From its fabled Southern origins, dating back to the mid-19th century, this whiskey has earned the reputation of being America’s liquor.
It’s burnt golden nectar, with its singed sweetness, has a Congressional seal of approval with official status as ‘America’s Native Spirit’.
Bourbon drinkers will settle for nothing less.
There are many different bourbon whiskeys available. Each has its own distinctive flavor and, as you drink them, you will determine what you do and don’t like.
The 3 Types of Bourbon:
A Intro To America’s Native Spirit
Bourbon is distilled all over the country, but Kentucky will always be considered its home state of production (…although there may be a few folks down in New Orleans and over in Tennessee who consider otherwise).
To be called a bourbon, the whiskey must:
- Have a mash (the grain-based mixture from which bourbon is made) that is at least 51% corn.
- Be distilled in charred oak barrels. These barrels give the liquor its distinctive golden hue.
- Be a maximum of 80% alcohol by volume.
Although there are no requirements on aging the whiskey the best batches are matured for at least four years. A batch aged less than two years is legally required to display its age on the bottle.
The 3 Types of Bourbon
1) Traditional Bourbon
The grain component used to make the mash of traditional bourbon is over 70% corn, (the remainder being equal parts rye and barley).
Its flavor is a balanced blend of sweet and spice.
The traditional varieties are the brands that typically first come to mind when thinking about bourbon.
2) Wheat Bourbon
Wheat Bourbon is prepared very similarly to Traditional.
The difference, as the name implies, is that wheat is used in its mash mixture (replacing the rye). This sweetens the flavor, and also softens the burn.
3) Rye Bourbon
If you’re starting to notice a trend, you may have already guessed what makes a Rye Bourbon.
Once again, the concentration of the grain mixture is key.
In Rye bourbon the mix will be less corn, almost no barley, and double the rye. Ryes are best known for their bite.
The Little Things
Traditional, wheat and rye are the basic types of bourbon, but similar to scotch and other whiskeys, these types break down further into sub-lines based on slight alterations in production techniques.
SMALL BATCH BOURBON
Unless otherwise stated, most bourbons, and whiskeys in general, are a blend of some kind. Small batch simply means that it is the blend of a small number of barrels.
What is small? There is no hard and fast number, but as a rule of thumb, small would be under 100.
SINGLE BARREL BOURBON
As it sounds, this liquor is produced from a single barrel. Taste, aroma and color vary from barrel to barrel. Because of this, every new single barrel release you try will be slightly different.
When whiskeys are filtered, some of its flavor is filtered out. Because of this, many argue that this is the most flavorful of all the types of bourbon. Quite simply, unfiltered bourbon is not filtered. This leaves the liquor with a hazy appearance.
There are federal laws regarding the definition of bourbon. Bourbon is a type of whiskey that is made in a particular fashion. Bourbon can be made anywhere in the country, but it is most often associated with its origin site in Kentucky. The mash that the liquor is fermented from must be at least 51% corn and must be distilled to no higher than 80% alcohol. The liquor then must enter the new oak barrel for aging, minimum of 2 years at no more than 62.5% alcohol and bottled with at least 40% alcohol.
The description above fits straight bourbon whiskey to a tee. Straight bourbon is made from a single batch and aged in a new oak barrel. The liquid that comes out of the barrel is all that you’ll find in the bottle you buy. It is not mixed or blended with any other alcohols. It is, essentially, straight from the barrel.
Blended bourbon is slightly harder to find than most blended whiskeys. It has other additives for color or flavoring mixed in once the whiskey is out of the barrel At least 51% of the mixture has to be straight bourbon.
BOTTLED IN BOND BOURBON
Bottled in Bond is the most restricted bourbon. Not only does B.I.B. bourbon have to follow all the strict laws of bourbon, but also the 4 guidelines set down by the Bottled in Bond Act of 1897 which states that to be BONDED bourbon it must:
- Be aged for at least 4 years old
- Be bottled at exactly 100 proof
- Be produced at a single distillery
- Be bottled from barrels put up in one season (barrels put up from Jan to Dec of a single year)
Because they have to use barrels put up in one season, it really limits the amount of bourbon that can be sold, so there are not that many B.I.B. bourbons produced any more. But Bonded bourbons made up the bulk of what was sold before Prohibition (1897 till 1920) and then during Prohibition as medicinal whiskey. It was “the good stuff” because you were guaranteed that the bourbon was a good age, and a good strong honest proof, and you knew it came from one distillery.
BARREL FINISHED BOURBON
These are bourbons that have been matured under all the regulations of bourbon, and then taken out of those barrels, and finished off in other wood finishes. This adds depth and complexity, and other types of flavors bourbons can’t achieve in standard oak barrels. Of course, technically they stop becoming bourbon the second they are put in to a used barrel, but they are arguably still bourbon, because they start out that way and plainly listed on the label, FINISHED in Port Wine Barrels, or whatever finish it is. The distilleries have to apply for a special permit to still use the word “bourbon” on the label, but it’s an important distinction because if they couldn’t state that, you might assume that they were using a cheap blended whiskey, or very young whiskey as the base spirit. So, a typical wording of this style would typically read something like,
“Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey finished in Cognac Casks”
One good thing about finishing in these types of barrels, is typically, you don’t have to age them too long in other woods to add this complexity. The distiller does not want to have the second wood over power the bourbon.
