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Archive from February 2016

Learning about winemaking in Chablis


We spent a great day last Saturday in Chablis learning about the art of winemaking during a Gourmet Odyssey Vinification Experience Day at Domaine Jean-Marc Brocard.  The aim of the day was to pick up where we had left off after the Harvest Experience Day last autumn, and to get a better understanding of the work of the winemaker from the moment the grapes are received at harvest time, to the moment the wine is ready to be bottled.

Wine making experience gift in Chablis, France

After the introductions and a welcome coffee, we made our way to the main fermentation hall to see where the harvested grapes are weighed and transferred from the trailers into the presses at harvest time.

Vineyard experience gift in Chablis

Our guide for the morning was Odile, the maître du chai, who explained how the grapes are pressed to separate the juice from the skin and pips.  She then told us about the fermentation process and the steps involved.

Original wine gift to learn all about the art of winemaking in France

Odile then let us taste several different wines, direct form the stainless steel vats, so that we could better appreciate how the wine change as they finish their malo-lactic fermentation and start to go through the ageing process. Some wines were fizzier, others clearer or more cloudy.  Odile explained why it was the case for each one.  The last vat that we tasted was the wine from the Boissonneuse vineyard, where the Gourmet Odyssey adopted vines are located.  This gave us our first preview of the potential for the 2015 vintage!

Wine making experience and wine tasting gift in Chablis, France

We then saw where the wine is bottled once it has finished ageing, typically 12 to 24 months after the harvest depending on the wine.  When the bottles are filled, they are then sealed with a cork or screw top depending on the demands of the market where the wine will be sold, before being labelled, and put into cases.

Wine gift pack to follow the making of your own personalised bottles of wine

Back at the winery, we then started to prepare ourselves for the wine tasting session.  Often the most difficult thing to do when tasting wines is to find the words to describe the sensations that they give us.  To help us, we put our noses to the test, and had to identify different aromas that can be found in white wines due to either the grape varietal or the way that it has been made.  An exercise that is as fun as it is frustrating!

Wine tasting gift for wine lovers. Rent-a-vine in Chablis and follow the making of your own wine

We were now ready to taste a series of wines, where we had to guess what the difference was between each of the wines presented.  For the first series, Anne-Laure asked us to try and identify 3 different grape varietals, the second we had to say which wine was the Petit Chablis, which the Chablis and which the Chablis Premier Cru, and the third series allowed us compare a wine that had been aged in a stainless steel vat with one that had been aged in an oak cask.

Having tasted 8 different wines, we were ready for something to eat, so we sat down to a meal that had been freshly prepared onsite that morning by Julie.  During the meal we tasted the 2012 vintage our  biodynamic wine, “La Boissonneuse” , and an Irancy “Lez Mazelots” 2013, one of the red wines produced at the winery.

Adopt-a-vine-gift experience and personalised bottles of white Chablis wine

After lunch, we took a walk amongst the vines to visit the Boissonneuse vineyard, where our adopted vines are located.  From here, there is a great vantage point to see the exposition of the different terroir that are classified as Chablis, Premier Cru or Grand Cru.  After taking a few photos of our vines, we returned to the warmth of the winery.

Unique winery tour and winemaking gift in Chablis

In the cellar, the end wall has been left bare, revealing the different layers of limestone clay and shale that characterise the typicity of the kimmeridgian soil found round Chablis.  Here we learnt the importance of this soil and its impact on the Chablis wines.

Original wine lover gift to learn all about the art of wine making

The day ended with a visit to the fermentation hall where the oak casks are located.  Here some of the estate’s finer wines are aged, including part of our Boissonneuse wine.  We tasted the wine directly from the cask to see how it compared to the Boissonneuse wine that we had tasted earlier from the stainless steel vat.

These two wines will be kept separate throughout the ageing process, and will be only be blended together shortly before the wine is ready for bottling next year.  So we’ll have to be patient before we can taste the finished wine, but the early indications are promising!

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Original Motherís Day Gift. Adopt some organic vines in France.


The annual quest to find an original Mother’s Day present is once again upon us.  If your mum is a wine lover, we might have the perfect gift for her.  Adopt some vines in France in an organic French vineyard, and she’ll get to follow the making of her own organic wine from the work in the vineyard to the bottling of her own personalised bottles of wine.

