Wolfy’s Wine Blog #1 "On the Road"

  • By Samuel Shaw
  • 05 Nov, 2016

Ribera del Duero

The wine region of Ribera del Duero is a young yet prestigious wine region that is known for producing reds made using the Tempranillo grape variety and uses wine making techniques similar to its more mainstream cousin Rioja. The wines are usually aged in oak barrels (often American oak) which imparts the telltale big vanilla and chocolatey flavours that I associate with this region.
So we begin. We had driven into the night to reach Valladolid so that we could start proper in the morning and have the entire day to explore. Ribera del Duero was first on our list and after copious amounts of coffee we set off and headed for the village of Peñafiel, one of the hubs for the region. Once we had escaped the outskirts of Valladolid we quickly found ourselves passing vineyards, crowned in the colours of autumn and the excitement grew as we passed more and more of the purple road signs directing us to the nearest bodegas. One thing that is particularly striking about the landscape of Ribera del Duero is that it isn't dominated by vineyards. Unlike other wine making regions I have been to, where you can’t turn around without treading on vines, here the vineyards are punctuated by agricultural fields. There are tractors harvesting beets and corn right next to neatly trained vines. It seems that despite the financial success of the wines of Ribera del Duero there hasn't been a mad rush to plant vines in every accessible plot (which I find oddly comforting). Anyway, we were nearing Peñafiel and up ahead silhouetted against the horizon sits the iconic castle on a hill (in Spanish it sounds far more Romantic) we were almost there. It was time to get tasting!

Whilst my preference is always to seek out smaller producers there are some big players whose wines cannot (and should not) be ignored. Despite producing around 2 million bottles of wine each year the wines produced by the Pasquera Group still evoke the true spirit of wine making and more importantly they taste bloody great. Seeing the gates with the big “Pesquera” sign we couldn't help but go in and see what they had to offer. I’ve had some older vintages of their Crianza and Reserva and if you can find them aged they are definitely worth a try. We were offered 2013 Crianza and for me it was too young, the tannins (the drying sensation you get on your teeth with some red wines) were too green and there were only hints of the sweet spice I had come to expect. That being said the price (€13 it’s around £25 in the UK) to enjoyment ratio was spot on and the potential was there, it just needed a few more years in bottle to mellow out and develop. We were also shown around the amazing old 17th century wine press. Inside an old whitewashed barn we were confronted by what is basically the entire trunk of a tree suspended horizontally. At one end it is attached to a giant wooden corkscrew that is fixed to the ground by a huge stone anchor and at the other end it sits on top of a pyramid of timber piled on the pressing plate. They used this ancient piece of technology to make their wines well into the 80’s until health and safety ruined the fun once again!

Before this trip a friend of mine (who is actually from Valladolid) put me in contact with a couple of small wine makers, one of which produced wine in Ribera del Duero. There was no way I wasn't going to visit him! When we met Eduardo the first thing he said was that his wines are “very personal” and that is exactly what they are. He went on to tell us that he only makes one wine and only produces 6000 bottles using grapes from his own small plot of 3 hectares. He uses the natural yeasts that occur on the grapes, adds only the tiniest amount of sulphites upon bottling and doesn't fine or filter his wines. I’d heard enough - I had to try his wine! He took us to an old stone barn that was once part of his Grandparent’s property and is now used for the storage of his barrels. The smell of newly fermenting grape must (juice) mingled with the smell of French oak and the beautiful towering stone walls bordering the barrels all lying in wait was a beautiful backdrop to try Eduardo’s wines. He brought us two vintages, the 2011 which was aged for 10months in barrel and the 2012 which got 15months. These are the wines that truly excite me - wines that embody a personal story, that are honest and made in the most simple and yet hardest way. Upon first sniff I could tell they were something special; the ’11 had marvelous notes of balsamic and spice whilst the ’12 clung to its rounded fruity core. For me these are true wines of Ribera del Duero. Each year Eduardo produces the same wine from the same vineyard and every year the wine is different. Each vintage different yet similar. Each wine a story.

Watch this space - more to come!

