When Japan hosted its first Summer Olympic Games in 1964, saké was served freely on opening day as part of a festive ceremony known as kagami biraki. This ancient tradition, which dates to the 17th century, is an integral part of Japanese culture, taking place at celebrations throughout the year.
Japan has since played host to two Winter Olympics—1972 in Sapporo and 1998 in Nagano, where saké and shochu were the drinks of choice—but it will make history this year as the only Asian nation to host a second Summer Games. Because Americans won’t be able to attend in person, they’ll be seeking ways to experience the tournament from afar—and, surely, raising their own toasts to the occasion.
In fact, they already are. According to a market research report from Kalsec, a leading producer of natural spice and herb flavor extracts, pandemic travel restrictions are fueling dining and drinking trends that emphasize cultural authenticity.
Interest in Japanese cuisine in particular is growing; take, for example, the newfound popularity of “sandos,” or katsu sandwiches, and sudachi, a Japanese citrus fruit from Tokushima Prefecture that’s being touted as the new yuzu.
As these foods grow in recognition, saké and shochu are also gaining traction in the U.S. market—and for consumers who are increasingly drawn to the stories behind the products they purchase, iichiko, Japan’s most popular shochu brand, has what they’re looking for in spades.
The Spirit of Umami
While saké is a fixture at all of life’s important moments in Japan, the similarly lengthy history and traditions of shochu have made it the nation’s distilled spirit of choice—and iichiko its most notable producer.
With a name that translates as “it’s good,” iichiko conveys a level of complexity that few white spirits can rival thanks to its barley base and koji backbone. It’s distilled on the island of Kyushu in O¯ita Prefecture, but because the area lacks the cold winters that were once so essential to fermentation, shochu became the key alcoholic beverage, as warmer weather wasn’t a factor in the distillation process.
That said, the two-row barley used to produce iichiko is treated very similarly to saké rice in that it’s polished, steeped, and steamed in soft, iron-free water, preparing it for the addition of barley koji. The koji initiates the fermentation process, releasing the rich flavor of the grain and creating citric acid, which protects the shochu from bacteria that causes spoilage.
To produce its two expressions, iichiko uses a mix of low- and high-pressure distillation techniques at different temperatures, resulting in raw shochus with different characteristics. These are then blended to create Silhouette—which, at 25% ABV, offers notes of melon, grapefruit, and herbs with a smooth, elegant flavor profile and nutty finish—and Saiten, a 43% ABV shochu that shows aromas of honeydew melon, white grape, pickled watermelon rind, Kabosu citrus, and umami notes of soy and barley as well as flavors of jasmine tea, white peach, minerals, and earth.
Saiten was developed specifically for mixology, while Silhouette is frequently mixed with oolong or matcha tea, showcased in a classic Highball with soda or fruit juice, or served on the rocks. Together, they reinforce shochu’s undeniable versatility.
As an ambassador of Japanese culture, iichiko has a unique story to tell. From its heritage grains and traditional production methods to its affinity for pairing with umami-rich foods, iichiko is a metaphor for Japan itself: a place where the enduring past sets the stage for the future.
The discovery of more naturally-occurring compounds found both in soil and in wine prompts winegrowers to abandon their geologic metaphor and take credit for winemaking choices that reflect their terroir.
In addition to water and alcohol, wine is composed of fewer than 4% of minor components, many of which are only present in miniscule amounts. The dozen or so minerals that are present as nutrient elements—typically metallic cations (positively charged ions)—such as potassium, phosphorus, and calcium are only distantly related to geological minerals found in vineyards, which are complex crystalline compounds.
Although there is no single term for the source of mineral expression in wine, one thing wine professionals and consumers do agree upon is the use of certain words to describe such characteristics.
Careful study of the lexeme for the word “mineral” has produced a list of relevant descriptors, including: flint, matchstick, smoke, kerosene, petrol, rubber eraser, slate, granite, limestone, earthy, tar, charcoal, graphite, rock dust, wet stones, salty, metallic, steely, and ferrous.
One of the most romantic yet misguided geologic metaphors employed by winemakers attributes mineral expression to the soil vines grow in. For example, flint and pebbles contain polysulfides and, more specifically, hydrogen disulfane, compounds that give them odors of flint, gunpowder, and matchstick.
Despite the widespread use of the term “flinty” to describe them, the odors of these sulfanes had previously never been studied in the context of food products—largely because the sulfanes are highly volatile and unstable, making them challenging to work with—until researchers who were studying toilet malodors realized they were on to something.
