Author Archives: Eduardo Miranda

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Mechanical Harvesting vs. Hand Picked Grapes

Wine grapes hand-pickerThe harvesting of wine grapes is one of the most crucial steps in the process of winemaking. The time of harvest is determined primarily by the ripeness of the grape as measured by sugar, acid and tannin levels. The weather can also shape the timetable of harvesting. In addition to determining the time of the harvest, winemakers and vineyard owners must also determine whether to use hand-picker workers or mechanical harvest machinery.

The question of using mechanical harvesting versus traditional hand picking is a source of contention in the wine industry. Mechanical harvesting of grapes has been one of the major changes in many vineyards in the last third of a century, and it’s been adopted in different places for various economic, labour and winemaking reasons. It keeps the price down to the $8 range, which no one expects to be hand-crafted. There is nothing gentle about mechanical harvesting. It beats up the grapes so badly that they end up looking more like oatmeal than grapes.

Even if some of us do more or less regularly drink mass-produced industrial wines, we all know that hand-craftsmanship is best, and despite the costs, some wineries prefer the use of human workers to hand-pick grapes. The main advantage is the knowledge and discernment of the worker to pick only healthy bunches and the gentler handling of the grapes.

There are several reasons we might choose to hand harvest. Some varietals don’t shake off the stems easily, so the plants would have to be beaten senseless in order to get the grapes off. The production of some dessert wine like Sauternes and Trockenbeerenauslese require that individual berries are picked from the botrytized bunches which can only be done by hand. In areas of steep terrain, like in the Priorat and Monsant, in Spain, it would be virtually impossible to run a mechanical harvester through the vineyard.

The quality of the wine is actually the main determinate of harvest technique. When the harvester shakes the grapes loose, lots of them end up breaking open. This can be mitigated by running the machine slower, but it’s inevitable. When you’re making white wine, particularly a delicate flavoured wine such as Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio, that contact between the skins and the juice can add undesirable bitterness to the final product. By hand harvesting the grapes arrive at the press pad largely intact, taking pressure off the cellar crew to get them crushed and pressed ASAP.


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Low Yield Vineyards

Quality & Low Yield Vineyards

In viticulture, the yield is a measure of the amount of grapes or wine that is produced per unit surface of vineyard. Yield is an important quality factor in wine production.

In general, there is consensus that if vines are cropped with a very high amount of grape clusters, a poor wine will result because of slow and insufficient ripening of the grapes.

Natural vs Conventional Wines

The reason conventional winemakers believe they can make good wine from high yielding vineyards is that the quality of the grapes is relatively unimportant in conventionally made wines. Any lack of taste in the grapes can be compensated for in the winery. Which is too bad! I wrote about it in this article, Life is too short…

A naturally made wine relies for its taste solely on the grapes from which it is made. A great natural wine, one that truly expresses its terroir, can only be made from the low-yielding vines.


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Not just education

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European Court of Justice said Scotland’s plan to impose a blanket minimum price for alcohol goes against EU free-trade laws, as it would restrict the market. More than that, I have to add it is against free-will, and the principles of individual’s freedom.

The Irish version of such non-sense measure might luckily go to the same hole. Supported by Gardaí and the medical professionals, Minister of Health Leo Varadkar really believes that the day after passing the Bill, people will just stop binging and miraculously start drinking sensibly!

The Bill claims to target health measures, as health labelling and marketing regulation, which could be classified as educational measures, but minimum unit pricing is just a selective attempt to restrict who can and who cannot buy the so called cheap alcohol.

Promoting under-cost alcohol and pushing small retailers out of the market

Instead of imposing higher prices to everyone, the government would be doing a bigger favour by tackling those big retailers who sell alcohol – and other goods – at prices even lower than the excise duty. Such practices, which surely attract people into the stores, should not be seen as sales, but more as dumping of goods, as they are. Following the Minister’s logic, they are the real problem of cheap alcohol.

There are strict anti-dumping rules in Ireland for importing goods. The government really should start looking to the domestic market, and try to find the thin line separating sales strategy and dumping of goods.


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Why education is not an option?

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booze

The debate about minimum price for alcohol in Ireland might be dormant, but is far from its end. As soon as the government pushes it through people’s throat, it will bring reactions, and probably consequences. Before any debate, as per European laws, the government must prove that the move is a better option than merely increasing tax on alcohol. This alone, to me, is a hard sell.

It has been tried before. If we recall The Prohibition in the United States, a nationwide constitutional ban on the sale, production, importation, and transportation of alcoholic beverages? From 1920 to 1933, all it did was to boost organized crime, where a profitable, often violent, black market for alcohol flourished.

