Our Summer Drink Obsession

July 28, 2014 by: The Urban Grape

The only thing harder than diving back into blogging is motivating to go to the gym. I have done very little of either of these things in the past month. Right now I feel like a rusty Tin Man in need of a little oil. 

I love being able to spend the summer on Martha’s Vineyard with the boys and my extended family, but it messes mightily with my routine. Throw in a few days in the hospital (btw – I’m looking for ENT doctor recommendations please!), our dog dying unexpectedly, and a few other curveballs (thank you, karma, for that flat tire) and I’ve seen very little of my computer and my yoga mat. But I’m a believer in a new day, a new week, a new month, all of which are happening this week, so I want to get back to the blog with what really counts: cocktails. 

Over our years on MV, we’ve gotten to know the chef owner of Détente, Kevin Crowell. Kevin is also in the midst of reviving The Sweet Life Café in Oak Bluffs, which is fantastic news for everyone who loves that restaurant and was saddened by its decline. Once a summer, Kevin comes over and cooks us a great family meal – always a treat for my mom, sister-in-law, and I who are churning out breakfast, lunch and dinner for at least 11 people a day. Kevin’s food is amazing (if you’ve had his grilled peach and taleggio salad, you know why we love him), but his best kept secret is his bourbon cocktail. It’s a take on a Dark and Stormy that, quite honestly, blows the original out of the water, especially if you’re like us and have always found Dark and Stormies too sweet. 

Détente’s Bourbon Dark and Stormy

2 oz Bourbon – we recommend Four Roses Small Batch Bourbon, $29
1/2 oz dry vermouth
1/2 oz simple syrup
Lime wedge
2-3 oz ginger beer

Muddle a big lime wedge in the bottom of your glass. Add ice and the rest of the ingredients, with the ginger beer to taste. If it’s still too sweet for you, add a little club soda. Stir to combine. We serve this in big copper cups with lots and lots of ice and a fresh lime wheel. There is just nothing more refreshing! 

 

 

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The Joy and The Truth

July 15, 2014 by: The Urban Grape

In mid-July of 2005, TJ and I drove to Princeton to see our brand new puppy, a Golden Retriever we named Chappy.

Chappy was ours from the very start in that he was the only one of his litter to bound up to us when we arrived, while the others hung back with their mother. He was only 6 weeks old, but the breeder allowed him to come home with us a couple weeks early. It was obvious to everyone, even her, that Chappy was ready to jump head first into a life full of adventure.

Almost immediately, we brought Chappy to Chappy, the island of Chappaquiddick where my parents have a house. We were instantly bonded to him, and he to us, this house, and the land around it. Even as a puppy, he would stay close to home, content to be outside going on little adventures to the beach, or to the scrubby bushes to rouse out a skunk, or for a walk down the driveway with whomever was going to check the mail. After a rocky start with our four year old cat Chili Pepper (a claw across the nose was involved), even they settled into a friendship that would blossom over the years. Mimicking our own feelings, Chappaquiddick was Chappy’s favorite place on earth. 

 

Chappy was there when we brought home our babies, he was there when we opened The Urban Grape. He was there to clean up after every Thanksgiving dinner, or curl up under every Christmas Tree. He delighted hundreds of children, including his own, by patiently allowing them to explore every tooth, nostril, eyeball, floppy ear, or padded toe that he had. When Chappy walked by a playground, children came running. Children – especially Noah and Jason! – crawled on him, children slept on him, children did tummy time with him, children reached their hands into his food bowl. There was nothing a human could do to him that he minded, instead seeing every interaction as a joyous moment. And because of that he was constantly rewarded with love and affection from both family, friends, and strangers. I remember a dog trainer yelling at me once when I put my face down close to his. She said, “You can never trust a dog.” To which I said, “Maybe, but I can always trust Chappy.” When it came to people, Chappy’s soul knew nothing but love. Consequently, he was a terrible, terrible watch dog.