Flint is formed from sediments rich in hydrogen compounds as a result of the bacterial reduction of sulfates in an anaerobic environment. When it’s scraped or struck against another rock, the presence of iron from clay minerals releases those compounds as iron sulfides and other sulfur forms.
This is the source of the easily detectable gunflint odor that the winegrowers of Sancerre metaphorically assign to the aromas found in the wine that comes from the area’s silex soils. Flinty aromas in Sauvignon Blanc are attributed to benzene methanethiol (or reduction), but hydrogen disulfane can also play a role.
The abovementioned researchers confirmed the presence of hydrogen disulfane in two dry white Chasselas wines that were described by wine professionals as the most mineral from among 80 samples.
When tested, in addition to containing this polysulfide, these wines were found to have higher concentrations of malic and lactic acid. While hydrogen sulfide is present to some degree in all wines, the compound hydrogen disulfane is more abundant in wines defined as mineral.
Given its presence in both them and the soils they hailed from, the intrepid winegrowers of Sancerre can now revise their metaphor and take credit for winemaking choices that reflect their terroir
Bringing together like-minded stakeholders for its second global conference addressing sustainability, Sustainable Wine UK will host the Future of Wine Americas Conference, 1 – 3 June. This no-cost, online conference will connect peers for information sharing, debate and best practices aimed at tackling pressing topics such as water conservation, the benefits of organic versus low-intervention wine, sustainable management of pest and disease outbreaks, and the role of social fairness in the green movement.
Sustainability is a vast and complex topic that many winegrowers and winemakers need help navigating. “That cannot be done in isolation, as we must confront myriad issues to reach sustainability objectives,” said Toby Webb, co-founder of Sustainable Wine. “With the COP26 negotiations coming up in November and the USA coming back in to the Paris Agreement, it’s clear policymakers, consumers and the wine industry itself want to tackle climate change,” he noted.
With its comprehensive approach to the three components of sustainability (people, planet, profit) and insightful looks at real issues affecting the wine industry, the Future of Wine Americas Conference mirrors the priorities of the growing Slow Wine USA movement. And indeed, a significant contingent of Slow Wine guide participating wineries are among the 60 speakers Webb has brought together for the one-day workshop and two-day conference.
Matthiasson Wines plans to have two staff speak at the virtual conference. “Our winery was founded on the same principles as Slow Food and Slow Wine, including getting back to the basics of growing great food sustainably,” said Owner and Winemaker Steve Matthiasson. The vineyard is certified organic and uses regenerative practices, including no-till agriculture, cover crops and compost to build soil health, and raising several crops to increase biodiversity.
In a session on polyculture, Vineyard Manager Caleb Mosley plans to discuss how the vineyard’s fruit trees attract beneficial animals and insects and supply the raw material for jams that are made available to wine club members, farmers market shoppers and local restaurants.
Matthiasson will touch on the hot topic of labor and how the company is able to keep its 15 employees year-round. He sees such tremendous benefit from this that he can’t imagine running his business any other way. “We have a reciprocal relationship—we take good care of them and they take good care of the vines,” he said. “That’s one of the things that makes our work really fun, is that we’re finding that we can take good care of our people and take care of the land and make really good wine.”
Sustainability is a complex topic, and there isn’t a “one size fits all” approach. At the Future of Wine Americas Conference, Laura Diaz Munoz with Ehlers Estate will participate on a panel to discuss where organic practices are the most impactful: in the vineyard or in the cellar. “It depends on the size of the winery and how impactful the winemaking practices in the cellar are,” she emphasized. Her winery is relatively small, and she’s found that her biggest impact comes from activities such as minimizing water usage in the cellar and making packaging more lightweight so that shippers don’t need to use as much fuel to deliver it.
Some of this is also place-based; since she lives in drought-stricken California, limiting water use is essential, both from an ecological and cost perspective. And that other aspect of sustainability—the need for economic sustainability—isn’t lost on her. “At the end of the day, our business needs to be sustainable in that regard,” she said. The greenest business can’t have any impact on the planet if it ceases to exist.
Peter Work with Ampelos Cellars will speak on the leadership panel and share his many years of experience with sustainable farming practices. He has worked to develop a comprehensive set of best practices that looks at all aspects of farming. “It’s not just soil and plant focused, but it also including other key areas like energy, employees, water, social equity and financial sustainability,” he said. “It is an all-encompassing way to approach farming where the grape grower can use these best-practices in an ongoing way to improve the operation.”
