dating back to the Ancient Greeks. Like other old world wine producers, many traditional grape varieties are still cultivated. Modern wine production methods are now prevalent in the larger wineries and European Union style wine regulations have been adopted, guaranteeing the quality of the wine.

Croatia is located across the Adriatic Sea from Italy.  It has many indigenous grape varieties that are not very well-known internationally, partly due to their complicated names. The names may contain a long row of consonants as well as have some special characters like č, ž or dž. This can make it difficult to remember or pronounce any given name.

If you are keen to understand the correct pronunciation of the names of the wines this may help.

č – sounds like the “ch” in “chalk”

ž – pronounced like the “s” in “sure.”

dž – pronounced like “j” in “jump”

š – sounds like “sh” in “shoe”

There are two distinct wine-producing regions. The continental region in the north-east of the country produces rich fruity white wines, similar in style to the neighbouring areas of Slovenia, Austria and Hungary. On the north coast, wines are similar to those produced in Italy, while further south production is more towards big Mediterranean-style reds. On the islands and the Dalmatian coast, local grape varieties, microclimates and the rather harsh nature of the vineyards leads to some highly individual wines, and some of Croatia’s best known.

Almost 70% of wine produced is white and produced in the interior, with the remaining 30% being red, which is mainly produced along the coast. Rosé is relatively rare. Some special wines, such as sparkling wine (pjenušavo vino or pjenušac) and dessert wine, are also produced.

There are indeed many foreign “international” grape varieties grown in Croatia but its long history of wine production has left it with a rich tradition of indigenous varieties, especially in the more out-lying areas and the more extreme growing conditions. 

The Croatian Institute of Viticulture and Enology was created in 1996 to oversee the country’s wine industry, and be responsible for regulating winegrowing and wine production. Standards similar to the European Union wine regulations were set up to ensure the consistent quality in their wine. Croatian wines are classified by quality, which is included on the label.

Classifications

Vrhunsko Vino: Premium Quality Wine

Kvalitetno Vino: Quality Wine

Stolno Vino: Table Wine

Types

Suho: Dry

Polusuho: Semi-dry

Slatko: Sweet

Bijelo: White

Crno: Red (literally Black)

Rosa: Rosé

Prošek: Dalmatian dessert wine made from dried grapes, similar to Italian Vin Santo

Even though a classification system is used, Croatian wines don’t have a DO or AOC system like Spain, Italy, or France which can make it confusing to understand a wine’s grade or origin.

Common Red Wines

Plavac Mali

Plavac Mali is the primary red wine of Croatia.  It is a wine that is rich and full of flavour, high in both alcohol and tannin, with lower acidity, and has flavours of blackberry, dark cherry, pepper, carob, dry figs, and spice. Plavac Mali translates to “small blue”.

Teran

This is a red grape that has bold flavours of forest berries and violets with smoky meat and game-like notes. Teran generally has high tannins, and should evolve over a few years. In Italy it is known as Terrano.

Common White Wines

Graševina

The everyday wine of Central Europe, Graševina is also known as Welschriesling. It is one of the most popular white wine grapes in Croatia. Graševina is a dry, fresh, aromatic white wine with apple-like notes.

Grk

To pronounce Grk just pronounce the three letters in a row. Grk produces dry white wines with notes of white pepper, melon, herbs, and sliced pear. The variety is indigenous to Croatia and is only found close to Korčula, on an island within the Srednja-Juzna Dalmacija.

Malvazija Istarska

Malvazija Istarska is one of the main white wines of Istria and the northern Dalmatian coast. It is sometimes referred to as Malvasia Istriana, although it’s not actually the same grape as Italian Malvasia. These wines are refreshing and usually dry, with lower alcohol content and aromas of fennel, quince, honey, apricot, and spice.

Pošip

This white wine is often crisp with flavors of apples, vanilla spice, citrus fruit, and a subtle almond note.

Final Thoughts

Croatian wines are not always available or commonplace in our local wine and liquor stores but that doesn’t mean they are inferior or overpriced.  When you come across one I think you will find it worth your while to take one home and drink it.

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The Wines of Rioja Spain

Rioja, situated in Northern Spain, is best known for berry-scented, barrel-aged red wines made from Tempranillo and Garnacha grapes. It is arguably Spain’s top wine region and the most famous. The vineyards follow the shores of the Ebro River for roughly 100 kilometers between the towns of Haro and Alfaro.

In addition to Tempranillo and Garnacha, Graciano and Mazuelo (Carignan) are also used in red Rioja wines. A few wineries also use small quantities of Cabernet Sauvignon. White grapes on the other hand  are not widely planted.

By 2017 the vineyard area was recorded at 64,215 hectares, 91 percent of which was planted with red grape varieties. Certified production of wine exceeded 250 million liters.

