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Posts tagged ‘South Africa’

Making Port Wine… in Portugal

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How Port is Made


Testing the Sugar level of Port Wine Grapes

Farmers are paid by quality. Grape quality is measured by sugar level with this core sample.


Micro History of Port in Portugal


The people of Portugal have been growing grapes along the Douro River since the time of Jesus. The wines of the region were officially demarcated in 1756. While the term demarcation sounds confusing, it basically means the quality of Port wine is protected. Port became wildly popular when English merchants started adding brandy to preserve the wine for export.


There are 2 major factors that make Port wine special:


  • a.) Port is a sweet red wine this seems rudimentary, but it’s actually very rare.
  • b.) Port has added spirits (77% ABV brandy) to stabilize the wine for long term aging.




Get the feeling of making port wine in the Douro in this short film collected during the rugged 2012 vintage.




Making Port Wine


While there are many newer methods to make Port wine, we’ll be discussing the classic method of making Port wine. This method includes the use of lagars which are shallow open vats used to crush the grapes and intensify the extraction of color from the grape skins. The use of lagars is an ancient method that is rarely used anywhere else in the world.


While all Port wines start out in the same manner, each style (ie Tawny vs Ruby) have different aging methods.


Madeline Puckette holding Touriga Franca vines

These are Touriga Franca leaves


Picking is Still Done By Hand


Over the last 2000 years, most of the Port winemaking process has been mechanized: from automated lagars to destemming grapes. The one thing that machines can’t do is pick the grapes. The ancient terraces are protected by UNESCO and are too narrow for tractors.

Even though there are many unique grape varietals in the Douro, most are picked together, destemmed together and fermented together. The only thing that really matters is that they are picked at the right moment.

The Original Gravity Fed Cellars

Before it was fashionable, Portuguese wine cellars had to use gravity to make wine. It was the only way to transfer crushed juice from the lagars into barrels.


Crushing Grapes in a Lagar


The wine grapes go into lagars where they are crushed. Lagars are wide, open-top wine fermenting tanks made from stone or neutral concrete. In the Douro, lagars are made of granite.


The process of crushing the grapes is either by mechanization or foot treading. This process takes up to 3 days and then the wine is transferred into fermentation tanks where they continue to ferment until the optimal sugar level is reached. The measure of sugar level is called Baumé.

Adding Brandy To Make Port


Port wine doesn’t go through a complete fermentation. Instead, the fermentation is stopped when the ideal sugar level is reached.

The addition of spirits stops the fermentation by creating an environment where the wine yeasts can’t survive. Winemakers add the brandy evenly into the Port wine so the yeasts ‘go to sleep’ calmly. Most Port producers use about 30% brandy to reach the legal minimum of 17.5 ABV.

Did you know? Almost all of the brandy used in Portugal is imported from South Africa.

Aging Taylors Vintage Port in Balseiros (barrels)

Taylors vintage port aging in Balseiros (large oak barrels)


Aging Port Wines


Port is stable after the brandy is added but it still needs time to develop. Legally, all Port wines must be aged for a minimum of 2 years before release. Even then, it’s illegal for a Port producer to sell more than 30% of their vintage. This means that Port wine producers are legally “encouraged” to age their wines for extended periods of time. Crazy.


Oscar Quevedo pulls vintage port from Balseiros

Age Port in Large Oak “Balseiros” or Small Oak “Pipas”?


Aging Port in large oak balseiros or steel containers maintains the initial winey (or ‘vinus’) flavor of Port. Aging in smaller oak barrels called ‘pipas’ makes Port taste more nutty. The Pipas do this by increasing the amount of oxygen exposure to the wine. Winemakers rotate their wines to achieve their ideal balance of character.


Tawny ports all typically go through longer periods aging in pipas.


List of Port Styles


After visiting the IVDP in Portugal we realized that guaranteeing all the Port in the world is not an easy task. The styles of Port are a bit more nebulous than you’d think.

For instance, if a producer doesn’t release their wine in time to be a Vintage Port, then that same wine will get released as a Late Bottled Vintage (LBV). LBVs are considered a lower-valued product, even though that’s not always the case.