Chappy was our joy. He and I logged hundreds of miles around the Esplanade in the years after the boys were born. He was always there, to the right of the stroller, an undeniable smile on his face, his signature wiggle in his step. He was always PROUD to be out with his family, excited to see where we were headed. Through the years, he was tied up at every playground in Boston, watchful, always keeping an eye on us all, except for when he would spot a stick that needed to be gnawed on. On our way to the Esplanade, the concierges at the Copley Fairmount would see him coming from a block away, and would get a treat ready for him. He, in turn, would put on his pretty ears, believing as dogs do that the more handsome he looked, the more treats he would be rewarded with. Because of his success at the Fairmont, he would pull this behavior at every hotel, waiting patiently for the unsuspecting concierges to realize what he was asking for.

It was because of Chappy that we were constantly reminded of how the simplest things in life make us the happiest. A walk. A hug. A ride in the car. Time with family. Playing games. A good brush. A nap. Snow days. Beach days. A tummy scratch or an ear rub in just the right spot. A cookie. A swim on a hot day. A soft bed at night. Children. People who love you, and whom you love unconditionally and with endless faith. These things were his life, and they were enough. And when we can put down our phones, and step away from Facebook, and realize that our jobs are not what define us, these are enough for us too. Chappy taught us that.

Last week, just after his ninth birthday, Chappy died, suddenly, unexpectedly, and – I’ll say it even though it hurts – tragically. He was there, running through the sprinklers and chasing the kids, and a few hours later, he was gone. We have spent days trying to make sense of his senseless death. It has involved a lot of tears, and a lot of sleepless nights for my nuclear and extended family. How can an animal so loving, and so kind meet an end so undeserving? There will never be an answer.

It was TJ that made me see that Chappy’s death, unfair as it was, could have a silver lining. For me, it has meant lingering over the boys’ bed time, and scooping up those extra hugs, cuddles, and kisses for the gift that they are. It has meant walking away from the blog, the newsletter, Twitter, Facebook, and everything else for a week and realizing that The Urban Grape doesn’t need to succeed at the expense of my being present and in the moment with my family. For TJ, it has meant throwing his children and niece and nephew into the ocean a hundred times, until his back was sore, not wanting to miss a moment of their unbridled joy. For both of us, we’ve realized that every second with our family is a gift, and we’ve wasted too many of those moments with preoccupied brains. How can it be that so many of us, including me and TJ, do not appreciate the joy we have right in front of us every single day? We swore the lesson from Chappy’s death would be to hold on to those precious moments just a little bit tighter.

The night after Chappy died, we toasted him with a bottle of wine we had been saving for a special occasion, La Joie by Vérité. Thank you Chappy, for your joy and for your truth. You were a good, good pup. I’ll see you soon on the driveway, I know you’ll never let me walk it alone. 

 

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It’s Wedding Season!

June 27, 2014 by: The Urban Grape

TJ and I love a good wedding. We love getting dressed up, love the moment when the bride and groom say “I Do,” love the open bar and heavy passed apps, and really, really, really love the dancing portion of the evening (do I grab the mic during “I Will Survive”? You know I do).

After years of being in a literal wedding FAMINE, we are now flush with weddings this summer and fall. Time to bust out the fancy shoes, TJ Douglas. Our dance card is filling up. 

As fun as weddings are, it’s obvious that wedding season can also be seriously stressful. So here’s how UG can help everyone involved: 

The Bride and Groom

Let The Urban Grape help you set up a wedding registry. That’s right, come home from your honeymoon to cases of specialty wine and spirits delivered to your door. All from UG. The process is simple – you come in and meet with TJ, you taste wine with TJ (so much more fun than going to Crate & Barrel, let’s admit), TJ sets up your registry, I put it on our website, and voila…..your wedding guests fill your home with bottles to drink and bottles to lay down. The best part is each bottle is tagged with who gave it to you, so you can relive your wedding with every popped cork. So awesome. Email TJ to set up your consultation. 

