Posts Tagged ‘Oloroso’
Martin Hudson MW’s presentation of fortified wines, some of them sweet, was organised by pairings – two Sherry styles, two Madeiras, two Ports, two Vin Doux Naturels and a lonely Rutherglen Muscat at the end. In this way, with some elegant economy, he was able to illustrate the remarkable diversity of the world of fortified wines in just nine examples and an hour and a half. This post won’t attempt to cover all the detail that he shoehorned into those ninety minutes but it was a tour de force and a gustatory delight! As it happened his choices perfectly complemented an earlier fortifieds tasting I led earlier this year: Fino here, Manzanilla earlier and so on, read more. That post concentrates more on the conditions in which the grapes are grown, this one on the final result in the bottle and how it is achieved.
The two sherries illustrate the diversity in this category – yeasty, bready, even green olive in the pale Fino on the left, walnuts, toffee, raisined grapes in the dry Oloroso on the right. Visually this could not be clearer – the Fino has been aged under flor, the specialist top-growing Sherry yeast which keeps the wine from oxygen, the Oloroso has done its growing up by interaction with air, hence the lovely, golden brown colour. These are fine wines at budget prices: Lustau, Puerto Fino, non vintage about £12, Berry’s Dry Oloroso, non vintage, just £8.
The next pair illustrated two, high quality, ten year old examples of contrasting styles from the semi tropical island of Madeira. The Sercial on the left in the glass is the driest, or should we say the least sweet of the four classic single variety styles. It is still moderately sweet but accompanied by the searing acidity which makes Madeira stand out – and your hair stand on end. Barbeito is a wonderfully traditional firm and that colour is due solely to the average ten years of ageing, not the addition of caramel which is common in cheap versions. These wines are made in the slow bake-and-cool of being stored in lofts or similar while they do the equivalent of the round-the-world tour through which it was discovered that, against all the standard rules, Madeira improves through tough love. By contrast, the Malvasia is browner and much sweeter, but still with that zippy acidity, to go with the nutty, citrus peel and fruit complexity. Brilliant wines and – unlike the Sherries – these you can buy, open and consume at leisure over weeks and months. Having had the full heat treatment and the oxidation, they are virtually indestructible. (The tasting earlier in the year featured the cheaper Full Rich Madeira and a 15 year old Bual.)
On to the Portly pair. The picture shows a great difference of colour as a signpost to two radically different wines. The pale brick colour on the left is a pretty, old (20 years), tawny , but one which even at this age has fruit. By contrast on the right is the intense ruby red of a Crusted Port, a style which sits between LBV and a true vintage port. If you like vintage port but are put off by the price (or the need to keep them for years), Martin’s advice is that you head for a high quality Crusted Port. The William Pickering 20 year old Tawny Port is about long ageing in wood, sweet fruit and no tannins – the latter have dropped out of solution over those years in wood, so this is now a sweet and smooth delight. The Crusted Port (both Berry’s) has been aged in wood for three years but then in the bottle, in this case for eight years. It is a blend of the wines of several years, here 1999, 2000, 2001 and bottled in 2004. And if you want to, you could keep it let it develop more complexity in the bottle. You should really decant it as it will throw a sediment. On all these counts it is rather like a mini-vintage port, but obviously multi vintage and doesn’t have to come for the very best years when a true ‘vintage’ is declared. In contrast to the mellifluous character of the old tawny, it is full of red fruit and wonderful, grippy tannins. (The tasting earlier in the year was a mini Port-fest and featured the four complementary styles of Ruby, modern LBV, Colheita and Vintage.)
Our final pair are an unlikely couple, technically the same but very different in taste, two ‘Vin doux naturels’. Made in a very similar fashion to Port, if fortified to a lower level, they feature the flavour of the grape from which they are made, rather than the effects of the ageing process. A simple Ruby Port would be be the closest parallel. (There are oxidative VDNs, for example those made at Mas Amiel, but they didn’t feature in this tasting.) The two wines shown above are made from fully ripe, healthy grapes – Martin hopes to return to cover ‘wines affected by ‘noble rot’ at a later date – and then fermented at low temperatures (15-18° C) with a view to preserving the fruit character. Adding alcohol stops the fermentation with the fresh fruit flavours intact and leaves the ‘natural’ sweetness (derived from the grape juice) in the finished wine. Muscat de Beaume de Venise, Domaine de Durban, 2010 was all orange blossom and grape aromas, while La Cerisaie, Domaine des Schistes, Maury 2009 was a glassful of vibrant deep ruby colour and Grenache fruit, sweetness and, of course, alcohol.
