Thursday, July 12, 2018


Sherry is a fortified white wine grown and produced exclusively in a very small region of Spain called Jerez, just outside Cadiz in Southern Andalusia. Unfortunately, because the name was not legally protected until 1996, “Sherry” has become synonymous with sickly, sweet wines from South Africa, California, and Cyprus. Sherry is now defined by law as the English name for the wines of Jerez, and, far from being sweet, most Sherry is among the driest of all wines.
Sherry is made primarily from the Palomino grape and sometimes, for sweet versions, with Pedro Ximenez. The wine is fermented to about 11 percent alcohol, and then blended with brandy to bring it to 15 percent or higher. The four most common styles of Sherry are:
  • Fino: This is the palest and driest. Alcohol 15-17. Sugar grams per liter: 0 – 5
  • Amontillado: Slightly darker than Fino. Alcohol 16-17%. Sugar g/l: 0 – 5
  • Oloroso: Darker, fuller bodied slightly oxidized. Alcohol 17-22%. Sugar g/l: 0 – 5
  • Pedro Ximénez: Dark, full-bodied and very sweet. Alcohol 15-22%. Sugar g/l: 212+
After fermentation and the fortification with brandy, the Sherry is aged using the solera system in which the barrels of aging wine are stored in a pyramid style with the oldest on the bottom and newest barrels on top. Wine to be bottled is drawn from one third of the oldest, bottom barrels, which are then topped-up with wine from the layer above and so on, until there is space in the top layer of barrels for the new wine to be added. Consequently, over the years and decades, the wines of various vintages are blended together, which is why a bottle of Sherry never has a vintage year on the label. In some cases, some of the content of the bottle could be more than a hundred years old. Dry Sherry is a popular drink all over Spain, not just in Andalusia, and has been extremely popular in England since long before Shakespeare celebrated it in his plays.
Sherry is the 'Shakespeare' of wines. Both offer the widest variety of styles, from the driest Fino to the sweetest Pedro Ximenez, or the broadest comedy of Bottom to the most sublime tragedy of Lear. They are both unique and have no peers; the solera system is unique to Sherry, and the sheer volume and range of the written word is unique to Shakespeare. Not only does Shakespeare make more than thirty-five direct references to Sherry in his plays, but during his lifetime, Sir Francis Drake “liberated” 2,900 butts of Sherry (2.25 million bottles) from the King of Spain, and brought them home to England. The richness, the range, the historic parallels, will forever unite the Bard of Avon with the sack of Jerez.
Shakespeare’s most famous Sherry drinker, of course, was Sir John Falstaff, who called it “sac” and attributes the bravery and military success of Prince Hal to his consumption of Sherry. He also adds that Sherry produces “excellent wit,” while it “warms the blood.” In conclusion, Sir John avows that if he had a thousand sons, the first thing he would teach them is to reject all small thin wines and to devote themselves to Sherry.
Part of the payment to England’s Poet Laureate, since the time of Shakespeare’s drinking companion, Ben Johnson, has traditionally been a barrel of Sherry. England’s current Poet Laureate, Carol Anne Duffy, was presented with 720 bottles of Sherry in 2012. Sherry is typically drunk as an aperitif before meals.

Thursday, June 14, 2018


China it is one of the oldest wine-producing countries on the planet. However, wine has not been an important aspect of Chinese culture until very recently. Already within the first two decades of the new century, China has become not only a major producer but also a major consumer of wine. Within the next decade, China could prove itself one of the leading players in the world of wine.

Although grape wine has been consumed in China for at least 4,600 years, a stronger version containing up to 20 percent alcohol, called Huangjiu, or “yellow-wine,” made from fermented rice and cereals, has always been more popular. Additionally, the Chinese have always consumed a distilled version called Baijiu, which has a 40-60 percent alcohol content. Alcohol in China is typically consumed in the form of toasts, drunk in small shot glasses and tossed to the back of the throat—the complete opposite of everything described in Chapter One of my book.

