BLINDTASTING Q&A: ID'ING ACIDITY IN FINO SHERRY

Blind tasting Fino Sherry

Q: Dear Rachel,

I am struggling to assess acid, especially where there is residual sugar and high alcohol. For instance when tasting a Fino, the low body and dry style for me always makes the acid stand out. I know Palomino is a low acid grape variety so will write low/medium-, but that is not what I'm tasting. 

In a wine like these, do you have any tips/tricks for identifying the acidity level?

 

A: Thanks for your message. That’s a really good question. 

When we're blind tasting in exam conditions, it's important to remember that our assessment of a wine's acidity, sweetness, or other category is not just about how we perceive the wine, it's a question of recognizing and articulating its underlying qualities. So, as you mention, a wine can taste high in acidity when we know it's technically low in acidity!

When tasting a fortified wine which has very high residual sugar, it definitely becomes more challenging to determine the acidity level. For some, like a great Madeira, the acidity will sing in your mouth despite the sugar. Another clue of higher acidity is that despite the sweetness and alcohol you’re registering, the wine tastes fresh, bright, or balanced.

A sweet wine with a flabby flavour profile or lower acidity can sit heavy on the palate and taste flat, or have overwhelming sweetness or alcohol without balance.

Palomino like you mentioned, is a grape that produces lower acidity wine, and its juice is often adjusted with some tartaric acid before it undergoes fermentation - but Fino can have a bright, refreshing flavour profile, and sometimes a crisp salinity too (as in Manzanilla).

For me, the freshness that could taste like acidity comes from the biological aging/resulting acetaldehyde (AKA it smells distinctly of flor). Grapes for Fino often come from the best sections of albariza soil, plus the flor consumes glycerine, resulting in a lighter body.

With Fino, the flavour from flor will be immediately recognizable on the nose and palate, and you should ask yourself whether it’s there for each pale fortified you taste blind, so you can check in with your palate about whether the acidity is as high as it’s being perceived.

I found the analytical info for Fino and Oloroso from the Consejo website, it was curious to see Oloroso is listed as potentially having higher ranges of TA as it doesn't always taste that way on the palate!

 From the Sherry.Wine website

From the Sherry.Wine website

 From the Sherry.Wine website (check out the TA and Glycerine levels)

From the Sherry.Wine website (check out the TA and Glycerine levels)

Also of interest is this tasting article from Decanter China, in which Fongyee Walker MW suggests tasting a Fino (low acidity, high alcohol) against a Hunter Valley Semillon (high acidity, low alcohol).

DECADENT TAYLOR FLADGATE SINGLE HARVEST TAWNY PORTS

I don't remember much wine around as a child, with the major exception of Port. At Christmas or special suppers, I have vivid memories of the sweet, dark, red wine that I might have a sip of after pleading with my Dad.

In the years since, I've always kept Port in the house, and not just for the holidays. This inherited fondness might also have been the repeated references to laying down wine in JRR Tolkien.

My first true 'investment' bottles bought to start a wine collection were Vintage Port, and I continue to add several more a year with the goal of starting to open them in a decade or so. Tawny Port, which spends much more time mellowing in cask, is a particular favourite, with almost universal appeal: smooth, with caramel and spice flavours. If you're a dinner guest at my home, you're being offered Port at the end of the meal!

So, it was with particular excitement that I was invited to taste a selection of Taylor Fladgate single harvest tawnies from the vintages 1964 through 1967. Think of what was happening in the world 50 years ago, and consider that all this time these wines have been alive, just waiting to be enjoyed. 

The tasting room, holding a table decked with variously hued amber wines, was filled with Port perfume, reminiscent of a spice cake baking in the oven.

The following are my tasting notes, but first I'd like to mention, all were delicious and I'd be happy to purchase any of them even at their premium price point - they are well worth the money and would make excellent gifts. How many 50 year old wines can you buy that offer this kind of value... not many. 

Taylor Faldgate Very Old Single Harvest Port 1966.jpg

Taylor Fladgate 1964 Single Harvest Port - $256

Remarkably intense bouquet. Cognac-like nose. Fig, vanilla, plum, sweet spice, bright, lifted, wow. Crème caramel, cedar. Striking show up front.

Taylor Fladgate 1965 Single Harvest Port - $260

Orange tawny hue. Corsican wildflower honey, soft, feminine, seductive. Tobacco, marzipan. Opens up nicely.

