Monday, March 30, 2015

Well let’s set the record straight on Cognac vs Brandy…side by side; There is a huge difference in the Flavor, that much we know...

Over the weekend I got into this interesting and humorous conversation on Cognac.

It was inexactly voiced in a colorful way... that Cognac was really a Spanish wine and that the best Cognac came from Spain. Also that every Brandy is not Cognac and Cognac is different than Brandy. That they are not the same. The French Cognac is different than the Spanish Cognac.  

Classic brands like Marques D’ Misa, Carlos I, Cardenal Mendoza, Gran Duque d’Alba were some of the names rattled off as Cognacs that were preferred to their French counterparts Napoleon, Hennessy and Remy Martin.

Well let’s set the record straight on Cognac and Brandy…Cognac and Brandy side by side, there is a huge difference in the flavor, that much we know.

Drum Roll Please...

All Cognacs come from France, like all Champagne comes from France. It's a distilled liquor made from grapes. All Brandys come from everyplace else

Cognac is simply brandy distilled from wine produced in certain regions of France. Legally, in France, it has to be produced in those regions, and aged for a longer period of time, to be called Cognac. So Cognac is, technically speaking, a type of brandy. That means it’s made by distilling wine, and then aging the resulting spirit (the French call it eau de vie) in wood barrels.

Spanish brandy is properly called Brandy de Jerez and, like the French brandies, can be produced only in a designated region. Brandy de Jerez comes from around the Andalucian city of Jerez, the same place sherry is made.

In fact, the brandy is aged in sherry casks, using the same solera system, the carefully orchestrated process involving successive barrels in which younger brandies are added to older ones as they age. The younger brandy takes on characteristics of the more mature spirit, and the older wine retains a freshness and liveliness.

One of the main differences of Brandy to Cognac is the aging in wood. Where Cognac requires it, Brandy does not. Along these lines some Brandies contain added coloring to simulate the wood aging.

Further, Cognac is governed by strict laws in France… Cognac has long been considered an aristocratic drink and its name is not only well earned but fiercely guarded that is why there is this aura about it.

Brandy is free to be more loose in its methods the world over...We then can consider tradition, production methods, and accountability based on tradition and expectations.

French Law says, a distilled spirit may carry the name Cognac, only if the production methods for the distilled spirit meets the defined regional legal requirements. The restrictions of the ancient law require the wine to be made of 90% Ugni Blanc, FoIt is this wine that eventually is very cautiously distilled into Cognac. The process involves the careful double distillation in copper, and two years of aging in French Oak .

In fact, many Cognac houses will brag about pulling their supply of grapes from very sought-after zones. The terrior of France is unique unto itself along with its appellations.

But remember…This is true for any wine grape producing region and it is an important consideration to take for these respected spirits.

 In the case of Jerez… the great vineyard terroirs have been identified for thousands of years:

Vines arrived in the south of Spain in 1100 BC with the Phoenicians, and later Columella spotted the good chalky (albariza) and bad (sandy) terroirs in Jerez. Which is no slouch!

And that’s a long time before the French Grands Crus!!!

The brandy de Jerez; if it ages at least three years, it’s called solera reserva. If it ages 10 years or longer, it’s called solera gran reserva

Most brandy de Jerez is made with the neutral airen grape, which is said to be the most-planted wine grape in the world. Sometimes a little bit of Pedro Ximenez grape is added, lending sweetness and intensity.

The gran reservas have concentrated flavors of raisin and burnt caramel and hints of sherry cask. Some gran reservas even use the Palomino grape that sherry is made from. The result was a brighter, nuttier and more complex brandy.

I’ll go on the limb and say that the Spanish brandies are deep, rich, lush and more immediately likable. They are a fascinating diversion from the legendary French brandies such as Cognac and even the Armagnac of Gascony in Southwest France and the Calvados from the French region of Lower Normandy.

A good answer to explain the flavor of Cognac is hot fruit cake!

Hmmm… and the USA fruitcake is not a very positive description. Yet it’s a very concentrated stewed toasted fruit. Incredible wood flavors. Really powerful!

By the way…Cognac master blenders often use the word “rancio” to describe a flavor present in many of the oldest and most expensive cognac blends. But this word, which shares its roots with nasty the less-than-appetizing “rancid”, so it lacks an exact translation.





Thursday, March 26, 2015

Let’s start by saying that in Bordeaux, Practically all Wines are Blended. Many do not Consider the Fact and would be Surprised...

There are many great books and websites with great research and information, but a lot of people ask me about Bordeaux and what makes it so well-regarded while comparing to Napa Valley wines. I just hosted a varied, full-on Bordeaux tasting(which I'll cover on a later date) and there was a lot of blather abound. So here are some thoughts on it.

Let’s start by saying that in Bordeaux, practically all wines are blended. Those who know…know that. Many do not and would be surprised.

Only a few producers make single-variety or varietal wines, which is a lot different than many in Napa Valley, California.

So the French labels actually mask that fact. There’s no naming of the varietals on the labels; but for a few…

So let's talk a little French Bordeaux...

The classic blend consists of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon and/or Cabernet Franc, with small embellishments of Petit Verdot and Malbec and very occasionally Carmenere. Malbec has become the signature grape of Argentina and Carmenere is becoming the signature grape of Chile…but that’s another story.

