Friday, August 30, 2019

A Family Visit to Gonzalez Byass for Tio Pepe

Regular readers of the WineCompass Blog will recognize the abundant number of posts regarding González Byass, the Jerez producers of Tio Pepe - a fino style of Sherry that the winery has created and exported since its founding in 1844. The winery is still owned and operated by the relatives of founder Manuel Maria González and over time has incorporated other wine brands representing diverse Spanish wine regions. But sherry is still their core product with over a dozen labels joining the famed uncle Jose Angel (Tio Pepe).

During a family trip to Seville, mutual contacts were able to schedule a private tour and tasting of the facility - still located within Jerez de la Frontera and an hour and change train ride away. The actual production is now conducted outside the city center, but the original Tio Pepe winery operated largely in the center adjacent to the Cathedral and Alcazar. This facility now hosts a tasting and event center, administrative offices, distillery, and barrelhouse. Lots of barrels stacked together based on several solera systems. Stone streets are covered by grape canopies creating a semblance of Tio Pepe as a town upon itself.

The staff was very gracious, taking time to accommodate our visit and providing a thorough and educational journey through ten sherry wines. Melanie, our tour guide, explained the history, topography, winemaking, and aging process while Neil provided an in-depth dissertation on each sherry and its origin. Their talents made the visit enjoyable and eye-opening to each of us - the wine geek, skeptic, and roguish and inappropriate teenager. Cheers to Tio Pepe, González Byass, their staff, and everyone who made the trip possible.

The Background
Even though the Jerez Regulatory Council stipulates that 60% of the grapes must come from Jerez Superior in order to be labeled Jerez Sherry, González Byass uses 100% grapes cultivated in the declared Jerez Superior area. The vineyards in Jerez are composed of a white soil called Albariza that consists of 60% chalk - which retains moisture that is critical during the region's long hot and dry summers.

Tio Pepe Flor
The grapes are Palomino and Pedro Ximenez (PX) and they are handled quite differently. The Palomino grapes are generally hand-harvested then sent directly to the press. On the other hand, the PX grapes are harvested later in the season and then sundried in a process called "soleo". The bunches are laid out on straw mats for up to two weeks where 40-50% of their volume evaporates. This is a labor-intensive process since the grapes must be covered in plastic at night, then uncovered and flipped each morning as a precaution from the morning dew. However, the reward is grapes with highly concentrated sugars -- ideal for the winery's sweet sherries.

All sherries are aged following the traditional Solera system where the wines are blended in 600-litre American oak casks and then moved through the system as wine is taken from the bottom casks. Many styles are produced with distinctive characters depending on whether they have been aged under the influence of the flor (a layer of natural yeast) or as an oloroso (in contact with oxygen). Here are the wines we tasted.

Tio Pepe Fino Palomino (15% abv)
This Fino (dry) style sherry is based on the free run and light first press of Palomino in order to obtain the juice most capable of creating an elegant wine. After the wine is fermented to 11-12% abv it is fortified to 15.5% abv and stored in American oak casks, leaving the top 100 liters empty. This allows the development of the flor, a unique layer of yeast produced naturally in Jerez. This layer protects the wine from oxygen and after four years of age, provides the wine with its unique aroma and character. This aroma actually resembles muscadine, whereas the core is green apples and almonds.

Viña AB Amontillado Palomino (16.5% abv)
The wine starts with a Tio Pepe base after the standard four years in the Tio Pepe solera system. The wine is then transferred to the Vina AB Solera where it remains for an additional eight years - basically a 12 year Tio Pepe. This longer aging extracts elements from the American Oak such as caramel and vanilla. The wine also features the essence of dried fruits and nuts while staying relatively dry.

Del Duque Amontillado VORS Palomino (21.5% abv)
This wine follows a similar process by taking 10-year-old wine from the Amontillado Viña AB Solera and transferring it to the Del Duque Solera where it is aged an additional 20 years making this a VORS = or very old sherry. The 30 years has condensed the wine, increased the abv, and expanded the mouthfeel and oak elements. An excellent sherry.

Alfonso Oloroso Palomino (18% abv)
The must for this wine comes from the second press which normally provides more structure and tannins (seeds, skins, and stems). After the wine is fermented to 11-12% abv, it is fortified to 18% and like the Tio Pepe housed in American Oak with an empty top layer of 100 liters. However, the flor does not develop because the yeast can not survive past 16% abv. The wine undergoes complete oxidization while extracting elements from eight years in the barrel. Complex and spicy, nuts and vanilla.