The final wine of the evening was a modern Australian classic, a single wine to represent this unique style. Remarkably, given its attractive deep amber colour, it is made from the same grape variety as the the pale Muscat pictured above. In this example Muscat blanc á petit grains is grown in very hot Victoria, partly raisined before been turned into wine and then treated to a form of the solera ageing system more usually associated with Sherry – but in a hot place. In terms of its production it has it all – raisining of the grapes as in (non fortified) Vin Santo, fortification like Port (or any of the wine in this tasting), solera ageing like Sherry, heat treatment of the ageing wine like Madeira. The wine in question is Rutherglen Muscat, Stanton & Killeen, Victoria, Australia, 12 year old, The age designation is an average, the style of a 12 year old. As this solera was started in 1921 there are at least theoretically a few molecules of 90 year old wine in every modern day bottle! Rich amber in colour, this wine had a mouth coating luscious richness along with intense nutty, savoury and sweet flavours. A good wine to finish on as it would be difficult to taste anything less assertive after this.
With many thanks to Martin Hudson for another splendid evening. We are already looking forward to the ‘noble rot and late harvest’ tasting in due course!
As stated many times on this blog, exposing yourself to trial by blind tasting is a mug’s game. My worst moment was failing to identify the grape variety of an Alsace Grand Cru Gewurztraminer. After I knew what it was its typical rose water and lychees aromas were as obvious as it gets. And yes there are a few easy hits – Riesling, young or aged, tends to announce itself, classic Pinot Noir should not be too difficult – but generally it is extremely challenging. The brain plays funny tricks on you; smells and tastes are difficult to pin down; increasingly, New World producers are successfully imitating the ‘European’ restraint, while the climate warms up in Europe producing ripe fruit which could come from warmer locations. So what the world needs is a blind tasting improbability index, the BTII to the cognoscenti: 0 for wines so bland that they could be made from a blend of the European wine lake or grape varieties so obscure that even the grape grower doesn’t really know what they are called, 7 for classic Bordeaux blend in a cool climate, 9 for young New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and so on.
On ‘the index’ (as I as sure it will be known), wines at the late April Bring a Bottle Club scored pretty low: one grape variety which nobody had heard of before, one rare blend, a red wine from a famous white wine maker, and a white wine from an appellation almost uniformly associated with red. And I thought there was supposed to be only one joker per evening! Ok – there were also two Clarets, one showing classic characteristics, the other rather atypical. Let’s give the index its first outing.
|Curiously amber in colour, this had some oxidised notes as well as toffee and floral aromas. On the palate is was a bit waxy (?Marsanne) with a rather drying finish. It turned out to be Domaine Tempier, AC Bandol Blanc 2003 – probably suffering from the heat of that year. Mostly Clairette with Bourboulenc, Ugni blanc and 3% Marsanne! But an unusual white from a famous red AC: BTI index 2 or 3 at most, though well done to those who thought it was a Rhone white which was in the right area.|
|By contrast this wine had a BTI score of 7 or 8. Restrained green herbaceous and grassy notes, some very mild pleasant oak on the palate, more assertive ripe fruit towards the finish. TerraVin, Marlborough Te Ahu 2008 is a very good oak-fermented Sauvignon Blanc. My only real success of the evening as I spotted correctly the grape variety, the oak and the New World origin despite the restraint.|
|Medium deep ruby in colour, quite aromatic on the nose, a rather thin palate of plum, cherry and perhaps a hint of chocolate. I joked that from the colour it could not be Pinot Noir; in fact it was a blend of oak aged Pinot and Rondo – which I later learnt has some non-vinifera genetic material in it which gives it good protection from winter frost and downy mildew. Useful in northerly climates: Wickham Reserve 2008, a local vineyard here in north Hampshire. Joker no. 1 and BTI index of 2 or perhaps 3 for a wine that is local.|
|Joker no. 2 and BTI index of –2 (ah, you mean you didn’t know the index has negative numbers?). Which red wine has some bell-pepper and cedar notes but then high acidity and tannins, a rasping palate of some interest but not very polite manners? A clue (of sorts): it is a relative of a grape variety which makes a famous white wine. Step forward (and then backward quickly) Listán Nero, the red version of the Palomino variety, the main stay of Sherry. Tajinaste, Valle de la Orotava, Tenerife, 2010.|
