Monthly Archives: July 2014

Vamos España!

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Okay, I know they got eliminated this year (in the World Cup, duh)… A fact that I didn’t let a friend forget as I participated in one of his wine dinners. Quite a change from last year, when Manila was bathed in Spanish colors.

Admittedly, this entry is a way for me to make up for the non-stop heckling I gave him (aided by copious amounts of wine… In vino veritas after all). Not that this is such a chore, I like talking about wine.

I started to really (or regularly) acquaint myself with Spanish wines when Barcino’s opened up in the Philippines a few years ago. What initially struck me about them was that they offered wines at affordable prices. At first, I was worried about the stereotype that equated cheap wine with crap. Over time, however, they constantly proved me wrong.

I have heard of many theories as to why Spanish wine is cheaper. First, they are not as intensely regulated as some wine producing regions in the world. For instance, Tempranillo (the mother grape of most Spanish reds) can be planted most anywhere in Spain. Some may argue that this practice produces wines that can or can not match the terroir (soil, climate, weather conditions) of that area. I personally feel that most make up for this with their wine making procedures, mostly by aging (more on that in a few).

The second theory I heard is that their bottling ends up much cheaper. Bottles are more accessible and easier to make in this part of the world, and it also helps that they’re right next door to Portugal (which produces vast amounts of very affordable traditional corks).

Whatever the truth is, I have yet to be disappointed by proper Spanish wines.

Anyway, the dinner focused on Beronia wines. Off the get go, the dinner looked redundant… All Beronia reds. Upon closer inspection though, the wines were different levels of quality. In general, Spanish wines have better quality the more they are aged. Here’s a list to help you (from the youngest to the oldest):

Vino Joven – not aged in oak at all, and is sold within the year of harvest
Crianza – Minimum of 6 months in oak, sold after 2 years of harvest
Reserva – Minimum of 1 year in oak, sold after 3 yeard of harvest
Gran Reserva – Minimum of 2 years in oak, sold after 60 months of harvest (has to be in the bottle for at least 3 years).

I know it seems quite a lot to take in, but the super simplified version is this: with Spanish reds, the older, the better.

Remember that other wine regions may potentially use the same words, especially Reserva. The rules of Spanish Reserva labels will not apply to them.

Anyway, I tend to enjoy Beronia wines. Beronia, like most Spanish reds, is predominantly Tempranillo with a mix of Grenache (or Garnacha en Español). Tempranillo has a tendency to be hollow in terms of flavor (which makes it incredibly tricky to make 100% Tempranillo wines). This is the reason for blending a Garnacha (which adds elements of spice, leather, alcohol, and bulk to the wine).

Note that other grapes can be used in making Spanish reds, each serving a different purpose:

1) Graciano – adds the almighty tannin. This aids in the aging process (higher tannin = higher potential for aging)
2) Mazulo/Cariñena – Gives Spanish reds a dark, deep color

I hope all this helps. Here’s to hoping Spain will make it again next year (there, I wished you well, you owe me that bottle of wine we’ve been talking about! Hehehehe…) On that note, Salud!

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Beronia Reserva, Barcino’s

The Wine of the Free

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I never release blog entries in real time. It gives me time to edit, gather more information, take proper pictures, and be confident enough to release the entry.

This is, of course, my disclaimer as to why I’m releasing a 4th of July entry today (as of writing, I’m not even sure what date this will be released).

I decided on writing about American wines because I’ve been harping so much about old world wines (French, Spanish, and coming soon: Italian), and I wanted to shine the spotlight on a wine producing region whose language most Filipinos are required to understand.

I’m not such a big fan of the automatic assumption that US wines are of significantly lesser quality as opposed to its old world counterparts. The movie “Bottleshock” wasn’t entirely fictional: Once upon a time during a blind tasting, the experts who were present thought the bottle they deemed as the best Chardonnay was a Chablis. It ended up being a 1973 Chardonnay from Chateau Montelena from NAPA, CALIFORNIA. To add to that, in a similar setting, they thought they tasted a high end Bordeaux when they deemed the 1973 Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars from NAPA, CALIFORNIA the best Cabernet Sauvignon.

