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  • Natalie Shelley

Wine - it’s about how it’s made

The members of Marlow Wine Society have wide-ranging degrees of knowledge about wines but all are brought together by a common appreciation of it and a desire to learn more.

Despite being one of the youngest members of the society, the most formally wine-educated amongst us is Soma, who is currently studying for her Wine & Spirit Educational Trust (WSET) level 4 qualification. Soma also runs pop-up wine events around the Marlow area, spurred on by her drive to share her love and knowledge of wine with others.

This month, she kindly agreed to deliver an educational evening for society members to talk about different characteristics of wine and how these are influenced by the techniques used by vintners in making the wine, the yeast used, the grapes themselves and the environment in which they grow. Each wine at the tasting was chosen to provide a typical example.

Wine 1

Wine: Johann Donabaum; Grape(s): Gruner Veltliner; Geography: Wachau, Austria; Producer: Johann Donabaum; Year: 2018; ABV: 12%; Price: £17.99; Source: Novel Wines

The first wine of the evening demonstrated how wine-makers use the primary levels of aroma - the aromas that are specific to the grape variety itself - to create particular characteristics in wine. Soma chose a bottle of Johann Donabaum to display the typically peppery notes of the Gruner Veltliner grape, which also exhibited apple, lime, cardamom with a touch of minerality.

Wine 2

Wine: Dog Point; Grape(s): Sauvignon Blanc; Geography: Marlborough, NZ; Producer: Dog Point; Year: 2018; ABV: 13%; Price: £14.95; Source: The Wine Society

Dog Point Sauvignon Blanc is made in the reductive style, i.e. protecting the process of fermentation from oxygen, which will typically produce ‘struck match’ or cabbage aromas.

Only the indigenous yeast from the bloom on the grapes themselves is used in the fermentation process. Although no external yeasts were used to make this wine, they can be added to develop specific characteristics in wine, depending on the genera of yeast used.

Lemon, grapefruit, flint and struck match.

Wine 3

Wine: Barrel Selection; Grape(s): Roussanne; Geography: Pays D'Oc, France; Producer: Domaine Sainte Rose; Year: 2016; ABV: 14.5%; Price: £14.99 plus delivery; Source: Domaine Sainte Rose

Wine 3 was chosen to demonstrate the secondary level of aromas produced by the fermentation process. After the initial alcoholic fermentation where the yeast in the must turns to alcohol, a secondary fermentation is sometimes allowed to take place called a malolactic fermentation. It occurs by lactic acid bacteria converting the tart-tasting malic acid to a softer tasting lactic acid which gives the wine a more creamy, buttery characteristic.

In the making of this French wine from Pays d’Oc, the lees - which are the used grapes and dead yeast cells after alcoholic fermentation - have been left in the grape juice to create a honey/toast characteristic, and stirred to extract flavour and intensify the trait.

Melon, spice, nutty, vanilla, smoke, creamy.

Wine 4

Wine: La Bufarella; Grape(s): Xarel.lo; Geography: Spain; Producer: La Salada; Year: 2018; ABV: 12.5%; Price: £15.05 plus delivery; Source: Gourmet Hunters

A white wine fermented on its skin – the same method used for red – are ‘orange’ wines, so called because of the orange hue produced by the extraction of colour and tannins during the fermentation process.

Members were initially struck by the cloudiness of the wine – generally thought of as a fault. Although it could be an indication of a wine fault, wine in its purest form is cloudy and wine makers generally use either filtration or finings to clarify it to make it more acceptable. However, this wine was intentionally kept cloudy to present it as a ‘natural wine’, which are gaining increasing popularity in the market.

Dried apricots, nutty, fennel, quince, bruised apple.

Wine 5

Wine: Les Charmes; Grape(s): Gamay; Geography: Morgon, Beaujolais, France; Producer: Jean Marc Burgaud; Year: 2017; ABV: 12.5%; Price: £14.50; Source: The Wine Society

An example of carbonic maceration - a technique achieved by wine makers to prevent alcoholic fermentation by covering the must with CO2 to prevent the oxygen coming into contact with it. This winemaking practice of fermenting whole grapes that have not been crushed, gives rise to intracellular fermentation and tends to produce fruity, deeply coloured red wines with low tannins - typical in Beaujolais production.

Perfumed raspberry, blackberry, red cherry, plum.

Wine 6

Wine: Berton Cabernet; Grape(s): Cabernet Sauvignon; Geography: Coonawarra, Australia; Producer: Berton Vineyards; Year: 2016; ABV: 14%; Price: £15.99; Source: Old Butchers Wine Cellar

Wine 6 was chosen to show the effects that barrel ageing has on wine. European oak will develop vanilla and tannins, whilst American oak cultivates vanilla, coconut and more flavour. Toasting and seasoning of the wood will develop further characteristics.

In this case, the Cabernet Sauvignon grapes were fermented with French toasted oak chips for eight days, followed by storage in French and American oak barrels for 16 months. There was also evidence of external factors affecting the characteristics of the wine – a distinct aroma of the eucalyptus which grows in the iron-rich soil around the Coonawarra vineyard.

Blackcurrant, cassis, nutmeg, mint, plum jam.

Wine 7

Wine: Rioja Reserva; Grape(s): Tempranillo, Graciano, Mazuelo; Geography: Rioja, Spain; Producer: Marques de Riscal; Year: 2015; ABV: 14%; Price: £16.99 (mix six £12.99); Source: Majestic This wine displays examples of tertiary aromas such as leather, smoke and cigar that result from bottling and ageing. To be labelled as a Reserva, a Rioja must have aged for at least one year in the barrel and six months in the bottle for a minimum total of three years. Resting a wine polymerises the tannins in it and gives rise to a smoother feel in the mouth, called rounded or soft tannins.

This Rioja Reserva was made from hand-picked grapes, a 12-day maceration and was rested in American oak for 26 months and a year in the bottle.

Black fruits, spice, balsamic.

Wine 8

Wine: La Casetta Ripasso; Grape(s): Corvina; Geography: Valpolicella, Italy; Producer: Domini Veniti; Year: 2016; ABV: 14%; Price: £16.99 (mix six £14.99); Source: Majestic

An example of a wine made in the Ripasso style, Ripasso is a method of winemaking, mostly in Italy or Spain, where dried grapes are used to intensify flavour and sugars. The grapes are harvested then dried on mats in the sun. These grapes are pressed to make Amarone, a different, more expensive wine than Ripasso. The pomace (the grape skins leftover from pressing the Amarone grapes) are added to the Valpolicella wine, which go through a second fermentation, to created Ripasso. A cheaper version of Ripasso is Appassimento, where the wine is passed over the Amarone skins and pick up some of the flavour intensity.

Black cherry, violet, vanilla, clove aniseed, raisin.

Members’ favourites

Members voted wine number 1 as their favourite white and wine number 8 as their favourite red.

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