Bourbon’s unique character comes from the 51 to 79 percent corn in its recipe. The addition of water to crushed or rolled grain begins the fermentation process, and the fermented mash is distilled to produce a spirit that is no more than 80 percent alcohol by volume. Bourbon may be double-distilled and aged at least two years in charred oak barrels. The result is a mellow, woody blend of flavors that may be bottled straight out of a single barrel or blended from a number of barrels in a small batch. Sour mash whiskey uses the bourbon recipe but starts the mash with leftovers from a previous batch, much like the starter in sourdough bread. The sour mash process gives a sweeter, deeper flavor to the final product. The alcohol by volume content of bourbon and sour mash is adjusted to between 40 and 50 percent (80 to 100 proof) at bottling time.
The name “bourbon” has been legally controlled only since 1964, so makers exist in other counties. However, only bourbon made in Kentucky may use the name of the state on the label. Tennessee whiskey uses the bourbon recipe, but the distilled spirits are filtered through maple charcoal, adding a different overtone to the flavors. Makers will specify “sour mash” on the label if that process is used.
Did you know there is a difference between tasting your bourbon and drinking it?
The correct way to drink bourbon is however you like to drink it; mixed or on the rocks on a hot summer day, straight up next to the fire in the dead of winter, or with a twist of lemon with dinner. It’s all good.
But that’s very different from tasting bourbon. Tasting bourbon is a careful examination of the bourbon’s nuances and aromas without the hindrance of a mixer, or an abundance of ice or water that will ultimately dull the flavors.
Tasting bourbon may seem complicated. It may, at first, seem like people must have incredibly delicate palates to taste so many flavors in a bourbon when many people just taste, well, bourbon. But it isn’t difficult.
There are four essential categories to consider:
Appearance: Is it clear? Cloudy? Light amber or dark mahogany in color? Age, proof, and filtration methods all affect appearance. Hold the glass up to the light, or in front of a clean white sheet of paper to get a good look at it. Swirl it around the glass once or twice.
Aroma: Smell is a vital part of taste, and thus it’s very important to not skip the aroma portion of a taste. Keeping your lips parted, stick your nose right above the opening of your glass.
Taste: Don’t gulp the bourbon. No matter how strong it is, you’ll get used to the alcohol burn on the tongue until it doesn’t bother you. So, take a generous mouthful into your mouth and “chew” it. The folks at Jim beam call it the “Kentucky Chew.” Move the bourbon around inside your mouth with a chewing motion to coat your tongue. Notice the difference in flavors from the front to the back of your tongue. Finally, swallow it. The tongue has several tasting “zones.” The tip of the tongue detects sweetness. The middle of the tongue detects salty flavors, and the back of the tongue can taste bitterness. These zones, combined with the aroma, define the flavors of the bourbon.
Finish: the finish refers to the sensations after you’ve swallowed. How long does the taste stay with you? If it lingers for a while, that’s a long finish. If it dissipates quickly, it’s a short finish. Do any other flavors manifest in your mouth as the finish dissipates? What textures did you notice? Did you catch a warm sensation in your upper body after swallowing? Distillers call that the “Kentucky Hug.”
Once you’ve done that, you may find it helpful to add a few drops of distilled water to the bourbon. Don’t over-water it! You can always add more water to the glass, but you can’t un-mix it once you’ve poured it. Adding distilled water can help open up the aromas and flavors of the bourbon as well as bring the proof down slightly if it’s a high proof spirit. And why distilled? Simple. Iron is the mortal enemy of whiskey, ruining the taste. That’s why bourbon is mostly made in Kentucky- the entire central portion of the state sits on a limestone shelf. The limestone naturally filters iron out of the streams and creeks. Distilled water is free of iron.
Portugal has undergone something of a wine revolution in the past couple of decades, updating its winemaking technologies, styles and attitudes. This archetypal Old World country has long been famous for little more than its fortified wines (Port and Madeira) and tart, light Vinho Verde. But it is now attracting a great deal of attention for its new wave of rich, ripe, table wines – particularly reds from the Douro Valley.
One might argue that Portugal’s place in the wine world has centered more around its cork production than its wine, but this depends largely on which period of history one chooses. In the 18th century, when the supply of French wines to England was threatened by deteriorating international relations, Portugal’s vineyards proved more than capable of filling the void. It wasn’t until the 20th century, when international demand for Portuguese wines had dwindled to almost nothing, that Portugal rose to dominate world cork production. In the 21st century, the Portuguese cork industry is struggling (due to the ever-growing popularity of plastic corks and metal screwcaps), but the nation’s wines are once again on the rise, led by dry reds from the Douro and Dao.
Portugal’s many vine varieties and their countless regional synonyms are the bane of ampelographers. Some are endemic to Portugal (e.g. Touriga Nacional), while others are shared with neighboring Spain (e.g. Tinta Roriz/Tempranillo). An increasing number are the ever-popular ‘international varieties of French origin (e.g. Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay). Happily, the current success of Portuguese wines has not become dependent on the latter category – a fact which has played to its favor; by retaining their indigenous grapes, Portugal’s winegrowers have maintained a certain uniqueness in their wines, which is a valuable asset in the world’s increasingly demanding and competitive wine market.
Portugal’s temperate, predominantly maritime climate has a great deal to offer ambitious vignerons. The country’s portfolio of terroirs is not as broad as that of, say, France or Italy, but there is significant variation nonetheless between its mountains, river valleys, sandy littoral plains and limestone-rich coastal hills. The high levels of rainfall that blow in from the western Atlantic are a boon to those seeking high yields from their vineyards, but they come at a price: the significantly increased risk of fungal problems in all but the best-ventilated sites.
