Going to Grape Lengths: Pt. 2

Last week we covered grape’s different roles in wines made from underripe and…let’s just say very overripe sates. Today we’re going to chat a bit about putting grapes on the hot seat so to speak. Intentionally heated wines that is.

Madeira and The Dutch: Out of the Fire and Into the Cask

“C’mon, Hancock. Leave some room for the rest of us!” – Franklin probably

There was a romanticized version of American history taught to me well throughout my public schooling. I think that’s probably true for a lot of people to be honest. It wasn’t until college American History that I learned the genuinely fun fact that our Founding Fathers were pleasantly buzzed during the drafting of the Declaration of Independence. And rightfully so. It was a scary thing they were doing committing all that treason and what not. A little liquid courage goes a long way when one needs to sign a document that could have you drawn and quartered. But what was it that they were drinking? Well the preferred drink at the time was Madeira, a lovely beverage from the region of the same name in Portugal.

Madeira has a history that begins during the age of exploration and like many stories from the book of booze it began as one thing and ended up as something entirely different. Much like the founding fathers bolstering their spirits with spirits, early explorers stocked their ships with alcohol for the voyages ahead. Intensely long stays on the ocean blue and the hot Sun’s continuous presence led to eventual spoilage of the wines they had picked up from ports of call in Portugal. After some time this style of heavily oxidized, nutty and straight up boiled wine became a flavor preference not only for the sailors but the people they brought it to at the ports they visited.

USS Are We There Yet

Making a trip around the world in just to cook and age your wine is not what we would call efficient, though I imagine it would be a mean marketing gimmick in 2019. Thus, the Estufagem (bless you!) process was created. Estufagem, or ‘stoving’, emulates a long sea voyage on the more tropical parts of the ocean. There are a few ways this environment is re created, from circulated hot water to barrels exposed to hot steam. The most time intensive and interesting involves barrels being stored high above the ground in hot rooms for up to a century. Should you find yourself looking to kickback and drink like a revolutionary, there are many available types and brands of Madeira out in the world waiting for you to discover.

Here at vomFASS MOA we have a very special Whisky produced outside the city of Mumbai in India. This Whisky is aged for 6 years in 98 degree heat giving it an uncommon maturity for other Whiskies of the same age. ‘Amrita’ has an alcohol of 45.6% and a decidedly maderized quality about it. It’s a deliciously different Whisky and we will be happy to give you a taste next time you find yourself in Bloomington, Minnesota!

A different approach to stocking ones vessel with valuable wine was employed (albeit anecdotally) by the Dutch. The Netherlands Natives had reservations concerning cooking/spoiling the wine on long journeys. To prevent the maderization of their precious cargo they would first distill the wine into what could be equated to concentrated wine. This wine spirit, called Brandewijn or ‘burnt wine’ was, for all intents and purposes, eau-du-vie or unaged brandy. They popped that hooch into barrels with machinations of reconstituting later on with water. Of course as you have no doubt guessed by now, people preferred this different alcohol and interests shifted in favor of brandy.

Cognac is said to be the wonderful outcome of forgetfulness and neglect much in the same way Tokaji MUST have been (nobody sets out with hopes and dreams of drinking mold wine, right?). Hundreds of years ago grapes from Cognac were cheap and they made cheap uninteresting still wine. That wine however sold well. Eventually after having been concentrated down through distillation, someone popped that hooch into a barrel and promptly forgot about it at the port. Upon returning some considerable amount of time later it was discovered that, hot dang, Cognac is delicious. The motif here is necessity breeding ingenuity and ingenuity leading to now long established traditions and products. Cognac is the most famous brandy in the world next to Armagnac and Calvados (made from apples) and we only stumbled upon it because we were trying to preserve our precious wine.

Whether cooked beyond recognition or distilled into something entirely different, grape based alcohols seem to be endlessly versatile. Grapes truly seem to be Homo Sapiens favorite fruit.

Satiate your thirst for brandy anytime at our vomFASS location in The Mall of America. We stock a plethora of world class Cognac from the Seguinot family, Armagnac from the DeLord family and other worldly brandies. We offer 10 year old, 25 year old and vintage 1973 Armagnac to a 12, 20 and 50 year old Cognac. Other options include a phenomenal 20 year old Italian brandy and 15 year old Spanish brandy from the Sherry Triangle in Jerez. You will also find a wonderful apple brandy from Madison, Wisconsin and a 20 and 25 year old Calvados from Normandy, France. If I still have your attention, you should also know about our Pear eau-du-vie and Kirsch eau-du-vie, both beautiful unaged brandies.

Stay tuned next week as we wrap up our journey with tales of Italian Grappa and a foray into the world of natural wines.

Will O’Reilly spends his days surrounded by brandy. Find him, and the brandy, at vomFASS in Bloomington, MN.

Going to Grape Lengths: Pt. 1

The sushi of wine.

That’s right we’re talking about grapes! Over the next few weeks we will discuss the many fermented faces of grapes and the integral parts they play in many a famous and sometimes not so famous beverage.

There are over 10,000 different wine grape varietals in the world. As hinted to above, grapes’ role in getting us buzzed transcends their use in wine making and in fact for some spirits/adult beverages, wine is only the beginning.