Work will emphasize that while winegrowers need to implement and improve their own sustainable practices, they also have an important role in educating everyone in the supply chain about the importance of sustainable farming. “We need to make sure that this is understood by the winemakers, distributers, sommeliers and wine buyers, media and especially the end consumers,” he said. “We need to not just create awareness around our practices but to create a demand from the consumer and trade side.”
Beth Novak Milliken, president and CEO of Spottswoode Vineyard and a long-time leader in the sustainability movement, will also speak during the leadership panel. She hopes the winery’s many sustainable practices will serve as an inspiration for others. In addition to being certified organic and biodynamic, the brand is pursing zero waste certification. It is powered by solar energy and contributes generously to nonprofits such as 1% for the Planet, the CarbonFree Fund and the Lane Trust of Napa County.
“Not only are we deep environmentalists, but the reality is that our ability to continue to grow grapes of the very highest quality (and) produce exceptional wines relies upon a relatively stable climate—which we do not now have,” she said. “And so we must act now. We must all care and work collectively as people, as a nation and as a global community.”
Slow Wine USA’s Senior Editor Pamela Strayer will lend her expertise to a panel titled “How can retailers turn sustainability into an opportunity for the wine industry in the Americas?” while National Editor Deborah Parker Wong will moderate panels addressing social fairness and migrant labor issues. Also participating are Diana Seysses of Domaine Dujac and Snowden Vineyards, David Gates of Ridge Vineyards, Neil Collins from Tablas Creek and John Williams from Frog’s Leap Winery all of which are listed in the 2021 Slow Wine Guide USA.
The legacy of the man who made Insignia, the iconic Bordeaux-style red blend created in 1974 that propelled Joseph Phelps to fame, is defined by Pinot Noir.
Walter Schug departed this world in 2015 but his passion for Pinot Noir lives on at Schug Carneros Estate which is celebrating 41 years of devotion to the variety. Axel and Claudia Schug, third generation winegrowers, were joined by chef Kristine Schug and winemaker Johannes Scheid as they presented a retrospective tasting that spanned the past, present and future of the Carneros estate winery.
The tasting began with the wine that started it all, the Schug Cellars 1980 Heinemann Vineyard Pinot Noir, Napa Valley, which was the first wine made by Walter Schug for his own label.
Schug had Pinot Noir in his blood. He grew up in the family winery – Staatsweingut Assmannshausen – founded by his father, a Spatburgunder specialist who was surrounded by Riesling in the heart of Germany’s Mosel region.
The inaugural Schug vintage was described by Jonathan Cristaldi, editor ar large for SOMM Journal, as “…lively and energetic, showing no signs of slowing down. Packed with brown spices, earth, and black truffle notes it is a marvel at 41 years old.” He went on to characterize the following wines, “The ‘83 Heinemann vineyard was surprisingly robust and tannic, the ‘86 literally opulent and the ‘92 Cab a throwback to those California yesteryear reds that make us fall in love all over again with that unmistakable California “style” which may or may not be lost for good.”
The complete list of wines tasted included:
2020 Rose of Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast
2017 Rouge de Noirs Brut, Pinot Noir Sparkling Wine, Carneros – fragrant with raspberries and crisp acidity.
For the first time the Slow Wine Guide USA 2021 edition is available in print. As the only US guide that lists eco-friendly wineries, myself and the 20 coordinators who help write the guide can only continue this work with your support. The purchase of even one guide will make that possible. It’s really easy to buy from us directly:
Slow Wine debuts its first stand-alone guide which has been expanded to cover the wineries and wines from the United States’ major wine growing regions of California, Oregon and Washington and New York states.
As the only U.S. wine guide that includes eco-friendly criteria for inclusion, the 2021 edition profiles 285 producers and more than 850 wines all of which celebrate and demonstrate the Slow Food ethos of “good, clean and fair” that forms the foundation of our work.
Now in its fourth year of publication, producers from Washington and New York states are making their debut in the 2021 edition alongside producers from California and Oregon who made participating in the guide a priority during this unprecedented year. Although the coveted Snail award was withheld in 2021, Slow Wine has recognized wines with exemplary sensory qualities as “Top” wines.
Slow Wine Editor-in-chief Giancarlo Gariglio and Fabio Giavedoni, founding partner, decided to expand the guide to include the states of New York and Washington, which was an ambitious goal, even before the pandemic impacted daily life and wine sales.
