The Goddess and the Roasted Grape

ErbaluceThe goddess Albaluce – the love child of the Sun and the Dawn – was not happy. It seemed many of her followers in the enchanted land of Caluso were desserting her in favor of a new religion known as Christianity. As she sat down and shed her tears, a grapevine grew and brought forth sweet grapes with a bright copper hue. Eventually, these grapes became known as Erbaluce in her honor.

Great story, isn’t it?  Or perhaps we should simply refer to it as what it is – a legend, that, while surely fiction, does at least let us know that Erbaluce is an ancient grape. We also know – somewhat for sure – that the grape is native to Piedmont, which has written records of the grape dating back to 1606. These days, it rarely ventures far from home, and is an allowed variety in just a handful of DOC/DOCGs – all of them in Piedmont.

Erbaluce’s unique copper color – sometimes accompanied by pink highlights as the grape ripens – has given rise to the nickname Uva Arrostita, or “roasted grape.”  Modern science, through DNA profiling, has revealed that Erbaluce is closely related to another Piedmont native, Cascarolo Bianco, although who exactly begat whom is not clear.

Erbaluce is cultivated in a variety of provinces in and around Turin, but is most associated with the town of Caluso. Even here, however, it is a rarity – at last count, there were less than 800 acres – and its wines are seldom seen out of the region.

erbaluce 2Erbaluce di Caluso was granted DOC status in 1967, and was promoted to DOCG in 2011. The disciplinare allows for dry white wines, sparkling wines, and sweet wines – all produced with 100% Erbaluce grapes. The dry white wines go by the name Erbaluce di Caluso, while the sparkling wines, appreciated for the fresh fruit character and mineral aromas – are known as Caluso Spumante.

But the real star is Caluso Passito – a sweet, dried grape wine with a minimum of 7% residual sugar, 12.5% alcohol, and 36 months of aging (48 for the Riserva).  Caluso Passito is known for its aromas of apple, vanilla, citrus, honey, and almonds –and while I’ve only had it once  – I’m betting it would make an excellent match with a simple dessert of gorgonzola, dried fruit, and hazelnuts.

Note: Erbaluce is an allowed (majority) grape variety in the following wines, all produced in Piedmont:  Canavese DOC, Colline Novaresi DOC, Coste della Sesia DOC, Erbaluce di Caluso DOCG, Piedmont DOC

The website of Azienda Vitivinicola Giacometto Bruno has a lovely description of their Caluso Passito.

The Central Otago Gold Rush

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Wine students are well aware of the effect that California’s Gold Rush (1848-1855) had on wine production in northern California – namely, that between 1856 and 1857, gold fever turned into vine fever, and winegrape plantings in the area more than doubled!

However, did you know that Central Otago had a gold rush of its own?

It all began in May of 1861, when gold was discovered in an Otago Valley now known as Gabriel’s Gully. The site is located about three kilometers from the town of Lawrence, close to the Tuapeka River.  The discovery at Gabriel’s Gully was the largest gold strike ever for New Zealand, and quickly led to a rapid influx of foreign prospectors to the area – many of them veterans of the recent gold rush in California, as well as similar finds in the gold fields of Victoria, Australia.

One such miner, named Jean Desire Féraud, was of French descent – from a wine-making family in Burgundy, no less. Upon his arrival in Otago, Mr. Féraud quickly made a fortune from gold – so much so that the location of his lucky strike, located on the west bank of the Clutha River, is now known as Frenchman’s Point.

Jean Desire Féraud, via centralotagowine.com

Jean Desire Féraud, via centralotagowine.com

With his newly-found riches, Mr. Féraud bought 100 acres of land and planted orchards, herbs, and vineyards. He also built a winery, known as Monte Christo. Most of the wine was sold locally, but one batch – believed to be Pinot Noir from the 1879 vintage – won a third-place medal in the “Best Burgundy” category at an 1881 competition in Sydney.

Despite this success, Féraud’s efforts were not enough to win over the locals – most of them miners and farmers who preferred whisky and beer – to the love of wine, and Féraud soon sold the winery.  It was purchased by James Bodkin in 1889, and the property remains in the Bodkin family to this day.

