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Archive from July 2018

Hints and tips for serving wine when itís hot


It’s not always easy matching wines to summer meals when it’s very hot.  You have to serve the wine at the right temperature without spoiling it, and then keep the wine at the desired temperature once it’s on the table.  If the wine is too warm, it will seem heavy and the alcohol will overpower the wine, and if it’s too chilled, you won’t be able to appreciate the aromatic qualities and depth of the wine.  Here are a few suggestions for enjoying your wine this summer.
Firstly be careful when choosing your wine because not all wines are at their best when the mercury starts to rise.  Of course, the wine should be chosen to match the dish being served, but you also need to take a few points into consideration.  For red wines, favour lighter wines because the heat makes the tannins more pronounced, and serve them between 15 and 18°C.  For the whites, choose dry and mineral wines over complex and sweet wines.  They are usually best served between 9 and 11°C, when the aromas are best released.  The same is true for champagnes and rosé wines, the latter being better suited if they are light and fruity.

These serving temperatures feel much less compared to the 30+°C often encountered during the summer months.  The most important thing is to try and avoid any thermal shocks.  For example with red wines, rather than letting the bottle breathe in the warm air and then cooling it down afterwards, if you’re lucky enough to have a cellar, it’s better to open the bottle and let it breathe in the cellar, and then bring it out at the last minute.  Not such an easy thing to do with a wine fridge though!

Alternatively, if you have a little time ahead of you, before opening the bottle, wrap it up in a damp tea towel and put it in the fridge for an hour at most, but no longer. The wet tea towel will help lower the temperature a little more quickly.

If you prefer to use an ice bucket or ice bag, which can also be used to stop the wine from warming up whilst on the table, mix some cold water with the ice cubes, as still wines don’t like to be frozen, and add some coarse salt which helps the temperature fall more quickly.

Chilling sleeves that you place in the fridge or freezer before wrapping them around the bottle don’t really chill a wine, but they are useful in maintaining the same temperature without causing any thermal shocks.

When using a carafe to serve your wine, they also exist with removable tubes that you can fill with water and freeze so that the ice can be used without diluting the wine.  Of course ice cubes and wine are not a good idea if you want to preserve the aromas and concentration of the wine.  If you really want to put something frozen directly in your wine, an alternative is to freeze some grapes, berry by berry, and then add them when needed.  They’ll cool the wine down without diluting it as ice cubes do, and at least its more eye catching!

Another tip is to chill the wine glasses using ice cubes just before serving the wine, which will stop the wine from warming up so quickly in the glass.  To chill the glass, put a few ice cubes in, and swirl them around until the glass starts to frost up.

By following these few tips, you should be able to continue enjoying a few nice bottles this summer. Enjoy your holiday!

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Update of the 2018 vintage so far


Starting with a cold and wet winter, followed by a warm and rainy start to the summer, the 2018 vintage has generally had fairly good conditions in most of France’s wine growing regions.

Replenishing the water tables and keeping the frost at bay

Vine adoption 2018 vintage

It rained regularly back in January at the start of 2018, allowing the water reserves to be replenished.  Then in February, the cold set in, which is a good thing for the vines because it enables them to rest and also kills off some of the parasites that live in the soil and can bring disease to the vines.
Spring was generally sunny and warm, meaning that the buds burst fairly early.  For example in the Cotes du Rhone region, the bud burst was two weeks earlier than usual at Domaine de la Guicharde.  At that time, back in April, frost was the biggest threat.  Most of our organic winery partners had put in place some defence system, whether it be candles or bales of hay ready to burn and heat the air, or wind turbines to mix the warmer air with cooler air.   Part of the Loire, Bordeaux and Languedoc regions were particularly touched, whereas the impact in Burgundy and the Rhone valley was much more localised.  Fortunately, none of our partner vineyards were badly affected by the frost.
The very start of the summer was particularly wet, not just because of the frequent downpours, but also because of the quantity of rain that fell, being much greater than seasonal norms.  The constant humid conditions, coupled with the warmth, created the perfect conditions for mildew to develop, and most of our partner winemakers have seen the tell-tale spots form on the vine leaves.

Tending vines during the 2018 vintage

Mildew can be a big problem for organic and biodynamic winemakers because the elements used to protect the vines, principally copper and sulphur, are contact products that don’t enter into the plant.  Therefore, with each rainfall, they are washed away and you need to treat the vines again.  Another way of trying to fight against mildew is to remove some of the leaves from in front of the grapes.  This allows the grapes to dry quicker after the rain, giving the mildew less chance to develop.  Fortunately the hot dry weather throughout France since mid-June has helped to stop the spread of the mildew.

Vine growing in France in 2018

The flowering vines and the harvest to come

The rain and heat has meant that the vines have grown rapidly since the initial bud burst.  The winemakers have been kept busy de-budding the vines, ensuring that the branches grow between the training wires, and trimming the vines.  It has also been important to work the ground, either mowing the grass or tilling the soil lightly to keep the grass and weeds in check and stop them from competing with the vines for the nutrients in the soil.

Harvest dates and vine flowering in France in 2018

The vines flowered early in most regions at the end of May and beginning of June. In Burgundy, the first flower was seen on the 26th May during a Gourmet Odyssey Discovery Experience Day.  It was a fairly rainy period in most regions during flowering, so some vines have seen some shot berry.  This happens when the rain weighs the flower cap down, stopping it from falling free and resulting in the flower not being fecundated, and therefore not producing any fruit.  Fortunately the shot berry has only been seen relatively sporadically in most parts, meaning that the quantity of grapes at harvest time should generally be OK.

