How to make wine: white

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A French picker in the vineyard. Photograph: Jason Lowe

The first in our mini-series examining exactly how wine goes from grape to glass, here Barbara Drew from our Wine School team explains the process for making white wine

By their nature, white wines are more fragile than reds; without the antioxidant properties of tannins to protect them, the juice and wines themselves can quickly become oxidised – brown and dull in appearance, nutty and bitter in flavour. As such, at every stage of the process, oxygen is excluded as much as possible, and the grapes and juice are treated very gently.

Those grapes which are machine harvested are often sent straight into chilled hoppers or sprayed with sulphur dust to preserve them until they reach the winery. Those grapes which are hand harvested are gently picked and put into small boxes, to prevent the weight of lots of grapes crushing them. Either way, on arrival at the winery the grapes are sorted, to remove the inoffensively named MOG (“Matter Other than Grapes”, which can include anything from leaves and twigs to ladybirds and even the occasional lizard).

The next step is crushing, to get the juice from the grapes. This can be done very gently, to secure the cleanest, purest, most delicate juice. This is crucial for light, neutral wines such as Pinot Grigio. Some producers will then take the grape skins and press them again, much more firmly, to release small quantities of thick, dark juice. On its own it may look unappealing but, for pungent wines such as Sauvignon Blanc, this press juice can add much-needed flavour and texture to a wine.

Fermentation is the next step; for white winemaking vintners do not need to worry about the skins, seeds or stems, but there is still plenty for them to consider. What temperature do they want to ferment the juice at, do they need to add cultured yeast, and what type of vessel might they ferment the juice in?

Given enough time, most vats of grape juice (high in sugar and nutrients) will start fermenting on their own; there are sufficient yeasts in the air and in a winery to make this a reality. However, many winemakers choose to control this part of the process by adding specific yeasts. These ensure the fermentation progresses without problems and, further, can add specific characteristics to a wine. For example, the catchily named CY3079 is often used to give Chardonnays a creamier, more buttery flavour, while QA23 can increase the pungent passion fruit aromas of a Sauvignon Blanc.

The temperature of fermentation is also key; cooler ferments (around 12 degrees) can lead to very fruity wines while warmer ferments (20 degrees) can often lead to more smoky notes developing in the wine. At very high temperatures (over 33 degrees) the yeasts can even die, so it is important to control the temperature of the fermentation, either by using small barrels, so heat can dissipate quickly, or using high-tech stainless steel tanks with in-built thermostats.

Grape sorting in the winery, Burgundy. Photograph: Jason Lowe

The array of vessels in which wine can be fermented is increasingly broad. From traditional large oak barrels, used for so many decades that they have ceased to add flavour to the wine, to small, new barrels that give a toasty flavour, oak has been the traditional material of choice. Many producers, however, prefer large stainless steel tanks which are much easier to clean and keep cool. For others, concrete fulfils their needs, maintaining a constant temperature during fermentation. Whichever vessel is chosen, cleanliness is key and they must all be cleansed thoroughly after fermentation.

Once the yeasts have converted all the sugar into alcohol, the wine is left to settle for a few days, before being racked: this is when the wine is drained off, and the lees – dead yeast cells that have sunk to the bottom of the tank – are removed.

A few wines may remain on their lees for much longer. In some Chardonnay wines, for example, the dead yeast cells can continue to add flavour to the wine, adding a brioche character and sometimes a creamier, richer texture. Some winemakers even stir the lees every few weeks to enhance this flavour effect. Other wines may go into oak barrels to slowly develop additional flavours. For example, traditionally white Rioja will age in French and American oak barrels, adding honey, nut and hay characters to the wine, before being bottled years later.

Once ready for bottling, most wines will receive a gentle filtration (to remove any small stray particles, large proteins or even yeasts and bacteria), and a dose of sulphur dioxide to help preserve the freshness of the wine while it is in bottle. Sulphur has been used as a preservative for wine for well over 2,000 years, but its use remains somewhat controversial. While it can help to protect a wine from oxidation, and prevent any unwanted microbial activity in bottle, some winemakers argue that it is not necessary. Certainly for rich and robust white wines, with high acidity and no residual sugar, minimal sulphur should be needed to preserve them. For fruitier wines with some sugar that risk refermenting in bottle, more care is required, and, in the absence of sulphur, a careful filtration to remove all yeasts may be needed. Whichever path is chosen, the wines should be kept dark and cool until that glorious moment when the cork is popped, or the screwcap twisted off, and the wonderful liquid poured into a waiting glass.

This article was originally sent to members of our Wine Club. You can find out more about the benefits of Wine Club here; if you join before 26th October, you’ll receive a £50 gift voucher.