The Wedding Party

Stumped on what to do for the Bachelorette and Bachelor parties? Our very own Chelsea Bell can help you set up the ultimate kick-off to the evening – a personalized wine or spirits tasting in your home or at UG! These are so hugely popular that Chelsea spends all summer leading Champagne tastings for the ladies and whiskey tastings for the guys. It’s affordable and fun, and lets the group ease into the evening on just the right foot. Looking for something unique? Look no further. Just email Chelsea to get started!

The Wedding Guests

We love nothing more than helping you pick out the perfect case of wine for the bride and groom. Our favorite thing to do is tag each bottle with a fun directive on when to open the bottle (“First Fight,” “First Chinese Food,” “First Anniversary,” “First Baby,” “First Picnic,” etc etc etc). They look amazing when they are wrapped up in a gorgeous wooden box with ribbon and festive paper. We always give this as a wedding present, and let me tell you, we always receive a note saying it was the most favorite gift! 

Moral of this story? Don’t stress about wedding season. Recycle a dress, get ready to boogie, and let UG help you make it all as fun and easy as possible. 

 

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Sweetgreen Salads at Home: Volume One

June 16, 2014 by: The Urban Grape

I am a flag waving member of the Sweetgreen revolution. I love being able to stop in and grab a really healthy, super tasty to-go meal. I appreciate their dedication to local farmers. I love their organic produce. I love that they ask if you want your salad dressed “light, medium, or heavy.” I just don’t love the fact that every time I eat there I think “yeah….I could have made this better myself and not waited in line for half an hour to get it.” 

This was particularly true the other night when TJ and I stopped by after work to get grab some rice bowls. As delicious as they were, the fact that I went and bought the salad when I probably had all the ingredients in my own refrigerator made me feel just a wee bit pathetic. So when I was craving the same salad a few days later, I resisted the urge to stop in, and just made it at home instead. My suspicions were confirmed – using Sweetgreen as your starting point, you can definitely make a better salad at home. Here’s how I did it. 

First, make a big batch of long grain rice. I love me some Lundberg Jubilee rice, so that’s what I used. Beware the package instructions, however, I do not believe that one cup of this rice can be cooked correctly in 1.75 cups of water. You need a full two cups. 

While the rice is simmering away, slice two chicken breasts in half lengthwise and marinate them (choose your favorite, I did my lemon-soaked chicken). Fire up the grill. 

Thinly slice some kale (remove the leaves from the ribs). I used the lacinato kale which I vastly prefer to the curly kale. True story: before Italian parsley was popular my mother cooked with curly-leaf parsley. I could not ingest this herb without gagging, hence its nickname in my family of “the chokey stuff.” To this day I cannot even look at curly-leaf parsley without needing the heimlich and curly kale causes the same sort of reaction. The lacinato kale is so delicious, I’m not sure why the other even exists. 

Cut up some sweet, firm apples. I like fuji or gala. 

Toast some walnuts (or don’t….I’m all for ease in this moment). 

Make your honey-mustard salad dressing: I used 4 T of apple cider vinegar, 8-10 T of olive oil, garlic, 2 big spoonfuls of honey mustard (or you could do honey and mustard, but this seemed easier), salt and pepper. 

Once your rice is done and your chicken is grilled, layer your salad in this order: rice, kale, apples, dried cranberries, walnuts, goat cheese, chicken. Toss with the salad dressing and you’re done. So simple, so delicious, and 100 times fresher and yummier than Sweetgreen. (Full disclosure – in this pic, you see feta, and my chicken was still on the grill)

I’m gunning for all the other Sweetgreen salads. Watch here as I knock them off one by one!