Harvest forecast in France in 2018

Probably the biggest threat to the future harvest is the risk of being hit by a hail storm.  Normally these are very local, but the last few years have seen some big storms hit that have damaged the vines on a larger scale than normal.  The unlucky region to have been particularly badly hit this year is the Médoc, not just once but twice, the second coinciding with France’s victory at the world cup!
The sunny weather of the past few weeks means that the veraison will happen earlier than usual, and now is the time when the grapes start to change colour.  They stop growing, and enter the maturing phase.

Adopt-a-vine-experience in a French vineyard in 2018

So at this stage, the winemakers are quietly optimistic of a good harvest to come, both in terms of quantity and quality, as long as the weather remains kind during the summer, and the hail stays away.  The harvest will be earlier than usual and most of the grapes will have been harvested by the end of September.
We look forward to the end of summer and a good harvest for 2018!

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How can you protect vines from frost?
Bud burst of the vines in Spring

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Nurturing the organic vines in Saint-Emilion


We spent another great Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience weekend in Saint-Emilion at Château Coutet with the David Beaulieu family.  They have been making wine here for over 400 years and have a unique story to tell, not just from the 14 generations of wine-makers, but also because they have always been organic and have never used any chemical products on their vines.  We were to hear more about what makes Château Coutet unique throughout the day, but the main focus was on learning about all of the work in the vineyard needed to nurture the vines and produce the best possible grapes at harvest time.

Original wine gift for any wine lover. Adopt some organic vines in a Saint-Emilion Grand Cru vineyard

After the introductions, we made our way through the vineyards and up the hill.  On the way, we learnt about the different grape varietals of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Malbec that are grown on the estate, and we marvelled at the trees and hedgerows that help to make up the special ecosystem of the winery. Around 20% of the winery’s surface area is voluntarily set aside from growing vines to preserve and encourage the biodiversity, which in turn helps maintain a natural equilibrium.

From the top of the hill, we had a good vantage point over the plain below, stretching past Libourne to Fronsac, and across the Dordogne River into the Entre Deux Mers wine-growing region.  Here we learnt the role that the landscape plays in influencing the weather in Saint-Emilion, and could see how the soil changes from the sandy loam flood plain, to the clay limestone on the side of the hill, to the limestone plateau at the top.  The vines at Château Coutet grow on these three distinct terroir.

Vineyard tour with the winemaker in Saint-Emilion, Bordeaux

Up on the plateau, we made our way to the Peycocut vineyard, one of the 12 reference vineyards in Saint-Emilion, traditionally used by the Jura to determine the date for the harvest.  This is where the Gourmet Odyssey adopted vines are located, and we took a few minutes to visit our vines, admire the views of the rolling vineyards, and take a few pictures.

Rent some organic vines in Saint-Emilion and foloow the making of your personnalised wine

The work in the vineyard began during the cold winter months with pruning.  We learnt how this is done, and were brought up to speed on the other work accomplished so far this year to de-bud the vines, raise the training wires, and work the soil.

Learning the life of a winemaker

The past few months have been warm and wet.  This has meant that the vines have grown rampantly, but it is also been the ideal conditions for mildew to flourish.  Whilst walking in the vineyards we could see some of the tell-tale yellow spots on the vine leaves.  With the heavy downpours of rain, it hasn’t always been possible to get the tractor into the vineyard to treat the vines when needed.   As the vineyard is organic and the bouillie bordelaise used to protect the vines from mildew is a contact product, it gets washed away and needs to be reapplied after each 20mm of rain.

Protecting the vines from mildew

Another way to help reduce the spread and impact of mildew is to remove some of the leaves around the grapes, which improves the air flow and speeds up the drying time after any rain.  This was the job that had been set aside for us, and we were shown how to do so.  The first factor to take into consideration is the alignment of the vines.  In the Bordeaux region the summer months can get very hot with strong sunshine.  The leaves are therefore only removed on the east facing side which receives the gentler morning sun.  The leaves are kept on the other side to protect the grapes from the more powerful afternoon sun.  The leaves to be removed are those directly in front of the grapes and any which touch the grapes and could transport moisture to the grapes from the rest of the plant.

De-leafing the vines in Saint-Emilion

After watching the winemakers do this expertly, we spread out in pairs to have a go ourselves.  It’s not the most intellectually demanding task, but we soon learnt that it’s more physically demanding that you might think, and that there is a real technique needed to go fast.

Hands-on wine course in Saint-Emilion, France

We then headed back to the winery, and enjoyed a well earned glass of chilled Clairet rosé wine in the shade of the magnificent trees in the chateau’s garden.

Lunch and wine tasting gift in Saint-Emilion with the winemaker

Lunch was delicious as usual, prepared on site by the excellent caterers.  We had foie-gras with fig chutney and savoury breads for starter, followed by magret de canard with a 4 spice sauce, mashed potato with truffle oil, and garden vegetables.  To accompany these dishes, we tasted the Château’s second wine, Belles-Cîmes 2015, and compared the 2014 and 2015 vintages of the Château Coutet.  We then tasted the Cuvée Demoiselle 2014 with the cheese and dessert.

After lunch, we talked some more about how the winery is managed organically, and has always been so since time began.  We also learnt about the work left to do in the vineyard before the harvest, and how the winemakers will tell when the grapes are ripe enough to be picked.

Organic wine-making course and gift in Saint-Emilion

The day ended with a quick visit of the chai, family cellar, and barrel room.  The family cellar is full of old vintage wines going back over the past 50 years or so, and everyone tried to find the bottles from their birth years.

Cellar tour in Saint-Emilion with the wine-maker

We’ll be spending more time in the chai during the Vinification Experience Day next year.  For now we have to wait patiently as the grapes ripen before returning in September to help pick the grapes during the Harvest Experience Day.

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