  • Vintage Port Single vintage aged for 2 years in barrel. Bottled. Meant to age for 10-50 years in bottle.
  • Late Bottled Vintage Port Single vintage aged for 4-6 years in barrel. Bottled. Usually meant to drink young, although some are as long lived as Vintage.
  • Tawny Port Multiple vintages aged for 3 years in barrels, but usually 10-40+ years. Bottled. Meant to be drunk soon after bottling.
  • Colheita Port Single vintage aged for many years in barrels. Bottled. Meant to be drunk soon after bottling
  • White Port Same as other ports, but made with white grapes.
  • Rose Port Same as other ports, but made in a rosé style.
  • Crusted Port Blended Vintage Port. Not as popular these days.
  • Garrafeira I’m guessing a producer accidentally left their port outside in jars under the sun later called it “Garrafeira.” Good problem solving. I’ve never loved one…yet.





The Indispensable Chenin Blanc Wine Guide

wine folly- Chenin Blanc

What is Chenin Blanc? A light-bodied white wine similar to both Pinot Gris or Sauvignon Blanc. What makes Chenin Blanc wine unique is its ability to taste amazing either as a sweet or dry wine.

Chenin Blanc is growing in popularity and this is because more wineries in South Africa (the world’s largest producer of Chenin Blanc) are making it dry. Traditionally, the first Chenin Blanc wines from France were off-dry (aka sweet). Today however, there’s so much variety in Chenin Blanc that it’s time to learn what you’ve been missing out on.

Chenin Blanc is a versatile zesty white wine that pairs particularly well with Mediterranean food, sushi and even hearty meats like veal. Find out more about Chenin Blanc food pairings and its many styles.

A Wide Range of Tastes: Chenin Blanc

As a white wine, Chenin Blanc has a wide range of flavors. Part of the reason for this has a lot to do with the winemaking style. Winemakers in the original growing region for Chenin Blanc in France stop the fermentation before all the sugar is used up. This technique has some benefits: it reduces the resulting alcohol level, makes the wine sweet and increases the wines’ ability to be aged. The Quarts de Chaume AOC in the Loire is famous for some of the sweetest and longest lived Chenin Blancs in the world.

Chenin Blanc Wine Taste Chart

But I like dry wine. Okay, I won’t lie, I do too. Fortunately, if you dig Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris, then Chenin Blanc is also available dry. If you’re buying French Chenin Blanc, look for the words Sec on the label. If you buy a South African Chenin Blanc, you’ll find the more affordable versions are produced in a zesty dry style, whereas the higher quality versions are slightly oaked (and a tiny bit sweet).

Bubbly Fact! Chenin Blanc is a primary grape in the awesomely cheap bubbly, Cremant de Limoux, from the Languedoc in the South of France.


Chenin Blanc Wine Characteristics

FRUIT FLAVORS (berries, fruit, citrus)
Apple, Baked Apple, Bruised Apple, Passion Fruit, Pineapple, Mango, Nectarine, Apricot, Tangerine, Mandarin Orange, Lemon, Honeydew Melon
OTHER AROMAS (herb, spice, flower, mineral, earth, other)
Honey, Honey Comb, Ginger, Burnt Sugar, Caramel, Saffron, Apple Blossom, Orange Blossom, Coleslaw (oxidative style), Sake, Cheese Rind (oxidative style), Hay, Baby Diaper
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OAK FLAVORS (flavors added with oak aging)
Buttered Popcorn, Butterscotch, Lemon Curd, Nutmeg, Baked Apple, Graham Cracker, Meringue, Sweet Almond
Medium High – High
Unoaked: ‘Ice Cold’ 45 ºF (8 ºC)
Oaked: ‘Fridge Cold’ 52 ºF (11 ºC)
Hot Climate Chenin Blanc: Chardonnay, Alsacian Pinot Gris, Viognier, Torrontes
Cool Climate Chenin Blanc: Sauvignon Blanc, Albariño, Pinot Grigio
Steen (old name in South Africa)
In South Africa, Chenin Blanc is sometimes blended with Semillon, Viognier and Marsanne to make a richer-styled wine similar to an oaked Chardonnay but tasting a touch sweeter. Also in South Africa, Chenin Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc are blended to create a fresh and zesty dry wine. In The Languedoc, Chenin Blanc is blended with Chardonnay and the local grape, Mauzac, to make a refreshing sparkling wine.