 

 

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Raising a Toast to the Dads

June 13, 2014 by: The Urban Grape

If your dad is anything like mine, then he spends a lot of time doling out advice meant to shepherd you through your life with minimal turbulence. I’m sure you’ve seen me credit my dad with encouraging us to lease the Chestnut Hill space, even though we wanted our first store to be in the city. Without that moment of sage advice, we might never have taken the leap and opened The Urban Grape. That’s what the good dads do – they break the world down into bite size pieces, thereby making you believe there’s no way you can’t succeed in life. 

My dad also instilled in me the love of a good gin & tonic (his is classic style: Sapphire gin and Schweppes tonic, one wedge of lime, served in a red keg cup), and the belief that a good glass of wine can cure a bad day or make a great day even better. If you love to share a beverage with your dad like I do, here are some fun ideas for Father’s Day. 

Make Your Dad a Six-Pack!

I grew up with a fridge full of St Pauli Girl beer, but today’s dads are embracing the craft beer scene with ardent fervor. You could grab a couple of bombers, but why not mix your own Urban Hops six pack for your Pop instead? This way you can grab a few bottles that you know he’ll like, and also a few that you want him to try. Want him to learn even more about the beer scene in Boston? Sign him up for the Urban Hops newsletter, so he can get inspired to try new brews. This is a thoughtful gift, with a little price tag! (Price varies upon selection, but average cost is around $12)

 

Whiskey Discs – $30

Dads love whiskey. We know this to be true. We love Whiskey Discs, the soapstone discs that chill your bourbon, rye, scotch or whiskey without watering it down. They’re made by a father/son team in New England, which adds to the coolness of a gift. Pick out a bottle of whiskey and we’ll package it up for you with some whiskey disks. This is Father’s Day done, and done well.

 

Urban Cellar Consultation 

For $175, you can give your dad a one hour Urban Cellar consultation with TJ. This is one of those gifts that allows you to give something really cool, without having to actually pay for the finished product (you give the consultation, he buys the wine for his cellar). Sneaky and caring all at the same time. Want to know more about our Urban Cellar program? So glad you asked: 

The Urban Grape’s philosophy of using hospitality-driven service to help their customers find the perfect bottle of wine extended to their latest venture, Urban Cellar. Through personalized one-on-one consultations and wine tastings, owner TJ Douglas uses his knowledge of the wine industry to fill his clients’ cellars with everything from approachable every day wine, to birth year vintages, to cases that can age and appreciate for decades to come. 

Filling in wine cellars to his clients’ taste is TJ’s absolute favorite thing to do these days. It’s a fun and unique gift idea that will definitely win you some points with your dad! (Email me, and I’ll help you set this up before Sunday!)

 

2005 Silver Oak Library Edition Six-Pack – $1000

It can be hard to buy something for the dad that has everything. The chances are good that your dad does not have this 2005 Silver Oak Library Edition six-pack. The quality of Silver Oak is undeniable, but these back vintages are extra special because they are so hard to find at retail. This Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon has rich aromas of boysenberry, truffles, sandalwood and allspice. Your dad will love the looooooong finish and this wine’s ability to cellar into the 2030s. If you have a child born in 2005 and want to give your husband some commemorative birth year wine that you can drink with your child on his or her 21st birthday, this is the wine! 

To all the dads who shop with us, and of course to our own dads, we wish you a very Happy Father’s Day. And to my own husband, thank you for putting our children first in everything that you do. You’re an inspiring dad, and we love you so much! 

 

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Boxed Wine: The Next Big Thing??

June 12, 2014 by: The Urban Grape

Let’s talk about boxed wine. You just got the willies, didn’t you? It’s okay, we sort of get them too when we talk about it. It’s not that all boxed wine is bad. It’s just that, well, a lot of it is, especially the boxed wine of years gone by (we’re talking about you Black Box wine!). But since we’ve opened UG we’ve found quite a few boxed wines that we really, really like. So why does it still creep us out? It’s the perception that all boxed wine is the equivalent of Franzia. And when you’re going to a BBQ, you don’t want to grab a boxed wine and have your hostess be all – gee, thanks for the $7 box of plonk wine, buddy. 

