Chardonnay styles easily range from light and crisp unoaked varieties to full-bodied oaked versions that display toasty impressions. If these were the only variables, Chardonnay would still cover a broad spectrum of flavors and aromas; but there is more to this story.
Wines often undergo other treatments that profoundly affect flavor, and Chardonnay is no exception. Any combination of three particular treatments often determines a winemaker’s true signature and can make individual styles stand out. Understanding these easily can impact your wine knowledge and experience as you shop for your next new favorite.
The first treatment is “malolactic fermentation,” a process applied after alcoholic fermentation where bacteria converts the tart “malic” acids in the wine—similar to those found in orange juice—into soft, rounder lactic acids, such as those found in milk. All red wines go through this process but only some whites. Applied to either all or some of a given batch, the process makes the wine fuller and creamier. You might even detect a milky aroma on the nose as a result.
“Sur Lie” (pronounced “Sir Lee”) is an aging approach in which some wines, or a portion of the blend, are aged “on the lees.” Winemakers leave the dead yeast and other sediment—grape skin fragments, seeds or pulp from the fermentation vat—with the wine during aging rather than taking steps to remove them. The lees produce additional flavors in the wine, including bready complexity. In addition to Chardonnay, winemakers perform this process on some Muscadet wines from France’s Loire region, and it is part of the process for every bottle-fermented sparkling wine, such as wine from France’s Champagne region.
Finally, “battonage” or “lees stirring” is exactly as it sounds. As the wine ages either in an oak barrel or stainless steel tank, winemakers periodically stir the mix to increase yeast exposure and draw greater complexity from the bready mix.
While winemakers delve into even more complex creativity in the winemaking process, these three descriptors help define different Chardonnay styles and unlock the roots of their unique characteristics. Understanding just these three terms will open your eyes to more Chardonnay variety. Just tell Total Wine & More representatives which style you’d like to try and they will gladly help you find it.
Earth Day is celebrated internationally on April 22 each year. Senator Gaylord Nelson started this environmental movement in 1970 when high levels of air and water pollution were business as usual. Many laws including the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act followed shortly after, and now, after 40 years, being green has garnered more interest than at any time since then.
The idea of being environmentally conscious and responsible has also evolved from those early days–it’s no longer just air and water. Here at Total Wine and More, we believe that brewers, vintners and distillers are the new leaders in the movement, creating environmentally sustainable products that do not pollute or strip the Earth of its resources.
Between farming techniques and the use of ingredients produced under strict sustainable standards, beer, wine and spirits companies are leading by example. Many are so passionate about the cause that they have become early developers and adopters of certain certifications and their rules, despite the additional cost and resources needed to obtain them.
Traditional farming practices use herbicides, pesticides and artificial fertilizers, where the only goal is to protect the crops and deliver the best yield. There are, however, three other strategies that are more aligned with the mission and traditions that Earth Day stands for.
Organic Farming means that no pesticides, herbicides or artificial fertilizers are used when growing the crops. In addition, vintners are not permitted to add any preservatives to their wines. Though most brewers do not grow their own ingredients, several have taken the initiative to use organically grown products. Daniel Del Grande, owner and brewer at Bison Brewing, exclusively brews organic beers. “Organic Dan” as he known in some social networks, said he does this to support organic farmers who he believes are the key to sustainability. His mission is to educate consumers and retailers about the positive environmental impact, helping create demand for those organic farmers, to the point where they ultimately convert all of their fields to organic farming. And when asked if one small brewery can make a difference, Daniel gave a resounding “yes”, offering some statistics to back up his enthusiasm.
Several spirit makers also use organic ingredients in their products. Florida’s Drum Circle Distilling uses organic sugar cane when making its Siesta Key rums. And Bainbridge Organic Distillers uses locally grown organic grains from Washington for their vodka, gin and whiskey.
Wine makers are often able to go beyond the organic certification since they often grow their own grapes. A farming practice called Biodynamic Agriculture was started in 1924 by an Austrian philosopher named Rudolf Steiner. Steiner created the method to help farmers have an ecological and sustainable approach to growing their crops. Biodynamic Agriculture embraces the practice of not using herbicides, pesticides or artificial fertilizers (and is thus also organic). However, the practice also considers the farm as one ecosystem and provides rules for how the farming must be done. Plants, animals, insects and soil are all considered as one. Farmers irrigate based on the lunar calendar. Byproducts such as grape skins and seeds taken during the harvest are composted and returned back into the vineyard. Wineries that follow these and several other guidelines can become Demeter Certified Biodynamic.
