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  • National Rum Day

    fresh mojito in the bar

    Words: Ben Gibbins

    It’s August, which means it’s nearly International Talk Like a Pirate Day [19th September if you’re interested] but more importantly it means that National Rum Day is almost upon us, with August 16th giving us an excuse to raise a glass to the spirits behemoth that is rum in all it’s forms.

    Bartenders will use Wednesday to pronounce that rum is the next big thing, which it is, but also has been for the last decade. Rum is still big – in 2015 the mojito was the most ordered cocktail in the UK – but specifically spiced rum is the next big thing, with growth up year on year whilst the rest of the rum world remains relatively flat. But more on that later.

    Rum has a long and interesting history mixing myths and truths dependent on who you talk to. Sugar as first discovered in South East Asia; brum (sugar wine) was noted in 14th century Iran; and later distillation became commonplace on the Caribbean sugar plantations in 17th century as the Western taste for the grass ‘that brought forth honey without the need for bees’ grew. The first taste of sugar spirits would have come in the Caribbean from molasses being cast aside in vats, they are produced as a by-product of sugar production, where it was watered down by rain and naturally fermented, creating a low-wine drunk by the workers. The Spanish were the first to distill this ‘wine’ into a spirit, nicknamed Kil Devil as it would ‘kill the devil inside you’! Rum’s big boom followed that of the sugar industry, growing in conjunction with the slave trade, a trade triangle being established between Africa, the Caribbean and the American Colonies exchanging sugar for rum, and rum for slaves. This currency value was hugely important, with rum used as legal tender across America and Europe for a number of years across all levels of society – in fact George Washington insisted on a barrel of Barbados rum at his inauguration.

    Rum became linked to naval tradition at the same time, with Lord Nelson’s body reportedly transported home in a rum barrel after Trafalgar, and the Royal Navy’s daily rum ration only coming to an end in 1970.

    Most rum is produced in sugar cane growing countries, with the Caribbean and South/Central America producing the most well-known brands, with most using molasses as their base ingredient. The production methods are generally similar, but the location plays a key part in the final taste, and this can crudely be defined along the lines of language and colonialism.

    Old rum distillery, factory in St.Lucia. Old rum distillery, factory in St.Lucia.

    English Speaking Island (Barbados, Trinidad, Jamaica…): Tend to be distilled in a pot still and column still resulting in a darker rum with a fuller-bodied style.

    Spanish Speaking Islands and Latin America (Cuba, Nicaragua, Venezuela…): Usually column distilled for a lighter, more mixable rum ideal for cocktails.

    French Speaking Islands (Haiti, Guadeloupe, Martinique…): Produce a different product – rhum agricole – made from fresh sugar cane juice rather than molasses for a zesty, herbal note.

    The diversity of rum has spread the world over though with India producing a drier version, Cachaca made in Brazil, anise-infused Aquardiente from various points in South America, Tuzemak in the Czech Republic, Ron Miel from the Canary Islands and Stroh in Austria.

    Yeast, ageing and blending are vitally important in rum production having a profound impact on the taste profile and style of the final product. Producers of lighter rums use fast acting yeasts to keep the number of esters (flavours) lower, whilst fuller, richer rums use slower yeasts for added flavour. Ageing varies from one location to another, with many countries requiring at least a year. Bourbon casks are a popular choice but rum producers are now experimenting with ‘finishing’ in different casks to alter the flavour. There is a downside to long ageing though – the angel’s share in the tropics is usually 10% of the total volume a year (compared to 2% in Scotland) – meaning long-aged rums are incredibly expensive with only a fraction of the original liquid remaining. Blending is common in most rums, ensuring consistency and maintaining the quality of rums produced.

    High angle view of two glasses of rum-cola cocktail with ice served on the bar. Vintage colour look.

    This longer ageing has become increasingly popular with the use of aged rum on sipping and digestif menus across the country.

    Then there is spiced rum, which now sits as its own category and is almost solely accountable for the rise in rum sales in recent years, its popularity growing as a characterful base for cocktails and mixed drinks. The additional flavours of vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger were once used to mask inferior spirits but now serve to enhance quality base spirits.

    Across all these categories and variants rum is a greatly versatile product working perfectly in classic mixed drinks such as a Cuba Libre or a Dark ‘n Stormy (a drink even trademarked by Goslings Rum); the eponymous Pina Colada – the national drink of Puerto Rico since 1978; in tiki drinks like a Mai Tai or a Beachcomber; and in re-worked classics like a rum old-fashioned.

