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.