Keeping the proportion, it might be the same in Ireland, where high prices might well lure criminal elements into the market. There has been a rising trend in counterfeit alcohol in recent years, whereby law-breakers put cheaper drinks into branded bottles – even fine wines – or use potentially dangerous illegally produced beverage. It tends to rise!

It’s just not fair on the “non-problematic” drinkers to pay more for alcohol known to be cheap – and obviously poor in quality.

Irish taxes on alcohol are already among the highest in the world, which has been leading people into cross-border shopping and alcohol cruises to France. Even the government says the additional money will not be passed on to the Revenue, doesn’t make it right. Actually make it even worse, as it will simply hand big sellers of alcohol fatter margins – and probably push small merchants out of the market. It will not generate any funding for alcohol-related problems, as if they cared about it.

To tackle the problem, the government instead should come with something more noble, as educating people, offering quality help for those suffering from alcohol-related health problems. Those who campaign for minimum pricing don’t take addiction in consideration. I don’t think they even understand addiction. Addicts are capable of reducing children’s milk, or commit minor crimes, in order to top-up for booze.

The world is not perfect, we all know, but populist measures will bring no benefit in medium or long term, and the real problem will still be out there, calling for real actions.


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Drinking Wine Socially

Drinking Wine Socially

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Drinking Wine SociallyBy definition, you might say that social drinking is casual drinking in a social setting without an intent to get drunk, but realistically speaking, what really draws the line between social drinking and binge? One might say it is the quantity you drink, other might say it is the frequency, one else that it is the occasion.

Everybody might have its own opinion, but I would dare to say that there is no straight answer, and it might be a combination of all of these. Maybe the occasion comes first, then how often and how much.

The occasion might be a flute of bubbles in the New Year’s eve, or every time you meet your friends, or even alone, in your couch, browsing the TV – what’s the point? Then comes frequency and quantity, from the eventual glass of wine with dinner, to a bottle or more every single day.

I was reading about the 5:2 diet, and came across someone who applied it to the wines! Basically, the person was refraining from wines Monday and Tuesday, and then drinking its wine normally from Wednesday to Sunday.

“Wine is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy!”

You might agree with me that this 5:2 doesn’t look difficult at all. Actually, sounds reasonable and very doable. More difficult though is to determine what’s is drinking normally during the other 5 days! And then is where common sense has its play!

I like to have a glass of wine with my diner… I’d be lying if I say I don’t, but as I’m also watching my weight, it’s becoming mandatory to stop in the first glass… and I’m doing great!

After all, as someone said, “Wine is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy!”

Let us then be happy,  with a heart for any fate!


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Italy beats France as wine producer

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source: EU Commission

source: EU Commission

Italy has surpassed France to take to crown of world largest wine producer in 2015, according to European Union data. This year’s benign weather conditions have resulted in an abundant grape harvest across the Mediterranean peninsula, as opposed to that reaped on the other side of the Alps.

The figures submitted to the European Commission in mid-September show total output approaching 50 million hectolitres, while in France production declined by one percent. The Burgundy and Beaujolais regions were worst affected, but it’s thought that both areas could see price rises in the coming months.

One reason for the rise in Italian output is simply that the 2014 harvest was particularly bad due to the weather.

Despite this year’s overall good conditions some vineyards were forced to use emergency irrigation in the July heat.

But thanks to a cooler September, the 2015 Italian harvest is set to yield what one producer described as a “pretty good vintage”.

source: euronews


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Quantity vs. Quality: where is the intersection?

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Quantity vs. Quality: where is the intersection?

Quantity vs. Quality: where is the intersection?

I have a particular interest in fine wine. Not those of exorbitant prices, but more the artisan ones, which sometimes might be priced as well.

Artisan wines are those which winemaking tries to avoid automation and machinery to the fullest! Some artisan practices are hand-picked grapes, sorting tables to sort grapes for quality, removing rotten and unsuitable grapes along with leaves and petioles (which doesn’t happen in machinery harvest). Then the grapes might be foot-trodden, and the fermentation begins naturally; mixing grape skins and juice by hand, many times a day, among other very labour intensive processes.

I was reading about such interesting subject, and I came across several articles discussing how it is becoming increasingly harder to find fine wines. Apart from the labour related added-value, it seems that you cannot easily find artisan fine wines at reasonable prices any more. But why?

