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
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.
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.