Leonor Palo Cortado Palomino (20% abv)
The wine is created like the Alfonso except it is made from the highest quality free-run juice (like the Tio Pepe) and spends 12 years in the Leonor Solera system. This is a unique, new style with a nutty aroma leading to a toasted cream palate.

Apóstoles VORS Medium Palomino/PX (20% abv)
This is an 87-13 blend where the Palomino comes from the Leonor Solera system. The PX grapes are firmly pressed (think of olive oil production) and the must ferments to 7% abv. After fortification to 15% abv, the wine enters the Pedro Ximenez Solera system where it ages for 12 years like the Leonor Solera. The wine is then blended and added to the Apostoles Solera where it ages an additional 18 years. The wine has a tremendous mouthfeel with dried fruits and caramel.

Solera 1847 Cream Palomino/PX (18% abv)
This 75-25 blend is derived from the first press of the continuous Palomino press in order to obtain a little more structure and tannic body. Following fermentation to 11-12%, the wine is fortified to 18% and enters the Oloroso Solera where complete oxidization occurs because of the empty 100 liters. The Pedro Ximenez wine comes from the Pedro Ximenez Solera system. Both wines are pulled from their respective solera systems after four years are blended and then aged an additional four years together in the 1847 Solera system. The wine picks up more fig and dried fruit characters with some caramel and vanilla - simply delicious.

Matusalem VORS Cream Palomino/PX (20.5% abv)
The Palomino and Pedro Ximenez wine in this blend comes from the Olorosa Solera and Pedro Ximenez Solera systems described above. However,  the wines remain in their respective solera systems for 15 years before being pulled, blended, and aged an additional 15 years in the Matusalem Solera system. The wine comes across drier than the Solera 1847 with a bittersweet flavor of spices, raisins, and dried fruit.

Nectar Pedro Ximenez (15% abv)
The sherry comes from the Nectar Solera system where the PX grapes were fermented to 7% and then fortified to 15%. After eight years of aging, this wine is full of fig flavors with enough acidity to help balance the sweetness. A family favorite.

Noé VORS Pedro Ximenez (15.5% abv)
For this sherry, the PX grapes were fermented and fortified as the Nectar, but the must enters the Noé Solera system for 30 years. This results in a complex and textured wine, sweet figs but nice acidity.

Monday, August 26, 2019

Extreme Viticulture: DOC Colares Portugal

Wines of Portugal
Gusty, salt-laden winds that can burn leaves. Heavy autumn rains. Nutrient poor, sandy soils. These are the conditions faced by vineyards in the historic DOC Colares  - the westernmost wine region in Europe situated a couple miles from the Atlantic Ocean and within the greater Lisboa wine region.

Viticulture has been practiced in Portugal's smallest DOC since the mid-12th century and the growers have learned many tricks to combat the elements. First, they erect dried-reed fences to protect against the persistent wind. Second, when planting, up to 15 feet of sandy soil is dug away so that the vines are anchored within the more nutrient-rich clay layer. And finally, growers have learned to gradually supplement with manure-laden sand until the vines are productive.

The sand in itself provides two major benefits. First, it allows the autumn rains to drain quickly, but more importantly, the sand foils the phylloxera mites. In the mid-late 19th century when phylloxera was ravaging Europe's vines, vineyards in Colares were not affected as the mite can not survive in sandy or other loose-grained soils. Colares wine became the pride of Portugal even gaining the title "The Bordeaux of Portugal". In fact, the red Ramisco grape and the white Malvasia de Colares - which are only planted in Colares - may be the only Vitis vinifera grapes to have always been own-rooted.

Azenhas do Mar
At the time of the phylloxera epidemic plantings in Colares peaked at nearly 2,000 hectares but this figure has dwindled to only 20 or so hectares today. Obviously, as the European vineyards rebounded demand for Colares wine would slow but more recently the chief culprit has been real estate development.  The elderly owners of these small plots have financial incentives to sell to buyers interested in developing the beautiful coastline - particularly around Azenhas do Mar.

In the 1930s, when this decline began to be felt, the government decreed that growers must sell their grapes to the cooperative Adega Regional de Colares in order to maintain quality. Only wine from this cooperative could be called Colares. The cooperative is still the primary player today, but in 1994 the government allowed other Colares labels. One such is Adega Viúva Gomes, an entity that buys wine from the cooperative which it ages before bottling, and Casal do Ramilo, a four-generation grower expanding plantings where they will soon become the largest private producer of Ramisco from Colares.