Original Mother’s Day Gift. Adopt some organic vines in France. 
The Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience is a great Mother’s Day gift idea that will let her in behind the scenes to learn all about the art of winemaking.  She’ll receive an adopt-a-vine welcome gift pack to have something to open straight away, and then thanks to the newsletters and photos from the winemaker, she’ll follow all the key stages in the vineyard and cellar, and will be able to personalise the labels for her bottles of wine.

And if you think she’ll enjoy a short break in France to explore one of France’s wine growing regions, and actually get involved in helping to make her wine, you can include, or she can add at a later date, a Discovery, Harvest or Vinification Experience Day at her chosen winery.  Each Experience Day is valid for two people, with a winemaker’s lunch of regional delicacies and wine tasting included.

All of our partner wineries are organically certified, and are selected for the quality of their wine and the enthusiasm of the winemakers to share their passion for wine and how it is made.  One thing is for sure.  At the end of her Wine Experience gift, your Mum will appreciate wine in a whole new light, once she has learnt about all of the hard work, skill, love and effort that has gone into making her personalised bottles of wine.

Our welcome gift packs are delivered within two working days in France and 2-5 days for the rest of Europe depending on the country and delivery option selected.  For those last minute Mother’s Day gifts, a personalised adopt-a-vine certificate can be emailed.

So go on, and spoil your Mum this year with her own mini plot of vines in France.  It’s sure to be a Mother’s Day gift that she won’t be expecting!

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What makes Ice Wine so different?


As winter sets in, the vines generally take a well earned rest after producing the grapes for the harvest in autumn. That is except for the vines that are used to produce ice wine, an exclusive style of wine that is only ever produced in small quantities and not necessarily every year.
Pick up grapes, Ice wine

Ice wine is made from frozen grapes that are still on the vine, and to be in accordance with the International Organisation of Vine and Wine’s regulations, the temperature has to have reached at least -7°C. What an idea to make wine from frozen grapes! It’s apparently in Austria that the first wine was made in this way, and as with many great discoveries, it was completely by accident. At the end of the 18th century in a year when the first winter frosts came very early, the harvesters picked some grapes that had already frozen, but the resulting wine was excellent, contrary to all expectations!

The slight problem is that in order to have frozen grapes, you need the cold! And as it doesn’t necessarily come every year, it’s quite a bet for the winemaker to take, deciding to leave the grapes on the vines in the hope that the temperature will drop sufficiently to make ice wine, eiswein or vin de glace, as it is also known in some regions.

Harvesting to make ice wine in Quebec

Why do the grapes have to be left on the vine for such a long time? As for the vendanges tardives or late harvest wines, the grapes are left longer to give them the chance to obtain a much higher sugar level (the grapes used for the vendanges tardives also have the noble rot to help increase the concentration of sugar). The sugar levels are increased by the effects of the frost, and the grapes are picked and transported to the chai when they are still frozen. The grapes are then pressed whilst frozen, so some of the grape juice remains as ice crystals with the stalks, pips, and grape skins after pressing. This further increases the sugar levels of the extracted juice.

Freezing also gives the wine greater acidity, which counterbalances the sugar, giving sweet wines which are very aromatic and fresh on the palate.

Ice wine tasting

But be warned. Not everyone or everywhere can produce ice wine. We’ve already mentioned that you need a minimum temperature, and across the Atlantic in the US and Canada, regulations for making ice wine stipulate at least -12°C. The freezing temperatures can in no way be produced artificially, and it is also against the charter to add sugar to the must. These conditions mean that the production of ice wine remains very restricted compared to classic wines.

The main ice wine producing regions are Austria, Germany and Alsace in Europe, and Canada and the United States in North America. The main grape varietals used to make ice wine are riesling, grüner vetliner and gewurztraminer for the white ice wines, and merlot, cabernet franc and cabernet sauvignon for red ice wines.

So how is ice wine best served? Unsurprisingly, cold! Between 4 and 8°C, it can be enjoyed as an aperitif or as a dessert wine, but is best tasted on its own to fully appreciate the harmony between the sugar and acidity. It pairs well with blue cheese or foie gras, and if you have the patience, is a wine that can be kept in the cellar for a few years!

 

Other articles

The harvest in a few words

A brief history of grape harvesting

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Wine-making Experience Day in Bordeaux


We started the Vinification Experience Days for the 2015 vintage last weekend at Château Beau Rivage in the Bordeaux region of France. We were welcomed by Christine, the owner of the winery, and Pauline and Corentin from her team. We then headed straight to the fermentation hall once we had finished our coffee and tea.

Christine explained how the grapes had been picked and put into the vats at harvest time, and then taught us all about the work during the alcoholic and malo-lactic fermentation processes.

