Archive for the ‘other countries’ Category

Portugal wine regions and varieties

Friday, March 23rd, 2012

The present article complements a post on reading labels of Portugal wines.

The Portuguese are a sea-faring nation – and accordingly, some of their most famous wines have been moulded by the tastes and demands of their export markets. That is the case with both Madeira and port, two of the greatest fortified wines in the world. Portugal’s table wines, though, have, until quite recently, been far more inward-looking.


The influence of the sea has been limited to moderating the climate of the vineyards on the Atlantic coast, so that the western stretch of the river Douro produces light, acidic Vinho Verdes. The climate here is cool and wet; only further upriver does it become hot and dry enough to grow grapes for port. Most of the northern two-thirds of the country gets sufficient rain for the vine’s needs; the most southerly third is hotter and drier, and only sparsely planted with vines.

Oporto with a June sunsetPort is shipped from the city of Oporto (at the mouth of the river Douro) to the rest of the world. The boats, barcos rabelos in Portuguese, were traditionally used for shipping the wine down from the vineyards further up the river. Now they have been replaced by road tankers.

The Douro Valley

Far up the valley of the Douro, where port wine is grown and made, the river has carved a path for itself through schist and granite. Terraces have to be cut into the schistous rock (the granite may not be planted with vines) for the vine to gain a foothold; it is a region of poor soil and extreme temperatures where the mountains of the Serra de Marão keep off the rain for weeks at a time in the summer. The finest vineyards are east of Pinhão where the quintas are shoulder-to-shoulder along the hillsides. Further upstream the hills flatten out and increasing labour costs are causing many companies to plant vines here because of the ease of mechanization; downriver the wines are generally of lower quality and are used to make cheaper ports.


According to legend, when the Portuguese first landed on this island off the coast of Africa in 1420, they set fire to the dense woodland that covered the entire island. The fire continued to burn for many years, and at the end of it the already rich volcanic soil was even more fertile, enriched with ash. Nowadays it is hard to miss the fecundity of Madeira’s soil. Flowers are everywhere, and bananas compete with vines for land. Rich though the soil is, only the slopes around the coast are planted with vines. The centre is too mountainous and is usually cloud-covered. Indeed, there is no flat land at all on Madeira: the mountains drop straight into the sea and the vines have to be planted on terraces. Humidity, and the problems of rot that go with it, are a constant problem.

Grape Varieties

There are many indigenous Portuguese grapes. Red varieties include the Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz and others used in making port and Douro table wines – Baga in Bairrada, and Periquita, Trincadeira and Aragonês (Tinta Roriz) in the south. Tinta Negra Mole still accounts for about half of the plantings on Madeira.

Of the white varieties, Arinto is grown almost everywhere, while Alvarinho is important in Vinho Verde. Fernão Pires contributes character to the southern wines. Sercial, Verdelho, Bual and Malvasia, along with Terrantez, make the classic styles of Madeira.

Bulgaria wine: high taste, low tech

Thursday, January 6th, 2011

The current national currency of Bulgaria is the lev. It is pegged to the euro. Bulgaria has a target date for joining the euro zone in 2013. The prices of Bulgarian wines are slowly rising but they are still quite low.

Melnick, BulgariaBulgaria offers delicious, fruity reds at an excellent value for money. Bulgaria spends nothing more than pin money on entertaining wine writers, nor on any luxuries, except bottling lines (which are usually powered by humans).

No one seems to have ever met a Bulgarian winemaker. So maybe there are none. The wine in Bulgaria simply makes itself, without human intervention and, obviously, without expensive technology. Yet, are there any wineries? Having been unable to go and visit Bulgaria and find out, I can’t say for sure. The statistics say that the annual average production of wine in Bulgaria ranges around 220 million litres.

Bulgaria varietals

The more renowned export wines are produced from the Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon varieties: high quality, rich, and Bordeaux-like.
Local grapes include:
- Gamza red wine – the most widespread sort produces earthy, light bodied red wine good for simple fare. In Romania and Hugary it is known as Kadarka.
- Mavrud red wine – is a full bodied wine, spicy red that can age to more than 8 years
- Melnik red wine – grown in the southernmost part of the country makes hefty red wines that age very well.
- Pamid Red Wine – rustic and hardly unforgettable but still good enough “commercial” for daily drinking.

White Bulgarian wines are produced from renowned white varieties such as chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, and riesling as well as from the local: misket, ottonel, and dimiat. White Bulgarian wines are not nearly as good as red Bulgarian wines but they are rapidly improving. Recently some very nice surprises were released by the Rouse winery.

Champagne is bready from autolysis

Thursday, November 18th, 2010

Or isn’t it?

In biology autolysis refers to the destruction of a cell through the action of its own enzymes. The term “autolyse” was coined by French baking professor Raymond Calvel. The term derives from the Greek words αυτό (“self”) and λύσις (“splitting”).

Mumm Brut rosé sparkling bubblesFor making sparkling wine, autolysis involves killing the yeast and encouraging the breakdown of the cells by enzymes. It is used to give different flavours.

Steve Goodwin is a sparkling winemaker at Seppelt, Australia. He was once interviewed on the cause of the bready, yeasty character found in champagne and other sparkling wine: “most of that is just bottle-developed pinot noir character (rather) than autolysis,” said Steve. His comment contradicts the traditionally accepted view that contact between the wines and autolyzed yeast lees – i.e. broken down yeast cells – is responsible. Curiously, a former Seppelt sparkling maker, Warren Randall, claimed that the bready character came mainly from pinot meunier.