Now let’s look at the new generation of boxed wines. To us, this includes wine in tetra paks like the Fuori Strada, and boxed wines like the ones we just picked up from Richer Pour. These boxed wines make sense for a number of reasons that range from their price and quality, to their ease of transport, to their vastly reduced environmental impact. But to get you feeling comfortable with buying them, you first have to believe in the wine itself. 

Last week, TJ tasted the Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Rosé, Cabernet Sauvignon, Garnacha, and Sangiovese from Richer Pour. He was absolutely impressed with the quality of the wines, especially the rosé and the Garnacha. The wines are essentially private labeled for Richer Pour by reputable producers like Hurley Vineyards and Kathy Turner from Merryvale. It’s not leftover juice that is being second labeled. This is an important distinction that allows an extra level of quality and price control. 

TJ also felt great about the packaging, which is important when we’re trying to distinguish this new generation of boxed wine from its predecessors. The Richer Pour wines have good, modern packaging so you won’t feel sheepish about gifting it, or breaking it out for friends. Each box holds four bottles of wine and lasts for 30 days. This makes it great for parties, or even just for sticking in your fridge to have a glass when you feel like it (how nice to pour yourself a glass of rosé at the end of a day, and not feel like you have to open a whole bottle?). 

 

At $25, the cost is more then boxed wine like Franzia ($7), but it’s completely reasonable for four bottles of great quality wine. Richer Pour is able to keep their prices down by private labeling the wine, and by using less expensive packaging materials. We thought this was a really good price point for the volume and quality. 

This weekend is the Pride Parade and Father’s Day, and the weather looks gorgeous for beaching it, going on a picnic, or getting together with friends on your deck. These are all perfect opportunities to grab a wine in a tetra pak, or if it’s a group of you, try the Richer Pour boxed wine. We think you’ll be pleased with the entire experience, and definitely want your feedback about the wine itself. 

Richer Pour is a local company, so look for Boston’s very own Brandy Rand to be in the UGs soon doing some free tastings of the wines. Richer Pour wines are also on tap at restaurants all over the city, so you can always try them there first, and then head to UG to grab a box for your home. You can find them at Stella, Towne, Blue Dragon, Sonsie, Picco, Via Matta, and many other restaurants too!

 

 

 

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Yes. The Whiskey Shortage is Real. Here’s How to Survive.

June 11, 2014 by: The Urban Grape

This past May, BostInno wrote a piece called “The US is on the Brink of a Whiskey Crisis.” Esquire Magazine has also reported on this shortage. Lest you think they are being dramatic for the sake of a headline, we are seeing the same exact thing at our stores. The whiskey shortage is a very real phenomenon. 

The whiskey that we are drinking today was made years ago, and often even a decade or two ago, when the demand for whiskey was much less. Artisan distillers that have always made modest amounts of their product are now overwhelmed by the orders and simply can’t keep up. The distributors can’t fill their warehouses with product, and that means that when we order our favorite American producers, the orders constantly backorder. Like grape vines planted in rocky soil, we are reaching deeper and wider, trying to find product, but even when we find new producers that we like, we quickly run through the available stock. This isn’t just happening at The Urban Grape. This is happening everywhere. 

There’s one other facet to this problem that BostInno and Esquire didn’t explore. That’s the desire by some producers to hold back their product in an active attempt to make it scarce. Why would they do this? They want to be the next Pappy. This is a tricky game to play, because yesterday’s novelty could be tomorrow’s flash in the pan, but they’re going for it and time will tell if they succeed in driving up the demand, and price, for their product. In general, we’ve cooled on the brands that we know are doing this. 

The real question is how can you get your hands on whiskey if you’re a true fanatic? First and foremost, expand your horizons. There are great whiskeys being made locally by Ryan & Wood, Bully Boy, and Berkshire Distillers that are good quality and have some depth in their reserves. If you’re stuck on Michters 10 (like my poor husband is), you’re going to be stuck without whiskey for a while. 

