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Grape to Glass - The Art of Picking Grapes

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Ever wonder how a winemaker decides when to take the grapes off the vine? Too soon, and the grapes may not have ripened. Too late, and they’ve lost their acidity and much of their character. And it’s not quite that simple, either, because he or she has the option of harvesting in batches, or purchasing from multiple source vineyards.

While many scientific advances have given winemakers and vineyard managers more information to work with, such as the ability to test sugar and acid levels, this information remains only guidelines. Winemakers must gather the grapes that will fulfil their vision, while listening to the grapes themselves to make the wine that best represents that year.

Winemaker of Vinos Frios Alejandro Jofre explains his process:

Every winemaker has his or hers methodology when approaching harvest, exciting but also a bit stressful time of the year, I like to pick early, focusing on freshness, high acid and lower alcohol wines that focuses on the quality of the grape and freshness. Low intervention safeguarding the quality of the fermented juice.

Traditionally, skilled pickers went from vineyard to vineyard during harvest to select and remove grapes by hand. Many winemakers still prefer this method. However, hiring an entire team, often multiple times each harvest, may exceed a winery’s budget, so technology exists to safely and accurately remove grapes from the vine.

Still, nothing beats a seasoned picker when it comes to identifying which bunches of grapes should come off the vine, and which need to hang a bit more time. Hand- on winemakers will often comunícate closely with these teams to ensure they know what the winemaker expects from the harvest.

Another key factor to consider when harvesting is the time of day. Generally, winemakers want the grapes off the vines and into the winery for crushing while they are still cool. Picking often occurs in the early morning or late evening to ensure freshness.

Picking may seem like a simple step in a long line of more complicated ones, but it’s crucial to a wine’s quality and character. Just a few rotten or moldy grapes can turn a whole batch, and grapes picked at the wrong time won’t have the attributes the winemaker wanted. Luckily, winemakers, vineyard managers, and pickers can combine their experience and skills with the knowledge that’s now more readily shared throughout the winemaking world. This means more great grapes make it off the vine to become the wine you pour in your glass!

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January Wine Club: Discover Argentine Cortes

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What better way to warm up in the winter than some rich, silky reds blends from Argentina? We can’t think of any! So for the first Wine Club of 2019, we want to introduce you to a concept particular to Argentina, cortes.

Corte literally means “cut” in Spanish, and it refers to the process of taking parts of batches of wines, or cuts, and mixing them together. You can kind of imagine this as similar to film editing, where scenes are literally cut out and then pasted together in the order the director feels best tells the story. The same is true to Argentine winemakers. They want each bottle to tell a story.

Technically, a corte does not have to be comprised of multiple different grapes. There are many single varietal cortes, where the grapes came from different vineyards or where vinified differently before blending. For this Wine Club, however, we decided to go with two multi-varietal cortes to give you an idea of how choices made during blending lead to very different wines, even if the grapes are similar.

Monte Quieto Corte Alegre 2015

This corte leads with malbec at 47%, followed by cabernet franc (29%), and then syrah (24%). It’s texture is alluring and its fruits run bright and deep. It has a distinct earthiness, likely from the cab franc and syrah, that gives it exception balance.

Monte Quieto is a small bodega, nestled at the foot of a mountain by the same name in Agrelo, Mendoza. Husband and wife team Matilde Pereda and Agustín Casabal founded the winery in 2000.

Matilde and Agustín’s love first blossomed in large part because of their shared passion for finding and enjoying special wine together. It was only fitting that they, along with their four children who’ve grown up among the vines, have been creating special wines for the better part of two decades. They now have three vineyards, having added one in Ugarteche and Vista Flores to the original in Agrelo.

Bodega y Cavas de Weinert “Carrascal” N/V

This is hands down one of the most fascinating wines we have had the pleasure to discover in our search for amazing Wine Club offerings. The blend itself is quite common: 45% malbec, 35% cabernet sauvignon, 20% merlot.