Category: Miscellaneous,Wine School

Introducing the wines of Eymann

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Vincent Eymann

Our Buyers are constantly searching for new wines to add to our portfolio, touring their regions to seek out exciting bottles made by equally inspiring winemakers. Here, Fiona Hayes introduces the latest producer to join our range from Germany: Eymann

One of the advantages of being a long-standing and reputable wine merchant (if we don’t say so ourselves) is that we have been lucky enough to work with some of the greatest winemakers and wine estates for a good number of years, often with relationships being formed over great wines and good food. But we are also constantly looking towards the future, exploring the potential of emerging wine regions, promising new winemakers and new wine trends. In recent years, we have been observing the growing importance of Pinot Noir in Germany (see, for example, Jancis Robinson’s recent article on the topic) – this, combined with our quest for young and exciting new winemaking talent, led us to discover the wines of Eymann in the Pfalz.

A family business based in the small village of Gönnheim (in the Mittelhaadt region of the Pfalz in southwest Germany), Eymann is now being run by Vincent Eymann, who recently took over from his father. Not only is the Pfalz Germany’s second largest in terms of hectares planted, but it is also one of the warmest. This gives its Rieslings a rounder weight and style compared to those grown in the Mosel, as well as enabling it to fully ripen Pinot Noir and avoid any green or under-ripe characteristics that cooler climates often need to be conscious of.

One of the Eymann vineyards, in the Pfalz

Sustainability and safeguarding the future quality of the vineyards and wines is a top priority of the estate, which has worked organically since 1983 and biodynamically (Demeter certified) since 2006. There is a purity that is recognisable in all the wines – something that can be attributed, in particular, to the thick loess topsoil, with its high lime and mineral content, but also the Rhine river deposits in the subsoil of gravel and sand.

The Eymann family has been dynamic with the varietals planted on their 15-hectare property (a mix of Riesling, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Silvaner, Gewürztraminer, Gelber Muskateller, Spätburgunder, Merlot, St Laurent and Cabernet Cubin); we, however, have selected a few standout wines from their range, wines that we feel really reflect the estate’s style and terroir: their Gönnheimer Riesling, Toreye Spätburgunder and their single-vineyard Sonnenberg Pinot Noir and Riesling.

The grapes for the Gönnheimer Riesling and Toreye Spätburgunder are hand-picked from various vineyards in the village of Gönnheim. Both these entry-level wines are incredibly good value (£12.75 and £19.50, respectively) and approachable in their youth. The single-vineyard Riesling and Pinot Noir from the Sonnenberg are from older vines. The Riesling seeing eight to nine months in 1200-litre oak barrels, while the Pinot Noir benefits from 18 months in French barriques and tonneaux.

We are incredibly excited to be working with Vincent and his wines, and even happier that they happen to be a fellow family business.

If you try one…

Make it the 2015 Toreye SpätburgunderWhile it’s rarely acknowledged, Germany is the third largest producer of Pinot Noir (aka Spätburgunder) in the world. This is a wonderful example of an accessible, refreshing Pinot that offers an interesting alternative to Burgundy. Aromas of red cherry, redcurrant and raspberry mingle on the nose. Herbal top notes with a hint of savoury spice continue onto the palate, which offers chalky tannins balanced by lively acidity and a delicious juiciness.

Browse the Eymann range on bbr.com

Category: Old World

Between the lines: Kaukasis

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Olia Hercules, photographed by Elena Heatherwick

As the market starts to flood with food and drink titles (just in time for Christmas), we pick a few of the best, those that won’t linger unloved on the bookshelf. First up, Emily Holden dips into Olia Hercules’s second book, Kaukasis

Food trends come to London to breed, and in the last few years alone I can think of many. An obsession with American burgers swept the country like a sesame-topped tidal wave back in 2010, followed by a tsunami of tasty global sensations: low ‘n’ slow BBQ joints, bone broth kitchens, pintxos bars, bao bun pop-ups – all manner of street food. It’s been fun, and, in actual fact, many of these “trends” have left their mark on the present dining scene with permanent outposts, at least in the capital.

The latest of these foodie obsessions seems to be with the traditional, hearty fare found in Georgia, Azerbaijan and the surrounding areas known as the Caucasus. But, as Ukrainian-born Olia Hurcules argues in her new book, this is no passing fad.

In fact, the stories and recipes contained with Kaukasis paint a picture of rich and ancient cultures, told through the most appealing of mediums: food. Georgia is, in fact, regarded by many as the birthplace of wine and it seems that the people there take food very, very seriously indeed. From home-made spongy-looking soft cheeses to generous feasting platters, the book is littered with tempting pictures, evocative stories and compelling recipes from all over these captivating lands.

So it was no surprise that, after an especially long lunch one weekend, I turned to the chapter entitled “Pain, be gone!”, dedicated to dishes that soothe the infamous Georgian hangover. From here I picked a simple but fortifying beef broth, which – despite its straightforward method – was full of flavour and certainly did the job of nourishing my tired body and aching head.

This really is a lovely book – to cook from, yes, but also to curl up with and be transported to another world. It makes you want to invite all your friends over on a cold autumn evening to feast at tables groaning with plates of bejewelled vegetables, warming stews and exotic pickles.