While visiting Portugal, the best place to sample Colares wine is at the winery's themselves, but a terrific alternative is Binhoteca in Sintra - a Unesco World Heritage site. Here we were able to sample two Colares wines from Adega Regional de Colares and appreciate the affection that the staff had for the region. They described that despite the burdensome effects, the coastal environment also provides positive temperature-moderating effects slowing the maturation process (grapes are normally harvested in October) to create fresh, minerally driven, and elegant wines.

The 2014 Malvasia de Colares Azenhas do Mar ($40) is complex with both lemon and orange citrus, the sea, creamy oats, and decent acids. Similarly, the 2010 Colares Ramisco Azenhas do Mar ($40) provides salt characters (odd for a red wine), rich red cherry creaminess, and chewy tannins. A fantastic wine.

It's safe to say that Colares wines are rare in the United States but try José Pastor SelectionsChambers Street Wines, Astor Wines & Spirits, or NLC Wines.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Extreme Viticulture: Bodega Colomé's Altura Maxima Vineyard

Source: Bodega Colomé
Imagine an ideal grape growing region. This would most likely be a Mediterranean climate with abundant sunshine, hot days transitioning to cooler evenings, and a strong diurnal shift that extends the growing season and helps retain acidity. The vines would be planted in a mixture of rich volcanic soils or loess or porous limestone. Hail storms, wind chill, and frost would be non-existent threats. Basically Napa Valley.

Source: Bodega Colomé
However, viticulture occurs throughout the world where grape growers operate under very extreme conditions -- from high altitudes to northern frost to crushing heat and humidity. There are beachfront vineyards in Colares Portugal, vines buried several feet below the surface in Prince Edward Island Canada, and vines planted between 7,000 and 10,000 feet in Argentina's Salta's Calchaquí Valley. These high altitude vineyards face a greater risk of frost damage and most importantly, failure of the grapes to fully ripen due to wind chill.
Source: Bodega Colomé

Bodega Colomé is one of the oldest working wineries in Argentina and home to the highest vineyards in the world (excluding Tibet, which recently planted high altitued vineyards). Located in Salta's Calchaquí Valley, the winery was established in 1831 when the vineyards were first planted on original rootstock imported from Bordeaux -- and these vines are still bearing fruit today. In 2003, the winery planted a trial one-hectare vineyard practically two miles above sea level.

Source: Bodega Colomé
This Altura Maxima Vineyard (“Maximum Height”) is perched at 3,111 meters (10,207 feet) and receives greater sun exposure as well as a wider diurnal variation where the temperature ranges between 18ºC and 33ºC between day and night. The extreme altitude actually helps facilitate the uniform and balanced development of the grapes. But which grapes? According to Martin Coscia, Brand Manager for Hess Family Latin America and an expert in high elevation vineyards, "We learned rather quickly that varieties which required long ripening cycles were not going to work – so we turned to Malbec".

Source: Bodega Colomé
The inaugural release of the Altura Maxima Malbec occurred in 2012 with the current release being the 2015 Altura Maxima Malbec ($135). The wine was barrel-aged for 24 months but Coscia states that "the true expression of terroir in this Malbec comes from the extreme altitude as well as soil composition – alluvial, sandy soils with a high percentage of gravel.” He continues, “with a semiarid-desert climate, grapes receive much more sun, much less UV protection and produce thicker-skinned grapes that deliver a robust mouthfeel supported by fresh acidity with surprising finesse.”

The Altura Maxima Malbec is pricey, so for more budget-conscious consumers, Colomé also produces wine from three other high elevation vineyards: La Brava Estate (5,700 feet), Colomé Estate (7,500 feet), and El Arenal Estate (8,800 feet). These vines and grapes face the same challenges but also receive equivalent sun exposure and acid inducing diurnal temperatures. That being said the La Brave vineyard is known for providing intense and ripe fruit, the Colomé Estate lends complexity and weight, and the El Arenal vineyard yields elegance and freshness. These vineyards are reflected in the Colomé Autentico Malbec 2017 ($32) and the Colomé Estate Malbec 2016 ($28). Cheers.