    So this National Rum Day, why not try something summery and exciting, or revisit an old favourite, but swap in rum for a new take on the familiar? Agricole is a great alternative to tequila, light rums for vodka and gin, and darker, aged rums in place of bourbon and whisky.

  • African dreaming

    In a bid to shake off the doldrums this gloomy British summer has brought on, Kathrine Larsen MS reflects on her trip to South Africa earlier this year – when blue sky abounded – and shares eight lesser-known facts about this New World wine country and our producers in the region.

    1. Around 75 different grape varieties are authorised for planting in South Africa, the majority of which are white, with Chenin Blanc taking the clear lead.

    2. Chenin Blanc, native to France’s Loire Valley, first arrived in South Africa in 1655, when Jan van Riebeeck of the Dutch East India Company founded Cape Town and planted its first vineyard with the variety. Today, 20% of South African vineyards are planted with Chenin Blanc.

    KLarsen 399 3. The most planted red grape is Cabernet Sauvignon. Lesser-known, on-trend varieties include Cinsault, especially when produced in a slightly natural style, and Tinta Barocca when crafted from old vines in Swartland.

    4. Made from 100% Chenin Blanc, Ken Forrester’s sparkling wine, Sparklehouse, is named such because Ken thinks of Chenin as the workhorse of the South African wine industry.

    KLarsen 3395. Leaves on vines can act a sunshield, and help prevent grapes from getting burnt. “Due to the Sparklehorse vineyard’s exposure to sun, we ensure the leaves on the afternoon side of the canopy are not removed. If the vines get burnt, this is an easily noticeable flavour in the finished wine”, said Ken.

    6. Bush vines produce lower yields and more concentrated clusters with smaller grapes and thicker skins than their trellised counterparts.

    7. One of the main purposes of Ken Forrester’s Petit range of wines, is to provide work for people who desperately need it. But Ken’s social philanthropy doesn’t stop there. He’s also donated a van to a member of the community, who then went on to successfully set up their own business driving the vineyard staff to and from work each day.

    8. While visiting Thelema, I began to truly understand just how important social sustainability is in South Africa. While driving through the vineyards, we pass by the staff housing and Thomas Webb explains to us that when his parents started Thelema back in 1983, workers were paid in envelopes. Over the years, they’ve helped all the staff set up bank accounts, and to become properly integrated in the system.

    KLarsen 323
  • Australian wines come up trumps

    The godfather of Australian wine writing and judging, James Halliday, has announced his scores for the 2018 edition of The Australian Wine Companion, and we’re delighted there’s such a strong showing of producers from the Enotria&Coe stable.

    The pinnacle of these annual awards is the coveted title of Wine of the Year, which this year was taken out by Henschke Hill of Grace 2012.

    Following the announcement, Halliday commented that Henschke is the best medium-sized producer in Australia, and has gone from strength to strength over the past three decades under the guidance of winemaker Stephen and viticulturist Prue Henschke.

    “I would really like for the Henschke vineyards to be seen as Australia’s first grapes … I would like people to perceive that’s what this is about; there’s no other wine in Australia that’s made from vines that are 100 years old and then made from them for another 50 years,” Halliday said.

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    Tasting and whittling down nigh on 10,000 wines for the guide is no mean feat for Halliday, and this year more than 1200 wineries across Australia have been featured.

    Inclusion in the renowned guide is one thing, but several of our producers went one step further raking in 90+ scores for their wines: Henschke and d’Arenberg both received 33, Howard Park 27, Kooyong 15 and Fowles 14. Other Aussie estates to feature include Glaetzer, Heartland, Stargazer, Skillogalee and Tempus Two.

    Enotria&Coe’s star-studded Australian portfolio is nurtured by our passionate buyer Maggie Macpherson who, and under her guidance the portfolio has grown from strength to strength with each passing year..

    “As a buyer, nothing makes me prouder than to see my producers gaining this sort of recognition from such esteemed people as James Halliday. I’ve gone through the hard yards with each of these producers – I know first-hand how incredible these wines are and, what’s more, how passionate the people who produce them are – so it’s incredibly rewarding to see them enjoy some time in the spotlight.