Chenin Blanc Food Pairing

Think Sweet and Sour. Because of Chenin Blanc’s awesome acidity and inherently sweet flavor, you’ll find it pairs well with foods that have a sweet and sour element. Southeast Asian cuisine or pork chop with apples with a richer and sweeter style Chenin Blanc will blow your mind.

Hello Turkey Dinner! There are several white wines out there with enough gusto to moisten even the driest turkey. Try a high quality South African Chenin Blanc with your Thanksgiving dinner. It will even handle cranberry sauce like it was born to do so.

Chicken Icon

Meat Pairings

Veal, Trout, Chicken, Turkey, Pork Chop, Guinea Foul, Halibut, Smoked Salmon, Terrine, Pâte

Herbs Icon

Spices and Herbs

Cinnamon, Dill, Tarragon, Turmeric, Ginger, Fenugreek, Clove, Marjoram, Allspice, Red Pepper Flakes, Cilantro, Cumin, Coriander, Fennel, Macadamia Nut, Peanut, Brazil Nut, Sesame Seed

Soft Cheese Icon

Cheese Pairings

Soft to semi-firm cow’s milk cheeses such as triple-cream brie, gruyere, cream cheese, yoghurt and cheddar. Also try herb-crusted goat cheeses.

Mushroom Icon

Vegetables & Vegetarian Fare

Squash, Jicama, Guava, Shallot, Chives, Savoy Cabbage, Yam, Carrot, Cauliflower, Oyster Mushroom, Corn, Red Bell Pepper, Apple, Quince, Pear

Chenin Blanc Wine Regions

About 94,500 acres of Chenin Blanc planted worldwide.

South Africa 46,500 acres
Stellenbosch, Paarl, Franschhoek, Swartland in the (Western Cape)
France 24,200 acres
Loire valley (Vouvray, Savennières, Anjou, etc), Languedoc
Argentina 14,800 acres
USA ~8,000 acres
California, Washington State
Australia ~1,000 acres

Find out more about South African Chenin Blanc at wosa.za
Find out more about French Chenin Blanc at Loirevalleywines.com

Politically Incorrect Food Pyramid for Wine Drinkers

Wine Folly



Let’s be honest here: when you’re out for a serious night of wine drinking what should you eat? Take a look as we tackle this question with a complete disregard to health (although Dr. Miller says the French Paradox Diet is legit!). The Wine Drinker’s Food Pyramid came to be whilst drinking with a group of winemakers and sommeliers in South Africa after a spirited Pinotage tasting. Naturally, it’s very scientific, because experts were involved.


Food Pyramid for Wine Drinkers




A proper night of drinking includes 5 sections




In the form of a sparkling wine or a mixed cocktail. Examples include: a gin and tonic, sparkling wine or beer.
White wine
Are you with mixed company ( you know, the ones you wouldn’t drunkenly skinny dip with)? Then pick something that won’t make anyone angry. Sadly, this leaves you only 2 varieties: Sauvignon Blanc or Chardonnay. However, if you’re with serious wine drinkers, you’ll be surprised how many of them will drool over a slightly sweet Riesling or Chenin Blanc.
Red wine
The better your friendship, the older the bottle.
Dessert wine
Substitute your desire for something sweet with a glass of dessert wine. What we’re drinking right now: Vin Santo, PX, late harvest Riesling, Pinot Noir and Port.
When you’ve become too hairy (or hoary) for late night coffee and need to settle the nightmare of drinks you’ve just put into your body, it’s time for an Amaro.


Tips on drinking well


  1. Forget ordering by the glass, make sure you’re with enough pals to get a bottle.
  2. Water is essential, drink a full glass with every serving.
  3. If you are sensitive to alcohol (something I’ve always had a problem with) portion control is your friend


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