Aging Categories

Rioja’s traditional classification system for aging has influenced other Spanish regions. For example the words Crianza and Reserva occasionally appear on South American wine.

All top-end red Rioja is matured in new oak barrels.  With French oak being difficult to obtain, winemakers in Rioja used American oak, which was both plentiful and inexpensive.  More wineries are now using a mix of American and French oak. American oak maturation is what gives more traditional Rioja red wines their distinctive notes of coconut, vanilla and sweet spice.

The amount of time that a Rioja wine spends in barrel dictates which of the official Rioja aging categories goes on the label: Joven, Crianza, Reserva or Gran Reserva.

Joven

Joven is Spanish for “young”, indicating that these wines should be consumed within a short period of being released; generally within two years.  Joven wine spends little or no time in oak barrels so they are low in tannin and are not suited for retention.  This category may also include wines which have undergone aging, but for one reason or another do not gain certifications for the higher categories.

Crianza

Crianza red wines are aged for at least one year in oak, and another year in the bottle. They are released in the third year. White Crianza wines must also be aged for two years but only six months needs to be in barrels.

Reserva

Reserva red wines spend a minimum of one year in oak. They cannot be sent to market until a full three years after the vintage. The white Reserva wines need only spend six months of the three years in oak.

Gran Reserva

Gran Reserva red wines must undergo a total of five years of aging with at least two of those years being spent in barrels. The white counterparts must age for at least four years, with a minimum of 12 months in casks.

In order to be more competitive internationally, many wineries now produce a premium wine that is aged entirely in French oak barrels.   Because these wines are often the most expensive in the winery’s portfolio, but may only qualify as Crianza or Reserva, they are not often marketed with any emphasis on the aging classification.

Site-Based Classifications

In 2018, the governing body Consejo Regulador introduced three geographic categories. These can be implemented from the 2017 vintage onwards. 

If producers adhere to strict guidelines they may now produce single-vineyard wines under the Viñedo Singular banner. Vines must be hand-picked and be at least 35 years old. Yields are set low and a tasting evaluation must be passed. If the fruit is not from an estate-owned site, then the winery has to have a ten-year history of buying grapes from the vineyard.

Wine labels may now also be labeled with the name of a village but the winery must be located within the village boundaries, as well as the vines.

White Wines

Rioja Blanco consists of 7 to 8 percent of Rioja’s annual wine production. The region’s top white-wine grape was once Malvasia, which was used to create flavourful, oak influenced high-alcohol wines. Today, the emphasis has shifted to Viura (Macabeo) and Chardonnay, to give a slightly lighter, fresher and more international white-wine style. Other varietals that are now included in white Rioja are Garnacha Blanca, Tempranillo Blanco, Maturana Blanca, Verdejo and Sauvignon Blanc.

Other Styles

Rioja also produces some other styles of wine, the most notable of which are sparkling wines referred to as Cava. Certain parts of the region are authorized to produce Cava.  A few dessert wines are also produced on a commercial scale from both red and white grape varieties.

The wines of Rioja are well worth a look.  They are competitively priced and of equal quality to the better known Italian and French wines.

Sláinte mhaith

The Wines of Mosel Germany

The Mosel (aka Moselle) River begins in France and flows into Germany where it flows 250 km and disperses into the Rhine River. It is along this winding river gorge that most classic Riesling wines in the world are situated.

So what makes the Mosel Valley so special for this wine and grape? It’s a combination of geology, geography and history (Riesling was first recorded in Germany in 1435) that makes the Mosel wine region unique.

Although over 60% of the grapes grown are Riesling, Elbling; Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Kerner and Auxerrois are also grown. There are some Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in the region as well, often used in Sekt–German sparkling wine.

Mosel Riesling ranges from bone-dry to sweet.  The wines start out with a pale straw color and become deep yellow as they age.

Young wines have medium-intensity aromas of lime and honeydew, sometimes with slightly reductive smells of plastic or mineral notes. As the wines age, they reveal high intensity aromas of honey, apricot, lemon and petroleum. The smell of gas might be off-putting to some but it is a classic indicator of German Riesling.

Riesling has intensely high acidity, usually balanced with some level of sweetness. Wines that taste bone-dry will usually have around 6 to 10 grams per litre of residual sugar and wines that taste barely off-dry may have as much as 30 to 40 grams per litre of residual sugar. Generally, Mosel wines have low to medium low alcohol ranging from 7.5 to 11.5%  alcohol per volume.

German Riesling is known to age well. A wine by a quality producer from a great vintage will last up to 40 years. Even modestly priced wines can age for 5 years and develop a deep golden hue with aromatics of honey and petroleum.

The first level for identifying quality in Mosel’s wine is classification, of which there are 3: Qualitatswein (QbA), Pradikatswein, and VDP.  These are explained in detail in my August 11, 2019 post “Germany’s Quality Standards”.