Thus, the first wave of wine production in Central Otago was short-lived, and, as we all know, the modern wine industry took until the 1990s to really get going. It does, however, seem like Mr. Féraud knew what he was doing, as Pinot Noir is now the leading red grape of New Zealand. And Central Otago, famous for being the southernmost wine region in the world, is equally well-known for its fragrant, intense, silky Pinot Noir. To wine lovers, and hopefully to the legacy of Jean Desire Féraud, that’s as good as gold.

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A Tale of Tibouren

Clos Cibonne Tibouren

Clos Cibonne Tibouren

Tibouren…it is a grape that is highly regarded, and with a historical precedence for use in the rosés of Provence. And yet, many of you have – perhaps – never heard of it!

The Tibouren grape is appreciated for making earthy, expressive wines redolent of that “wild, herbal, somewhat floral” aroma known as garrigue – named after the wild underbrush that grows in the limestone-rich soils of Provence and other regions around the Mediterranean basin. It is approved as a principal variety (allowed up to 90% of the blend) in the red and rosé wines of the Côtes de Provence AOC; it is approved as an accessory variety (allowed up to 20% of the blend) in the reds and rosés of the Coteaux Variois en Provence AOC.

The Clos Cibonne estate, located on the coast between Marseille and Nice, has one of the largest and oldest plantings of Tibouren in the world, and on occasion produces varietal wines from Tibouren in both red and rosé versions. The Tibouren vineyard at Clos Cibonne is almost 40 acres, much of it planted in 1930 or earlier.

Garrigue

Garrigue

Tibouren has avoided becoming too well known for several reasons – the first being that, despite its excellent reputation for making interesting wines, it is not widely grown.  France has a total of just 1,100 acres, with more than half of those planted in Provence. The main reason for the small showing of the grape is – despite its being quite hardy in regards to pests and most vine diseases – that the grape has a tendency to early budding and susceptibility that pesky condition known as millerandage. CSW Students will recognize millerandage as a condition known as “abnormal fruit set” that results in grape bunches that have a high proportion of small seedless berries mixed in with normal, larger, seed-bearing grapes.

Like most vinifera grapes, Tibouren has an interesting and not-quite-verified history. It is said to have been introduced to the area around St. Tropez by an Italian ship’s captain named Antiboul. The grape first went by the name Antibloulen, which later led to the name “Tibouren.” Recent DNA testing, as reported by Jancis et al in their amazing book “Wine Grapes,” has shown it to be identical to the Rossese di Dolceacqua grape of Liguria. This would make sense, according to the story of the Italian sea captain!

Rossese di Dolceacqua (aka Tibouren)– 662 acres of it – is still grown, very close to the French border, in Liguria.

 

Emerald Lizards, Feathery Grass, and Falconry

Map of AustriaThe wine-growing regions of Austria can be a little confusing. Thankfully, the wines are delicious and well-worth the effort to understand.

Part of the confusion may stem from the fact that four areas that are technically Federal States – Niederösterreich, Burgenland, Steiermark, and Vienna (which, as the capital, plays a double role as both a city as well as a federal state, quite like Washington DC in the US) – all also designated wine quality regions.

All of Austria’s other quality wine regions are located within these four federal states; the presence of the cold and rugged Austrian Central Alps mountain range makes viticultural nearly impossible in much of the rest of the country.

As any good wine student should know, 9 of these designated quality wine regions have been promoted to the highest classification in the land – known as Districtus Austriae Controllatus, or DAC. (The others are referred to as “Weinbaugebiete” or “Quality Wine Regions.) DACs have strict regulations concerning grape varieties, vinification, and wine style, and it is hoped/expected that the other designated regions within the Austrian federal states will, in time, also becomes DACs.

Hinterhaus Castle in the Wachau

Hinterhaus Castle in the Wachau

The first Austrian DAC (Weinviertel) was awarded - quite recently – in 2003. And yet, Austria has one of the oldest wine cultures in Europe. In spite of this, what brought fame to Austria’s wines in recent history – most unfortunately – was a few notorious scandals in the 1980s.