In contrast to fine wine, the world is awash with an alcoholic beverage made from fermented grape juice in mass market quantities, usually blended from bulk wines from various sources, where questionable winemaking practices are largely used, under the regulatory myopia of governments. Although they are also called “wines”, such beverages end up subverting artisan wine making, altering consumer tastes, and sabotaging the future of fine wine.

But… Does anybody care?

What usually drives regular wine consumers when buying their bottle of wine is price, eventually. Sometimes a pinch of knowledge, for consciousness’ sake, which might be as vague as a grape (“I like my Merlots”) , or a country (“I love Australian wines”).

How to change this tendency, when increasingly brand burning in the supermarkets works favourably to a government willing to tax minimum prices for wine (and alcohol in general) regardless its quality, in a misguided attempt to solve abusive alcohol consumption?

I don’t know the answer. I don’t know a better answer than awareness!

When tax regulation, and industry association policies conspire to eliminate the characteristics of a product with the intention of make them insipid, burden them with punitive costs and undermine the provenance on which their individual brands stand, then we can aggrieve.

So, is there an intersection, or should we just avoid the large chain retailers who treat wine as a loss leading inducement for filling grocery carts, and buy only wines made truly from winemakers’ heart?

I don’t know a better answer than awareness! If this trend continues unabated, in the near future we might have nothing left but an illusion of choices, engulfed in an ever-rising ocean of wine-like beverage, on display in the crowded soulless supermarkets shelves!


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Grapes

PDO and PGI

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Grapes

Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) is defined as the name of a region or a specific place used to describe a wine product which denotes that the grapes have come exclusively from that area and are only of the Vitis vinifera genus, and the production of the wine takes place in the named area.

Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) is slightly less restrictive and is defined as the name of a region, a specific place or a country used to describe a wine product which possesses a specific quality, reputation or other characteristics attributable to the geographical origin, that at least 85% of grapes used for its production have come from that area and are of the Vitis Vinifera genus or a cross of Vitis Vinifera and another genus of Vitis and the production of the wine takes place in the named area.

These are general European terminology, but each country will have their own words to say more or less the same thing, which basically tries to protect the region and the producers in that region.

In Spain, the categories are Vino de Mesa (table wine), Vino de la Tierra, VT or VdlT(“wine of the country”), Vinos de Calidad con Indicación Geográfica (VCIG or VC), Denominación de Origen, or DO, Denominación de Origen Calificada, or DOC (sometimes referred to as DOCa, or DOQ in Catalunya), Vino de Pago, or VP

Vino de Mesa is the lowest rung on Spain’s wine quality ladder.

VT is like the Vins de Pays for French wines. It doesn’t necessarily mean the wine has no quality, but just that the wine didn’t follow the rules and restrictions (and sometimes the quality level) which a higher qualification rules.

VCIG is the European PGI. It’s like the French Vin Délimité De Qualité Supérieure (VDQS), or the Italians IGT, which is basically a holding place for aspiring a higher qualification.

DO and DOC (DOCa, DOQ) are the highest appelations in Spain, comparable to France’s AOC (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée). All DOs have regulatory bodies responsible for creating the definition of each DO.

VP is a new concept with an entirely different method of classifying quality. Pago means vineyard, so the simple explanation of what constitutes a DO Pago is that it is a single estate wine.


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Prosecco Shortage? Bubbles…

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Sales of Prosecco have overtaken Champagne for the first time in UK. The sales numbers rose by 72% in the last year, ahead of its French rival. With total sales of £250m, Champagne is trailing behind Prosecco, according to retail analysts IRI. It’s the third year in a row sales growth of the sweeter tasting, cheaper-priced Prosecco have surged ahead of the classic bubbles.

And might not have an easy way to say that, but it sounds like there’s going to be a global shortage of Prosecco this summer! Apparently, last year’s harvest of the Glera grape was “very poor” – down by as much as 50 per cent in some parts of the region.

That’s according to Robert Cremonese, the export manager of Prosecco brand Bisol, there is a very real possibility of a global shortage.

font: http://www.cityam.com


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Barbazul 2010

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Made from Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and the outstanding Tintilla de Rota, a recovered local variety, this wine is fermented in stainless steel tanks and rests in French oak barrels for 5 months.

Very bright and deep cherry colour with purple reflections and an explosion of aromas, black berries, jammy fruit, spicy, with a creamy touch, chocolate, toffee, liquorice and some toasted aromas. Subtle herbal and mineral aromas. Very tasty in the palate with  notes of fruit and creamy feeling with nice balsamic and toasted aromas in the background. Good and long finish, very pleasant and tasty.


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