The second level to finding great quality in the Mosel is understanding the variations from one vintage to the next. Cool climate wine growing regions, which the Mosel Valley is one, tend to be more susceptible to variable weather conditions. It’s possible that great producers will still make great wines in less favorable years, but the vast majority often suffer.

As a general rule, great vintages offer amazing wines at all price points, whereas less-awesome vintages require some buying finesse and a little bit of luck.  Here is a quick rundown of what the experts said about the past decade of releases:

Legend

  • 10: Purchase without hesitation with great cellaring capabilities.
  • 9: Purchase without hesitation as wines are very enjoyable.
  • 8: Purchase as wine is drinkable but not very noteworthy.
  • 7: Only the best producers made decent wine that year.

Vintage

2018 – 10 – Largest yield in the past decade; expecting to be of outstanding quality.

2017 – 8 – Difficult growing season.

2016 – 7 – Tough vintage. Lots of rain and insect problems.

2015 – 10 – A fantastic year.

2014 – 9 – A cooler vintage overall, leading to wines with more acidity. These wines may age quite well.

2013 – 8 – Great producers did well but others didn’t because of rain and rot problems.

2012 – 7 – Inconsistent grape bunch development meant only the best producers made out.

2011 – 9 – A great vintage; the wines have awesome structure and depth.

2010 – 8 – A challenging vintage for ripeness but some producers expect these wines will last for decades.

2009 – 9 – A long warm vintage that produced rich wines.

2008 – 9 – Great producers produced age-worthy wines.

Finding Great Mosel Wines by Sub-Region

The third layer of finding great quality Mosel wines is understanding the geography of the region. Not all of the vineyards here are created equal. The northerly latitude means longer days during the growing season, but only certain vineyards are situated to receive these sunshine hours.

Areas that face south receive up to 10 times more sunlight during parts of the year than those facing north. Also, vineyards located on slopes receive even more sun than the flat lands. 40% of the vineyard acres in the Mosel are located on steep slopes and the best vineyards typically face south.

The steepness of the vineyards makes the use of tractors or mechanical harvesting impossible; farming and harvesting on steep slopes requires as much as three times more labour than more level vineyards.

The 6 sub-regions of Mosel all offer different expressions of Riesling. While the most planted sub-region of Bernkastel attracts the most attention, other regions, including Saar and Ruwertal, make great wines as well.

Final Thought

Riesling is definitely the most renowned varietal in the Mosel.  There is no true comparison to these wines anywhere else in the world.  If you enjoy Riesling and have never experienced any from the Mosel, then you owe it to yourself to experience it.  I don’t think you will be disappointed.

Sláinte mhaith

Greek Wines

Wine has played a part in Greece’s culture from as early as the 8th Century BC according to Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey.  Wine is also a part of Greek mythology by way of Dionysus, the Greek god of wine, who appears in legends from every part of Greece.

Due to Greece’s turbulent history, dating all the way back to the 4th Century, it has always fallen well behind Italy in the development of wine.  This has impacted its influence in the modern wine world.  However, since the late 20th Century, Greece has been revitalized by motivated wine producers who are focusing on quality and are adopting modern wine making techniques.

Today Greek wine combines the traditional with the modern. Native Greek grape varieties such as Assyrtico, Agiorgitiko and Xynomavro are found alongside such international varieties as Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay.

Greek wines are truly European in provenance, style and quality. They are a part of the premier European wine league and in belong to the same class as Italian, Spanish, French, Portuguese, German and Austrian wines.

The basis of Greek wine production is the family-owned boutique winery. All vineyard practices, from planting to harvesting are carried out entirely by hand. The manual work done in Greek vineyards allows for greater attention to detail and the ability to select only the best grapes.

There is a rich heritage of vine growers and winemakers. However, the use of innovative practises and cutting-edge technology embellishes and highlight the arduous work carried out in the vineyard.

Like the rest of Europe, Greece’s grape growing areas are now organized into appellations.  Regions of historical significance were among the first to be granted appellation status.  Conditions were imposed on the grape varieties to be used in the making of wine and often on the altitudes required for cultivation.

The Onomasia Proelefseos Anoteras Piotitos (OPAP) and Onomasia Proelefseos Eleghomeni (OPE) are the two principal designations for the quality of wine in Greece. They cover dry and sweet wines respectively.

There are over 300 varietals of grapes grown in Greece, ranging from the traditional to standard European varieties to the most rare that are specific to Greece.   Included in this vast number of varieties are the four traditional ones.  They are:

Assyrtiko

Assyrtiko is a rare white grape that originated from Santorini (Assyrtiko-Santorini) but now can be found throughout Greece.  In terms of quality it is one of the most important native varietals. It is used to produce mainly dry white wines, some of which are aged in oak. However, a number of sweet wines are made from sun dried grapes.