While – I am sure – many people in Austria and beyond would just like to forget about what are sometimes referred to as the “Antifreeze Scandals,” the truth is that the scandals led to a tightening of wine standards in Austria and the creation of the Austrian Wine Marketing Board in 1986. As a result of these moves, as well as Austria’s entry into the EU in 1995, Austrian wine has some of the strictest standards in Europe.

Even before the Austrian Wine Marketing Board and the DACs came to be, the wine growers of the Wachau set their own set of standards. Formed in 1983, the Vinea Wachau Nobilis Districtus is a trade association determined to protect the quality and reputation of the wines of the region.  Members of the Vinea Wachau, which include almost 90% of the wine producers in the region, must abide by the standards of the organization as well as Austria’s strict wine laws.

The Vinea Wachau has standards for three designated styles of wine, used only for the dry white wines of the region. You’ve probably heard of them:

  • Steinfelder: This is the lightest style of the three, as defined by must weight, with a maximum alcohol of 11.5%. Sometimes these wines are lightly sparkling or “spritzig.” Most of these wines are consumed in Austria as a simple, easy drinking wine; they are unlikely to be exported.
  • Weissenkirchen (The White Church) in the Wachau

    Weissenkirchen (The White Church) in the Wachau

    Federspiel: These “classic” wines are made from riper grapes, with an alcohol of 11–12.5%. These wines are generally rich in aroma and character, while dry and medium-bodied.

  • Smaragd: Sometimes defined as “full” or “powerful,” these are the supreme wines of the Wachau. Bottled at a minimum of 12.5% alcohol, these concentrated, full-bodied wines are likely to be suitable for aging.

Here’s where it gets interesting: the Vinea Wachau named these categories after some of the natural delights of the Wachau:

  • Steinfelder is a decorative, feathery grass that grows on rocky hillsides. Steinfelder is found only in the Wachau.
  • Federspiel is a term related to falconry, historically a favorite sport of Austrian aristocrats. A “federspiel” was a call used to lure the falcon back with its prey.  Austria continues to be a world leader in falconry.
  • Smaragd means “emerald” and refers to the little green lizards that are often found in the basking in the sunlight in the vineyards of the Wachau.

Doesn’t it make you want to book a trip to the Wachau?

 

 

 

 

 

A New Future for Austrian Sparkling Wines!

Austrian sparkling WineLast year – in a very big way – Austria began to take steps to improve the quality and reputation of its sparkling wines.

One of the first actions was to establish an Austrian Sparkling Wine Committee, who set about to formulate some new standards for Austria’s Sparkling wines.

Last week, October 22 was celebrated as the first ever “Austrian Sparkling Wine Day.” As part of the celebrations, the Sparkling Wine Committee introduced a new three-tier quality pyramid for Austrian wines. The levels are as follows:

Top Tier (Level 3):

  • Grapes from a single designated wine region
  • Austrian Sparkling Wine Pyramid via the Austrian Wine website (see link below)
    Austrian Sparkling Wine Pyramid via the Austrian Wine website (see link below)

    Traditional method production

  • Minimum of 30 months aging on the lees
  • May be no sweeter than “brut”
  • Must be hand picked
  • Must use whole-bunch pressing
  • Designation of village/vineyard site allowed
  • May be white or rosé

 

Middle Tier (Level 2):

  • Grapes from a single designated Federal State
  • Traditional method production
  • Minimum of 18 months aging on the lees
  • May be no sweeter than “brut” Must be hand picked
  • Must use whole-bunch pressing
  • No designation of village or vineyard site allowed
  • May be white or rosé

 

Basic Tier (Level 1):

Vienna at Night
Vienna at Night

 

  • Grapes may be from anywhere in Austria, but must be 100% Austrian fruit
  • Must be produced in Austria
  • May be any level of sweetness
  • May be produced using any method approved for the production of sparkling wines
  • Minimum of 9 months aging on the lees
  • May be any color – red, white, or rosé
  • May not list a vineyard designation or specific designation of origin

The Austrian Sparkling Wine Pyramid has not been approved into law as of yet. The Austrian Wine Marketing Board hopes to achieve this approval sometime in 2015.

