Behind the Cork™ - González Byass La Copa Vermouths


González Byass La Copa Vermouth — Extra Seco & Rojo - ($24.99 each)

While Vermouth can be the perfect addition to any cocktail, these Vermouth offerings from González Byass really shine on their own.

Vermouth, as described in a recent blog, is actually a fortified wine. A highly aromatic fortified wine with botanicals that include herbs, bark, roots, citrus and spices with the Wormwood plant being the classic ingredient.

The González Byass La Copa (meaning the cup) Extra Seco Vermouth is a white extra dry version (28 g/L residual sugar) produced from 100% Palomino grape that is aged for an average of three years in the traditional Solera System of American oak casks. It exhibits a clean and elegant intensity with concentrated citrus aromas along with the bitter touches of Wormwood. It’s an ideal aperitif, served over ice, but can also be blended with soda or used as part of many classic cocktails.

The González Byass La Copa Rojo Vermouth is a red version produced with 75% Palomino grape and 25% Pedro Ximénez grape that is aged for more than eight years in Soleras. With Wormwood again playing a staring role, this Rojo Vermouth also includes botanicals such as clove, orange peel, nutmeg and cinnamon. The resulting bitter-sweet (141 g/L residual sugar) and savory flavors of this Vermouth include classic cola flavors to go along with all the spiciness. It too is an ideal aperitif, served over ice, but can also be blended with soda or used as part of many classic cocktails.

Both of these La Copa Vermouth offerings from González Byass are delicious either on their own or as part of your favorite cocktail. Cheers!

Disclosure of Wine Sample Submission: I received this wine at no cost for review. The opinions expressed are entirely my own.

Samples provided by Rebekah Polster of Donna White Communications

Ever Wonder? - The Solera System of Winemaking


Last time we learned that Marsala wine is not just for cooking. It’s actually a fortified wine that is sometimes made using the Solera system.

A Solera is a system used for blending wines and is a way of keeping a consistent style of wine for years.

The diagram illustrates the system as a stack of barrels with the oldest barrels of wine on the bottom and the youngest barrels of wine on top.

Wine is bottled from the barrels on the bottom, but these barrels are never drained more than part-way. After being partially drained for bottling, the bottom row of barrels is refilled with wine from the row above, and those are filled with the wine from the barrels above them. And so on until the newest vintage enters the top row and begins its aging journey down through the system, being blended each year by the winemaker.

Since the barrels are never completely drained, the oldest barrels on the bottom always contains some of the original vintage used in the Solera.

The Solera system is not only used for Marsala wines, but also for other fortified wines such as Port. And, this can also be used in the production of non-vintage sparkling wines. So, if you’ve ever wondered how a winery can produce such a consistent non-vintage product year-after-year, they may be using some form of this system.


Marsala Wine - Not Just for Cooking

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Chicken Marsala is a well known Italian dish. But, did you know that Marsala is also a fine drinking wine?

Marsala is a fortified wine that originated in the town of Marsala on the west coast of Sicily. True Marsala still only comes from Sicily and is produced from Sicilian indigenous grapes.

Marsala is most often thought of as a cooking wine.  But, there are actually five quality levels:

  • Fine - Aged for 1 year and commonly used in cooking

  • Superior - Aged for 2 years and used most commonly in cooking

  • Superior Reserve - Aged 4 years

  • Virgin or Solera - Aged 5 years

  • Virgin Stravecchio/Virgin Reserve - Aged for 10 or more years

Marsala wines are also produced in three levels of sweetness:

  • Secco - Dry (little to no residual sugar). This wine completes fermentation before it is fortified.

  • Semisecco - Semi sweet. This wine is fortified near the end of fermentation so as to leave a small amount of residual sugar.

  • Dolce - Sweet. This wine is fortified during fermentation. The higher level of the fortifying alcohol kills the yeast before fermentation is complete, hence sugar remains in the wine.

There are also three styles of Marsala wine:

  • Gold - Produced with white grapes (Grillo, Catarratto, Inzolia, Domaschino and Grecanico)

  • Amber - Also produced with white grapes but the grape must (i.e., unfortified grape juice) is cooked to the point where the natural sugars caramelize, giving the wine the amber color

    • Flavors of Gold and Amber Marsala include apricot, brown sugar, and vanilla

  • Ruby - Produced with up to 30% red grapes (Pignatello, Nero d'Avola, Nerello Mascalese, and Frappato)

    • Flavors of Ruby Marsala include cherry, dried fruit, honey, walnut and licorice. 

High-end Marsala wines are produced by a system called 'Soleras' where new and old wines are blended. This will be the subject of a future posting.

A glass of Marsala wine should be served at approximately 55 degrees F and is wonderful when paired with Parmesan, Gorgonzola, Roquefort and other bold cheese. And because it’s fortified, it doesn’t need to be kept in a refrigerator. Just store it in a cool, dark place and it will retain its flavor for a very long time.