Virginia “Ginny” Lambrix, the winemaker from Truett Hurst, said their estate is currently in the process of achieving biodynamic certification. She believes that creating an ecosystem that mimics nature and keeps chemicals out of our natural resources is worth the cost and effort. “Wine is a luxury product with a relatively high rate of return on the farming investment. If there is one product that should be amenable to a more cost intensive farming method, it seems viticulture is a natural fit. Furthermore, higher quality grapes yield better wine and I do believe that vines growing in living soil and extracting their nutrients naturally from it are in fact higher quality and value.”
Sustainable Farming is another technique being used. Sustainability takes into account conservation and employee practices in addition to the farming practices. For example, energy saving solar panels may be installed on the buildings and water conservation and irrigation techniques may be developed. Although sustainable farming does still allow fertilizers, the practice encourages as few chemicals as possible and only to use them when necessary.
We spoke with Paul Sobon, the winemaker and vineyard manager of Sobon Estate, about his winery and approach to farming. Paul said that although they had been previously certified organic, their approach should now be defined as sustainable farming. Paul said their mission is to keep what is in nature in balance and let the quality soil nurture grapes into tasty wine. His winery runs on solar power, they compost all waste materials created in the wine-making process, and recycle, among other sustainable practices. “Sustainable farming is definitely worth the money,” he said.
To get you started, here are some delicious, “Eco-Friendly” selections, just follow this link.
Argentina’s Malbec grape is a “seriously thrilling star” that consumers embrace for its “damsony,” soft and juicy profile, says Oz Clarke in Grapes and Wines. Indeed, it’s big enough to enjoy with a charred steak or hearty stew, but it’s also silky and approachable enough to appreciate on its own or with lighter fare.
Once a major component of great Bordeaux blends, Malbec now thrives on a far-off continent thanks to a series of both unfortunate and serendipitous events. In the mid-19th century, Malbec vines found their way to vineyards in Mendoza, Argentina, not too long before phylloxera—a root-eating aphid that attacks grape vines—arrived in Europe on imported American vines in the late 1800s. The unadapted European grape vines—Malbec included—began to die out around France until farmers grafted them to phylloxera-resistant American rootstock.
Argentine winemaker Laura Catena of Bodgas Catena Zapata explains in her book, Vino Argentino, that Malbec performed poorly on American rootstock because it produced overly vigorous plants whose fruit did not ripen well. Thanks to the isolated nature of Andes Mountain vineyards, phylloxera never developed in Argentina, allowing Malbec there to thrive on its own roots. Today, these high-altitude vineyards, with their relatively cool but exceedingly sunny weather, provide the ideal environment for producing opulent Malbec wines that possess soft, ripe tannins with plum and black fruit profiles suitable for either oak or stainless steel aging.
While Bordelaise winemakers mostly abandoned the grape, other French winemakers southeast of Bordeaux in Cahors mastered the art of growing grafted Malbec. Today, their wines offer drinkers a more rustic style with chalky tannins that Cahors winemakers note typically exhibit “violet, black currant, cherry, licorice, vanilla, menthol and truffle.” In addition, Malbec grows in France’s Loire Valley, where winemakers, who call it “Cot,” blend it with other grape varieties.
Consumers will find many value-priced and premium Malbec wines within the large Total Wine & More selection. The more affordable versions are perfect for everyday sipping and enjoyment with simple meals such as pizza, pasta and burgers, whereas the premium, often oak-aged versions offer a superb match with hearty beef, lamb, stews and other rich dishes. Check out Laura Catena’s food pairing advice on her Web site MalbecLife.com as well as food pairing suggestions at CahorsMalbec.com.
So, would you like a Trockenbeerenauslese or a Beerenauslese?
Whichever you choose—even if you know what these words mean—these terms illustrate how daunting a German wine label can be. But rather than running for the hills, keep this post handy as a quick reference to help you make informed purchases and discover Germany’s many great wines.
A number of things on the label are easily recognizable: the grape, the vintage, the percent of alcohol and the region.
In addition, German wine labels identify the ripeness levels of the grapes, which roughly indicates the level of sweetness. Look for these terms:
Kabinett [Kahb-in-ET] generally describes the driest wines, but some may stillhave a hint of sugar—what we call “off-dry.” The label might also include the words “trocken” (dry) or “halbtrocken” (off-dry).
Spätlese, [SHPAYT-lay-zuh] meaning “late harvest,” refers to wines that have more body and complexity than Kabinett and usually are sweeter.