For more information, see the website of Austrian Wine!  

The Ancestor Vines of Barossa

Photo by Stephan Ridgway

Photo by Stephan Ridgway

Old vines…for many of us, the term “old vine” implies that a wine is produced from grapes grown on a grapevine of more than 20, or 50, or 100 years of age (the exact number depending on where exactly the vineyard is and your point of view), and that the fruit, having been painstakingly ripened by a grizzled old vine, will be exceptionally rich, concentrated, and complex.

While I am sure most wine aficionados would agree with that purposefully vague description, the truth remains that “old vine” (or vieilles vignes, as the French say) remains a largely unregulated and undefined wine term. After all, a lot depends on context. If you grow grapes in Châteauneuf-du-Pape or Jerez, the idea of “old” might actually start at about the half-century mark. On the other hand, if you grow grapes in the Canterbury Plains or Elkton, Oregon, you might start to think of your vines as “old timers” once the hit 20 years old.

One thing that just about everyone can agree upon, however, is that the older vines of the world need to be protected, respected, and – in the best of all possible worlds – documented and substantiated. To this end, Australia’s Barossa Grape and Wine Association, which has over 500 grape growers and claims to have more old vines than any other region in the world, has taken steps to do so. After all, as Ron “The Dirtman” Gibson, of Gibson Wines in the Barossa says, “Old vines aren’t good because they’re old, they’re old because they are good.”

Photo by Verita Photography

Photo by Verita Photography

The organization has released what might be one of the only specific definitions of the term “old vine” in the wine-making world. Although these terms  are not regulated by the Australian Government, nor are the approved as “official” wine descriptors, this is at least a good first step in understanding and honoring the areas “old vines.”

The classifications of Barossa’s old vines are as follows:

  • Old Vines: 35 years old or over
  • Survivor Vines: 70 years old or over
  • Centenarian Vines: 100 years old or over
  • Ancestor Vines: 125 years old or over

The Barossa Grape and Wine Association has also published the “Barossa Old Vine Charter,” a declaration of sorts intended to protect and recognize the region’s oldest vines, some of which date back to 1909 or earlier and are to be considered part of Australia’s living history. The organization also keeps a Barossa Vineyards Register, which details the vineyards of the area by grape variety and by age.  The Barossa Vineyards Register, and the Barossa Old Vine Charter can be found on the Barossa Grape and Wine Association’s website. An excellent overview of the different categories of the Barossa’s old vine classifications can be found on the website of the Barossa’s Langmeil Winery.

Post authored by Jane A. Nickles, CSS, CWE – your SWE Blog Administrator

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Good Things Come in Small (Piemontese) Packages

Tagliolo Monferrato in Alessandria

Tagliolo Monferrato in Alessandria

Good things come in small packages – it’s an excellent concept to keep in mind with the annual gift-giving season staring down at many of us. It’s also good concept for wine lovers, as well, as we know that the smaller the region (DOC, AOC, GI), the more prestigious, unique, and defined a wine is likely to be.

In honor of that thought, I went in search of those tiny “jewel-boxes” of Italian wine, and came up with three of the most fascinating – and entirely tiny – DOCs to be found out of Italy’s total (at least for today) of 332. These three vineyards just happen to be located in Piedmont, however, my search was not limited to Piedmont – it just turned out that way!

I am sure, with their limited production, these wines are difficult to find outside of their native home – but if you have been lucky enough to ever try one of these wines – let us know in the comments below!

Rubino di Cantavenna DOC:   This tiny gem of a DOC, located in the eastern section of Piedmont, has 5 acres (2 hectares) dedicated to vines, and an annual production of just 1,380 cases. The area is part of the lowlands south of the Po River, at the far end of the Monferrato hills. The following communes are permitted to produce Rubino di Cantavenna: Moncestino, Villamiroglio, Camino and Gabiano (which has its own DOC, with slightly different regulations concerning the wine blend, and at 2 acres/1hectare definitely qualifies as its own jewel box of a DOC, but has not produced any wine in the last few years.)