Wolfy's Wine Blog

By Samuel Shaw 22 Aug, 2017

We’ve all heard the rumours - "Moderate wine drinking is good for you", says one newspaper. "Drinking wine does more damage than it does good" says another. Well after a number of studies from across the pond, we can all go to sleep knowing that the glass of wine you had earlier is actually doing you a whole load of good. We, of course, have no biased one way or the other...but this is what we've heard.

Wine, particularly red wine, has a load of antioxidants. These little molecules are great as they help mop up all the free radicals found in the body. Free radicals are particals that, when left alone, do lots of damage to cell tissue. Without antioxidants, a build-up of these free radicals can lead to cancer...

One victory for wine drinking!

Wine also helps reduce circulation related illness. Procyanidins found in the tannins of red wine are great at regulating an excess of cholesterol: a major factor determining the likelihood of heart disease, heart attacks and strokes.

YES! Two victories for wine.

Lastly, regular (moderate) wine drinking also helps stop the onset of brain functioning problems. Deterioration is measured at a considerably faster rate in non-drinkers than moderate drinkers. What better than a glass of Pinot Noir to sharpen the mind?

BOOM! That’s three victories for wine. I think I’ll raise a glass to that.

By Samuel Shaw 25 Jan, 2017
Time after time we get customers in who will only buy wine that is sealed with cork; something I can be guilty of myself. Sometimes a cork, especially with a wax seal, can add to the wine drinking experience - the same cannot necessarily be said for a screw-cap! But what are the pros and cons of each method and which is better?

Corks are interesting. They come from a tree that takes a long time to grow. They rot when they get damp and in Angus’ case, they break whenever he tries to open something! So why do we use it? The key is in the unique qualities of the Cork itself; it’s both soft and porous, it’s natural and in most cases it doesn't affect the flavour of the wine. These are all desirable qualities in their own ways but the most interesting of them is that cork's porosity. A well made cork will let a tiny amount of air in over a long period of time without letting wine out. This process is a key factor in ageing wine;  the slow aeration helps to reduce acidity and can change the flavours and the profiles of the wine drastically, both for the good and bad! There are also instances of cork failures which result in the famous but relatively rare “corked” wine, or “cork taint” which is a result of a fungus that grows within the cork itself. There are a multitude of other faults found in wine that are often, yet incorrectly called “corked”. A corked wine has a very particular flavour often described as tasting like damp or rotten cardboard, and can vary in its potency.

Screw-caps are neither soft nor porous. In fact, a well applied screw-cap should be pretty much airtight. This means that whilst a cork can be a bit temperamental a screw-cap is much more consistent. They will keep wine fresher for longer, are easier for bottling, more cost effective and potentially more convenient for the end user. Which is why the more mass produced “quaffing” wines are screw-caps and why screw-caps are often thought as inferior to cork. But let’s be clear, screw-caps are not an indication of quality, in fact more and more top wineries are bottling their best wines with screw-caps, especially in the New World and for good reason. Screw-caps are great at keeping in freshness, whether that’s for reds or whites, if a winemaker wants to keep his wine youthful and constant for his customers screw-caps are the perfect choice. It’s not that the wines won’t age, it’s just a much slower process and with different results.

The truth is both screw-caps and corks have a place in the world of wine, and moreover neither can be heralded as “the best”. Screw-caps are better for wines that are intended to be drunk straight off the shelf and corks are better for wines intended to mellow and change overtime. Ultimately the closure method is dictated by the winemaker intention for their wines. In some cases it’s to save cost or to be more convenient but in others it’s to preserve or even change the wine over time. Neither are wrong and again its personal preference, but gun to my head I’d have to admit that I’ll always find that ‘sqeeeak-pop’ a little more satisfying.
By Samuel Shaw 18 Jan, 2017
“Look at that”. “Come and feel this dimple”. “I looove a big punt!” In this article we’ll be chatting about the mystery of the bottom of the bottle dimple, better know as the punt. And whether there is any truth to the rumours that the deeper the punt the better the wine.

A punt is the concave hollow on the underneath of a wine bottle. There are a few practical uses such as catching the sediment released from an aged bottle as well as allowing better control for pouring. So is it true that the deeper this hollow the better the bottle of wine? In short, sort of .