Taylor Fladgate 1966 Single Harvest Port - $260

Deep amber brown. Cigar box, caramel, orange peel, pomander, roast coffee and hazelnut. Masculine, cologne-like complexity. Surprising whiff of jasmine and honeysuckle. A full rounded nose, complete.

Taylor Fladgate 1967 Single Harvest Port - $260

Deepest tawny colour. Sweet on the nose, with spicebox, cigar, clove; a robust presence on the palate. Vibrant orange and zest notes, sultanas, allspice, incense. Quiet power and confidence. 

 Casks of aging Port biding their time

Casks of aging Port biding their time

Port Serving Tips

~ Ideally your Port is lightly chilled. 15 minutes in the fridge should do the trick.

~ Can you save some for later once you open the bottle? As a rule, older vintage Port is good for a few days after being opened, but best to drink it in one sitting. More sturdy recent vintages from the 2000's+ will last a week or so before fading. Tawnies are already oxidised so they hold up better, a pleasing 6 months or so after opening. Late Bottled Vintage or Ruby styles are good for 8-12 weeks before they lose their freshness.

~ Let your fancy Ports have a little room to breathe before enjoying. Give your wine an hour or so to open up before tasting. I don't make a fuss about doing this with White, Ruby, LBV, or 10/20 year olds.

~ The more the merrier. Port isn't exactly low alcohol, so explore half bottle formats for small dinner parties, or serve them to a large or appreciative group. Tawnies are an exception, as they're quite long lived once opened. I keep several formats of tawny Port on hand (10 year, 20 year, etc), to serve at the end of meals. If I were to serve one of these Single Harvest Tawnies, I'd plan a special dessert to pair with it: a selection of cheeses (Manchego, Stilton, Brie de Meaux), plus something sweet like caramel spice cake with crème Anglaise.

The History of Port by TF

Taylor's has a great selection of videos about Port on their Youtube channel.

Tidbits In The World of Port & TF

We had the pleasure of hearing from Jorge Ramos, Sales & Marketing Manager for the Fladgate Partnership (which owns TF, Croft, & Fonseca) at the tasting. Here are some tidbits for those interested in learning more about Port and TF:

  • Did you know that the Late-Bottled Vintage category was invented for the Canadian market? Apparently it was especially produced for the restaurant trade, who wanted the flavour profile of Vintage Port but with no need for further aging, ie: ready to sell and drink right away. The first vintage offered was 1965, for sale in 1970.

  • Taylor Fladgate's house style aims for a 'balanced' and consistent flavour profile. These Single Harvest Tawnies, however, are issued especially to emphasize varietal character.

  • Taylor's is the only British Port house never to be bought or sold! In 2001, it re-purchased Croft (which had been theirs previously until 1865 when it had been sold off). It's said to have one of the largest reserves of very old cask aged Ports of any house.
  • Technically, a '50 year old' Tawny Port is not allowed, so these Single Harvest Tawnies were issued vintage dated. That's why you'll see 10-20-30-40 but not 50 on shelves. PS: technically, the name for a vintage dated tawny is a Colheita

  • The best Ports TF makes are still foot trodden in granite lagares (stone troughs), not mechanically/piston trodden. This very old fashioned but gentle technique is said to produce the finest results.
  • Ports are made from a blend of 40 or so native Portuguese grapes, including: Touriga Nacional (adds concentrated dark fruit flavour and tannins), Tinta Amarela (finess and balance), and Tinto Cão (acidity, ageability), among others. Older plantings have a mix of varieties in the field, but new vineyards are uniformly planted by varietal.

  • New plantings in the Douro are using laser guided trenching to create a 7 degree angled slope to preserve water. Viticultural issues in the area are erosion and weed control, so cover crops like clover are being used.

  • Tawnies aging in cask lose about 3% of their volume each year as they rest in 600 litre neutral oak barrels.
  • Port spirit can come from anywhere, it's not required to be from Portugal. There's been a big improvement in the quality of brandy used in recent decades. 

  • When a large order comes in to TF, their master blenders produce a batch on demand. So, if a liquor board or large store sends in a request for 20 Year, it's made to order!
  • Canadian customers can keep their eyes out for a special Confederation edition of the label of the 1967, celebrating our 150th birthday. There's also an 1863 Very Old Tawny on the market, for the spectacular price of $3,650CAD!

All images/video courtesy of Taylor Fladgate. Thank you to Pacific Wine & Spirits for the opportunity to taste these Single Harvest Ports.