One of the many Medieval towers in Asti

One of the many Medieval towers in Asti

Rubino di Cantavenna is approved for red wines based on the Barbera grape variety. The rules of the DOC mandate that Barbera be 75-90% of the blend, with the remainder (10-25%) being Freisa and/or Gignolino. The wine must be aged approximately 14 months before release.  (To make things difficult, the Disciplinare of Rubino di Cantavenna dictates that the wine must not be released before January 1, of the second year following the vintage.) Wines of the region tend to be pale red in color, with aromas of plum, cherry, blackberry and vanilla, with perhaps a touch of toasty oak. The wine is generally moderate in tannin, bright in acidity, and with a slightly (ever-so-pleasant) bitter tinge at the finish.

Loazzolo DOC: This tiny region claims 5 acres (2 hectares) of vineyards, and produces on average just 425 cases of wine a year. This region produces a sweet, botrytis-affected white wine based on the Moscato grape variety. The vineyards of the Loazzolo DOC overlook the Bormida River, about 15 miles south of the town of Asti on the southern edge of the Moscato d’Asti area.

According to the Disciplinare of Loazzolo the wines must be made with 100% Moscato grapes, and may not be harvested until after September 20. The grapes must be dried on or off the vine, must be affected by botrytis, and ripe enough to give the wine a minimum of 11% alcohol. The finished wine must have a minimum of 5% residual sugar and must be aged for a minimum of 2 years, including 6 months in barrel, before release. Typical descriptors of Loazzolo include Moscato’s “signature” floral, musky, and tropical fruit aromas, as well as vanilla, honey, and rich texture on the palate.

Strevi DOC: Saving the tiniest for last, the Strevi DOC claims just 2 acres (1 hectare) of vineyards, and produced 233 cases of wine in 2012.  Located in the town of Strevi, located on the eastern edge of the Moscato d’Asti area and bounded to the east by the Bormida River, Strevi was awarded its DOC in 2005. According to the Disciplinare of Strevi, grapes used for Strevi DOC wine must be grown in “vineyards on hilly, sunny ridges with clay soils based on marl and limestone.”

Summer landscape in Strevi

Summer landscape in Strevi

The grapes must be 100% Moscato and the wine must be produced in the passito style, with a minimum alcohol content of 12.5% and two years of required aging. All of these factors combine to make Strevi DOC a rich, golden-yellow wine with amber flecks, richly aromatic with notes of candied citrus, apple, sweet spices and honey, rich and sweet on the palate – and a fantastic match for foie gras, cheese, or apple-based desserts.

 

Thanks to our friends at Italian Wine Central for the acreage and production statistics!

Post authored by Jane A. Nickles, CSS, CWE – your SWE Blog Administrator

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And Then There Were 12: Paso Robles Gets 11 Sub-appellations

Map via PasoWine.com

Map via PasoWine.com

In a week of AVA-shuffling galore, the TTB announced today via the Federal Register that 11 new AVAS, all of them sub-regions of the Paso Robles AVA, have been approved. The AVAs will be “official” one month from today, on November 10th, 2014.

The petition for the 11 sub-regions was originally filed in 2007. The petition turned out to be the longest and most detailed proposal ever filed with the TTB, due to the scale of the proposal and the depth of the information need to support each individual AVA.

A close inspection of the climate data surrounding each new AVA shows the diversity of the region – average annual rainfall ranges from 11 to 29 inches, elevations range from 600 to 2,400 feet above sea level, and climate regions II to IV are represented.

The 11 new AVAs, all sub-appellations of the Paso Robles AVA, are as follows:

  • El Pomar District – Climate Region II, 740-1,600 feet in elevation, average of 15 inches rainfall.
  • At the Justin Winery in Paso Robles

    At the Justin Winery in Paso Robles

    Paso Robles Willow Creek District - Climate Region II, 950 – 1,900 feet in elevation, average of 24-30 inches rainfall.