Auslese, [OWS-lay-zuh] which translates as “selected harvest,” describes wines produced with individually selected grapes and bunches. These are usually sweeter than the prior category, very sweet or, less frequently, dry.
Beerenauslese (BA), [Buh-air-en OWS-lay-zuh] which translates as “selected harvest berries,” applies to wines derived from individually selected grapes often affected by “noble rot” or Botrytis, a fungus that shrivels them on the vine. These are very rich, sweet and generally expensive.
Trockenbeerenauslese (TBA), [TROH-ken-buh-air-en OWS-lay-zuh] which translates as “selected harvest dried berries” describes the sweetest and richest of them all. These rare dessert wines are made from individually picked Botrytis-affected grapes and are incredibly rich and complex. Winemakers only produce them in select vintages.
German labels also include quality categories, which range from the most basic to the highest ranking:
Tafelwein, [TOFF-el-vine] or “table wine,” describes the most basic wines.
Landwein, [LANDT-vine] or “country wine,” is generally better quality than table wine but usually still value priced.
Qualitätswein bestimmter Anbaugebiete (QbA), [Kvahl-it-AYTS-vine buh-SHTIMT-er AHN-bow-guh-beet-uh] or “wines from a designated” region, are produced in specific areas or villages, which are usually listed on the label.
Qualitätswein mit Prädikatswein (QmP)/Prädikatswein, [Kvahl-it-AYTS-vine mitt pray-dee-KAHT] or “quality wine with distinction,” also come from specific regions and represent the best quality designation.
Once you identify these elements, look for the producer name and possibly the name of the village.
These basics are enough to prepare you to shop. But if you want to learn more German wine terms, check out the Wines of Germany website.
This is a continuation of our interview with Rum Expert Robert Burr. Part 1 can be read here.
What types of events are part of the Rum Renaissance festival? With so many different options at the Grand Tasting finale, how would you recommend approaching so many rums? It can’t be possible to try them all, right?
As always, we have several hundred rums on display. There’s also lifestyle products, artists, apparel, travel, gourmet products, etc. No, you can’t try them all, but surprisingly, if you sample a very small amount of a rum, you’ll know right away if you like it. You could sample 50-60 small tastings in a day without getting tipsy. Of course, we’re drinking water and enjoying a good bite or two along the way.
When you arrive at the festival, first listen and learn. The exhibitors are extremely knowledgeable about their products, methods, styles and objectives. Look for rums that suit your purpose. Which will be your favorite great sipping rum? Which are perfect for making cocktails or punch with friends at your next get-together? Which are the full-flavored rums that you love to share with friends? What defines the styles of rum from Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Barbados, Venezuela, Jamaica, Guatemala? This is the best place to learn, discern, savor and demystify rum.
Would attending the Rum Renaissance be good for a beginner rum drinker? Are there seminars that show students key things to look for in a quality rum? If someone couldn’t make it, do you have a few approachable rums that you could recommend for rookies?
It’s the perfect place for beginners to start. Some of the seminars, such at Martin Cate’s “Tiki 101” will teach you all about delicious, tropical tiki drinks; how they were invented; how to make them for friends. This is fun. A beginner can’t find a better place to get a basic education. At every turn, experienced rum professionals are ready, willing and able to help you learn. Your friends will discover something amazing and insist you go right over there and try it. There is excitement and opportunity to learn. A beginner will leave the show with a new-found understanding of rum styles, categories, territories and blends.
Rum is not expensive, especially compared to Scotch, Bourbon, Cognac or Tequila. You can afford to experiment, to be adventurous, to discover for yourself which styles and expressions are best suited to your palate.
Are there any special surprises happening or guests appearing at this year’s festival that you can tell us about? A teaser?
There are always new products to discover. Big companies will reveal exciting new products. Small American companies will bring their rums to the show for the first time. Some rums that we love from the islands will finally make it to Miami. A host of rum’s finest presenters, lecturers and ambassadors will be sharing their knowledge and passion for rum. The VIP area offers a place to relax, enjoy hand-made premium cocktails and complimentary food.
As a world traveler, what are some of the most exotic destinations you’ve visited to drink rum? Are there distilleries buried in a jungle somewhere? Were there any unbelievable experiences during those visits you could share?
So many stories … so little time. From the far reaches of Guyana, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Jamaica, Guatemala, Panama or Peru to the well traveled paths of Barbados, Trinidad, St. Barth, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, St. Vincent, Martinique, St. Lucia or central Florida, each visit to a distillery or aging facility is a world-class experience. Some require helicopters to reach over rugged, often dangerous terrain. Some are quite secretive, rarely allowing a visit to see the operation in progress. Some are ready for tourists, with marvelous displays, museums and tours of their operations.