The Early and the Late: Champagne and Tokaji Azsu

Grape meet human, human meet grape. Fast forward a few thousand years and you’ve got one of man’s best friends. Wherever we went we made sure we were never too far from one another, mostly because wherever we went we were sure to bring vines with us. Rudimentary fermentation practices led us out of the dark ages and into a period when the first carbonated wines were stumbled upon by monks who just so happened to have a hard time making still wine. Falling in love with the idea of sparkling wine they continued to perfect it. Thus solidifying the style as desirable. Very, very desirable. Champagne itself is a region in the north of France famous for it’s bubbles. Sparkling wines made in this region, using only the traditional method (Method du Champenoise), as well as any of the three grapes allowed for Champagne, are the only wines that can be called true Champagne. The region has very chalky soil and is significantly cooler. Grapes destined for Champagne are picked intentionally early meaning a high acidity and a low sugar content, given that they haven’t had enough time to fully ripen. Without an early harvest the wine’s acidity would dwindle over time and be over come by the inherent bubbles leading to an unbalanced wine. The Low sugar content however is either left as is or in most cases adjusted by adding a Dosage (a combination of wine and sugar) which allows for different sweetness levels of the, more often than not, rather dry Champagne. The traditional flavor profile of Champagne can vary dramatically but you can expect citrus, green apple, cream, biscuit and almond. Here at vomFASS at our location in Mall of America, we carry several gorgeous Champagne options. On the zestier end we carry, “Marie-Hanze Eaux Belle Brut.” Bright, fresh and tart, this is on the less yeasty side and definitely mouth watering. “Noel Bazin Blanc de Blanc” retains the citrus and lively fruit but we pick up that warmer autolytic, brioche quality that I personally live for. Rounding out our lineup is “Jacquesson Brut Cuvee 736.” Utilizing all three traditional grapes, (Pinot Noir, Pinot Munier and Chardonnay) this Champagne is beautifully rich with a heavenly mousse and flavors like buttered toast, elder flower and ripe red apples. Lastly if you’re the type of person who enjoys the saltier treats in life, be sure to pair your popcorn or french fries (seasoned of course with Viola’s Seasoning Salt for French Fries, available at vomFASS Twin Cities) with a bottle of Champagne. I know it sounds weird but trust me, they are BEST friends.

As is often the case with early alcohol production, we have only the mistakes of others to thank for some of the world’s finest drinks. How in the world the though we first stumbled upon Tokaji Aszu is beyond me…

Pictured: You right now.

While an early harvest of grapes offers the potential for beautiful sparkling wine, patience and borderline neglect go a long way when one strives to create a legendary beverage. In the northeast of Hungary it would appear to the uninitiated that the grapes have been totally forgotten. Wet conditions followed by warm drying heat and sun mean the grapes that hang on vines here…well…they get moldy. And over the course of the long ripening season they shrivel. This shriveling removes virtually all moisture and leaves all the delicious, now concentrated, sugar. Side note: this mold is responsible for some of the most famous wines in the world. Botrytis Cinerea, AKA Noble Rot, is what makes Sauternes the grand pappy of desert wines. On the wrong vineyard Botrytis is a vintage killer, on the right vineyard Botrytis can be responsible for liquid gold. Back in Hungary these shriveled moldy little grapes are hand selected and separated from the rest of the flock to be mashed up into a paste. Later this paste will incorporate its sweetness into a base wine that will be set aside in oak to be aged for literal years. Tokaji Aszu, like Champagne, has several different levels of sweetness. Now make no mistake, Tokaji Aszu is leagues above Champagne in terms of sugar content but like the Dosage, ‘puttonyos’ handles the level of sweetness in Tokaji. Referring to the original method of measuring out sweet and moldy grapes with baskets, ‘puttonyos’ is now used as a general measurement for sweetness in Tokaji Aszu, bare minimum of which is 120 grams of sugar per liter. This is a wine that has historically been celebrated and consumed by both nobility and plebs like me. Heck, even Dracula appears to have stocked the stuff in his cellar (coffin?). Supposedly due to it’s sugar content as well as a little bit of alcohol, the finest of Tokaji Aszu’s (or more probably it’s even sweeter sibling, Eszencia) have the potential to age for hundreds of years.

If you have a sweet tooth but the idea of moldy wine sends you running for the hills, drop on in and try some of our Portos. Sweet, rich, complex and produced by the oldest Port house in Portugal, Kopke. Also on our shelves here in Bloomington, MN, is a set of late harvest Mueller Thurgau wines from Anne Amie Vineyards in the Willamette Valley. One similar to an ice wine and another closer to a Sherry. Also stocked on our shelves is a luscious Australian desert wine made from the famous Pedro Ximenez grape. Averaging 30 years old, this sweet treat contains wine vinified in the 1940’s.

Whatever product you tend to fancy from the world of fermented grapes, vomFASS will likely have something for you. Tune in next week as we continue our deep dive into the world of grape based alcohols.

Will O’Reilly had a grape time writing this. Find him at vomFASS in Bloomington, Minnesota.