Next, let us know that you are on the lookout for cool, interesting whiskeys when they come in. We often get limited bottles and they rarely see the shelves. If you want to get the call about these bottles, you’ve got to let us know

Third, check in with is. The squeaky wheel gets the whiskey. Isn’t that how the saying goes? 

Lastly, be ready to buy. If you see a bottle that you’ve been wanting, grab it. It doesn’t mean you need to open it that night. You can tuck it away and save it if you want. But for the time being, if you want a full roster on your bar cart, you’ve got to build up your farm team. Am I basically saying you should prepare for the whiskey apocalypse? Kinda. 

In the meantime, there are lots of other cool spirits to explore. A lot of whiskey drinkers like aged tequilas and mezcal. If you’re looking to broaden your horizons, stop in and let us make a few recommendations. We will get through the whiskey crisis hand in hand! 

*Join us at UGSE tonight from 6-8 for to sample Berkley Brewing Company’s barrel-aged Triple – a beer that was aged in Ryan & Wood whiskey barrels! Ryan & Wood will also be on hand sampling their whiskey. This is a great chance to buy a unique and locally produced gift for Father’s Day! 

 

 

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DIY: Rosé Seminar!

June 3, 2014 by: The Urban Grape

TJ and I taught a fun rosé class at Farm & Fable last night, complete with lots of wine and eager students. Because seats were limited, we know a lot of people that wanted to attend were not able to. 

Here is the line-up of wines we tasted. Our suggestions is to gather a group of friends together and sample these wines one weekend afternoon. Just by tasting them side by side (and in this specific order), you’ll learn so much about the progressive world of rosé! 

2013 La Spinetta Rosé di Casanova (Tuscany, IT)

2013 Aix Rosé (Provence, FR)

2013 Copain Rosé (Anderson Valley, CA)

2013 Txomin Etxaniz Rosé (Getariako Txakolina, SP)

2013 Villa Gemma “Cerasuolo” Rosé (Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, IT)

2013 Pedroncelli Rosé (Sonoma, CA)

 

 

 

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Nikki Chickie, with a Food 52 Twist

May 29, 2014 by: The Urban Grape

I am not a recipe developer. I am a recipe cooker. The best I can ever do is take a few ideas and mush them up into a new dish. That’s my idea of recipe development, and at this point I don’t think I’ll advance much past this stage of cooking. But occasionally I get inspired, and very good things come of it. This new dish is one of those moments. 

We have a dish we call Nikki Chickie, named after my sister-in-law. It’s just breaded cutlets, the same ones I’ve been making for years and in actuality my recipe is totally different from hers. But last summer she made a batch of her cutlets for all our kids, called them Nikki Chickie, and now the kids demand them once a week. The power of marketing, I tell you. I serve them plain for the boys, and usually do them milanese style for myself and TJ. Voila, an easy, delicious dinner that makes everyone happy – my idea of a success. 

A friend sent us a Blue Apron box a few months ago and one of the meals had roasted fennel as a side dish. I’ve been itching to make it again ever since, but I wanted to amp it up a little bit. A trip to google and a keyword search of “roasted fennel grapes” brought me to a delicious recipe from Food 52. My recipe inspiration was born. 

We served this dinner al fresco with the Copain rosé of Pinot Noir. We chose it because it’s one of those rosés that really tastes like a very light red wine, and has true Pinot Noir characteristics. I highly recommend the pairing, but this is one of those meals that could have handled a white or a red as well. Other bottles to try would be the Francois Chidine “Les Tusseaux,” a 100% Chenin Blanc from Montlouis sue Loire or the Fausse Piste Pinot Noir from Willamette Valley in Oregon. I love a versatile wine pairing dish. 

Here’s how to make the magic happen at home: 

- Start prepping the Food 52 fennel and grape recipe. Once that gets in your oven, start in on your cutlets. 