Provided the risk of disease can be effectively managed, producers in coastal regions such as Lisboa (formerly Estremadura) and the Setubal Peninsula have little problem generating prolific yields. Quality can be achieved in these fertile environments only by limiting quantity through careful canopy management and judicious green harvesting. Sheltered, inland wine regions, such as Transmontano and Douro, are typically better equipped for the production of quality wines as their drier climate and alluvial soils force vines to dig deep, strong root systems. Illogical as it might seem, stressed vines make quality wines.
Alentejo is a well-known, highly respected wine region in eastern Portugal. This hot, dry area is best known for its red wines, the best of which are sold under the and Alentejo DOC (Denominacao de Origem Controlada) title. These wines are typically made from Aragonez (Tempranillo), Castelao, Trincadeira or a rich, ripe, jammy blend of the three. Although famously diverse in its portfolio of wine grapes (navigating the many names and their synonyms is a challenge), Alentejo has not been sluggish to adopt such globally popular varieties as Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. One of the most remarkable things about modern Alentejo winemaking is its ability to create a uniquely Alentejano wine style from quintessentially French grape varieties.
The region is named for its position south of the Tejo river, which bisects Portugal, entering the ocean near Lisbon. Alentejo extends across about a third of Portugal, with only the Algarve region separating it from the southern coast of the country. Even the briefest of glances at a population density map of Portugal shows that this area of the country is only very sparsely populated, in stark contrast to the northern coastal areas around Oporto. Land here is used (somewhat intensively) for the production of various cereal crops, and the cork for which Portugal is so famous. Whereas the cork plantations of the north are quite small, here in Alentejo there is sufficient free space for the thick-barked Quercus suber trees to sprawl out all over the countryside.
The size of Alentejo means that there is a wealth of terroir, and it is fairly difficult to generalize about the region as a whole. Broadly speaking, Alentejo has a gently undulating topography, which protects much of the land from the cooling effects of the Atlantic. This lends the land to the production of rich, easy-drinking red wines, as ripeness is easy to achieve in these conditions. However, there are some anomalies – the sub region of Portalegre is in the foothills of the mountains in the northeast of Alentejo, where the climate is considerably cooler.
Alentejo has its own DOP title, as well as a wider Vinho Regional Alentejano designation. The DOP has eight sub-regions, which span from the mountains to the hot, dry center of the region: Portalegre, Borba, Évora, Redondo, Reguengos, Granja-Amareleja, Vidigueira and Moura.
Alentejo has been a key center of Portugal’s wine renaissance over the past few decades. Although wine production here was once dominated by a handful of government-supported cooperatives, the quantity of premium wine now generated by the region’s independent smallholdings is impressive. The European Union, which has been involved in various wine improvement schemes around Europe (most obviously vine-pull schemes in France and Italy), has been quick to provide assistance here. Few in the wine world can be ignorant of the impact that Portuguese wine is now having in the market place, a great deal of which is down to this aid, and the new focus the country’s wine industry has adopted.
Proudly, Alentejo is leading the charge. Although temporarily suffering from the “value for money” tag that dogged Chile and its wines for so long, Alentejano wines have already shown their ability to take on the crus of France, the big-name reds of Spain, and even the most highly respected DOCG wines of Italy.
How Alentejo’s upwards trajectory continues is something only time can tell. Similarly, whether the region’s wine fortunes are inextricably linked to those of Portugal as a whole remains to be seen. For now, whatever the case, Alentejo continues to offer some of the best value Old World wines available.
Beiras (Beira) is a traditional administrative region in the northern half of Portugal. It is also the name of the IGP, or Indicacoes Geograficas Protegidas, wine classification (formerly known as Vinho Regional) which covers the region as a whole. A wide range of wines are made in Beiras – red wines from the region are typically rich, deeply colored wines made from Baga, Castelão, Rufete (Tinto Pinheira), Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Touriga Nacional, and are sometimes fortified to emulate their more famous Oporto cousins. Whites are most often based on Fernão Pires and Bical, the latter being a small-berried variety with the affectionate nickname Borrado das Moscaos (‘fly droppings’).
Beiras is relatively wide, as Portuguese regions go, and stretches from the Atlantic coast right to the border with Spain (about 100 miles/160km). It was traditionally a single region, but was later split into Beira Litoral (coastal Beira) and Beira Interior (inland Beira). The region encompasses several DOC (Denominação de Origem Controlada) titles, among them Bairrada, Beira Interior and the famous Dão.
Terroir varies greatly in the Beiras region, which touches both sides of Portugal and takes in coastline, rivers, valleys, lakes, plateau and low mountains. The same is true of the climate – although heavily influenced by the Atlantic in the maritime west, the continental draw of Spain’s hot, dry center is strong in the east. In the west are the sandier soils of the coast, slightly inland are the limestone and clays of Bairrada, and the center has the alluvial soils of the Dão, Mondego and Ceira river valleys.
Baga is arguably the most important red wine grape in Beira. It typically makes up the lion’s share of red wines, particularly in Bairrada, where it accounts for more than three-quarters of the red plantings. Prolific and late ripening, Baga’s large crops are often threatened by the risk of autumn rains blowing in from the Atlantic, one of the more significant challenges facing the region’s vignerons each vintage. Baga-based wines are typically deeply colored, highly acidic and very tannic – a consequence of their small berries and thick skins. French grapes Merlot, Cabernet and Syrah are increasingly popular across Beiras, as they are the world over, and are often used to soften Baga wines and make them more immediately appealing to those wine consumers not yet seduced by classic Portuguese wine styles.