    “Australian wine is going from strength to strength, and now these producers can confidently share the world stage. Australian wine is in a really good place now, but I’m even more excited for the future,” Maggie said.

  • Behind the scenes with Cecchi

    Words: Leonardo Bassano

    The story of the Cecchi family began in 1893, with Luigi Cecchi and his formidable tasting talent. Fast forward to the 1930s, and Cecchi wines were being exported outside Italy. In the 70s, the family moved to Castellina, the historical Chianti Classico production zone. In the 80s they invested in San Gimignano, and then in the 90s, they purchased the vineyards of Val delle Rose in Maremma. At the turn of the century, the estate crossed regional borders and invested in Umbria, with Tenuta Alzatura in Montefalco. In 2015 Cesare and Andrea, the fourth generation, returned to Castellina, with the purchase of Villa Rosa.

    IMG_3100

    The oldest of the family estates is Villa Cerna, the vineyards of which stretch across the first hill that you come across when arriving from Siena. The historical estate is 280m above sea level and the exposure of its vineyards, the diversity of the soils, and the micro-climatic nuances create the particular features of the wines crafted here. The estate now comprises of 80ha of vineyards planted with Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon and Colorino Toscano.

    At Castel Montauto the vineyards are densely planted, allowing for lower yields. Twenty of the estate’s 48ha are planted with Vernaccia at 300m above sea level. In Maremma, the Val delle Rose now consists of 150ha with a new cellar equipped with the latest technologies in winemaking for the production of fresh Vermentino and Morellino. Tenuta Alzatura, in the Sagrantino di Montefalco production zone, has three vineyards, and the terroir of each expresses unique social and cultural roots of local viticulture.

    I met Isotta, from the Cecchi Marketing team, who showed me around the main winery in Villa Cerna. A wonderful place where tradition, history and modernity combine. Isotta is young and smart, and when I was asking my usual questions about soil/winemaking, she showed off her knowledge and business acumen. This demonstrates how this family business combines a passion for great wines produced from unique terroir, with a market-driven approach and consumer focus. I was then treated to a wonderful lineup of wines for our degustazione.

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    Vermentino Litorale 2016, Val delle Rose: smell of sea breeze, herbs, apples, pears, beautifully easy to drink, but with great character, perfumed, crisp, fresh and dry. Aurelio 2015: on the nose, lots of ripe red and black fruit, pepper, cedar, tomatoes and rosemary. Fantastic balance between acidity, tannin and fruit concentration.

    Morellino di Scansano Riserva 2011, Poggio al Leone: perfumed nose (roses and violets), a crisp palate, quaffable but with great structure.

    Ciliegiolo 2015, Maremma: this was the unusual one. Good red fruit, very cherry-like, medium tannins, good acid, very singular and characterful with hints of dark chocolate.

    Chianti Classico 2014, Cecchi (6 months in oak): vibrant nose, lively, flowers, cherry. Lovely drinking, smooth tannins, good acidity, easy to understand, crushed red plums.

    Villa Cerna Chianti Riserva 2013: Primary, secondary and some tertiary aromas too. Earth, mushrooms, sweet spices, cloves on the nose. Very soft tannins, subtle, crushed ripe cherries, crisp. This wine is very enjoyable now but can also age 10 or 20 years. Elegant and expressive.

    A big thank you to Isotta and the Cecchi team. Great wines, great people. This brief visit was inspirational and makes me want to return to Tuscany.

  • The story of Chianti

    Landscape in Chianti region, Tuscany, Italy

    First things first

    Since the Middle Ages, Florence was the most powerful of the city-states, and the epicentre of commercial winemaking. In the 14th century, the Florentine Republic identified the hills between Florence and Siena as Chianti. Chianti was the first real delimited wine zon, when in 1716 Grand Duke Cosimo III de Medici created what is believed to be the first legislation governing wine production.

    In the 1870s, following extensive research through France and Germany studying every possible way of growing vines, Baron Bettino Ricasoli narrowed down the Chianti formula to three Tuscan grape varieties: Sangioveto (Sangiovese) for its aromas; Canaiolo for its sweetness to balance the acidity of the latter; and Malvasia to give freshness. In Bordeaux terms, Canaiolo is to Sangiovese what Merlot is to Cabernet.

