ABOUT THE WINES

W h e r e   w o u l d   y o u   l i k e  t o  b e g i n ?

H o w   A r e   S p a r k l i n g   W i n e s   M a d e ? 

 

We all enjoy a glass of stars, because of its ability to make any occasion sing. There’s something about those millions of bubbles filling the wine with life, but where do they come from?

Creating a sparkling wine normally takes several years depending on which kind of style of wine the winemaker wants you to taste.

 

There are a number of different factors that will affect the eventual taste, but it all begins with a wine made in a very similar way to still wine production. 

The grapes are picked (ever so slightly earlier than grapes used fo to give them a touch more acidity), fermented into wine and then aged, sometimes in steel, sometimes in oak depending on the desired flavour of the wine.

The first stage, fermentation, is where the natural sugars in the grapes are eaten by yeast to produce alcohol.

Creating a sparkling wine normally takes several years depending on which kind of style of wine the winemaker wants you to taste.

 

There are a number of different factors that will affect the eventual taste, but it all begins with a wine made in a very similar way to still wine production. 

The grapes are picked (ever so slightly earlier than grapes used fo to give them a touch more acidity), fermented into wine and then aged, sometimes in steel, sometimes in oak depending on the desired flavour of the wine.

The first stage, fermentation, is where the natural sugars in the grapes are eaten by yeast to produce alcohol.

Already by this point there are several factors that will have an effect on taste;

1…..Any chosen grape variety will have a different flavour, whether it is a pure Chardonnay (a common choice) which gives a citrus, crisp and refreshing wine, Pinot Noir, which gives a more rounded, rich nutty character or more exotic varieties such as Torrontes with its striking floral hints and orange citrus fruit.

2…..The length and temperature of the fermentation will also affect the notes in the wine; low temperature quick ferments will preserve the fruit flavours while a long ferment will cause new flavours to develop, sometimes eclipsing the fruit.

3…...fermentation and aging in barrel will lend spice and vanilla tones to the wine, while using steel will again preserve the fruit flavours.

Creating a sparkling wine normally takes several years depending on which kind of style of wine the winemaker wants you to taste.

 

There are a number of different factors that will affect the eventual taste, but it all begins with a wine made in a very similar way to still wine production. 

The grapes are picked (ever so slightly earlier than grapes used fo to give them a touch more acidity), fermented into wine and then aged, sometimes in steel, sometimes in oak depending on the desired flavour of the wine.

The first stage, fermentation, is where the natural sugars in the grapes are eaten by yeast to produce alcohol.

This low alcohol base wine is blended (blending different wines brings all of their qualities together) and then placed in the famous pressure resistant sparkling wine bottle.

 

From this point onward the wine will remain in this same bottle for several years until it makes its way to you.

Before the bottle is sealed, extra yeast and sugar is added to the wine in order to cause it to go through another fermentation, this time in a the airtight bottle. The wine is sealed with a crown cap, just like a beer bottle…a cork will be used to seal the bottle a few years later in the process. This is why the top of the bottle has an unusual lip, so that it can be used for both cork and cap.

In the same way as the base wine was produced, the yeast added will eat the sugar and create two by products – alcohol and carbon dioxide. The additional alcohol will bolster our wine’s alcohol content up to around 12%, but this time the carbon dioxide that would ordinarily escape a cask cannot escape the sealed glass bottle. It has to dissolve back into wine, forming bubbles.

Carbon Dioxide is one of the most soluble gasses on this planet and it dissolves into the wine so well that it can form millions of bubbles and give our wine a lasting fizz after it’s been opened. The smaller the container (i.e. the bottle), the higher the pressure will build and the more the gas will dissolve, giving us finer bubbles.

This low alcohol base wine is blended (blending different wines brings all of their qualities together) and then placed in the famous pressure resistant sparkling wine bottle.

 

From this point onward the wine will remain in this same bottle for several years until it makes its way to you.

Before the bottle is sealed, extra yeast and sugar is added to the wine in order to cause it to go through another fermentation, this time in a the airtight bottle. The wine is sealed with a crown cap, just like a beer bottle…a cork will be used to seal the bottle a few years later in the process. This is why the top of the bottle has an unusual lip, so that it can be used for both cork and cap.