For centuries Beiras has suffered the repercussions of a significant event in the wine history of Bairrada, its westernmost viticultural area. In the early 18th century the British appetite for port (produced in the nearby Douro valley) was reaching fever pitch, creating significant commercial opportunities. A number of Bairrada producers were caught exporting their Bairrada wines as port, and a number of legitimate port producers were found blending Bairrada wines into their own to increase output. Wine legislation and regulation was in its infancy back then (Tokaj and port were among the first), but so valued was the port name that the Portuguese government took immediate action to maintain its purity; Sebastião José de Carvalho, the country’s vehemently nationalist First Minister, ordered that all vines in Bairrada be uprooted. The stain on Bairrada’s reputation lasted well into the 20th century, and only in 1980 was the area finally granted official recognition as a Portuguese wine region.
Dão is one of Portugal’s most prominent wine regions, located just south of the famous Douro Valley. It has suffered from a bad reputation in the past but international wine media attention and improvements in production (and marketing) have helped the region to start shining. The top Dão wines are now some of the most highly rated in Europe, winning consistent praise on both sides of the Atlantic.
The Dão viticultural region is in the north of the country. It takes its name from the Dão river, along which the majority of the region’s vineyards are located. The Dão is a tributary of the larger Mondego (Portugal’s longest river) and several other rivers also flow through the region. However, only the Dão is significant enough to have the local DOC named after it – mostly due to the tough, crystalline granite that the river has carved its path through for many millennia.
To the north, south and east of the Dão Valley are the granite mountains of eastern Beiras. These are the same peaks which separate Beira Litoral (coastal Beira) from Beira Interior (inland Beira), and the Dão and Douro rivers. As a result of this protected position, the climate along the Dão is relatively mild, stable and consistent between vineyard sites. Naturally, this creates a homogenization of the region’s terroir; whether this is a bad or good thing is open to debate.
The majority of Dão’s quality vineyards are situated at altitudes between 500-1500ft (150–450m) above sea level. This elevation raises the vines out of the valley’s shadows and towards all-important sunshine, allowing them to maximize their photosynthesis time during the day. It also increases diurnal temperature variation, helping the grapes cool down at night, which they must do to retain the acids so desirable in wine.
The biggest name in Dão wine production is Sogrape, the first wine company off the mark after Dão’s restrictive wine laws were lifted at the time of the 1989 vintage. Sogrape also happens to be the largest Portuguese wine producer, having firmly established itself in the second half of the 20th century through the remarkable success of its Mateus rosé wine. The company invested heavily in the Dão area, most obviously at the Quinta dos Carvalhais (The Oaks Estate), which now processes several million liters of wine each vintage. The quinta (‘farm’ or ‘estate’) has only a modest acreage under vine and much of its wine is made from grapes bought in from the surrounding area, much like the old system created under the Salazar regime.
Arguably, the finest red wines from Dão today are deep reds made from Tinta Roriz and Touriga Nacional, two of the key grapes used to make port wines. Jaen and Alfrocheiro Preto are two other common red wine grapes here, along with large quantities of lesser grapes such as the memorably entitled Bastardo and the Baga that dominates plantings in Bairrada to the west. White wines are also produced in Dão, with the finest examples based on Encruzado, the region’s most widely planted light-skinned grape variety.
The Douro region of northern Portugal is the home of Port. It takes its name from the Douro river, which flows east to west from the Spanish border to Oporto, where it meets the Atlantic Ocean. Though Douro is best known for its fortified wines, total production here is fairly evenly split between port and non-fortified table wines.
The viticultural zone covers the steep slopes along the banks of the lower reaches of the river, which is one of the longest on the Iberian Peninsula. From its source in northern Spain, where it is known as the Duero, it flows through the famous vineyards of Ribera del Duero before finding the Portuguese border and becoming the Douro. From here, it cuts through the landscape, creating a unique and historic wine region before meeting the ocean at Oporto.
The Douro’s most unifying trait is its mountainous terrain, although the area covers a broad array of terroir with any number of different aspects, altitudes and soil types. Typically, however, the vineyards stretch up the steep, dry slopes on either side of the river and its myriad tributaries on narrow rocky terraces – a sight that has been classified as a Unesco World Heritage site (a honor that has also been bestowed on the similar landscape of the Wachau wine region in Austria).
There are three recognized sub-regions of the Douro, each covering a section of the river as it flows toward Oporto. These sub-regions each express different aspects of the area’s hot continental climate. The Douro Superior region is the furthest inland, sharing its border with that of Portugal itself. This emerging sub-region is covered in terraced vineyards and takes up about 20 percent of available vineyard land in Douro.
The central part of the Douro region, centered on the village of Pinhão, is known as the Cima Corgo region, where most high-end vintage port originates. Cima Corgo is the largest of the Douro’s three sub-regions, and accounts for almost half of the valley’s total wine production. The steep vineyards of Cima Corgo are predominantly composed of schist with sizable granite deposits. Vines nearer the river tend to ripen much earlier than those at higher elevations, as the river holds warmth more readily than the air. This discrepancy in the climate means that the harvest is often completed in multiple sweeps of the same vineyard.
Nearest Oporto and the coast is the Baixo Corgo (Lower Corgo) sub-region, the area best suited to the production of table wines. The area is cooler and wetter than its neighbors, but also more accessible, meaning that more bulk-wine operations are possible.