  • Santa Margarita Ranch – Climate Region II, 900 – 1,400 feet in elevation, average of 29 inches rainfall.
  • Templeton Gap District - Climate Region II, 700 – 1,800 feet in elevation, average of 20 inches rainfall.
  • Adelaida District – Climate Region II-III, 900 – 2,200 feet in elevation, average of 26 inches rainfall.
  • Creston District – Climate Region III, 1,100 – 2,000 feet in elevation, average of 11.5 inches of rainfall.
  • Paso Robles Estrella District – Climate Region III, 745 – 1,800 feet in elevation, average of 14 inches of rainfall.
  • San Miguel District – Climate Region III, 580 – 1,600 feet in elevation, average of 11 inches of rainfall.
  • San Juan Creek – Climate Region III-IV, 980 – 1,600 feet in elevation, average of 10 inches of rainfall.
  • Paso Robles Geneseo District – Climate Region III-IV, 740 – 1,300 feet in elevation, average of 13 inches of rainfall.
  • Paso Robles Highlands District – Climate Region IV, 1,600 – 2,086 feet in elevation, average 12 inches of rainfall.

Map of Paso Robles and sub-appellations, climate data via PasoWine.com

Post authored by Jane A. Nickles, CSS, CWE – your SWE Blog Administrator

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A New AVA in Mendocino County!

Map of the proposed (now approved) Eagle Peak Mendocino County AVA, from the TTB's original docket (see link below)

Map of the proposed (now approved) Eagle Peak Mendocino County AVA, from the TTB’s original docket (see link below)

Not even one day old….today – October 9, 2014 – the Federal Register published a new rule establishing the 21,000 acre Eagle Peak Mendocino County AVA.

This new AVA, which will become “official” one month from today, is located entirely within the North Coast AVA – it is not, however, located within the Mendocino AVA, nor is it a subregion of the Mendocino AVA.

The Eagle Peak Mendocino County AVA is located adjacent to, and to the west of the eastern “wing” of the Mendocino AVA. As a matter of fact, the Mendocino AVA and one of its subregions, the Redwood Valley AVA, both had their boundaries moved. Each had its acreage reduced by about 1,500 acres. This was to eliminate any overlaps, and because the TTB was convinced that the area in question has more in common, terroir-wise (and especially climate-wise) with the newly-approved area than it has with its former parents.

Here are a few more things you might want to know about the Eagle Peak Mendocino County AVA:

  • The name of the AVA was approved as “Eagle Peak Mendocino County” as opposed to just “Eagle Peak” for good reason: while a 2,700-foot high mountain known as “Eagle Peak” is indeed a major feature of the region, there just so happen to be 47 other mountains in the US that are named “Eagle Peak.”
  • mendocino-fogAnother reason the long version of the name was required for approval is that there was some concern that an AVA named “Eagle Peak” might confuse consumers, and/or might infringe upon the “Eagle Peak Merlot” brand produced by Fetzer Vineyards.
  • The new AVA is located 125 miles north of San Francisco. The nearest city in this mountainous region is Ukiah; the AVA is situated about 10 miles north and slightly to the west of Ukiah.
  • There are currently at least five commercial vineyards operating in the area, with a total of just over 115 acres of vines.
  • The region’s many streams feed into the headwaters of the Russian River, which flows through Mendocino and Sonoma Counties on its journey to the Pacific Ocean.
  • Soils are shallow and composed of mainly sandstone and shale.
  • The typical climate conditions of the area include: marine fog and breezes, cool temperatures in the spring, warm-to-hot summers and gusty winds.

For more information, including all of the details on the Federal docket, click here.

For a shortcut to the map submitted with the application, click here.

Post authored by Jane A. Nickles, CSS, CWE – your SWE Blog Administrator

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Guest Post: The Romance of Scotch Whisky

FiveToday we have a guest post from Spirits Educator Russ Kempton, CSS. Russ shares with  us some of what he learned about Scotch whisky during his five trips to Scotland!

Impersonal – that’s how I would describe most of the distilleries in the world.  However, the opposite is true for the distilleries located in Scotland. Do other regions and countries have long and just as distinguished history in producing distilled spirits? – Yes; but I feel that for the romance and the mythology, there are none like the Scotch whisky distilleries.

Rugged, rustic, and remote outposts describe most of Scotland’s distilleries in operation today, not one alike and all unique. Scotland’s unique, complicated, eco-system produces exceptional, tradition-rich whiskies. Due to this environment, Scotch whisky is among the most diverse spirits in the world.