In the same way as the base wine was produced, the yeast added will eat the sugar and create two by products – alcohol and carbon dioxide. The additional alcohol will bolster our wine’s alcohol content up to around 12%, but this time the carbon dioxide that would ordinarily escape a cask cannot escape the sealed glass bottle. It has to dissolve back into wine, forming bubbles.

Carbon Dioxide is one of the most soluble gasses on this planet and it dissolves into the wine so well that it can form millions of bubbles and give our wine a lasting fizz after it’s been opened. The smaller the container (i.e. the bottle), the higher the pressure will build and the more the gas will dissolve, giving us finer bubbles.

Then the bottle is left to sleep and improve quietly. The wine will remain in the bottle with the yeast (the ‘lees’) that was added to the bottle for a prolonged period of time.

This time ‘on the lees’ will change the flavour of the wine, as the yeast – which dies after the second fermentation – interacts with the wine and gives it a creamy, bready/biscuity flavour. The longer the wine spends on the lees, the more it will develop these flavours.

During this period of yeast interaction, the bottle is gradually turned by hand or by machine so that the bottle is upside-down, so that the yeast travels to the neck of the bottle and can be easily removed to give a totally clear wine.

To remove it, the neck is frozen, causing the yeast to form a frozen plug.

 

When the cap is removed, the pressure inside the wine forces the plug of frozen yeast out of the bottle leaving a clear wine.

 

The bottle is then topped up with still wine.

The winemaker has a choice here to alter the style by adding sugar to create a sweeter wine or leave the wine dry.

This is called dosage in French and will alter the softness or crispness of the wine. 

A guide to how a bottle is labeled to show the sweetness of a wine can be found below.

Once the bottle is clear (disgorged) it is then sealed with a cork and left to mellow in the winemaker's cellars, waiting to be released and drunk by you.

 

Nb. Charmat i.e. the Prosecco Method 

 

This is another method that differs slightly from the above and is commonly used to produce Italian wines.

It works well for the fruitier wines of Prosecco because it keeps them fruity and fresh; rather than being fermented individually in bottle, they are blended together and put in a large pressurized vessel. As they ferment together the wine develops less pressure and larger bubbles, so that the wines are softer on the palate.

As the wine doesn’t have so much contact with the yeast, the fruit flavours aren’t affected by the creamy and bready flavours that would otherwise be seen in Traditional Method production, and continue the wine continues to be fruit led.   

Both methods produce very different wines. The traditional method is used to create complexity and fine bubbles, whilst the Italian method gives a fruity and easy-drinking style.

 

H o w   t o   T a s t e   T h e s e  W i n e s 

T h e   A r o m a s

T h e   T a s t e

In the wine trade the below method is used  to find more from a wine. There's no such thing as being born with a ‘superior palate’; a good palate (ability to discern flavours etc) is something you learn over time.The more you taste, the more you learn.

 

The method uses all of your senses, but the main ones used are sight, smell and taste:

 

 

 

The colour of the wine tells you about it's age. Hold your glass at an angle against a white background and look at the color in the centre of the glass. A white wine will begin its life pale and will get darker as it ages. A red wine will be deep purple and ruby when young and moves through crimson and amber as it ages.

Swirl the wine...the drops that fall down the side of the glass form legs, which tell us two things –

  i. The more legs there are, the more alcohol is in the wine. 

  ii. The slower the legs travel down the side of the glass, the sweeter the wine will taste. The faster they fall, the drier the wine will taste.

 

 

One of the first things you are looking for when you smell a wine is that it’s safe to drink. Your sense of smell is extremely powerful, and can pick up aromas in parts-per-trillion, and can notice up to 10,000 separate aromas. Our first check is to make sure the wine isn't 'corked', i.e. that it smells like wine and doesn't smell faulty (like damp cardboard or musty). This is a tradition we still see when a waiter asks in a restaurant if you would like to try a wine; you don’t actually need to taste it. All you need to do is smell the wine to make sure it is ok. If you're lucky it will impress the others at the table.. 

 

Once you know the wine isn’t faulty, you can move on to the other aromas that can be found in the wine. Swirling the wine in the glass concentrates the aromas. After swirling the wine, are the aromas intense or light?

