Some common wine facts explained and a taste of Madeira

WHEN I began this wine writing adventure I was determined I wouldn’t write a load of wine  gobbledegook.

Whatever a wine geek may look like, I didn’t want to look like them.

I aspire only to have elbow patches on a corduroy jacket to soak up any wine spillages.

But eek. In the past few weeks I’ve found myself talking about “lees” and “new oak” and “hand-harvested grapes”. Which is all well and good but what does it matter if all you want is to enjoy the wine you’ve just bought and you’re not interested in the wine facts?

All that background stuff isn’t important – or is it? Well it is in the sense that various techniques really makes a difference on the resulting wine styles.

It’s a matter for your own tastebuds whether you like what’s in your glass after all the winemaker’s hard work.

Some wine facts explained

  • If you read on a label that grapes have been “hand-harvested” it could indicate more care has gone into their selection; that the vines could have been growing on ideal, grape-growing slopes where machines simply can’t operate.
  • What if a wine is placed in “new” oak barrels, other than old ones? Well the expense for a start – this shows the producer is willing to spend money on new barrels.
    New oak imparts more flavours to the wine than old oak.
  • Think of it as adding seasoning. American oak or French oak? French oak gives toast and vanilla flavours, whereas American oak, with its bigger grains, has more “in your face” aromas like coconut.
  • As for the lees, well that’s the sediment left after fermentation. Some winemakers leave the wine on the lees as it adds more creamy, yeasty, flavours and adds body. Some wines – like Champagnes – are left on the lees for years and years. Have you heard of muscadet sur lie? It is exactly what it says on the vin – a wine which has been left on the lees.
Blandy’s Ten Year Old Bual review
Blandy’s Ten Year Old Bual

In my glass

Blandy’s Ten Year Old Bual (£17.99 for 50ml morrisonscellar.com). Now here’s a wine which was wonderful with a  plate of Stilton. I think of Madeira and imagine Mr Darcy pouring himself a small glass, his pride overcome and the love of his life won over.

The fortified wine must have graced Regency drawing rooms, as Blandy’s have been making it since 1811. It’s still a winner with two silver medals this year. It is medium sweet, rich and nutty with toffee, raisins, vanilla and a glug of coffee.

Think of this in a glass and think  of Christmas. Amazing.

The wine is aged in American oak and is slowly transferred from the warmest top floors of the Blandy’s lodge to the cooler ones as it ages.

Why? Well, Madeira is a “cooked” wine. Centuries ago as ships carrying wine from Madeira passed through the Equator, people noticed the heat had an effect on the liquid, changing its flavours. Now winemakers replicate that effect.

I love wine facts. Just call me a geek.

Published in the saturday extra magazine September 7, 2013

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