Kaukasis: The Cookbook by Olia Hercules was published by Mitchell Beazley on August 10th 2017, priced at £25 (www.octopusbooks.co.uk). For those keen to hear more about Georgia and its food and wine traditions, we recommend the recent episodes of Radio 4’s The Food Programme, available here.

 

Category: Food & Wine,Miscellaneous

Essential ingredients: blackberries

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In the run up to Michaelmas (Friday 29th September), our Head Chef Stewart Turner rustles up a tart which highlights the sweet and sour tang of autumn’s last few blackberries

Michaelmas – also known as the feast of the archangels – is synonymous with goose (and the practice of rearing geese for the early autumn table is regaining popularity across the UK), but legend also states that Michaelmas is the last day we should enjoy blackberries.

These hedgerow beauties are more highly prized in western Europe than anywhere else in the world, collected and eaten most enthusiastically of all in Britain, where blackberrying occupies a special cultural place in our hearts. It’s a uniquely rewarding activity, a little roulette whenever picking as to whether they will be beautifully sweet or unbelievably sour adds to the fun. My children seem to have a great eye for the sweet ones.

Folklore in the British Isles suggests that Michaelmas is the last day that blackberries can be picked. It is said that when St Michael expelled Lucifer, the devil, from heaven, he fell from the skies and landed in a prickly blackberry bush. Satan cursed the fruit, scorched them with his fiery breath, and stamped and spat (or worse) on them, rendering them unfit. This crumble tart is the perfect way to savour the last berries of the season.

Blackberry crumble tart with crème fraiche Chantilly

Pastry

  • 225g plain flour, plus extra for dusting
  • 125g butter – cut into cubes
  • 30g caster sugar
  • 1 large free-range egg – beaten

Preheat the oven to 200°C. Rub together the flour and butter until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs (alternatively, pulse in a food processor). Add the sugar, egg and 1 to 2 tablespoons of cold water (just enough to bring it together) and mix again, until the mixture comes together as a smooth dough. Be careful not to overwork the pastry. Wrap in clingfilm and chill for about half an hour.

Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured work surface and roll it out into a circle that’s about 3mm thick and large enough to line the tart tin. Press the pastry into the base and sides of the tin, allowing any excess pastry to overhang. Prick the base all over with a fork, then chill in the fridge for 15 minutes.

Line the chilled pastry case with baking paper and baking beans, then bake in the oven for 12 to 15 minutes, or until the lip of the pastry is light golden-brown. Remove the baking beans and paper, then reduce the oven temperature to 160°C and bake for a further 8 to 10 minutes, or until the pastry case is crisp and golden brown all over. Allow to cool slightly, then brush the inside with beaten egg yolk to seal and set aside in its tin to cool. Once cool, use a small serrated knife to gently shave off the excess pastry, leaving a smooth edge.

Filling

  • 4 large Bramley apples – peeled, cored and cut into small chunks
  • 150g caster sugar
  • 275g fresh blackberries
  • 25g butter

For the filling, place the apples, sugar and 2 tablespoons of water in a large, deep, lidded saucepan and cook over a medium heat, stirring gently, for 4 to 5 minutes. Cover the pan with the lid and bring the mixture to a gentle simmer. Simmer, without stirring, for 5 to 10 minutes, or until the apples have softened but still retain their shape. Stir the blackberries into the cooked apples and continue to simmer for a further 2 to 3 minutes, until the blackberries have just started to soften. Set aside to cool.

Crumble

  • 100g butter – at room temperature, cut into cubes
  • 70g demerara sugar
  • 30ml hazelnut oil
  • 1 egg
  • 200g plain flour
  • 50g ground hazelnuts
  • 10g baking powder
  • Pinch of salt

Beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg and beat until completely combined, then add the oil, followed by all the dry ingredients. Bring everything together to form a dough. Knead briefly to form a ball. Wrap in clingfilm and chill.

Crème fraîche Chantilly

  • 2g leaf gelatine – soaked in cold water
  • 75g cream
  • 50g sugar
  • ½ vanilla pod – split and seeds scraped out
  • 60g cream
  • 150g crème fraîche

Put the cream, sugar and vanilla in a pan. Bring to the boil, then add the soaked gelatine and remove from the heat. Chill to about 40°C, then fold in the remaining cream and crème fraîche. Allow to set in the fridge, then whip before serving.

To assemble

Suspend a colander over a bowl and strain the cooked fruit, collecting the juices. Spoon the fruit into the cooked pastry case. Using a course grater, grate the crumble mix all over the fruit, making sure it’s completely covered. Bake the tart at for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the crumble is crisp and golden brown. Meanwhile, boil the reserved fruit juice in a saucepan for 3 to 4 minutes, or until thickened to a syrup. Serve the tart warm, in slices, with the extra fruit juice spooned over it and blob of the crème fraîche Chantilly.

Browse a selection of sweet wines to pair with the tart on bbr.com.

Category: Food & Wine