Four main categories are generally used to describe wine:

 

FRUIT - White wines have citrus, stone and green fruit aromas and flavours e.g. apples, pears, lemons, limes, peaches, apricots, gooseberries, pineapple, lychees, kiwi fruit etc. Red wines have red fruit and black fruit aromas and flavours e.g. red & black cherries, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, blackcurrants, figs, plums etc

 

FLORAL - More common in white wines, with aromas and flavours such as elderflower, orange blossom, honeysuckle, roses, violets, perfume.

 

SPICE - A result of the wine spending time in an oak barrel. Aromas and flavours of vanilla, cinnamon, sweet spices, white & black pepper etc.

 

VEGETAL- Often a result of the grape variety, with aromas and flavours such as cut grass, asparagus, bell & green peppers, mushrooms, tobacco blackcurrant leaves etc

 

 

Now for the best part, drinking the wine! Take a sip. When you sip the wine, your tongue picks up four basic flavours:

 

SWEETNESS - detected on the tip of the tongue, so look to see if you feel a tingling sensation on the tip of your tongue. If you feel a tingle, the wine is sweet.

 

ACIDITY -  detected as a mouth-watering sensation in your cheeks and at the sides of your tongue. If your mouth waters, the wine is acidic.

 

BITTERNESS - detected at the back and saltiness/ savoury flavours in the centre.

 

ALCOHOL - can be felt as the warmth at the back of your throat when you slurp the wine. The warmer this sensation, the more alcohol is in the wine.

 

BODY - describes the texture of the wine in your mouth. If the wine is rich and heavy on your palate and fills your mouth with flavours, it is full bodied.

The next thing you want to do to get the most from sparkling wine is to 'chew' the wine ever so slightly. What this does is simply move the wine around your mouth so that you gain the richness from taste, texture and smell and hence more ‘flavour’ coming forward out of the wine.

You can even use another (less delicate!) technique more commonly used in still wine tasting where you 'slurp' the wine.  You may have seen professional tasters doing this; all it involves is tilting your head slightly forward, pursing your lips and drawing air through the wine just as if sucking air through a straw or slurping spaghetti. 

 

You will notice you taste a lot more doing this, because you are mixing the wine with air and drawing the wine to the back of your mouth, to your nose so you also smell it. This method opens the wine and unlocks new flavours.

T h e   A p p e a r a n c e

 

W i n e   L a b e l   G u i d e

A g e

S w e e t n e s s

B o t t l e   S i z e s

NV (non-vintage) -                  grapes are from different years

 

Vintage -                         all grapes are picked in the same year

bear in mind:

producers mostly consider their NV to be their most important 

wine as it is more challenging to blend. The wines are aged over

 several years and then carefully blended to give a house style. 

 

This is the winemaker's signature blend. Vintage wines reflect

 the weather in a given year more than the skill of the winemaker.

Extra Brut/Brut Nature -          less than 6 g/l sugar

 

Brut -                                                        6 - 15 g/l sugar

 

Extra Sec -                                             12 - 20 g/l sugar

 

Sec -                                                        17 - 35 g/l sugar

 

Demi-Sec -                                            33 - 50 g/l sugar

 

Doux -                                                 over 60 g/l sugar

 

 

2 bottles -                                                           Magnum

 

 

4 bottles -                                                          Jeroboam

 

 { in the bible Jeroboam was the first king of

the Northern Kingdom }

 

6 bottles -                                                         Rehoboam

 

{Rehoboam was the first king to separate Judea}

 

8 bottles -                                                       Methusalah

 

{Methusalah was the oldest man on Earth}

12 bottles -                                                      Salmenazar

 

{Salmenazar was the king of Assyria}

 

16 bottles -                                                         Balthazar

 

{Balthazar was one of the wise three men}

 

20 bottles -                                         Nebuchadnezzar

 

{Nebuchadnezzar was the king of Babylon}

 

S a b r a g e

Sabrage is the technique of opening a bottle of sparkling wine with a sabre {a type of curved sword}. 

 

 

Sabrage is a time honoured art and tradition started by the Cavalry officers in Napoleon’s army. It was just after the French Revolution and the sabre was the weapon of choice of the fearsome Cavalry – hence the word sabrage originates from the word sabre.

 

In those days the wire ‘cage’ around the cork was very tough and not easy to remove. After doing battle, the cavalry were hot, thirsty and also in a hurry to quench their thirst, which is what led to this impressive technique.