WINES FOR VALENTINE'S DAY

valentineswine.jpeg

Need an idea for a new wine to buy for your Valentine? Or a bottle to open with friends? I’ve put together a list of fun options worth checking out.

When I think of wine and Valentine’s, it’s: something sweet... perhaps? Something fizzy, something fun... definitely.

For bubbles, here’s a bottle that’s cheapy-cheap yet super tasty, plus it gets bonus points for its bright red sparkles and being under <$15: Casolari Lambrusco Di Sorbara. This juicy frizzante is Lambrusco from Italy, land of lovers and sparkling red wine. It’s got a hint of sugar, and would be gorgeous in a flute with a raspberry garnish. Perfect for a Galentine’s cocktail too!

If my Valentine were to pour something sweet, I’d ask for a Pedro Ximenez sherry, known in wine shops as ‘PX’ (plus, asking for a bottle of PX is like a secret handshake that tells the wine clerk how cool and knowledgeable you are). It’s sweet stuff, verging on luscious, made from grapes that have have been sun dried to almost raisins before pressing. PX can be paired with very sweet desserts, so don’t worry, it will hold it’s own. It tastes like brown sugar, toffee and caramel deliciousness, so would make a great team with sweet apple pie, sticky toffee pudding and the like. Expect to pay between $15 and $40 for a bottle, depending on the maker. I like the Lustau PX, it’s widely available too.

When you want to say to your Valentine, this is something special and so are you, pull out the Tawny Port. Think of the bright ruby red port you’ve seen before, then mellow it out in cask for 10 or 20 years until it’s smooth, silky and sexy. Think fireside, think warming up after a romantic walk on a chilly beach, or maybe the perfect way to cap off an indulgent meal… The Taylor Fladgate 10 year old Tawny offers an excellent value to flavour ratio. I was just gifted a Ramos Pinto 20 year old Tawny for my birthday, and if you're lucky enough to be my Valentine, you can have a sip! 

Happy Valentine’s Day to you, I hope you’re able to try one of these wines and share with the one you love. 

WSET DIPLOMA DIARY: FORTIFIED, SPARKLING & BRUNELLO

 The peach scrunchy is back on diary duty

The peach scrunchy is back on diary duty

With all the tastings, festivals, and prepping for exams, it feels like Spring has sprung up around me. In the garden, seeds I rushed to plant before heading to Calgary are already up and growing!

Vancouver Wine Fest happened at the end of February, one of the biggest wine festivals in North America, and it was just incredibly fun. The Australians held court, their wines featured, with wineries visiting from around the world. I was so impressed, in particular with the Aussie white wines. In a move away from cheaper Shiraz and the larger appellation ‘SE Australia’, they are focusing on terroir, and labelling from more specific sites – Hunter Valley, Clare Valley, Mornington, and even Tasmania (try the Jansz Tasmanian sparkle for something fun).

March was awesome – I was lucky enough to get a Champagne & sparkling tutorial from a professional Champagne judge. We tasted through a set of Cava, Prosecco, and Champagne to get her tips on preparing for the WSET Diploma Sparkling exam, under exam conditions – 8 minutes per wine (sounds a lot, but goes faster than you’d think!). Her best hint on how to tell if the wine is Champagne while tasting blind? The finish lingers in the very back of your throat, almost like a fine perfume.

Then the Brunello Consortium was in Vancouver, tasting their newly released 2010 vintage, and the talk of the town was how good a year it was. Lead by local wine writer Anthony Gismondi, we were thrilled to hear from 10 visiting winemakers from Montalcino. I was in Montalcino in 2013, and what a gorgeous place it is. A hillside town overlooking rolling hills of vineyards, stone walkways, and lots of charming cafes and wine bars. Plus, amid all the history it was strangely high-tech, almost every wine store had several fancy Enomatic wine dispensers. One had at least 50 different Brunellos and Rossos on offer. Load up a little card with credit, and you can peruse the wines selecting up to an ounce to be dispensed. I will be posting on my favourite 2010 Brunellos shortly.

All was not milk and honey though, there were two big WSET exams to contend with: Fortified and Sparkling. As I painstakingly recreated a 6 foot map of the world on the living room wall and filled in all the specs, I began to wonder whether it was a good idea doing both exams on the same day! Did I leave enough time to review?? Off to Calgary I went, and at 9 am on Tuesday, we wrote the Sparkling exam. A blind tasting included a Cava, an Asti, and a NZ traditional method sparkling which was very delicious. The fortifieds followed at 11 am. We had a Cream Sherry, a Maury, and a VSOP Cream. Very tricky, as the VSOP had the acid and length of a fine Madeira!