Friday, August 9, 2019

1718 Brewing Ocracoke: Jam Box for Brunch

1718 Brewing Ocracoke is well into their second summer and with an obvious demand, the brewery is operating at full capacity to continuously provide 10-12 beers on tap. During our weekly visit to this island, demand outpaced supply as several beers kicked and even a power outage didn't deter beer consumers. Garick & Jacqui Kalna opened the 10 bbl brewery in October 2017 and named it for the year Blackbeard was killed off Ocracoke's Springer’s Point. In July 2017, Garick gave a group a tour of the brewery, but it wasn't until this year that I was able to return.

The building itself fits neatly into the architectural feel of the village using mostly re-purposed wood, paneling, and shingles from the former Café Atlantic as well as reclaimed barn wood from Athens, Ohio. Other re-purposed items include the flight trays which were constructed from wine barrel stays and the tap handles from pieces of rough wood. And the seashells placed inside the filled-in knot holes in the wood floor are one of my favorite features.

Our first taste of 1718 Brewing's beer was at the Ocracoke Oyster Company where the Public AfterThoughts IPA was on tap while listening to Martin Garrish and Friends. This is a heavy IPA, even more than the 6.8% suggests. Next came a visit where I learned there's a major sour series in play as well as an old favorite -- the Brunch Coffe Kolsch. This beer is already a classic, the java flavors blend seamlessly into the minerality of the Kolsch - providing a flavorful and still refreshing beach beer. Another favorite of our family is the Happi-Jaq Juicy IPA - clean and more quaffable than the AfterThoughts. On the darker side, the Needs MoreCowBell Milk Stout and Mexican Chocolate Stout were solid with the Mexican providing just a touch of heat.

As for the sours, three kicked during our visit, the Prickly-Pear, Quat the Puck, and the Jam Box (Raspberry, Sea-salt, & Coconut). Each was excellent but the coconut in the Jam Box added just enough distinction to elevate above the others. Once the raspberry version kicked, it was replaced with the next in the series the Jam Box Blackberry Lemon. Once again, a nice sour - but the previous was a winner.

A few 1718 Brewing Ocracoke beers make their way up Highway 12 into Hatteras and the northern beaches but allocate time for a personal visit. Now that the Hatteras-Ocracoke passenger ferry and Ocracoke Trolley are running smoothly - there's no need to drive so feel free to imbibe. Cheers.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Kalfu Kuda and Chile's Leyda Valley

Kalfu means ‘blue’ in the language of the Mapuche, the indigenous inhabitants of Chile, and for the Mapuche, Kalfu is synonymous with the magnificent Pacific Ocean that borders Chile’s western coastline. A coastline blessed with an exceptional cool climate, constant refreshing breezes and early morning fogs that enforce a slow, steady ripening period for grapes, helping to create balanced, elegant wines.
Whereas Chile's Maipo Valley and Colchagua Valley seem to get the majority of wine recognition, be prepared to notice a new region coming of age: the Leyda Valley. This area is a small sub-region of the San Antonio Valley, itself a smaller region located in central Chile, 55 miles west of the capital, Santiago. Leyda is a cool-climate region where the grapes are affected by the Pacific's Humboldt Current (A cold, low-salinity ocean current that flows north along the west coast of South America from the southern tip of Chile to northern Peru). Although the terroir was suitable for viniculture, vines were not planted in abundance until the late 1990s when an irrigation pipeline was constructed to channel water from the Maipo River in the south. The cool ocean breezes and morning fog slow the maturation process and with abundant sunshine allow the grapes to fully ripen as well as develop complexity while still retaining acidity.

Kalfu is a brand from Vina Ventisquero - one of the vignerons who have leveraged the Leyda Valley to produce cool-climate wines, two which I received samples. This Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir are sourced from the Las Terrazas Vineyard, a site situated just 7 kilometers from the Pacific Ocean and close to the Maipo River - thus receiving the full force of the Pacific's cooling influences. According to Kalfu winemaker, Alejandro Galaz, "From the vineyard to the bottle, producing cool climate wines can be challenging, but I enjoy a challenge – always striving to produce wines that are a sincere expression of elegance, distinction, and subtlety of the grape varietal."

Kalfu Kuda Sauvignon Blanc 2018 ($19.00)
This wine is complex for its price with divergent citrus and tropical fruit aspects, mild minerality, and very clean and refreshing acidity.

Kalfu Kuda Pinot Noir 2017 ($19.00)
This medium-bodied wine is chalky and dusty merging with black cherry fruit and slight spices and finishes with noticeable yet rounded tannins.

Disclosure: We received samples from Kalfu Kuda in order to share our opinion about their products, but this isn’t a sponsored post.