A little distillery in Grenada still uses a very large stream-fed water wheel to crush their cane, lighting a wooden fire under their pot still to evaporate the alcohol, then hand-filling each and every bottle. This is how they did it back in 1785 and nothing has really changed. Another traditional pot still facility in Jamaica produces rich and flavorful authentic style rums, as they have for centuries, now commanded and automated by a customized state-of-the-art touch-pad controller. The variations seem almost endless.
Finally, what are a few interesting rum facts that your everyday person probably doesn’t know?
Most people associate rum brands with distilleries. In many cases, a rum brand owns and controls their own distillery, such as Bacardi, Appleton, DonQ or Flor de Caña. But many brands and distilleries are separately owned and operated. For example, in Barbados, Mount Gay Rum is owned by Remy Cointreau, a large corporation based in Europe. Their rum is — and always has been — created by a small distillery in Barbados owned by the Ward family. Malibu coconut rum is a world-famous brand produced by West Indies Distillery in Barbados. Atlantico Rum is created by Oliver and Oliver in the Dominican Republic. Captain Morgan spiced rum was recently made by the distillers of DonQ in Puerto Rico, and now it’s made by Diageo in St. Croix. Zaya aged rum was once made in Guatemala, now by Angostura in Trinidad. Increasingly, new rum brands use spirits created for them by independent distilleries, aging facilities and blenders to their specifications.
Dan Aykroyd has worn many hats during his long and successful career – he’s an Oscar-nominated and Emmy award-winning actor, a writer, director, philanthropist, enthusiast of the supernatural, winery owner, tequila importer and now, vodka maven.
Dan’s partner and veteran fine artist John Alexander has exhibited extensively in the United States and around the world. Together, they were avid researchers of the legend of the 13 crystal heads. And from this inspiration, an idea was born – Crystal Head vodka.
We interviewed Dan Aykroyd about the founding of Crystal Head, details behind its production and his interests in “spirits” beyond vodka. (Part one of two)
How did you and John Alexander first meet?
I met John back in my SNL days. Simply put – he stole my girlfriend. I was off doing a movie and when I returned to SNL my girlfriend at the time was dating John. But John was such a great guy we couldn’t help but to develop a friendship. 30 years later we are still great friends. As for the girlfriend, we aren’t too sure where she is nowadays.
It must have been quite a challenge to find a manufacturer that could handle the specifications of John’s skull sculpture – how long did it take to find a company that could create his design?
It took about 2 years to develop a mold for this bottle. We spanned the globe and no one would even try to do it. You have to understand no bottle company had ever done anything like this before so some of them didn’t even know where to start. As it turned out Bruni Glass was up for the challenge and after about 18 months or so and several attempts Bruni got it right.
Of course, the eye-catching skull bottle drives a lot of sales, but a huge part of Crystal Head’s popularity is driven by what’s in the bottle – incredibly pure vodka. How did you achieve this amazing purity?
The purity aspect was not easy. Because vodka is colorless and odorless people assume it must be pure. But in many cases it is far from it. Chemicals and oils are used to “smooth out” the product. As you can imagine I too was shocked to learn this. I was like everyone else. I believed vodka must be pure. When I found out that it wasn’t, it seemed natural to produce completely pure and clean vodka for people to enjoy. We did a lot of taste testing. The challenge for us was to produce a pure product yet still have incredible smoothness and mouth-feel and to have minimal burn on the throat.
After a while of testing, it became apparent that the only way to make sure a product was to use very high quality water, and grains in our ingredient. The second thing we then did was distill it 4 times to remove any natural impurities that may appear from the distilling process and then we filtered it a total of 7 times. Many people think the number of times you distill the vodka is the most important thing. While it is important, filtration is also very important and of course the quality of your water.
I had never heard of Herkimer diamonds before I was introduced to Crystal Head. What special properties do they contribute to the vodka?
Herkimer Diamond is named for a Revolutionary War general and the stones come from a geophysically anomalous region of upstate New York. An area 50 miles by 50 miles has semi-precious crystals migrating from below the earth’s surface to fields and roadsides. We selected a basket of the finest stones available from a major harvester. These stones compose the contents of our final filter cone. The vodka after being poured through takes on a distinct platinum hue and resembles liquid satin as it goes into the bottle. It is our last touch to both ensure Crystal Head is the world’s cleanest and also it ties the bow, if you will, on our legend – that the Heads were given to man under mysterious circumstances for the purposes of enlightenment.