The river has had an enormous impact on the region, not just in terms of the terrain, but also in making the terroir accessible to human enterprise. Fortified wines have been made on the steep banks of the Douro since the 17th century, although vines have grown there for much longer. The ports were shipped in barrel down the river to Oporto on small boats called rabelos, where they would be aged in cellars at Vila Nova de Gaia. While the boats have long been replaced with trucks, the cellars at Vila Nova de Gaia remain and are still used for the maturation of Port.
The history of still wines in the Douro has been plagued by poor quality until only recently, starting with the ‘blackstrap’ wines that were popular before Port took off in the 1700s. In 1979, the Douro’s official demarcation was extended to include still wines along with fortified wines, and in the 1990s, production increased considerably. Today, Douro makes some of Portugal’s most prestigious red table wines, from the area’s array of indigenous grape varieties.
The Douro’s wines – both still and fortified – can be made from more than 80 different grape varieties, but in practice the vineyards are dominated by five key varieties: Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Barroca, Tinto Cao and Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo). Of these, aromatic Touriga Nacional is the most highly regarded, and Touriga Franca the most widely planted. Vineyards tend to be an eclectic cross-section of port grape varieties, often with more than 20 present within a single vineyard. Often, the winemaker will not even be sure of the exact proportion of each variety in a given wine.
A number of international varieties have also found a home in the Douro valley, particularly for the production of table wines. Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc and Gewurztraminer are among the more common non-native grapes planted here
Estremadura – Lisboa Wine
Lisboa (formerly Estremadura) is a prolific wine region located at the center of Portugal’s Atlantic coast. Despite being one of the country’s most productive vinicultural areas, its name remains relatively obscure in wine terms, as its wines have traditionally been labeled with the names of the local sub-regions, which include Alenquer, Bucelas and Colares. The region is also home to Portugal’s capital, Lisbon.
The region fell under the VR (Vinho Regional) classification until 2008, when the category was renamed IGP (Indicaciones Geográficas Protegidas) to bring it into line with the rest of Europe. When the switchover happened, the Portuguese wine authorities took the opportunity to rename the Estremadura appellation as Lisboa after Lisbon, which marks the region’s southern boundary. There are nine DOCs in Lisboa, but many are more famous for their history than their modern wine industry. The most prestigious wines from the region fall under the Alenquer and Bucelas DOCs.
The region’s position on the coast gives rise to the broad terroir that shapes the local wine industry. The Serra de Montejunto hills run north from Lisbon, and effectively divide Lisboa in half. Along the coast, the Atlantic batters the vineyards with high winds and autumn rains, making viticulture a challenge. The most notable DOC on this side of the hills is Colares, which is more famous for its phylloxera-resistant soils than its robust red wines made from Ramisco. The cool, wet conditions also shape the Lourinhã and Óbidos DOCs, famous for brandy and sparkling wine, respectively.
On the other side of the hills, the terroir is more forgiving, and is responsible for some of the region’s best wines. Complex, full-bodied wines made from a range of classic Portuguese grape varieties like Touriga Nacional and Tinta Roriz typify the Alenquer DOC, while Bucelas makes fresh, minerally white wines from the Arinto grape variety. Further inland again lies the more famous region of Ribatejo.
Overall, the industry in Lisboa is dominated by a number of large cooperative wineries, although the current surge in Portugal’s wine industry has created scope for several smaller outfits to thrive. Wine cooperatives are renowned for their commercial focus (there is little room for individual creativity and passion), so Lisboa wines have tended towards the practical rather than the expressive, and towards quantity rather than quality. As a result, the vine varieties planted in the region have been selected for their high yields and disease resistance, with very little emphasis on varietal expression or traditional stylistic considerations.
More than 30 grape varieties are used (Portugal rivals Italy in the diversity of its vine portfolio), the majority for white wine production. In the past few decades the likes of Cabernet Sauvignon and its Bordeaux stablemate Merlot have increasingly been used, as have Portugal’s traditional (and superior) varieties Touriga Nacional and Tinta Roriz.
Minho – Portugal’s northernmost wine region – is known for one wine style above all others: crisp, light, white Vinho Verde. It is located on the Portugal’s Atlantic coast to the north and east of Porto, Portugal’s second-largest city and the home of Port. It occupies a roughly rectangular area about 60 miles (100km) from north to south, which reaches about 30 miles (50km) inland.
The key grape varieties to be found in white Minho wines are Alvarinho, Avesso, Loureiro, Pederna (Arinto) and Trajadura. Their red counterparts are based on Alvarelhao, Espadeiro, Caino Tinto and the globally popular Cabernet Sauvignon.
Minho’s proximity to the Atlantic is the reason why its land is so prolific for agriculture, including viticulture. In fact, this part of Portugal is known as the Costa Verde– a reference to its lush, green (verde) countryside. It has this in common with Spanish Galicia, immediately to the north. Rain-bearing winds blow in from the ocean, enabling the vineyards to produce much higher yields than those in drier, inland regions like neighboring Transmontano.
Aside from the Vinho Verde DOC, Minho has to its name the regional Minho IGP title, whose looser production laws allow more diversity in the average winery’s portfolio. IGP Minho was formerly known Rios do Minho before Portugal’s Vinho Regional category was updated to IGP in 2008 (to fall in line with EU-wide wine labelling conventions).
Minho is named, as are several Portuguese wine regions, after an important local river. The river Minho, which rises in the hills of neighboring Galicia (north-western Spain) forms the border between Spain and Portugal. Not just a vital source of water and transportation, the river’s power is harnessed to produce a respectable proportion of Minho’s electricity needs.