Our immensely talented team of field coordinators across four states were quick to put their writing skills to work and conduct virtual winery visits in place of the in-person visits which are one of the many things that make the Slow Wine guide so unique. Interested in seeing those videos? You can watch and listen to some of the visits by scanning the QR code of an entry which will take you to the Slow Wine YouTube channel video for that producer.
The guide continues to grow through the efforts of our field coordinators including Senior Editor Pamela Strayer whose subject matter expertise in conventional, organic and biodynamic winegrowing has been a guiding light for several years. We have also welcomed several new coordinators to our editorial family including Catherine Fallis, MS who reviewed wineries in California and Oregon, Eric Degerman who wrote our first exploratory entries for Washington state, and the dynamic duo of Courtney Schiessl and Katherine Wilcox who have contributed the first entries for New York state.
I’d like to acknowledge and extend heartfelt thanks to the Italian Slow Wine editorial team led by Jonathan Gebser for their editorial guidance and expert production of the digital and print editions of the guide.
Exciting initiatives lie ahead for the Slow Wine guide USA in 2021. We will be working closely with wineries in all four states to speed the adoption of the newly-introduced Slow Food Manifesto for good, clean and fair wine, a ten-point pledge that establishes a code of practice beyond the vineyard and winery to the community at large.
What Argentina’s savvy winemakers have known for many decades—that certain vineyards reliably produce superlative wines despite vintage variations—is now scientific fact.
Researchers at the Catena Institute of Wine in Mendoza used a combination of chemometric data and sensory analysis to group a selection of Malbec wines into distinctive regions and identify the specific vineyard site, or parcela, they hailed from with a high degree of certainty.
The study, which is the first of its kind, took its cue from smaller-scale research done in Burgundy and Valpolicella. But it went a step further in analyzing the phenolic profiles of renowned Malbec wines from 23 parcels distributed across 12 geographic indications in the Uco Valley and Luján de Cuyo—located at the foothills of the Andes Mountains at elevations of 900–1,600 meters—that were made under the same winemaking conditions over a period of three vintages: 2016, 2017, and 2018.
By using chemical data and statistical tools to avoid the vintage effect, researchers were able to clearly separate the wines by location and identify distinct terroir signatures—something that wouldn’t be possible using the sensory data alone.
Not only did they predict the vintage of each wine, 48% of the parcelas studied could be identified by chemical analysis with 100% certainty and the remaining 52% could be identified with up to 83% certainty.
To reach their conclusions, the researchers developed fingerprints by matching the individual subregions and parcelas with 27 phenolic compounds in the wines, which included a dozen red pigments, yellow co-pigments, seed tannins, wood tannins, several antioxidants including resveratrol, and different floral aroma compounds.
The most interesting results were observed in the Uco Valley and the high-elevation subregion of Gualtallary in Tupungato, where the parcelas analyzed produced higher concentrations of key anthocyanins and seed tannin.
About 50% of the parcelas in the study belong to Bodega Catena Zapata and the remainder to its contract growers. “Winemakers around the world can tell you that there are differences in their terroirs,” says Dr. Laura Catena, managing director of the family estate, who founded the Catena Institute in 1995 to advance wine quality in Argentina.
Catena Zapata was the first winery to plant in Gualtallary in 1992; its high-altitude Adrianna vineyard sits at 1,450 meters, which is the limit for ripening Malbec. By 2002, Adrianna was the source of its finest fruit, and the winery now has 100 hectares under vine in the subregion.
“Adrianna is Winkler Zone I and sometimes Zone II,” says Catena, “but with more sunlight hours and a longer growing season, we can ripen Malbec.” Pointing out that the study is a culmination of 20 years of research largely inspired by winemaking director Alejandro Vigil, who came to Catena in 2007 as a soil scientist, she adds, “Until now, we really didn’t know if Malbec could transmit terroir to this degree.”
A NEW LAW HELPS PROTECT BIODIVERSITY IN THE FRENCH COUNTRYSIDE
An infamous rooster named Maurice and a gaggle of contented geese have helped ensure biodiversity in France. In the face of complaints about the noises and smells typical of the countryside, the French Parliament passed a law on January 21, 2021, protecting what it calls the “sensory heritage” of its rural areas.
While the primary intention of the ruling is to help local officials tasked with mediating disputes between vacationers and local residents (more on that later), it introduces sounds and smells into the French environmental code as recognized characteristics of natural spaces. In doing so, it’s able to protect them the same way it does the land, the quality of the air, and the biodiversity of plant and animal species.