Your family has had a long fascination with the paranormal — your father Peter even wrote a book about ghosts. What are your current “spiritual interests” or projects that aren’t vodka?
Of course, I am always interested in any developments occurring in psychic research. My fathers’ book history outlines the depth of our family interests in these matters. Other than vodka my time is now focused on House of Blues where I serve as a founding consultant. We have a new initiative at all the clubs currently to re-connect with our respective communities. New Orleans and Chicago are the stars of this new policy.
Total Wine & More recently asked Rum Expert Robert A. Burr to answer a few questions for us. Robert is the founder of the Miami Rum Renaissance Festival, and along with his wife and son, hosts this annual “celebration of cane spirits in the new world” each April. In addition to the festival, Robert has authored Rob’s Rum Guide, which offers tasting notes on hundreds of different rums. Robert is also the National Rum Examiner, a position that allows him to be an ambassador and promote all things rum to his readers. Be sure to say hello to Robert at the festival this year!
Thanks a lot for taking the time to answer our questions today, Robert.
First, what is your background? How did you become such a well-known figure in the rum world, running a hugely successful festival and writing a national column among other achievements? Did it start as a hobby? Do you work in the spirits industry?
I’ve been a rum enthusiast since my early years. The drinking age was 18 when I grew up in Miami. I discovered Barbancourt Rhum from Haiti in 1976. It was like no other rum I’d ever tasted. It made me curious to discover the various styles of rum. In 1986, I began publishing Fisheye View scuba magazine, traveling to nearly every island or country in the world where I could go beneath the waves to photograph brightly colored corals, fish and invertebrate species. It seems every island I visited shared one fact — they each made the best rum in the world! I was pleased to further discover the wide range of styles that had evolved with each territory.
In 2006, I predicted that rum was ready for a new era of enlightenment, a period of greater appreciation and better understanding, featuring higher quality premium products and more brands being imported to our shores. As it turns out, my timing was right. We’re now in an expanding era of great new rums coming to market and classic, authentic Caribbean spirits being imported here in greater numbers. At the same time, we envisioned a bigger and better rum festival, located in Miami.
No, I don’t work in the spirits industry, but I talk about it a lot.
You are a highly respected rum judge as well. What are some of the most prestigious events that you’ve been asked to be on the judging panel? What skills are required to be a successful rum judge?
If you have a good palate, a fine sense for identifying flavors and scents, an ability to describe what you’re experiencing, the basis for sense memory from visiting and learning many aspects of rum production and development, you might make a fine rum judge.
We’ve been asked to judge rums at many events, from Tampa and San Francisco to New York, Berlin, Prague, London, Madrid, Rome and Paris, just to name a few. Along the way, we’ve become good friends with a number of the best rum judges from many countries. In 2009, we began organizing ourselves into the International Rum Expert Panel. We each gain a lot by sharing our experiences and working together to better define the means of judging, scoring, discerning qualities of fine rums. We often travel together to visit our favorite distilleries, obscure locations, large operations and very small concerns. We’re always learning more, gathering information and identifying the means by which various styles of rum are created.
The Miami Rum Renaissance has been growing rapidly in each of its first four years. We noticed that you again moved to a new location this year, the Doubletree Hilton Miami Airport Convention Center. Is that because you needed more space, a common trend for your festival? What is fueling the enthusiasm for rum here in Miami and is that a trend everywhere else as well?
In 2008, we began with 150 friends enjoying 50 different rums at a beautiful poolside setting in Coral Gables. This encouraged us to launch the festival in 2009. We attracted about 1,000 rum enthusiasts at the Shore Club on Miami Beach. The following year at the Raleigh Resort we gathered 1,900. Moving to a larger venue each year we reached 4,000, then 8,000 attendees. This year, we’ve doubled the size of our exhibit space again — now 40,000 square feet — to accommodate upwards of 15,000 rum fanatics, professionals and beginners.
Yes, we’ve outgrown every exhibit venue due to local costumers’ ever-expanding enthusiasm for rum brands and expressions. Rum is so subjective. There are so many styles. Everyone finds something they love. Then, their own enthusiasm spreads to their friends. Rum is delicious. Rum is fun. Rum is a sailboat, a palm tree, a beautiful beach. The delight of discovering new rums is infectious. We share our love with friends and it spreads.
It’s not just in Miami — rum is thriving in many markets around the world. But Miami is the center of the rum universe, the unofficial capital of the Caribbean. Across this region — across the entire western hemisphere — almost everyone has a cousin in Miami. So, this is where the world’s biggest and best rum festival must be located.