|By contrast, this wine should have been both a great treat and a relatively easy spot, BTI index 8. Moderately rich fruit, leafiness and a rather farmyardy note on the nose, with fair fruit but very high acidity and marked tannins on the palate. An old Bordeaux favourite, but in this particular example the balance of wine was not quite right for chateau or vintage: Ch. Batailley, AC Pauillac Grand Cru Classé (fifth growth), 2002|
|Same BTI score or a nudge up as this wine did exactly what it was expected to do. On the ruby/garnet border in colour with a broad rim, well integrated oak effects, restrained red and black fruit, medium acidity and tannins which were a bit chalky: still in Bordeaux but rather humbler if absolutely true to type: Ch. Cissac, Cru Bourgeois, Haut-Médoc, 2000. Enjoyed by all, wide consensus as to its identity.|
||Classy and elegant nose, oak, red and black fruit which managed to be both sumptuous and restrained, The fruit is bright and very attractive – but doesn’t fall entirely into one obvious varietal or wine style, but there is no doubting the outstanding quality. I guessed right but was not really sure as the intensity and structure of the fruit threw put a question mark against Tempranillo: R. López de Heredia Tondonia, Vina Cubilla, 2005. Marketed as a Crianza but much better than that would suggest. 65% Tempranillo, 25% Garnacha, with some Mazuelo and Graciano. Wine of the evening, BTI index 7.5.|
|A bonus bottle with the cheese which followed the Red Lion’s superb lamb dish. Pronounced wood notes, rich, caramel, something spicy, obviously fortified, rather too chunky on the palate for my liking: Marks and Spencer’s Dry Oloroso Sherry, made by the excellent Lustau. BTI index 8.5. Score could be higher but, sadly, we just don’t drink much quality Sherry.|
Average BTI score over eight bottles? a miserly 5. This shows how difficult an evening it was – but note that the average conceals a lot of very low scores and some high ones. The BTI – like our tasting skills – might need some honing.
Fortified wines are a seriously undervalued category of quality wines. Somewhere we have bought the line that to be taken seriously wines must be dry (many fortifieds are also sweet) while proper concerns about alcohol consumption put a question mark against wines that can be around 20% in alcoholic strength. Vintage Port is the exception, not the rule, receiving lots of proper attention, but it is rare treat. But there is a whole range of excellent wines, many at really good prices for the quality and sophistication which they offer. And what really marks these wines out is their character as wines of the extremes – of location, climate, wine making, ageing and quality. Here is the line up I recently presented at the Officers’ Mess at Andover.
The evening started with two Sherries. The image of Sherry is cosy and suburban but it is made in an extreme location. The Southern tip of Spain is far too hot and dry to contemplate growing grapes for quality white wines. And most styles are made from one of the dullest grapes in the world, Palomino Fino. But it is the peculiarities of soil type (water retaining albariza chalk), the distinctive approach to ageing the wines in the solera system and making use of the climactic peculiarity of a hot region which is on the Atlantic coast which leads to great and highly distinctive wine. We tasted the two classic styles from which all other Sherry styles are based – if you ignore the inky black sweetness of PX. Las Medallas, Bodedgas Argüeso is a classic Manzanilla, the palest and lightest in the Fino style, a wine of mouth refreshing freshness and tanginess. The key to its distinctiveness is that it is aged under a layer of flor, a special type of yeast which rises to the surface in the barrel and which grows particularly thickly in the moisture rich environment of Sanlucar de Barrameda, right on the Atlantic coast. The solera system – a series of barrels which feed younger wines into progressively older blends – ensures consistency and complexity in the three year old final product. For a wine of this complexity, it is a great bargain at £7.
In complete visual contrast, a true Oloroso sherry is a mid amber colour and looks like a seriously old and viscous wine. Remarkably, it is made from exactly the same boring grape variety but, being fortified to a higher level, 18%, does not grow a protective layer of flor. As a result it ages in interaction with the air above it – hence the dark colour and the characteristic nutty, woody and even date flavours. Our example was an excellently made Viejo Oloroso from Sanchez Romate, who provide the Wine Society Exhibition range wine in this style. The only disappointment is that there is absolutely no indication about how old this ‘viejo’ is – I guess 10 years but perhaps more. (The Wine Society agree with this estimate and explained that it not financially viable to get the expensive certification of age for a small lot of wine.) To complete the sherries, this is a ridiculously good wine at £10.75 – but then, sadly for the producers but good for the discerning drinker, Sherry is deeply unfashionable.