    In the 20th century, a series of unfortunate events occurred in Chianti. First, the original zone (now referred to as the classic zone) expanded to include huge parts of central Tuscany; then in 1967, the Ricasoli formula became doctrine allowing for up to 30% white varieties in the blend. Finally, the mass exodus that started in the 1950s from the Tuscan countryside prompted the Italian Government and EU to finance large-scale replanting of the Tuscan vineyards, with a focus on mass production.

    The mouth puckering, brown-at-the edge red in a straw-covered fiasco is the cheap image of Chianti that still haunts the industry. Piero Antinori acknowledged that “for so long, our wine culture was based on quantity, not quality”. He also concedes that “in the past, Italy produced mass quantities of wine because we were an agricultural economy and people used wine to quench thirst. After WW2, consumption dropped as we became more industrialised. But our mentality toward winemaking did not change”.

    The times they are a changin’

    Today, Chianti is not the wine it once was. It has undergone more profound changes in the past 30 years than any other wine in Italy, and now Chianti Classico is a source of world class reds. In 1984, Chianti and Chianti Classico were upgraded to DOCG, adjusting the formula with a minimum of only 2% white varieties, and allowing 105 foreign varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.

    It changed again in 1996, eliminating the minimum of white grapes and allowing up to 15% foreign varieties. Yields were restricted, and new technologies were implemented in the cellar such as controlled temperature in stainless steel, and ageing in smaller barrels instead of the big chestnut botti. The Classico area was restricted to the original 7000ha, with lower yields and higher minimum Sangiovese (80%).

    In 1989, the Chianti Classico Consorzio started a research programme called Chianti Classico 2000. The main aim of the programme was to identify new clones of Sangiovese with thicker skin and sparser grape bunches. Parallel to this, some producers started their own clonal selection, replanting vineyards more densely, producing smaller quantities of fruit per vine. The mini revolution ignited by top estates prompted the change from 2000-5000 vines/ha, producing only one-two kilosper plant. The vintages from 1997 to 2000 were fantastic for Chianti Classico, due not only to the weather, but also to a refinement of the ingredients.

    Grape Harvest. Color Image

    The grape

    Although the variety is anything but easy, Sangiovese is Italy’s most abundant red variety, with over 70,000ha and 11% of all grape varieties in Italy. The origin of the name is debated, with some pointing to the mythological reference to the blood of Jupiter (Sanguis Jovis), and others to that of Saint John (di Giovanni).

    Its origins are unclear. It is thought to have originated in the Apennines between Emilia Romagna and Tuscany, with the first written reference dating back to 1590. In 2004, researchers determined through DNA testing that Sangiovese descends from Ciliegiolo.

    Sangiovese is very vigorous and has to be closely pruned. It’s sensitive to its environment and difficult to get fully ripe, which can also contribute to its high acidity. The variety tends to contain low levels of anthocyanins in its skin, giving less intense colour. For this reason, Canoiolo and especially Cororino are added to the Chianti blend. This is also the reason why Cabernet and Merlot became important in Tuscany. Clonal selection research efforts led to the development of looser bunches and less productive, early ripening and deeper hued clones of Sangiovese.

    The weather

    In Chianti the climate is overall very mild hotter in the valleys and cooler with more rainfall in the hillside areas.

    IMG_3113

    The soil

    The best soils for growing Sangiovese are not very fertile, well drained, with minimal water retention. The poor soils of Chianti galestro (friable marl with layers of sandstone/limestone) are probably the best of all. The optimal planting of vines is at a density of 5,000-7,000 plants per ha, with yields of 1.5kg per plant. In the cool Chianti Classico area the best results are in south/southwest facing slopes at 250/500m.

    From the heights of Gaiole, Greve, Castellina, Radda and Panzano the wines show perfume and power, with sour red cherries, red berries, liquorice, violet, tea leaf, and leather and tobacco with age. Often the wines have a sheen of new oak and are sweetened with Merlot and Cabernet. They are dense, dark and age-worthy, but still angular compared to the new world styles. The best Chianti Classico has a certain grace that does not fade with age.

  • New Zealand’s Green Team: Part Two

    Sustainability is serious business for Carrick, located in Central Otago, New Zealand. Nearly 10 years ago, they completed the process of becoming certified organic across their entire vineyard and winery. However, the tendrils of their green philosophy extends well beyond their vines and the word sustainable has more meaning than simply a wine descriptor. From the cardboard they use for their wine cartons which is sourced from a mix of industrial pulp waste and NZ curb-side recycling, to  soap used in the bathrooms that is transferred onto the hand towels, the team at Carrick lives by the mantra, “you are what you eat”.