 

 

 

Sabrage is done with a slicing action rather than a chopping one. The sabre is slid along the body of the bottle towards the neck and the force of the blade hitting the lip (called the annulus) breaks the glass to separate the collar from the neck of the bottle. Due to the high pressure inside the bottle the cork shoots out at high speed and can travel quite far. The inside pressure of a typical traditional method sparkling wine bottle is around 5-6 atmospheres – the same amount of pressure as the tyres on a London double-decker bus.

One must be very careful to remember to slide rather than chop. Chopping the neck of the bottle will shatter a cold pressurised bottle, deluging the area and, what is very sad, leaving us with no wine to drink. A baptism of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir is perhaps nothing to complain about however.

One should be extremely careful regarding the safety of others (and oneself!) when attempting this ceremony. Whilst there is no risk of glass falling into the bottle because of the pressure of the wine, the cork and annulus at the top of the bottle fly at some speed. Always point the bottle away from yourself and anyone else in the vicinity.

Sabrage is a great way to start a party or even a wedding reception. It’s awfully dramatic. If you would like to enquire about one of our team taking sword to bottle at an event please contact enquiries@graysandfeather.com 

If you are looking for a sabre for your own use please click here

H i s t o r y

T e c h n i q u e 

S a f e t y

 

How the Vineyard can affect Wine Style

We have always thought that understanding the way in which a wine is made is the lynchpin to knowing how to buy wine and being able to develop your own knowledge. Think of it as the sort of ‘keys to the kingdom’ information that will make a lot of other subjects easier to swallow.

Wine is made simply by crushing grapes to release the juice, and then fermenting this juice in a container by adding yeast. Before, after and during this process there are a number of factors that will change the wine’s flavour. Lets use the Chardonnay variety as an example as we take our journey through the vineyard and into the winery :

Grape Variety

The grape variety chosen will have the greatest  impact on the flavour, pure and simple. Our Chardonnay will inevitably taste of green apples and lemons to some extent whatever happens. The little chap can’t help it. In contrast if you choose Riesling your wine will taste of honey and citrus. You can find a list of grape variety flavours here.

 

Ripeness of the Grape

The time at which the grapes are picked will affect these flavours. Think of the grape in the same way as a plum. If the grapes are ripe they will be flavourful. But if they are picked early when they are under ripe they will be more acidic and will not develop their full flavour. If they are picked late they will develop a large amount of flavour but risk losing a lot of their important acidity.

 

The Land

There are many intricate factory in the vineyard that can change the flavour of the wine. A word that describes the environment of the vineyard is Terroir. You may have heard this word before and it covers:

 

Climate - Grapes produced in different climates will produce different results. Take different wines grown in the old world and new world as an example. If we grow our chardonnay in a cooler climate it will have crisp cirus fruits like lemons and green apple skins, medium body and acidity. Grown in a hotter climate it will have develop more tropical flavours like melon and pinapple because of the heat, lower acidity and lots of body. When temperature goes up, acidity goes down and and flavour and body go up. Fot sparkling wines made in the new world, this is counteracted by growing the vines on cool pockets of land and picking early to maintain the acidity.

 

Soil type - Grape vines will produce different quality grapes depending on the soil they are grown on as different soils contain different levels of nutrients. Each type of vine has certain soils it likes and dislikes. For example our Chardonnay loves chalk, clay and limestone soils. If it is grown on other soils it will not grow as well simply because it is not as well adapted to that environment – and the wine will suffer for it. This subject can get very complicated and chemistry-focused so we’ll end it there….

 

Topography - The direction the vineyard faces and how much it slopes will not only affect how much sunlight it will get, but also its ability to avoid frost (cold air rolls downhill so a sloped vineyard is good) and other climactic conditions. Wind, which will affect the temperature of the vines can also be dictated by the location of a vineyard and how much it slopes. The topography is directly linked to the climate, which affects the flavour of the wine.

 

How the Winery can affect Wine Style

Apart from the decisions made in the vineyard there are a number of factors within the winery that will affect the flavours of wine:

How long the grape skins are left with the Juice - Big word alert! 'Maceration' is the period during which the grape juice is left in contact with the grape solids (basically the skins and occasionally also the stems). Maceration alludes to the basic difference between a red wine and a white wine. In Fact 99% of grapes contain clear grape juice with very little colour

 

The flavour and intensity of red wine comes from the skins and how long it is left with the skins before they are removed from the juice. The longer the juice is left with red grape skins, the more it will draw out its colour and flavour. Maceration happens during fermentation, but can also be used before adding the yeast if you want to draw extra flavour from the skins.