That’s where the “common” part of this wine ends, however. The batches blended to create this corte are not only from different vineyards, they’re from different vintages! Excluding 2014 and 2016, the winery used wine from every year from 2004 to 2017. The result is astounding, as the wine has a mossy, dusty finish that clearly comes from the older vintages, yet a vibrancy and focus of fruit that the more recent vintages provide.

Weinert is one of our favorite producers. They helped usher in the “Malbec Revolution” with their attention to detail and exceptional quality. Yet, they do not rest on their laurels, striving for innovative and interesting new approaches to winemaking. This wine epitomizes their strong and storied history, and their ability to think outside the box. We absolutely love this wine and winery!

The festivities start at 1pm this Sunday, January 27th. Our good friend Craig from Comete Wines will be on hand to pour some contextual wines. See you Sunday!

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Understanding Cocktails: The World of Brandy

Products to do your own take on Brandy cocktails, all available at the shop.

Products to do your own take on Brandy cocktails, all available at the shop.

In the world of spirits there’s no other “style” that covers as many countries as brandy does. Countries that we showcase such as Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Mexico, Spain, Italy, Portugal have been producing brandy for centuries. Brandy comes in many styles, from un-aged clear spirits like Pisco and Singani , as well as traditional aged brandies from the old continent.

For those of you interested in spreading your wings in the world of spirits, and by extension, cocktails, we highly suggest learning more about brandy. Good bottles are heavenly, and there are myriad styles to choose from.

First, what is brandy? We talked about it in passing in our piece on pisco, but in a nutshell, brandy is distilled from fermented fruit. Technically, any fruit. The most common are grapes, by far, and apples, though if you look hard enough, you’ll find brandy made from just about any fruit. Apricot and Pear brandy are also fairly common, for instance.

It can be bottled clear, like pisco and most grappa. But for the purposes of this piece, we will focus on barrel aged brandy. It has more applications in cocktails, and far more producers barrel age it.

The most famous brandies are French. Cognac, a region north of Bordeaux, makes delicate, aromatic, silky brandies from grapes. Armagnac, a region south of Bordeaux, makes brandy with more spice and structure. Another popular French brandy is calvados made using apples in Normandy, France.

For barrel aged brandies, we love Spanish brandy, particularly those from Jerez, where Sherry is made. Though the vast majority of the brandy they produce goes into sherry itself to fortify it, examples with the complexity and beauty of anything from France also exist. Often, these brandies get a final run in sherry barrels to soften them up and round them out.

So, how do you use brandy? As with all good spirits, you should start out by pouring two fingers worth into a rocks glass and get to know all the nuances. From there, we suggest swapping out whiskey for brandy in your favorite whiskey-based cocktail. We find that brandy often improves such cocktails because it’s flavor is more focused than whiskey, because fruit spirits in general tend to be less complex than grain whiskey. This means that other ingredients in the cocktail, such as a fantastic vermouth, have more space to shine. Good brandy is often more affordable than comparable whiskey, allowing you to splurge on other ingredients.

Like whiskey, a significant portion of the flavor profile comes from barrel aging. The length of time in the barrel, type used, and the toast level all impact the flavor.  Common flavors include baking spices, vanilla, cloves, and chocolate. Whatever base spirit it’s made with will impart aromas and flavors as well. Grape tends toward berries and floral tones. Other fruits tend toward notes inherent to themselves - an apple brandy tastes quite obviously like it’s made from apples.

So grab a bottle and start experimenting! We have a cocktail below that we came up with that highlights brandy’s ability to play well with others.

Floating down the Brandywine

2 oz Torres Brandy

¾ oz Cocchi Vermouth di Torino

½ oz Borschi Liqueur (Amaro)

4 dashes Lavender Bitters

Apple wedge

Orange wedge

Lime wedge (garnish)

Ice

Bar mixing glass

Mixing spoon

Muddler

Strainer

Rocks glass

Muddle apple and orange in mixing glass. Add brandy, vermouth, bitter liqueur and bitters along with ice. Mix well for 15 to 20 seconds, then let sit so the flavors intertwine. Strain into rocks glass over ice, making sure to press as much of the juice out of the muddled fruit through the strainer. Garnish with lime wedge and serve.

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