    For the second instalement in our series on New Zealand's green winemakers, we caught up with Carrick's Chief Winemaker, Francis Hutt, who shared his thoughts on the topic.

    On Carrick’s winemaking philosophy…First and foremost we seek quality fruit from healthy vines. This is our daily focus, and what led us to organic and biodynamic farming. It’s all that cover-cropping, seaweed, preparation 500, and solid hard work in the vineyard that equates to my winemaking being an exercise in understanding site expression, rather than fixing problems with chemical additives. Most of all it is the concept that the land is left in a better state from which we first  started that motivates me to produce quality wine from healthy soil. 

    francis_big[1]

    On taking a vineyard into organic production…Good communication and a good support network are vital. Build a fit-for-purpose strategy that aligns with the needs of your estate, people, and economic position. Don't be afraid to reach out and ask questions, plan well, and react quickly to what you’re seeing. Going organic doesn’t mean you do nothing, and remember, what works next door might not work for you.

    On the benefits of organic production when stacked up against conventional growing methods…First off, the people working in a vineyard are not exposed to pesticides, fungicides, or herbicides that have shown to create a whole lot of health problems. A lot of the guys that come through working in the vineyards are completely unaware of the environment they’re exposed to. We want to provide healthy, long term, sustained employment for our community, that’s not having a negative impact on the environment that we share with them. In doing so, then maybe when land scarcity forces the sale of vineyards for housing developments the community might step in and object to such developments.

    In 2014, Aubert de Villaine of Domaine Romanée-Conti came down to our Pinot celebration and we signed the dossier for world UNESCO protection of the vineyards in Burgundy, for precisely the same reason. Nuits-Saint-Georges’ urban sprawl is a hot topic around town. New Zealand doesn’t have the same reputation as the vineyards of Burgundy do, but Kiwis value their environment. All eyes are on the Dairy sector in NZ at the moment, but in time hopefully the public will turn their attention towards grape growing and we will be in a good position to argue our worth to the wider community.

    On the characteristics of organic wine…Resilience, vibrancy, energy and stability. I remember attending an aromatic symposium a few years ago in Nelson; Matthew Jukes, Jamie Goode and a bunch of winemakers where there. We tasted so many wines made with extraction enzymes, with an enormous amount of aroma that did not reflect well with the palate. The wines looked artificial, and after a few years in the bottle they completely fell over.

    mountains

    On lessons learnt from organic viniculture…Don’t worry so much about the laggards, they can really get you down. Focus your energy on the people who get it, and are engaged. Spend your time on developing these people’s skills as their engagement will make all the difference. Especially when you ask them to head out hand-weeding first thing in the morning, or assure them that collecting piles, and piles, and piles, and piles of leaves in autumn for compost is worth the effort.

    On the biggest barriers to organic viniculture…Personally, I think regulations are inhibiting growth of the sector. For example, we don’t label organic for Enotria&Coe because of the warehouse auditing process – organic products must be stored differently from non-organic. Plus, it costs you extra to be audited as an organic importing and distribution company. We’ve removed organic claims from all our export markets except for Sweden, Norway and Finland, which is not at all surprising. It’s all these extra little hoops you need to jump through that make it “too hard”. We spend all our time showing that our wines are organic, when non-organic winemaking is seen as straight forward. I think mandatory ingredient labelling might generate more interest from consumers. At present, there are a lot of things in wine that are not put on the bottle. Also as water pollution problems steadily increase, I think people will start asking more questions about farming practices.

    francis

    On the rising popularity of these wines with consumers…They’re definitely gaining traction in New Zealand, and also in places where pollution’s in your face. Like with the Palm Oil peat fires in Malaysia, selling organic wine in Singapore is easy, they get it straight away. China is the same. However organic certification in America means something different to Canada, to Japan to Europe, so it can be confusing. Organic in America is effectively “Natural Wine”, so we keep away from talking about it over there also.

    Carrick sells most of its wine through restaurants in New Zealand. Single vineyard, certified organic works in this context, but in the supermarket, not so much. Buyers just want to know quickly and easily without too much trouble. That’s why we’re certified, to back up our claims. We just need to get comfortable with advertising that fact.

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