Merlot is favored on the right bank of the Gironde River system (the main river that divides both sides of Bordeaux), and Cabernet Sauvignon on the left, though Merlot plantings have been increasing on the left bank over the past twenty years. It’s hard to tell what effect that will have.

Bordeaux wines are done in is a highly controlled process, with prevalent use of stainless steel vats for fermentation, cooling devices, mechanisms, procedures and a lot of hygienic self-control and restraint. Let’s face it. This where the whole shebang sort of comes from... more or less.

Just so you know in the early 1950’s, adding sugar became legal in Bordeaux. The sugar is not to sweeten the wine. It is to help it along so it ripens to a better potential along with the alcohol. The use of sugar (chaptalization) is common in Bordeaux, except in the warmest of years, and on the left bank, where Cabernet Sauvignon leads the way and ripens well ahead of the Merlot.

Also, the left bank is the place where the original ‘Classified Growths’ are…so they want to optimize the area, to say the least.

Let’s get to the wine!

Once the producer decides the wine has aged for the right amount of time, the selection begins for the right blend for the vintage. This is released as the château's grand vin. Sometimes there is leftovers from the blending and this may be released as a second-wine (or in even a third-wine). It’s not inferior wine. Some are very expensive which can be superior to a lot of great wines. Some get so popular that they have a conundrum as to whether they need to put aside for the second wine.

…Well after the blending, the wine will be bottled, and will then typically goes through a further ageing process before being released.

In Bordeaux the oenologists and their science of winemaking plays a huge role. Many of these folks work as consultants to different châteaux and carry a whole lot of weight these days in major decisions regarding the wine. The Chateaux contract these wine scientists/wine process experts/visionaries to help them make the best wine they can.

Some of the most famous oenologists are Stéphane Derenoncourt, Emile Peynaud, Jacques Boissenot, Pascal Chantonnet, Olivier Dauga, Denis Dubourdieu, Jean-Philippe Fort, and Michel Rolland.

Likewise, In Bordeaux, hand picking grapes is now common among the more prestigious châteaux. Hand- picking is the traditional way. But while hand-picking is the main way of doing things, some classified châteaux still want to harvest by machine.

Here’s the thing on hand picking grapes in Bordeaux…The delicate and careful process of gathering by hand is still the best way to secure a maximum quality harvest ….The one problem with manual harvesting is the sheer size of vineyards in Bordeaux. 

On the other hand; mechanical harvesting also has a big benefit. It is very flexible: it makes possible harvesting at night, which is very desirable and effective during hot weather ….

What is also important is that the flatter geography of Bordeaux also allows for mechanical harvesting, it is not like the Rhone where the steep slopes of wine-producing areas such as Côte-Rôtie makes machine harvesting practically impossible.

It goes without saying that Quality and Profit are always very significant factors on all of this. 

The other big decision these days while on the subject of the blended wines of Bordeaux is that there has been this rise in the use of ‘green harvesting’, where unripe bunches are cut off in the summer in order to be this conduit for more of the plant's strength to the remaining bunches.

‘Green Harvesting’ is really controversial and some big wine making names such as Jean Gautreau of Château Sociando-Mallet, Gonzague Lurton of Château Durfort-Vivens and Olivier Bernard of Domaine de Chevalier, who assert that the remaining berries just get fleshier and grow bigger and are not better. Their camp basically says; It may be a cheaper way of harvesting but will the quality of the blended wines of Bordeaux suffer.

Bordeaux is definitely not the only wine area with blended wines and certainly not the only area with process challenges. Nevertheless, it is interesting to note that all these things mentioned previously occur in the place where arguably the world’s greatest blended wine is located.  

By the way did you know Bordeaux is a blended wine?  J/K.


Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Tampa is launching a new wine association. …Tampa Bay Wine Alliance - TBWA Wow!!!

Tampa is launching a new wine association. …Tampa Bay Wine Alliance  - TBWA

The website is evolving and will have the events and the on-goings. So it's a good App for the smartphone to know the events. It's also going to have a members only area as the site progresses further.
It is a not-for-profit corporation dedicated to supporting the growing wine culture of the Tampa Bay region.

It has a nominal membership of $52 a year. It provides you 6 tasting events and you become a ‘Founding Member’ which for sure will have goodies involved.

It has the backing of some of the major restaurants in the area including Bern’s, Mise en Place and Charley’s Steakhouse to name some…and it will have a lot more in the tank for all kinds of wine lovers. Beginners to Aficionados.

The mission is to enhance the knowledge and appreciation of wine and wine service by promoting wine education and enjoyment throughout the Greater Tampa Bay area.

If you are a wine enthusiast, the goal of the alliance is to help you deepen your understanding through online content and tasting opportunities.

If you are involved with wine through the service industry, the organization will provide you with educational opportunities to increase your ability to serve customers and ultimately increase your earning potential.

If you are a “wine professional”, the goal is to support your efforts to be a leader in the industry, acquire professional certifications, and network with your peers.

Whatever your level of interest in wine, the alliance strive to develop a sense of community that will make the Tampa Bay area one of the top regions for wine knowledge and appreciation in the entire country. We hope you’ll support the efforts! Sounds ideal! By the way, my hat is 'in' on this.

Sign up today. Don’t miss out on this cool happening!