To produce a large dimple a lot more glass is required in the bottle manufacturing process. As with all manufacturing, this is exceptionally costly for the producer. It would not be ignorant to assume that a winery willing to splash out on it packaging is likely to spend more on its winemaking. In sum it can be assumed the more money spent, the better the wine, sort of .
That being said the more money spent on a wine does not equal a better wine, and there are producers that spend more on packaging than on whats inside the package. Watch for the sneaky producers out there who are catching on to the punt as a selling tool. A much more reliable way to check the quality of the wine you’re buying is, quite simply, ask someone who’s tried it. No one wants a big punt if the vino tastes like battery acid.

In short, a big punt does not mean a better wine, it can indicate that the winemaker has really put their heart and soul into the wine and want it to have the best bottle possible or it could simply be a marketing ploy. For me personally if the wine is made in the right way then a large punt only adds to the theatre and enjoyment of the wine, but it certainly is no guarantee. As always we recommend simply having a conversation with your friendly neighbourhood wine guy/gal!
By Samuel Shaw 11 Jan, 2017
You may be all too familiar with that sinking feeling you get when you go to pour a glass of wine and “yuck!” it's turned to vinegar. So just how can you keep wine fresh once opened?

Whether it's red, white or rosé, wine has a finite period in which it can be enjoyed after it's opened. There are wines that can benefit from being open longer, I’ve had many bottles that have tasted better on the third day than they did on the first. Even so if the wine is not stored correctly any bottle will start to taste a bit too funky for comfort. The easiest way around this is to drink the bottle in one glorious evening! However, this is by no means the best option for all. So here are a few simple steps and tools for those who can make their bottles last more than a few hours:
   1) Keep your open bottle cold:   Wine goes off because it oxidises. As with all chemical reactions, this occurs much quicker at warmer temperatures. So the easiest thing to do, even with red wines, is to pop it in the fridge or at the very least keep it away from heat sources i.e. the kitchen. This way you can expect to get three days of awesome drinking.
  2) Keep your wine bottle air tight:   Wine will go off quicker if there is an abundance off fresh air. Screw caps are great at resealing the bottle and you can of course put the cork back in the bottle to seal it. But the best way to make sure air isn't getting to the wine is to use an air pump and rubber wine stoppers. This combined with step 1, can keep your bottles going for 5-6 days.
  3) Sparkling Wine Storage:   Sparkling wine follows the same principles, keep it cold and air tight. It is a bit trickier due to the bubbles but there are specialised Sparkling Wine Stoppers that lock on to the bottle and seal it. The quality and age of the fizz is really what dictates how long the bubbles will last. But using one of the stoppers and sticking the bottle in the fridge will give you the best chance of getting a couple more days out of it!

Give all three a go and vinegar-like wine will be a thing of the past. Happy drinking!
By Samuel Shaw 05 Nov, 2016
The wine region of Ribera del Duero is a young yet prestigious wine region that is known for producing reds made using the Tempranillo grape variety and uses wine making techniques similar to its more mainstream cousin Rioja. The wines are usually aged in oak barrels (often American oak) which imparts the telltale big vanilla and chocolatey flavours that I associate with this region.
By Samuel Shaw 03 Nov, 2016
This doesn't start on the road it in fact begins on a ferry....

I'm sat on the ferry watching the endless undulating blue beneath, trying to decide how best to start a blog. I think maybe the best way to start is to simply begin writing…

I don’t want to write the same old generic wine stories full of impregnable jargon. I want to shine a light on the fun, adventurous and new side of wine and take you along on my adventures to the lesser explored wines and regions. I’ll be trying to dispel myths, blow off the “old school" cobwebs and break down some of the words of wine to make it all more accessible and enjoyable; at least that is the hope.

I suppose I should tell you why I’m on a ferry or at the very least where I am going. We’re headed for the port of Santander in Spain and of course we’re heading to Spain for wine; more specifically the wine of central Spain or Castille y Leon. We will be basing ourselves in Valladolid which is surrounded on all sides by the wine regions of Rueda, Torro and Ribera del Duero to name but a few. It was actually a wine from Ribera del Duero that first opened my eyes to the depths of flavour that can be found in wine and set me on the path that now finds me journeying to that very region. But anyway, this is just a little introduction…I’ll keep you posted as my adventure unfolds. 
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