While the region’s northern edge is marked by one important river, its southern edge is traced by a far more famous river; the famous Douro (Spain’s Duero). The Douro bisects Minho’s southern one-fifth, as it approaches the end of its long journey from the hills of Castilla y Leon. The Douro occupies a key position on the Portuguese wine map, connecting Portugal with Spain and the city of Porto with the vineyards of the Douro Valley.
One is from Italy. The other is distinctly Californian. One has a history that can be traced back thousands of years, the other less than 200. One DNA test says that they are one in the same. Another does not. Which is it? The answer varies as much as the wines themselves. But one thing is for certain, Primitivo and Zinfandel can both produce a wide array of wines and some can be quite wonderful. It can be difficult to separate the fact from the fiction with these distinct yet similar varietals, but there are a few things to know about each.
First things first…Are they the same grape?
It depends upon whom you ask. This much is clear. Both grapes descend from the rare Croatian varietals Crljenak Kastelanski, Dobricic and Plavic Mali. The Zinfandel is thought to be a clonal descendent of the Crljenak Kastelanski, the Primitivo more of a sibling of the three.
But are they the same?
When planted side by side they produce grapes of differing sizes, color and bunch density. But the wines that they produce are similar enough that the U.S. ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms) is considering a proposal to allow Italian Primitivo to be labeled as Zinfandel. This is causing quite a stir in California as Primitivos tend to fall in the value range of $10-15. Fine examples of both varietals are dense, very ripe and high in alcohol. To know the difference we must first know the grape.
We start with the Primitivo because it has the history and the mystique. Not as well-known as the Zinfandel, Primitivo can trace its lineage from the ancient Phoenicians who settled in the province of Apulia (Puglia), the heel of Italy’s boot. Many legends surround this grape. They range from the hard to prove (the wine served at the Last Supper is said to be Primitivo) to the hard to believe (it is called Primitivo because it is thought to be the first, or Primi, grape). The truth may lie somewhere in between, but we do know that it is called Primitivo for its propensity to ripen before all other varietals.
Primitivo thrives today in its original home of Apulia. This tiny region is renowned for massive production of ordinary wines. In fact the heel of Italy’s boot produces more wine than the entire continent of Australia. Vines are coaxed to their highest yields, most of which end up being either shipped north for blending with other wines or re-fermented for industrial alcohol. But change is afoot for this tiny region.
New world techniques, low yields and careful winery management have brought new examples of Apulian wines to the forefront of southern Italy. Instead of flabby and thin wines we have rich, concentrated and hearty versions that develop well under the hot Italian sun. Primitivos tend to be juicy, well-structured and heavy with pigment and concentration, and high in alcohol.
Lighter versions can be floral and fruity, but these are becoming increasingly rare. Aromas and flavors of ripe blackberries, violets and pepper are common. Primitivos can be wonderful value wines, and even reserve bottles are rarely more than $20. The best examples come from the coastal region of Manduria, though many forward-thinking producers are trying the outlying regions as well. Some of the most famous wine-making names of Italy are trying to capitalize on Primitivo’s long overdue success. In the future look for wines from Antinori, Zonin and Pasqua along with established producers of Primitivo such as Botromagno & Leone de Castris.
Even the most novice of wine enthusiasts has probably heard the name Zinfandel, be it the hearty red version or the ubiquitous sweet pink plonk that changed the American wine scene in the 1980s. So famous was this plonk in fact that the red version was almost lost to antiquity. But Zinfandel has quite the storied past in America, even if it is packed into a couple of hundred years.
First brought to the U.S. in 1820 as a clipping from the Imperial Austrian Plant Species Collection, Zinfandel quickly made its way across the country gaining notoriety for its vigor and high yield. During the gold rush of the late 19th century Zinfandel was a favorite among miners and immigrants longing for wine similar to that of their homeland. Prohibition did nothing to slow its growth, and by the 1950s it occupied some of the most famous areas of northern California. As other varietals grew in popularity, Zinfandel was relegated to producing mainly jug wine in the hot central regions of California. A large surplus in the 1980s led to the production of White Zinfandel, made by either shortening the contact of the wine with the skins during fermentation, or by blending it with light, fruity varietals such as Riesling. This was a rousing success, and the true version of Zinfandel was pushed to the brink of obscurity.
But during the 1990s a few wineries in California began to make wonderful reds from the Zinfandel grape. Wineries such as Ridge, Turley and Ravenswood proved that Zinfandel could be a heavy, hearty and world-class red wine. The wines they created were rich, heavy with black fruits and almost sweet from the high sugar content in the very ripe grapes. An explosion in popularity occurred and today there are hundreds of great Zinfandels coming from all of the major wine growing areas of California. Particularly good are versions that boast an “old vines” designation on the label. The “old” in this case often is 40+ years but can be as high as 100 years.
But Zinfandel is not without its faults. The high sugar content can lead to very high alcohol content, with levels of 15% abv. and higher are quite common. If left unchecked these wines can taste hot or have volatile acidity which makes the wine unstable and prone to a short life span. Despite its resistance to rot and disease Zinfandel can be hard to grow. Grapes on a single cluster can range from green and hard to raisin and overripe, thus requiring more than one pass through the vineyard during harvest time. Like many wines it is often the winery or the producer that matters as much as the vintage or location. Look for fine examples of Zinfandel from Robert Biale and Seghesio or head for the better regions of Dry Creek Valley and Lodi.