Wine marking experience, Bordeaux, France

We then headed through to the cellar, where we discovered the fascinating world of barrels. They soften the tannins from the grapes, and bring smoothness and structure to the wine. This is where the 2015 wines, which our adopted vines have helped make, are currently resting and slowly maturing. We started to understand the benefit of ageing the wines in barrels and the art of blending wines in Bordeaux.

Unique wine gifts, bordeaux, France

We then made our way to the Nadalié cooperage that Chirstine’s family own and run, just a few kilometres away. After a quick visit, we settled around a table for the first practical session of the day. To help us to better describe the wines that we were to taste later on in the day, we put our noses to the test. We had to identify the aromas of different fruits, spices, leather and aromas emanating from wood, and they weren’t all easy to correctly guess!

Wine experience, Bordeaux, France

We finished the morning with the first wine tasting session. Christine and Pauline gave us two wines to taste from the same year. The two wines were of the same grape varietal, but from two different types of barrel. One was ageing in a French oak barrel and the other in an American oak barrel. The difference in taste and colour was amazing!

Personalised wine gift, Bordeaux, France

We then took a break in the restaurant of the cooperage for a cold buffet lunch of regional charcuterie, salads and cheese. Around the tables, we continued the discussion, and tasted the finished wines from the winery.

After lunch, it was back to work! We tasted samples of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec and Petit Verdot one by one. These are the principal grape varietals grown at Château Beau Rivage, and this exercise gave us the opportunity to identify the different tastes and characteristics they each have.

Wine tasting gift, Bordeaux, France

Split into small groups, we then tried our hand at being winemakers. Blending, tasting, testing, re-tasting, re-blending, re-tasting… A full afternoon creating wines, sometimes off-beat, and sometimes surprising!

We finished the days around 16:00 having had lots of fun, and having learnt a little more about the art of winemaking.

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Wine-Making Experience Day in Burgundy at Domaine Chapelle


The first of the Wine Experience Days for the new year got underway last weekend at Domaine Chapelle in the picturesque Burgundy village of Santenay. We were there with clients of the 2015 vintage for a couple of Vinification Experience Days.

Vineyard experience, Burgundy, France

The last in the series of the Gourmet Oydssey Wine Experience Days, the aim of this oenological session is to explain the important work and decisions that must be taken in the cellar to transform the grapes that were harvested last year into wine, and how to nurture the wines during the ageing process until they are ready for bottling.

Unique wine gifts, Burgundy, France

In order to explain the different aspects of the work, the day was divided into a series of workshops. To set the scene, Jean-François, the winemaker and owner of Domaine Chapelle, introduced us to the winery and gave us an overview of the Burgundy Appellation Contrôlée system by explaining the historical and geological events that led to the surrounding vineyards being classified as regional, village, premier cru or grand cru. In Burgundy, the terroir is the starting point for understanding the wines, but as Jean-François explained, the wine doesn’t make itself; it’s also the result of the climate, and the decisions that the winemaker takes in nurturing the vines and making the wine.

When tasting wines, the most difficult thing to do is to put words to the sensations that are stimulated. Yvette, Jean-François’ wife and partner in the winery, led us through a series of tests to help us better taste wine. First, we put our noses to good use to try and identify some of the aromas that can be found in the wines.

Wine gift packs, Burgundy, France

The first series contained primary and secondary aromas. Fruity or floral, these aromas were principally due to the grape varietal and terroir. The second series of tertiary aromas were more marked, introducing us to the types of aromas that can be found in wines that have been aged in oak barrels.

Yvette had also organised a tasting session for us, not of wine, but of four different water based solutions. We had to spot the sugar, salt, acid and bitter tasting waters, and to identify the different zones in the mouth that each one affects. This exercise can be very useful when tasting and describing the different structures of wines.

Wine liver gift, Burgundy, France

In the fermentation hall, Jean-François explained how the grapes are received and entered into the vats at harvest time. He then explained the work needed to monitor and control the fermentation process, plot by plot. There are lots of techniques that can be used to improve the quality of the wine, and Jean-François told us that the difficulty nowadays is deciding which ones to use and knowing when not to use one. His aim isn’t to produce wines that taste the same every year, but wines that are the best expression of the vintage in question and the potential of the terroir.

Once the first fermentation has finished, the red wines are then racked and put into barrels in the winery’s impressive underground cellar.