- Cutlets are like your nonna’s gravy – everyone has their own version. For mine, I cut the chicken breasts in half (or buy cutlets) because I am too lazy to add in the step of pounding them out. Season them with salt and pepper. Dredge them in flour (I use gluten free), eggs beaten with a little water, and breadcrumbs (I use Ian’s gluten free). To the breadcrumbs I add LOTS of parm, oregano, and basil. Some people use mustard instead of the eggs, and that always tastes great as well.

- Working in your biggest frying pan (cast iron if you’ve got it), heat oil until it’s sizzling and ready to go. I used coconut oil for this recipe and thought it added some nice tropical notes to the dish as a whole. Usually I just use olive oil which I realize is probably poisoning me when heated to that level, but I can only do so much in a day, people! I cook it longer on the first side then on the second because it always takes the first side longer to get nice and brown. Getting it perfectly crispy and brown just takes patience and practice.

- While all that is happening, tear up some nice bibb lettuce – not the stuff from a package, a real head of lettuce!!! Drizzle it with a simple dressing made of olive oil and lemon, S&P. I like it super lemony, as you know, so I do a 1:1 ratio. 

- On your plate, make a bed of the lettuce, place a cutlet on top, and then pile the finished fennel on top of the cutlet. Sprinkle the whole thing with parm, and sit back while your husband tells you you’re freaking amazing. Cuz that’s what mine did. Hooray! 

- The kids got cutlets and grapes on their plate, technically the same dinner. Hooray again! 

Let me know if you make any tweaks so I can try them next time I make this (probably this weekend…). And, don’t forget that Terry Theise will be taking us on a Eurotrip of Austria and Hungary at UGSE this Saturday from 2-5. We have some amazing wines to sample, and Terry will be sharing his thoughts on the region. It’s going to be fantastic, so be sure to stop by! 

 

 

 

 

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Understanding the Solera Process

May 28, 2014 by: The Urban Grape

File this under “learn something new every day.” While I am sure TJ knew about the Solera process, it sure was news to me. Thank goodness Stefan chose it for his blog topic! 

 

The Solera process is a method of ageing wine, spirits and vinegar by what is often termed fractional blending. Sherry is the most common product using this method, but some ports, madeira, marsala, whiskey, champagne and balsamic vinegar also use the method.

Soleras represent a significant investment in barrels, housing, time and work. To start with, the winemaker has to choose how many years he wants to blend, and the fraction of each barrel he wants to bottle each year. The number of barrels needed are exponential to those choices.

To demonstrate this, let’s start an imaginary 4 year solera, with ⅓ bottled each year (the highest amount allowed in Spain for sherry) and 4 barrels per layer. The first year, the winemaker takes 16 barrels and fills them all with his current crop. He arranges them in layers, 4 on the bottom, then three more layers. After aging for a year, the lowest 4 barrels are drained of about ⅓ of their content and this is thrown away. The layer above them are drained the same way, but this is blended into the lowest level barrels. The second level is used to replenish the third and the first the second. Then fresh wine is added to the first level. This is done four years in a row, and on the fourth year the fraction extracted from the lowest 4 barrels is finally bottled. The first bottling year, the age of the wine is all the same, 4 years. 20 years after the first bottling the age ranges from 4 to 20 years, with the average around 7 years. Each year, we are bottling one and ⅓ of a barrel.

This simplification overlooks the amount that simply evaporates (sherry soleras get their name from being partially exposed to the sun) or goes bad somewhere on the way. Some sherrys are put through two, or even three consecutive solera groups, essentially to make the end product more uniform.

Now imagine the work and investment involved in the El Maestro Sierra Medium Sherry (one of my faves). It is made from a 15 year long Solera process Oloroso (rather dry) sherry and 15 year PX (very sweet), blended together and then sent through 4 more years of Solera. That means a small portion of this sherry is likely much older than I am and as a whole it has been through multiple hundreds of barrels. That is true value and history.

 

 

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