There are many similarities in both style and flavor between Zinfandel and Primitivo, but the differences remain. Grape growers in both Italy and California will fiercely defend their version as the best, but what will happen if both can be labeled as Zinfandel? Or better yet, when both are grown next to each other in the vineyard. Will these two kissing cousins ever become one varietal? Probably not, but as the lines between the Primitivo and the Zinfandel grow closer together, one thing is for certain: We will have lots of great wine to try in order to be able to tell the difference.
Yalumba is Australia’s oldest family-owned winery, founded in 1849 by Samuel Smith. From modest beginnings, the Yalumba Wine Company has grown to become one of Australia’s most successful wineries, owned by 5th generation Robert Hill-Smith. Yalumba regularly receives accolades for its outstanding wines, and for its leadership in viticultural innovation and sustainable farming. Yalumba was the first winery in the world to be recognized with the Climate Award from the United States Environmental Protection Agency (2007), earned the International Green Apple Gold Award from House of Commons (U.K. 2011), and was the first winery outside the United States to win the BRIT International Award of Excellence in Sustainable Winegrowing Competition (2013). The Yalumba portfolio commences with the fresh and flavorsome varietal wines of the Y Series, then moves up to the Samuel’s Garden line to capture the essence of the classic Rhone-influenced varietals of the Barossa and Eden Valleys, explores sub-regional complexity through innovative, modern wines in the Hand Picked line, and culminates with the coveted, collectible Yalumba Rare and Fine wines including Signature and Octavius.
Yalumba is a winery located near the town of Angaston, South Australia in the Barossa Valley wine region. It was founded by a British brewer, Samuel Smith, who immigrated to Australia with his family from Wareham, Dorset in August 1847 aboard the ship ‘China’. Upon arriving in Australia in December, Smith built a small house on the banks of the River Torrens. He lived there less than a year before moving north to Angaston where he purchased a 30-acre (120,000 m2) block of land on the settlement’s southeastern boundary. He named his property “Yalumba” after an indigenous Australian word for “all the land around”. In 1849 Samuel Smith, along with his son Sidney, planted Yalumba’s first vineyards, beginning the Yalumba dynasty. Today Yalumba is Australia’s oldest family-owned winery.
Yalumba is part of Australian wine alliance Australia’s First Families of Wine a multimillion-dollar venture to help resurrect the fortunes of the $6 billion industry highlighting the quality and diversity of Australian wine. The 12 member alliance includes Brown Brothers, Campbells, Taylors, DeBortoli, McWilliam’s, Tahbilk, Tyrell’s, Yalumba, D’Arenberg, Howard Park, Jim Barry and Henschke. The main criteria are that the family-owned companies need to have a “landmark wine” in their portfolios as listed under Langton’s Classification and/or 75% agreement by group that a wine is considered “iconic”, must have the ability to do at least a 20-year vertical tasting, have a history going back a minimum of two generations, ownership of vineyards more than 50 years old and/or ownership of distinguished sites which exemplify the best of terroir, and be paid-up members of the Winemakers Federation of Australia.
Coonawarra is one of the very few places in the wine world which is more famous for its soil than its wines. Terra rossa makes all the difference here; it is a key factor in the Coonwarra terroir. The region’s prime land, which has this reddish-brown topsoil over a thick layer of limestone, covers an area of 7.5 miles (12km) long and just 1.2 miles (2km) wide. The reddish color of the soil is caused by iron-oxide (rust) formations in the clay. These are particularly prized for their good drainage and nutrient-holding capacity.
The Barossa zone lies northeast of Adelaide Hills and is a compact geographical unit with a variable landscape of gently elevated terrain and flat valley floors. The overall climate is hard to categorize as conditions vary – not only due to the elevation but also because of the inland locations and the coastal influence. The valley floors are very hot during summer, with temperatures often exceeding 95F (35C). This, along with scant rainfall and limited natural water in the soil, makes irrigation essential. On the other hand, the higher areas are cool with distinctly high diurnal temperature variation, which helps to bring out the best from the aromatic varieties as well as assisting a high degree of phenolic ripeness in the grapes.
Eden Valley’s wine landscape is dotted with the rolling hills of the Barossa Ranges, which provide local vineyards with all-important altitude – the single most important factor in shaping the region’s wine styles. The best sites are located on moderate slopes well exposed to sunlight, at elevations of between 1200 and 1640ft (380 and 500m). This altitude makes growing conditions in the region much cooler than those in Barossa Valley, resulting in a longer season, which gives Eden Valley wines their accentuated flavor concentration. The region has a wide array of soil types – predominantly weathered rocks and gravels in a clay-based sub-soil.
Sorrento is a coastal town in southeastern Italy, facing the Bay of Naples on the Sorrentine Peninsula. Perched atop cliffs that separate the town from its busy marinas, it’s known for sweeping views and Piazza Tasso, a cafe-lined square. The historic center is a warren of narrow alleys that includes the Chiesa di San Francesco, a 14th-century church with a tranquil cloister.
Sorrento may have become a jumping-off point for visitors to Pompeii, Capri, and Amalfi, but you can find countless reasons to love it for itself. The Sorrentine people are fair-minded and hardworking, bubbling with life and warmth. The tuff cliff on which the town rests is like a great golden pedestal spread over the bay, absorbing the sunlight in deepening shades through the mild days, and orange and lemon trees waft a luscious perfume in spring.