The two sherries were followed by two Madeiras. If the tip of Spain is not recommended for white wines, the sub-tropical island of Madeira, 500+ kilometres off the coast of Morocco, surrounded by the Atlantic, is completely improbable – too hot, too wet, too humid. You have to add to those factors an overly rich volcanic soil and steep sites which require terracing. Once again the trick is in the ageing which breaks all the rules about keeping wines cool to preserve quality. Here you either actively heat wines to a seriously hot 50° for three months (the estufa method) or, more gently but equally improbably, leave them to age in a hot spot (the canteiros method), for example under the roof for years where temperatures will fluctuate wildly through the seasons – cf. the method of making Vin Santo in Tuscany.
Our two examples were from the grand old house of Henriques & Henriques: the first was the inexpensive Full Rich Madeira, no doubt made from the commoner Tinta Negro Mole grape variety and heat treated in the stainless steel estufagem you can see on their website. Moderately sweet, it offers marked, luscious, caramel flavours. Much more sophisticated was Bual, 15 year old, made from one of the four so-called noble varieties, in this case Bual (both a grape variety and a style), which is grown on the warmer south side of the island. In addition to the moderate sweetness it had a beautiful and complex combination of dried fruit, rancio, subtle wood and spice notes, with the characteristic acidity well clothed – poised, elegant, persistent. £22 for a 50cl bottle is decent value. And this is a baby by Madeira standards. Madeiras are probably the world’s longest living wines; if a wine can survive this heat treatment and has high acidity, it is virtually indestructible. For example, H&H still offer wines from the 1930s. Extreme indeed.
The second half of the tasting was devoted to four Ports, appropriately enough for an officers’ mess. Here the extremes are the summer temperatures and dropping rainfall as you get further inland, steep riverside sites which have to be worked by hand, fast extraction of the colour and phenolics in the first two days of fermentation and, in the case of vintage ports, decades of ageing potential.
The first two wines were in common styles – a simple, if high quality Ruby and then an LBV. Ruby is made from a range of red grapes, typically grown in the wetter and cooler western part of the Douro. Nowadays the fruit will be pressed mechanically with the aim of getting as much colour and tannin from the skins as is possible in the two days available before distilled grape spirit is added to leave a red, fiery, fruity wine. Krohn Porto Ambassador Ruby more than fulfils this brief. By contrast, the Wine Society’s LBV Port 2006, made by the dominant Symingtons group, was a star wine – showing a fresh attack of red and black fruit, edges rounded out by around 5 years in wood barrels, excellent balance between sweetness and acidity. Late Bottled Vintage (LBV to its friends) as a style is one way of getting something of the character of vintage port but without the wait or the need to decant. This example was made from quality fruit from the central, most prestigious, part of the Douro valley and has retained its weight despite being fined and filtered before bottling. Why ‘late bottled’? Because it is bottled just before it is ready to drink, while vintage port proper is bottled in its infancy, with all its growing up to do. This example from Symingtons showed outstanding value at £11.75 a bottle.
And finally, two contrasting example of aged wines. Inexpensive tawny port is paler than ruby and alcoholic, and that’s about it. True tawnies are wines that have been in a barrel long enough to go, well, tawny. A tawny made with high quality fruit of a single year, which has been wood aged for at least seven years, qualifies to be a Colheita, the Portuguese word for ‘harvest’ here doing service for a vintage wine – given that ‘vintage’ in the language of port has a very particular meaning. Krohn Porto Colheita 2000 was an excellent example, having been aged in wood for a full 10 years in the cooler Vila Nova de Gaia, across the river from Oporto itself. Amber in colour, pleasantly and slowly oxidised fruit flavours, it was long and subtle.
True vintage ports are extreme in other ways: only the best fruit in the best years will do; much greater use is made of the very best grape varieties including Touriga Nacional with its meagre yield of 300 grams per plant; and it needs years, decades, of ageing in the bottle to show its potential. Surprisingly, it is the simplest of all these wines to make – select the very best fruit, extract all that you can from the skins for two days, fortify, age in wood for a couple of years, bottle without any sort of treatment – no fining, filtering or stabilisation. Some of these wines are still made by the traditional pressing under foot in a long, low trough, producing excellent results if you can get people to do it; others by modern equivalents. The result is a wine of massive concentration and great levels of extract, which is pretty much undrinkable in its youth. It will throw a prodigious and solid sediment in time … and it will evolve ever so slowly in the bottle under its original cork. Graham’s 1980 Vintage Port showed really well at the climax to this tasting but has years left in it – a remarkable combination of continuing fruit and fine, evolved tertiary notes; a great balance between power and refinement; remarkably young for its 32 years.