On a similar note, wine-os consistently think of Burgundian Pinot Noir as best in class when it comes to the grape variety. While I personally find that there is some merit to this opinion (a Romanée Conti is the quintessential definition of what a Pinot Noir is supposed to be: a “velvet glove on an iron hand”), Oregon has been putting up one heck of a fight. Pinot Noir from Oregon is said to be of such good quality that some educated alcoholics like myself may be able to mistake them for a mid to high range Cotes de Nuits. Unfortunately, these mythical wines are incredibly difficult to find in Manila (I have yet to find one).

Indeed, wine critics are consistently surprised by the quality of USA wines. What I find attracts the Filipino market especially is its ease to interpret. After all, they are in English, and the grape varietals are on the label, leaving the research (or educated guesswork) out of finding the appropriate wine for the dinner you’re having at home.

Another thing that attracts us is that Filipinos like ’em sweet. No disrespect. I always believe that wine is a beverage, and you should enjoy drinking what you like. California is the source of these fabulous, sweet White Zinfandels that seem to be a staple in a Filipina cosmopolitan girl’s cupboard (see previous entry on the White Zin for more information).

In celebration of the 4th of July, let me tie this entry up to bits of American history: Most of the wines planted in California came from Italy. In fact, there is evidence that the first wine growers in that region were Italians. This lends to the notion that White Zinfandel came from Italian grapes (though the vines apparently show closer similarities to a Croatian relative).

Speaking of American history, I love their stand on democracy and freedom. This is even reflected on some of the lines in their national anthem: “The land of the free”. This is actually a nice way to look at their wine making procedures. They are pretty much free to do whatever they feel like (short of planting a next of kin in their vineyard), because they are not governed by similar standards as those of the EU (planting only specific grapes in specific regions, taking into consideration the terroir and ensuring quality quality QUALITY). As the previous paragraphs have mentioned, the quality is still there despite the lack of stringent regulations.

What’s also amazing about the American system is that they temper their freedom with a nice justice system. However, one can argue that they may have taken this a step too far in a certain point in their history: The Prohibition. See, the newly formed FBI in the early 20s equated the rising crime wave to the consumption of alcohol. So severe was their belief in this extreme fallacy that posters were made which insinuated children’s innocence being in trouble because of alcohol. This led to many innovative ways to counter these laws.

Since it was illegal to serve alcohol in public establishments (stores, bars, restaurants), they decided to make Speakeasies. Since it constantly shocks me that my students never know what a Speakeasy is, let me give you a few concrete examples in Manila: Blind Pig and Exit Bar. Never heard of them? Hard to find? Good. That’s what a Speakeasy is about. Very dark places that serve alcohol in which you have to be in the know to know.

Another way for them to be able to enjoy wine is through wine bricks. These are basically dehydrated grape juice made to look like soap bars, and it explicitly said on the label: “Do not add water. Do not add yeast” (duh). Some shops even sold it with yeast attached to the bar.

Of course, there was the time and again proven way of bringing it in illegally. Canada made their own Whisky, and since it only required land transportation… Well, you get the picture. Bootleggers galore.

America is, however, not the land of circumventing laws, and I refuse to end my entry in that manner. What I like about their laws is this thing called a Dramshop Liability. The etymology of this law came from the word “dram”, which is roughly the same measure as a jigger (or a shot of alcohol/beverage ingredient if you’re strict about it). Basically the law states that if an establishment (shop/restaurant/bar) serves alcohol to a person who is obviously capable of causing harm to himself/others, the damages caused by the buyer are the establishment’s liabilities.

On that note, belated happy 4th of July to my American friends. Party hard but do be responsible. 😉 Cheers!

Let Them Drink Champagne!

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I am an advocate of traveling to learn. This is exactly what my husband and I did (hence another long absence from blogging). We visited Paris, Versailles, Champagne, and Belgium.

Champagne is our second trip to a French wine producing region, our first being Burgundy. I think my favorite learning (which appealed to my history buff side) is that each region (and even wine houses) dealt with the German occupation in their own ways.