In the evening, people fill cafés to nibble, sip, and talk nonstop; then, arms linked, they stroll and browse through the maze of shop-lined lanes. It has been this way for centuries, ever since Sorrento became a prescribed stop for Grand Tour travelers, who savored its mild winters while sopping up its culture and history. According to a letter from his traveling companion in 1876, the philosopher Nietzsche, not generally known for effervescence, “laughed with joy” at the thought of going to Sorrento, and French novelist Stendhal called it “the most beautiful place on earth.” Many visitors still share his opinion.
Winding along a cliff above a small beach and two harbors, the town is split in two by a narrow ravine formed by a former mountain stream. To the east, dozens of hotels line busy Via Correale along the cliff—many have “grand” included in their names, and some indeed still are. To the west, however, is the historic sector, which still enchants. It’s a relatively flat area, with winding, stone-paved lanes bordered by balconied buildings, some joined by medieval stone arches. The central piazza is named after the poet Torquato Tasso, born here in 1544. This part of town is a delightful place to walk through, especially in the mild evenings, when people are out and about, and everything is open. Craftspeople are often at work in their stalls and shops and are happy to let you watch; in fact, that’s the point. Music spots and bars cluster in the side streets near Piazza Tasso.
Campania is the “shin” of Italy’s boot, anchored by its capital, Naples. Its name comes from Campania felix, a Latin phrase roughly meaning “happy land”. The region has strong historical links to wine and vine, dating back to the 12th Century BC, and is one of Italy’s very oldest wine regions. The considerable influence of ancient empires, including the Greeks, Romans and Byzantines, means some of this area’s varieties have historical legends attached. The area is also famous for producing Falerno (Falernum), one of the most ancient wines in Italy.
Campania, like many Italian regions, is home an impressive array of grape varieties, some of which are found almost nowhere else on earth. Its most important variety is arguably Aglianico, the grape behind the region’s two most famous and respected red wines: Taurasi and Aglianico del Taburno. Aglianico was introduced to the area by the Greeks and later cultivated by the Romans.
Vesuvius, and the Bay of Naples
Also vital to Campania’s vineyards are the white-wine varieties Fiano and Greco, which are championed by the region’s most respected white wines, Fiano di Avellino and Greco di Tufo. Fiano has been used here for more than 2000 years. Its original name was Vitis apiana (Latin for “vine of the bees”) but this has become shortened almost beyond recognition over the intervening centuries. Greco’s name is a little more obvious, and indicates its Greek origins. Another light-skinned grape of interest here is Falanghina, which forms the backbone of Falerno del Massico and Galluccio wines. The honeyed sweetness of Falanghina wines gained the variety praise from the ancient writer and philosopher Pliny the Elder, who is credited by some as being the creator of the phrase in vino veritas (there is truth in wine).
Alongside the more-important varieties mentioned above are a host of little-known gems. These include Biancolella and Forastera, which together form the backbone of the white wines of Ischia. Suppezza, Sabato and Sciascinoso (locally called Olivella because of its olive-shaped grapes, and used in blends to bring a hint of color and acidity to wine) also play their part, particularly in wines from the Sorrento Peninsula. Along the Amalfi coast, the aromatic and orange blossom-infused Ravello and Furore wines are distinctive for the inclusion of interesting local Fenile, Ripolo, Pepella and Ginestra grapes. In the Aversa plains, the Asprinio variety, producing a dry white or zesty sparkling wine, gives the DOC Asprinio di Aversa its name. Finally the Coda di Volpe vine, named for its resemblance to a fox’s tail due to the way the grapes grow in long bunches, also plays a role alongside Verdeca, Greco di Bianca and Falanghina in the Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio whites.
Campania’s success owes much to the varied climates and terroirs that host around 100,000 acres (46,800ha) of vines. Viticulture is in its element thanks to an abundance of sunshine, dry hot summers, mild winters, a long growing season and volcanic soil (the latter ensured phylloxera was kept at bay). The coastal Mediterranean breezes blow in from the Tyrrhenian Sea and across the Apennine Mountains to temper the heat, encouraging a bright acidity in the fruit. These factors also contribute to the varied qualities of Campania wines. For instance, an inland Falanghina grown on slopes where there is more rainfall offers more fragrant notes than those found on the coast, where the climate is continental and tends to be more mellow.
Despite being ensconced in tradition, today’s wine styles are fruit forward and youthful: the whites are known for their aromatic characters, often redolent of the local flora, while the reds (mainly from Aglianico) have big personalities which require a little aging. Dynamic and innovative methods have helped improve the quality of Campania’s wines, specifically through better vineyard management, harvesting methods and cellar techniques. A particularly notable name in the world of Campania wine is Antonio Mastroberardino, whose pioneering use of both tradition and innovation make him the most respected, experienced and knowledgeable winemaker of the area.
Established in the 1750s by winemaker Pietro di Mastro Berardino, Mastroberardino is Campania’s most renowned winery. Pietro was awarded the professional title of Mastro as testament to his skill in quality winemaking, a tradition that continued uninterrupted for 10 generations and lives on to this day.
Located in the town of Altripalda, the Mastroberardino family’s holdings are spread across several parts of Irpinia, in areas that have historically proved to be the region’s center of great-wine production.
Today, Mastroberardino is universally acknowledged to have been the most important guardian of the viticultural and oenological heritage of the Roman age. Under the patronage of the “Presidenza della Repubblica,” the winery has been appointed to reintroduce vine growing in the ancient city of Pompeii. The family-based firm has long championed the indigenous varieties of Campania: Aglianico, Falanghina, Fianco, Piedirosso, Greco and Coda di Volpe.
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