Wine making experience, Burgundy, France

Here, Jean-François talked about the ageing of the wine in barrels, and we tasted three different wines to better understand first-hand the different aromatic, gustative and structural characteristics that the barrels can bring to a wine.

Wine experience gifts, Burgundy, France

By the time we had finished in the cellar, it was already the end of the morning, so time for the aperitif! On Saturday, we enjoyed the sunshine and mild weather, and headed outside into the courtyard to taste the Santenay St Jean white wine, and to ask Jean-François some more questions.

Wine tasting gift, Burgundy, France

Over lunch, we continued the wine tasting with some of the winery’s red wines. To start with, the 2011 vintage of the wine chosen for the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience, the Clos des Cornières. We then compared it to a Santenay Premier Cru “Les Gravières” from the same year, before ending with an Aloxe Corton 2012.

After lunch, we headed out into the vineyard to meet up with our adopted vines. It’s the start of a new year for the My Vine photo competition, and a variety of interesting poses were quickly adopted!

Adopt a vine France, Burgundy

Jean-François explained the different zones of the vineyard that are made up from three different ages of vines. This was useful information because back at the winery, we had a final wine tasting session prepared for us. The wine from each of the three zones is vinified and aged separately, and we had the opportunity to taste a different 2015 wines from each zone, to see the difference that the age of the vines plays in the taste of the wine, and also between the soils in the different areas. Even though the vines are from the same vineyard, within it, there are two different types of soil structure.

Personalised bottles of wine, Burgundy, France

So as the day drew to a close, we had learnt that the winemaker’s job is far from over once the harvest is in. Through the different tasting sessions we had also learnt that there are many factors that can influence the taste and structure of the wine. Fortunately our 2015 vintage is in good hands with Jean-François, Yvette and Yannick, but we still have a few more months to wait as the wine develops and matures!

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Wine-making day in the south of France at Domaine Allegria


We had a great first Vinification Experience Day of the 2015 vintage last weekend, and the wet weather that was announced by the weather forecasters did nothing to dampen the spirits. The winemaker is of course happy to receive some rain from time to time, especially as the winter has been far too dry this year, and if it’s good for the vines, it’s for a good cause!
Vineyard experience, Languedoc, France

We enjoyed a coffee in the warmth of the wine boutique whilst waiting for everyone to arrive, and then we ventured out into the vineyard to get the day started.

On the way, we explained the work that has been keeping us busy in the vineyard. We finished pruning 3 weeks ago. We’ve pulled the cut branches free, and put them in bundles between the vine rows to be crushed. This will help us return some nutrients to the soil. The day before, some organic animal manure had been spread amongst the vines, again to help nourish the earth.

Rent a vine, Languedoc, France

In the vineyard plot where the adopted vines are located, we took the time to take a few photos with our vines, and to check up on the loving care that Ghislain and Delphine had given them since the last Harvest and Discovery Experience Days.

Back from the vineyard, we visited the winery and cellar from top to bottom. The questions rattled off; what is a wine without sulphites, why used selected yeast, and many others. We learnt all about the vinification process and how it differs in making white and red wine.

Wine tasting gift, Languedoc, France

We then participated in a session to put our sense of smell to the test. In the first series we had to identify the primary aromas of fruit and flowers, and the second series contained aromas that are more associated with ageing of wine in oak barrels. We had a very talented group of participants who were able to correctly identify the different fragrances.

We had lunch in the warmth of the wine boutique. We tasted the Tribu d’A 2014 white wine with some dried sausage for the aperitif, followed by some warm pumpkin soup served with the Cinsault Abuelo 2013 and Tribu d’A 2010 red wines. To accompany the homemade quiche, we tasted the Carignan Gourmand 2012, and Cousu Main 2011 red wine from a magnum. We then finished the meal with La Belle Histoire 2013, a very good vintage in the Languedoc. And then just enough space was left for some coffee and profiteroles!

Original wine gift, Languedoc, France

After the meal, we returned to the cellar to taste 3 wines from the 2015 vintage. It was the first opportunity to see what this great vintage has in store for us, and to take the time to analyse its characteristics. We tasted the Carignan, Syrah and Mourvèdre wines that are still in the long process of ageing. We then had a go at blending them together to see how the wines interact with one another. It’s still way too soon to know what the final blend will be as the wines are too young, and full of carbon dioxide from the fermentation.

So the end of the day arrived, and our heads were spinning from the mass of new information we had learnt about wine, and we hopefully have a thing or two more to say about how it’s made now. Many thanks to all for coming!

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