So, don’t drink the cooking wine. Save it for great sauce reductions. But do seek out a nicer bottle and enjoy! Cheers!

Fortified Wines: Sherry and Vermouth


In recent posting we've addressed fortified wines including Port, Madeira and Marsala. All these wines are produced by adding either Brandy or neutral grape spirit to wines during the fermentation process or after fermentation is complete.

Without getting too much into the details of distilled spirits, Brandy (derived from the word brandywine, or burnt wine) and grape spirit are produced by heating wine to the point where the alcohol evaporates and is collected separately. Fortified winemakers then use these distilled alcohols to increase the alcohol levels in fermented wines.

While grape spirit is simply neutral-flavored grape alcohol, Brandy takes this grape alcohol one step further by aging it in wooden casks to smooth out the flavor of this otherwise harsh alcohol and give it its unique flavor.

Other popular fortified wines include Sherry and Vermouth.  Sherry, from Spain, is typically fortified with Brandy after fermentation is complete to produce a dry fortified wine. There are sweet styles of Sherry but the finer ones, from Spain, are dry.  The Spanish Sherries are made in multiple styles:

Dry Sherry: Made predominately from the Palomino grape:

  • Fino & Manzanilla - Very light in flavor. Can have salty fruit flavors.
  • Amontillado - A bit bolder with nutty flavors.
  • Palo Cortado - This is much richer with roasted flavors of molasses and coffee.
  • Oloroso - This style is intentionally exposed to oxygen during aging resulting its dark appearance and nutty flavors.

Sweet Sherry: Made from Pedro Ximénez or Moscatel grapes:

  • Pedro Ximéniz (PX) - This is the sweetest style with flavors dates and figs.
  • Moscatel - This has sweet caramel flavors.
  • Sweet Sherry: A blend of Oloroso and PX Sherry.

Vermouth is another fortified wine originally from Italy. Vermouth is produced from neutral grape wine or unfermented wine must. Producers then add additional alcohol and their own mixture of botanical products including fruits, herbs, spices and roots. After the wine is aromatized and fortified, the Vermouth may be bottled dry, or sweeteners such as sugar may be added to create the sweet style of Vermouth.

So during the past few entries we've made a quick pass through the most popular fortified wines. Next, we'll investigate dessert wines.  Cheers!

Fortified Wine: Madeira

Madeira is another of the fortified wines. But it is the way that it is produced that is quite unique.

Madeira first became popular in the mid-seventeenth century when the Madeira Islands, part of Portugal, were heavily used as key supply stations for ships heading to the New World or India.  To preserve the wine, additional alcohol (typically Brandy) was added to keep it from spoiling on the long ocean voyages. But these long voyages, in the subtropical heat, and via a rocking ship caused the wines to be kept quite warm, and often get exposed to air.

It was only after these wines reached their destinations that their unique flavors were 'discovered' and became appreciated.  The heating and oxidation causes the natural sugars in Madeira wines to caramelize, resulting in flavors that included burnt sugar and hazelnut, along with fruit flavors of peach and orange peal.

Today, Madeira wines continue to be produced by deliberately heating the wine. The most basic Madeira wines are heated in large tanks to 120-140 degree F for at least 3 months. Other production techniques involve storing the wine in large wooden casks in heated rooms for 6 months to a year, or just storing the casks in a warm sun-lite room for 20 years or more.

There are many styles of Madeira wine. The most commonly available Madeira is typically used in cooking, but there are many others that are meant to be enjoyed as an aperitif or dessert wine:

  • Fine - The lowest quality. Made from the Tinta Negra grape. Aged for 3 years. Used for cooking.
  • Rainwater - A fruity blend from the Tinta Negra grape. Aged at least 3 years. Used for cooking or mixing in cocktails.
  • Reserve - Also made from the Tinta Negra grape, but aged 5 years.
  • Special Reserve - Typically made from one of the 'Noble' grapes (see below) and aged 10 years.
  • Extra Reserve - Also made from one of the "Noble' grapes and aged 15 years (quite rare).
  • Colheita or Harvest – A single vintage wine, but aged for a shorter period than a true Vintage Madeira.
  • Vintage or Frasqueira – A single vintage but aged at least 20 years.

While the majority of Madeira wines are produced from the Tinta Negra grape, the most authentic Madeira is made from the following "Noble' grape varietals:

  • Sercial (Ser-seal) - Nearly dry (very little residual sugar), high acidity (bright and crisp), with flavors of toasted almonds
  • Verdelho - Fermentation is halted earlier than Sercial, resulting in higher residual sugar, with smoky and rich flavors
  • Bual - Just a bit more residual sugar, dark in color, with flavors of caramel, cacao, dates and raisins
  • Malmsey - Having the highest residual sugar, its sweetness comes along with fruity flavors, roasted nuts and chocolate

So, if you are really interested in enjoying a glass of Madeira wine, skip the grocery store cooking variety and seek out a nicer bottle. You will certainly enjoy!  Cheers!