Since the mid 1800’s, the debate among whisky drinkers has been which type of Scotch whisky is the complete spirit – single malts or blends? Single malts epitomize the distilleries signature as to what can be produced at a single distillery, while the blended whiskies style come from the vision of the Blending Houses.

OneTo be classified as a single malt Scotch, these requirements must be met; distilled from 100% malted barley, a product of one distillery, produced exclusively in Scotland, aged a minimum of 3 years in oak barrels, and placed into the bottle at no less than 80 proof or 40 alcohol by volume. Single Malt Scotch has three basic ingredients; malted barley, water and yeast with the color coming from the oak during maturation.

Blended Scotch will come from whisky produced at many distilleries with the majority (average 60%) being distilled from various grains such as unmalted barley, maize, and wheat. The grain whisky in the blend must be aged a minimum of three years and aged to the label year, if the blend carries an age. The remainder of the blend will contain, on average, approximately 35 to 40 single malts.

Blended Scotch of higher quality and price will carry a higher concentration of single malts in the blend. Blends on the opposite end of the scale will carry more grain bringing the quality and price down. The blender wants their whisky to be consistent for their loyal consumers. For this reason, they strive to produce a whisky which has a distinguishable quality and characteristic.

FourMany Scotch whisky distilleries are located in the mountains or glens, near rivers, lochs, or along the coast. The four seasons and weather in the areas will affect the barley, fermentation, distillation, and maturation at the distillery. During maturation the oak barrels and casks “breathe” the local air simply because the barrels are watertight but not air tight. For example, whisky aged in warehouses by the sea will pick up definite maritime qualities, therefore affecting the finished whisky and giving it the signature from that specific region.

There are five steps to a finished product: malting, mashing, fermentation, distillation, and maturation.

MALTING: Barley is germinated during this step, converting the starches into fermentable sugars. It is then arrested by drying the barley in a kiln, usually over a peat fire, for 24 – 36 hours.  The longer in the kiln, the more smoke influence in the finished product. Peat is simply decomposed plant life, usually heather. Before being used in the kiln, the peat is pressed and dried.

MASHING: The dried grain, now known as malt, is milled into a coarse flour called grist. The grist is then mixed with hot water in a mash-tun where the conversion of starch into sugar is completed. This sugary liquid is now known as wort. The wort is next transferred into huge vats (washbacks) for fermentation.

FthreeERMENTATION: Yeast (unique to each distillery) is added to wort.  The sugars in the wort are converted into a low-proof alcohol known as wash.  This process takes 48 – 72 hours (average), some distilleries fermentation cycles are lower or higher.

DISTILLATION: The Wash is put in copper pot stills and distilled twice. The first distillation is the wash still with the spirit vaporizing, condensing to produce low wines. The second distillation in the spirit still consists of three cuts; only the middle- the heart- of the run is pure enough for maturation. The usable spirit is called “new make spirit” and sent on for maturation.

MATURATION: The new make spirit is aged in oak barrels or casks for a minimum of three years and starts to pick up its color and flavor profile. A ten-year maturation or longer period is typical for single malts of high quality. During aging, 1% – 3% of the spirit will evaporate each year; this is simply known as the “angel’s share”. Oak barrels or casks play a significant role during maturation; as much as 60% of the whisky’s flavor comes from the wood influence. Some distilleries use only sherry casks in their maturation process; however the vast majority will use used bourbon or Tennessee whiskey barrels since bourbon and Tennessee whiskey can only be produced in new charred oak barrels.

TwoThe Scots in the whisky industry are highly dedicated to their heritage, passionate about quality and committed to excellence.  All of this magic is fused from three basic ingredients, time, place, and environment.

Slainte Mhath! (pronounced Slan-Je-Va) – meaning “good health to yours” in Gaelic.

Russ Kempton, CSS, is a Distilled Spirits Educator conducting spirits education, training, seminars, tastings, events, dinners, and consulting throughout the United States. He also holds the Certificate of Expertise in the Sales & Service of Scotch Whisky, received in Edinburgh on one of his 5 journeys to Scotland.

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