In 2008 I asked French champagne maker Benoît Gouez (of Dom Perignon) about this. He had no doubt that autolysis causes the yeastiness in champagne, adding that autolysis is expressed quite differently by different grape varieties. “However, the more fruit in a particular wine the less yeast will be evident,” he explained.

Well-known amateur sparkling winemaker, MF (those five years spent as sous-remueur – translation: riddler – at Bolli were not wasted) reckons that the bready character does in fact come from yeast autolysis — rather than aged pinot noir or pinot meunier. His reasoning? Rising bread dough and bread just out of the oven have this smell. Where does it come from? Er, the breakdown of yeast cells after the bread has risen.

Pertinent questions: Has MF ever encountered this yeasty smell in bottles of still pinot noir or pinot meunier of any age? No, never.

Has MF ever encountered this yeast lees character in bottles of bubbly that do not contain either of the pinots, i.e. blanc de blancs made solely from chardonnay? Yes, your Judgeship, often.

If so-called yeast autolysis character comes mainly from pinot noir why do sparkling wine makers waste their time and money leaving fizz in contact with yeast sediment for years, when they could just as easily add more pinot noir to the brew? Beats me, your be-wigged Excellency.

The court will rise…

To help you make up your judgment, here are related articles – at other sites:

Major grape varieties of South Africa

Wednesday, June 2nd, 2010

South Africa has a wide range of red and white grape varieties. Most are traditional vinifera grapes such as cabernet sauvignon, pinot noir, chenin blanc and riesling. They also have two varieties that originated in South Africa — Cape riesling and pinotage. The newer plantings in South Africa have been of sauvignon blanc and chardonnay — most of these having been established in the late 1980’s.

White wine grapes


It is currently one of the most popular if not the most popular dry white wine variety in the world. It is planted in almost every wine producing country and is one of the easiest varieties to grow. Chardonnay has only begun to gain in popularity and importance in South Africa in the last ten years.
Chardonnay generally benefits from oak and is especially complex when it is barrel fermented as well as barrel aged. However, over-oaking has been a common fault of some the first Chardonnnays that were produced in the Western Cape. Winemakers in the Western Cape are now careful to not let oak overpower the elegant and zesty citrus characteristics of the wine.

Boschendal Wine Estate, Franschhoek South Africa, by moby_life

Chenin blanc

This grape is the Cape’s most popular white variety with about thirty percent of her vineyards producing Chenin Blanc. Chenin Blanc in South Africa is also referred to as “Steen”. In South Africa it produces a wide range of wines from sweet to dry, including sparkling and still wines. Its dry wines are fresh and fruity and Chenin Blanc’s sweet wines and botrytis dessert wines are becoming more fashionable.


This variety in South Africa makes fresh wines with crisp acidity. They often possess tropical fruit aromas and are a good companion to seafood. Colombard isalso used in South Africa for brandy production.

Rhine riesling

This variety, from German clones, is also referred to as “weisser Riesling” in South Africa. With a little age this wine can develop a resinous or oily character that is accepted as desirable in Europe. It is more complex and scented than Cape Riesling.

Cape riesling

This variety is thought to be related to crouchen blanc a French variety used for table wine production. It tends to be steely and can develop a pleasant honeyed flavour with some maturation.

Sauvignon blanc

South Africa has recently received great attention as a world class producer of Sauvignon Blanc. There are many microclimates in South Africa ideally suited to thegrowing of this variety. The South African Sauvignon Blancs tend to be dry and grassy. Its plantings have increased since the mid 1980’s and continue to do so.

Red wine grapes

Cabernet sauvignon

Most of the great red wines of Bordeaux and some of the finest wines of the New World are based on cabernet sauvignon. It is often blended with Cabernet Franc and Merlot and its flavour is reminiscent of blackcurrants or cedarwood. It demands aging in small oak barrels, and the best wines require several years of bottle age to reach their peak.

Pens Party Tokara wine estate, South Africa, by Moron Noodle

Cabernet franc

This variety possesses qualities similar to those of Cabernet Sauvignon, although they are a little less pronounced in cabernet franc. It is an important part of Cape blends and is often blended with cabernet sauvignon.


Formerly known as Hermitage in the Western Cape of South Africa, it produces light wines and is most often used as a blending wine to increase accessibility at an early age. Cinsaut is one of the parents of Pinotage.


This variety takes second place to Cabernet Sauvignon in most premium red wine blends. Merlot is fragrant and usually softer than Cabernet Sauvignon. It also shows best with oak maturation, but usually requires less bottle maturation before it is ready to drink. Some believe that the growing conditions in South Africa do not require Merlot to be blended in with Cabernet. Merlot bottled as a varietal is becoming more and more commonplace in South Africa.


It is a unique South African grape made from a cross of pinot noir and cinsaut. It was developed locally in 1926. It is hardy in the vineyard and generally produces a wine that is full bodied with good fruit flavours and a distinctive spiciness, but often referred to as possessing a “sweetish acetone” flavour. Previously thought to be early maturing, it is now believed that pinotage benefits from extended maturation.

Pinot noir

The grape from which complex and elegant wines are made in Burgundy There are several new vineyards in South Africa making pinot noir that show great promise. The Pinot Noir wines in South Africa are clean and lively with the flavour of ripe cherries.


This grape is also known as Syrah. It makes a soft and rich wine often characterized by smoky and chocolaty aromas. It matures faster than cabernet and is sometimes blended with it to speed accessibility.


This variety probably originated in Southern Italy as the Primitivo grape. It is planted by only a few Cape wineries, and the first examples have been very good, especially when they receive enough oak maturation.