All I can do now is wait patiently for the 8 weeks until marks are ready, and hope that I was successful. Advice for WSET Diploma students: know your producers (Symington!), don’t procrastinate, and do more reading than required (the Christie’s Champagne Encyclopedia & Jancis’ Purple Pages were invaluable).

Cheers, Rachel

WSET DIPLOMA DIARY: FORTIFIED & SPARKLING

 I save my peach flounced pen just for diary writing...

I save my peach flounced pen just for diary writing...

The past few weeks have been so busy, that while I still feel it’s nice to wish people Happy New Year, somehow it’s almost Spring.

Off on a plane I went, to an intensive weekend of preparing for both the Sparkling and Fortified WSET Diploma unit exams in Calgary. The days consist of sitting in quite a nice lecture hall with 20 other students, while a Master of Wine candidate reviews the study materials (fascinating, but an intimidating amount of information {memorize the villages of Champagne, the grapes they grow, the soil types etc}) and pours us many wines. The trick is that they are poured from a black sack, which handily obscures what the heck they are! Yes, if you want to cheat, you can peek to see the type of bottle, but I am steadfast in looking at only the wine as it pours into my ISO tasting glasses. I am a woman of principle. 

If you like port and sherry, you would have loved day two: tawny port, Amontillado sherry, old Madeira, vintage port, Rutherford muscat from Australia, and lots of Vins Doux Naturels (VDNs) from France. Personally, I love fortified wines and think they are some of the tastiest and most interesting wines to be had. The Sparkling unit, unfortunately, has reduced Champagne from an occasional luxurious delight, to “wine with bubbles” that I must taste repeatedly and pragmatically (LOL don't worry Champagne, I still love you). 

Don't tell the wine makers, but after a long day, one Non-Vintage Champagne can taste remarkably like a chardonnay-based Cava, and even like a NZ sparkling made with chardonnay and pinot noir. They’re all made using the same method, and feature similar grapes. It does lead to a bit of second guessing as the timer winds down, and I know I’m not alone in the class. Thank goodness for sparkling shiraz and Lambrusco, at least I can tell what they are right away! The shiraz tastes like sparkly jam, and the Lambrusco, gritty sour cherries (caveat emptor: I've had lovely Lambrusco’s, but not all are created equal). At least the vintage Champagne does taste distinctly of toasty, nutty goodness. I can’t wait till the exams are done, when I can celebrate and truly enjoy downing a glass of bubbly!

I was recently at a tasting in Seattle for Walla Walla wines, what a fun group of grapes to be drinking. The Walla Walla specialties are Syrah and Merlot, and there’s also some great Chardonnay and Riesling, but there are many, many types of grapes being grown. There were about 50 wineries pouring for an eager crowd of people “in the trade” (writers, bloggers, restaurant owners), and of course people that just wanted to drink for free. My favourites were easily Sleight of Hand Cellars, L’Ecole 41, and Watermill Winery (from the Oregon side).

One of the hazards of a tasting event is the spit buckets. Yes, spit buckets. You were probably taught as a child, like me, that spitting in a public place is not only rude, but disgusting. Against this conditioning, I am expected to spit a bright red substance a substantial distance into buckets sitting on a table, that are already quite full of other’s efforts. Yuck. Yet, if you don’t spit out the wine, you are looked at like a heathen that knows nothing about wine. And, you stand quite a chance of getting drunk (quelle horreur). Plus, people are crowding around you, sometimes jostling, and watching your technique… no pressure!

Despite the presence of spit-bucket hogs (the peeps that sidle up to the bucket, and block others access through various means), I was making a valiant effort with an inky syrah, trying in vain to keep my long locks from impeding the process, and feeling quite suave about it, when some wine splashed back up from the bucket to spray on my face. Yuck times 1000. Would it be chic or déclassé to bring my own personal spit solo-cup to the next event, I wonder?

Coming up this soon is the Vancouver Wine Fest, the largest wine festival in North America, and this year’s theme is Australian Shiraz/Syrah, where I hope to taste some delish Aussie sparkling and fortifieds too. Then, the big WSET exams loom closer. Very exciting stuff!

PS: The next enrollment for the Diploma Prep courses will begin in January 2017!