 

Using our Chardonnay as an example, if the juice is left with its skins for a long time it will be rich and very fruity. How long any wine is left to interact with its skins will directly affect how rich it is as the skins contain a lot of the flavour.

 

Fermentation - Whilst maceration occurs during fermentation, the aspects of the fermentation are also important. The container used will affect the wines flavour: an oak barrel will give the wine the natural spice flavours from the wood, whilst using stainless steel or concrete containers will not add any flavour to the wine.

 

How long? - The longer a wine is fermented for, the more it will develop new flavours. The longer the wine is fermented for the richer it will taste. Temperature will also affect the flavours as controlling the flavour will also control the speed and development of the fermentation.

 

Maturation - Many wines are aged in the winery before they are released to be sold. If a wine is aged in a oak barrel, the wine will become more spicy and develop ‘oaky’ flavours. But if it is aged in a bottle, only the flavours from the wine itself will develop as a glass bottle does not impart any flavour. The length of this ageing period is very important as the flavours of a wine will inevitably change over this period and determine the flavour of the wine as it reaches your table.

By knowing the essentials of wine production we all have a strong foundation for delving deeper into the complexities of different wines, and a lauch point for future learning. We hope that by keeping it simple, it will bring you more enjoyment from your wines.

 

THE MAIN CAST

A Guide to the Flavours of Common Grape Varieties

There are thousands of different grape varieties in use around the world today, and each variety has its own particular flavours. It is both the reason why tasting wine is so interesting, and how we can determine what a wine will taste like as soon as we see the bottle.

 

This is a list of the flavours of some of the more common grape varieties. It is very important to remember that the grape variety may not be written on the bottle label, instead there may be the name of a European region or town. How and why a label may carry the name is covered in a later section. For the time being, these are the core flavours of the most common grape varieties that are useful to know...

 

RED

Cabernet Sauvignon

Blackcurrant, Cedar, Old Furniture, Coffee, Green pepper

Merlot

 Plums, Dark Chocolate, Fruitcake, Black Cherry

Syrah a.k.a. Shiraz

 Dark Chocolate, Black Fruits & Black Pepper, Raspberries, Spice, Herbs, Grilled Meats, Charcoal, Smoke, Tar

Sangiovese

Bitter sour cherry & black cherry aromas, Spices, Herbs and Tobacco

Pinot Noir

Cherry, Raspberry, Violets, Game, Strawberry

Nebbiolo

Black Cherry, Liquorice, Tar, Hung Game and Dark Chocolate

Grenache

Raspberries, White Pepper

Cabernet Franc

Blackcurrants, Blackcurrant leaves/foliage, Smoke, Spice, Green/Bell Peppers

Malbec

Spice, Gamey, Intense Summer Fruits

Zinfandel

Black Pepper, Red and Black Fruit

Pinotage

Summer Fruits, Fruitcake, Tar, Leather

 

 

 

WHITE

Chardonnay

Butter, Vanilla, Toast, Apples, Lemons, Melon, Pinapple, Wet Wool (Burgundy), Minerals/Flint (Chablis)

 

Sauvignon Blanc

Gooseberries, Cut Grass, Minerals, Gunflint, Tropical Fruit, Foliage

 

Riesling

flowery perfumed aromas. Lemon & Citrus flavours, Honey, Honeysuckle, Peaches, Pears, Apricots.

n.b. Riesling is hugely variable and can be made in many different styles, from bone-dry to incredibly sweet.

 

Semillon

Figs, Butter, Honey, Toast, Limes & Citrus, Lemon Curd, Meringue (Sauternes:- Pinapple, Quince, Rich Fruit)

 

Viognier

Peaches, Apricots, Musk, Pine Nuts & Kernels

 

Chenin Blanc

Honey, Damp Straw, Melon, Peach, Spice and Citrus

Gewürztraminer

Lychees, Roses, Spice, Banana, Floral, Bacon

Pinot Gris/Grigio

Smoky, Pungent floral aromas, Minerals, Spice, Tropical Fruit

Muscat

Musk, Grapey aromas, Orange & Citrus Peel, Floral & Aromatic

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© 2019 Grays & Feather Ltd

And of course, please drink responsibly