For example, it is hard to find authentic Beaune (a region within Burdundy) vintages from around the 1940s. This is because people from Beaune decided to fool the Germans into believing that they were consuming their best vintages, when in fact, they were consuming wines from less than stellar years. People from Beaune achieved this by switching labels on their wines. It apparently made for a good laugh, with Burgundians snickering as the Germans raved about drinking “zee güt feentej”.

In Champagne, the house of Pommery decided to strictly sell their wines to the Germans, a very brave thing to do at the time. They developed a notion that they would rather make money from the Germans instead of giving away their beautiful wines. The house of Moët made fake walls to hide their precious vintages. This lead to today’s generation of wine growers finding surprises in some walls, one of which was a wine that dated to back to the 1800s. There were two, one of which was consumed by their cellar master and members of the media (it apparently tasted like candy but still beautiful).

I promised that this will never be a travel blog, nor would I tell you so much about stuff you couldn’t find in the Philippines anyway… So do allow me to talk to you about some details that I haven’t covered on Champagne.

For instance, have you ever had the difficulty of trying to decode bottles of champagne from a store? The labels are a bit tricky and challenging.

Before we start going all Da Vinci code, it’s easier if we start by highlighting the three grapes that are allowed on Champagne soil:

1) Chardonnay – the only white grape allowed in a bottle of Chapmagne; this adds a bit of elegance to the texture of Champagne
2) Pinot Noir – adds body (and color for rosés)
3) Pinot Meunier – adds fruitiness (added trivia: “Meunier” is “miller” in English, an homage to the flour-like substance found on the leaves of the plant)

Now that that’s settled, let’s start decoding!

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Got bouzy with some Bouzy! Half bottle from Reims

1) Blanc de Blancs – Made from 100% white (Chardonnay) grapes. I find these wines more versatile for food and wine pairing
2) Brut Rosé – Pink colored champagne, made by adding Pinot Noir wine to white champagne (trivia: The Pinot Noir used in this process is sourced from Bouzy, a town in Epernay that produces nothing but still Pinot Noirs)
3) Blanc de Noirs – Made from Pinot Noir and/or Pinot Meunier only (no Chardonnays allowed!)
4) Tête de Cuvée – Super premium (expensive!) champagne. Some Champagne houses would even decorate the bottles with flowery designs.
5) A Vintage – Most champagne is made from a blend of different vintages (year of harvest) to maintain consistency. These are what you normally find in stores that either say NV (non-vintage) or simply do not have a year reflected on the bottle.
In years with very good harvest (brought about by excellent weather conditions), they make wines with no blends from previous years. These are expensive (because of the limited quantity and excellent quality). Vintage champagne will ALWAYS have a year indicated on the label. Trivia: Dom Perignon is always a vintage (the house of Moët produced this label for exactly this purpose), and its most recent vintage to date is a 2008.

Moving on, did you know that you can immediately figure out whether or not the Champagne is sweet, just by reading the label? The following are sweetness labels, which I have arranged from the driest (not sweet at all) to the sweetest:

Brut Nature/Brut Sauvage
Brut
Extra Dry
Dry/Sec
Demi-Sec
Doux

I’ve always found the christening of ships to be lovely. I’ve recently seen a documentary on Queen Elizabeth II christening the Britania with a massive bottle of champagne. There are actually approriate names for bottle sizes of champagne.

The following are wine bottle sizes (from smallest to largest). Note that a standard sized bottle is 750 ml (75 cl if you’re reading European labels), and each standard sized bottle should serve 6 glasses (125 ml, or 12.5 cl):

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Small, Medium, and Large; AKA Split, Half, and Standard

Split = 1/4
Half = 1/2
Standard Bottle
Magnum = 2 Standard Bottles
Jeroboam = 4 Standard Bottles
Metuselah = 8 Standard Bottles
Salmanazar = 12 Standard Bottles
Baltazar = 16 Standard Bottles
Nebuchadnezzar = 20 Standard Bottles

After our trip to Versailles, I tried to watch a couple of movies on Marie Antoinette, one of which is Sofia Coppola’s version. While it wasn’t the best movie in the planet, the colorful visuals of decadent cakes, chocolates, macarons, strawberries, and champagne were enough to make me try to replicate them at home. 😉

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Got inspired by the Chapmagne and strawberries in the movie

I hope this inspires you to start your own bubbly adventures. Cheers!