Modern Vitis vinifera grapes were probably first introduced by the Greeks, led by Alexander the Great in the third century BC, and planted in the extreme west of China in what is today’s Xinjiang Autonomous Region. Marco Polo referred to the local wines when he passed through this area in the thirteenth century. This Uighur populated province (ironically the most Islamic part of China) is still the major wine-producing region in the nation, even though it clings to the edge of the Gobi Desert. One of the vineyards covers twenty-five thousand acres at 262 feet below sea level!

Following Deng Xiaoping’s Economic Reforms in the early 1980s, agricultural land was de-collectivized, private entrepreneurs were permitted to develop vineyards, and foreign investment was encouraged. At the same time, a growing middle class was becoming exposed to the outside world, traveling to Europe and bringing back knowledge about foreign cultures—including wine.

The French brandy house, Remy Martin/Cointreau, established a joint venture in 1980 which eventually became Dynasty Wines, producing over one hundred types of wine products in China. Initially, Chinese wines were limited to the export market, but with the growing wealth of the domestic market in the twenty-firstt century and a fast evolving appreciation for wine, 90 percent of Chinese wine is now consumed domestically. While the disposable income of the growing middle class accounts for the consumption of home-grown Chinese wine, it is only the extreme wealth of the Chinese billionaire class that can account for an obsessive consumption of French, especially Bordeaux, wines. The Chinese love of Bordeaux wine is delightfully explored in the 2013 movie Red Obsession.

Although most Chinese wine comes from the Xinjiang Autonomous Region on the border with Pakistan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, and Kazakhstan, a new northern area, Ningxia Province, also bordering the Gobi Desert, is rapidly becoming the center of China’s fine-wine industry. With 160,000 acres of vineyards planned by 2020, Ningxia will be three times the size of Napa. The French luxury goods giant LVMH has recently invested $28 million in a state-of-the-art winery called Chandon. An international competition named "Bordeaux Against Ningxia" was held in Beijing in December 2011, when experts from China and France tasted five wines from each region. Ningxia was the clear winner, with four out of five of the top wines. The best wine in the whole competition was the 2009 Chairman's Reserve, a Cabernet Sauvignon which even Robert Parker rated as “not bad.” It is unclear whether the name referred to Chairman Mao and his Little Red Book.

Another rapidly expanding wine-growing area is Shandong Province on the coast of the Yellow Sea, which, with 140 wineries, already produces 40 percent of Chinese wine. The latest company to invest in Shandong is Bordeaux’s Domains Barons de Rothschild, which harvested its third vintage in 2015. Based on Rothschild’s previous successes in California and Chile, Shandong Province is a region to keep an eye on.

In just the past decade, China has become one of the world’s top ten wine markets, and is actually the largest consumer of red wine in the world, as well as being the sixth largest producer of wine. Between 2006 and 2015, China’s wine consumption grew by 54 percent. According to Sotheby’s, it is no longer London or New York but Hong Kong which is now the world’s largest market for fine wines at auction. Furthermore, China is one of the world’s biggest consumers of Bordeaux’s Premier Cru wines, and has had a significant effect on the price structure. Chinese billionaires have long had a predilection for Château Lafite (like the English aristocracy before them), followed by Château Latour, Château Mouton-Rothschild, Château Margaux and finally by Château Haut-Brion. This preference for Lafite has had the unfortunate consequence of making Lafite the most popular target of international wine-fraud, resulting in a number of recent scandals and uncertainty in the Chinese market. There is a growing tendency among Chinese billionaires, therefore, to focus on the previously overlooked Château Haut-Brion wines (Jefferson’s favorite), because its unique bottle shape makes it more difficult for criminals to reproduce.

But despite China’s seeming integration into the international wine market, it retains certain Chinese idiosyncrasies. For example, the reason that Chinese are almost exclusively red wine drinkers has less to do with their appreciation of tannins and more to do with red being a lucky color traditionally associated with good fortune and good health. The Chinese still serve wine in small, shot-sized wine glasses, and, although it is a sign of progress that wine is replacing strong baijiu spirits at business banquets, it means that when that priceless 1959 Château Lafite is being poured, all the guests can toss it back in a hearty group toast without even needing to taste it.