Assyrtiko is made for people looking for unconventional, intense styles of whites that have texture and density. It pairs exceptionally well with grilled fish and seafood. All Assyrtiko wines, can age well for five or even ten years, sometimes significantly more.

Moschofilero

The Moschofilero grape is reddish or grayish in colour but is almost exclusively used to create dry whites and some sparkling wines. It is also used to create rose wines and is also often blended with other grapes.

Agiorgitiko

Agiorgitiko is a red grape variety that has freshness and intensity of aromas and flavours. It is used to produce a large range of styles, from refreshing rosés to concentrated sweet wines. However, the most common styles are as a young, unoaked wine or as a matured in oak for at least a year.

A young Agiorgitiko is a wine with a moderately deep purple red colour, intense aromas of fresh red fruits, medium acidity and soft tannins. The oak aged examples are deep in colour, while the nose suggests concentrated and complex aromas of red fruits. It is a variety that can produce other styles of wine, such as rosé or dessert wine. It is sometimes referred to being like the Italian Sangiovese grapes, which are the basis of Chianti wine.

Xinomavro

Xinomavro grapes are used to create reds, dynamic rosés, aromatic sparkling wines, and even sweet wines.  They are also blended in dry wines. 

Xinomavro wines are usually for sale when they are at least two years old, having spent a significant proportion of that time in oak. These wines tend to rise to prominence with aging and are bright red in colour, with firm tannins and bright acidity.  The bottle aging potential of these wines is excellent.

This wine is an ideal companion to foods with intense and rich flavours such as meat stews, grilled steaks, sausages, game, roasted lamb, coq au vin or even wild mushroom risotto with Parmesan, wine-flavoured cheeses, aged Gouda or Cheddar.

European Grape Varieties

In addition to the unique Greek varietals there are several standard European varieties grown as well.  White varietals include Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay and the reds include Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Viognier.  Because of Greece’s warm Mediterranean climate, varieties such as Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, or Gamay are not commonly grown in Greece.

Retsina Wine

One type of wine that is unique to Greece is Retsina. The resinated wine style is said to have developed when pine resin was used as an airtight sealant for wine storage vessels. Today Retsina is made by choice rather than necessity, through the addition of pine resin during fermentation.

Final Thoughts

So far the 21st Century has been a tumultuous as all the past centuries for Greece.  The ‘Greek Tragedy’ continues with political instability and an enormous debt crisis that has threatening the entire economy of Europe.  However, despite the continual turmoil, Greece produces both unique and excellent wines.

If you have never tried Greek wine or have not had any in recent memory, then it is time for a new discovery.  To fully embrace the Greek experience I suggest ignoring the common European varietals and try one or more of the traditional Greek wines.

Sláinte mhaith

The Wines of Tuscany Italy

Because of the romantic glamor of its endless rolling hills, cypress-lined country roads and hilltop villages, Tuscany is often considered to be the most famous of the Italian wine regions. Tuscany has a magnificent reputation for its iconic wines – Chianti, Brunello di Montalcino and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano.

Situated in central Italy, Tuscany’s neighbors are Liguria and Emilia-Romagna to the north, Umbria and Marche to the east and Lazio to the south. Its western boundary is formed by the Tyrrhenian Sea. As is the case with almost all of Italy’s 20 regions, Tuscany has a long wine history.

Today, Tuscany is one of the most famous wine regions in Europe. Its vineyards produce an array of internationally recognised wines in various styles. These go far beyond the well-known reds, and include dry whites such as Vernaccia di San Gimignano and sweet wines, both white (Vin Santo) and red (Elba Aleatico Passito). The region’s top wines are officially recognised and protected by a raft of DOC and DOCG titles. (For explanation see my post on Italian Quality Standards August 31, 2019)

The climate has been a vital factor in its success as a wine region. It has warm, temperate coastal areas contrasted by inland areas where increased temperature variation helps to maintain the grapes’ balance of sugars, acidity and aromatics.

The Sangiovese grape is the mainstay variety in almost all of Tuscany’s top red wines. Its long history and broad regional distribution means that it has acquired various names. In Montalcino it goes by the name Brunello, whence Brunello di Montalcino. In Montepulciano, it is known as Prugnolo Gentile. Under the name Morellino, it is the grape used to make Morellino di Scansano.

Sangiovese is also the main grape in Chianti.  Modern Chianti can be made of 100% Sangiovese but also can include percentages of the native Canaiolo and Colorino grape , as well as Cabernet and Merlot.

I have a yearning to one day, when we are free to travel abroad once again, to sit under the Tuscan sun and enjoy a bottle of Chianti.

Sláinte mhaith