French Minister for Rural Affairs Joël Giraud celebrated the adoption of the law, which he said aims to “define and protect the sensory heritage of the French countryside”— be that in reference to livestock manure, church bells, the raucous buzz of cicadas, or the growl of diesel tractors.
As residents of the nation where the loosely defined concept of terroir originated, winegrowers in France are increasingly choosing to promote biodiversity in their vineyards. Over the last two decades a plethora of national and regional certification programs—all of which prioritize biodiversity among their initiatives—have been introduced and are being widely adopted. As such, the new ruling represents an unexpected win for them as well.
That includes producers on the small island of Oléron off the Atlantic coast of western France. There, vineyards surround the village of Saint-Pierre-d’Oléron, where Maurice was put on trial in 2019 for disturbing the peace. The rooster has come to symbolize the growing polarization between rural and urban France, and the pandemic has only fueled tensions as city dwellers seek refuge in the countryside during prolonged lockdowns.
Winegrowers in Oléron and the surrounding department of Charente- Maritime produce Cognac, Pineau, and dry wines from Ugni Blanc, Folle Blanche, Colombard, Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc, and Montils as well as Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot.
Their websites promote enotourism and the rich biodiversity of their estates. Tourism is the region’s largest industry; vacationers flock to the Atlantic coast to enjoy the beaches and the local seafood, including the highly prized oysters cultivated in Marennes-Oléron, which account for 45 percent of the nation’s oyster production.
Cited by Christophe Sueur, mayor of Saint-Pierre-d’Oléron, as “common sense,” the sensory heritage ruling is not without its caveats. It also entrusts regional heritage inventory services formed to implement the requirements of the 2003 UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage—in this case the L’Inventaire Général du Patrimoine Culturel for Poitou-Charentes—with the task of identifying and qualifying the cultural identity of rural areas, including their sounds and olfactory elements, to help protect them through heritage professional training programs, funding, public-education initiatives, and the like.
The French government has been given a six month-deadline to present the court with a definition of “abnormal neighborhood disturbances” that may include environmental factors; local elected officials will then be able to use these guidelines to resolve neighborhood conflicts while preserving the terroir.
From the host of functional beverages marketed toward the wellness minded consumer, none are so closely associated with relaxation as spa water. Some believe that the word “spa” is an acronym for “salude per aqua,” a phrase meaning “health or healing through water” that was found on the marble walls of Roman baths known as thermae (though it’s unlikely that the Romans flavored their drinking water with slices of cucumber and citrus or fresh herbs like mint or lavender, as modern-day spas are known to do).
Thanks to those increasingly looking for ways to incorporate healthy choices into their lifestyle, sparkling water is one of the fastest-growing segments of the beverage market, and functionality continues to be a major trend within it. Sparkling waters containing water-soluble, broad-spectrum cannabidiol (CBD) represent the newest sector of a category that encompasses everything from sports and energy drinks to ready-to-drink teas, plant milks, and neurotrophic “smart” drinks.
As companies experiment with new ways to improve water’s hydrating ability while incorporating additional health benefits, they’ve embraced the use of CBD derived from hemp. Its biphasic properties are similar to those of alcohol in that small doses are uplifting, while larger doses suppress mood and energy.
Water-soluble CBD has significant advantages over oils and extracts, as it ensures more accurate dosing. Of the three CBD-enhanced functional waters I evaluated for flavor, all of which source their water-soluble CBD emulsions from Seattle, Washington–based manufacturer SoRSE Technology, Aprch Mint + Cucumber with 30 milligrams of broad-spectrum hemp extract (10 milligrams of active CBD) could well be the standard for functional spa water.
It’s lightly sparkling, with a refreshing and pronounced cucumber flavor that’s subtly laced with mint. With zero calories and zero sugar, it also includes L-theanine (amino acid), vitamin C, and organic, natural flavors. A four-pack of 12-ounce cans sells for $13.
Flavorists at SoRSE have succeeded in using botanicals to mask CBD’s trademark bitterness in the current generation of functional beverages containing broad-spectrum CBD. “Our approach has been to mirror the active ingredients in broad-spectrum CBD with botanical flavors that work,” says expert flavorist Donna Wamsley, SoRSE’s director of research and analytics.
Kleer Water, a Woodinville, Washington-based manufacturer, has a botanical gin–inspired Cucumber Lime sparkling water with 25 milligrams of SoRSE broad-spectrum CBD, 15 calories, and no sugar. Brimming with floral, terpenic aromas of fresh herbs like tarragon and cilantro, it offers a veritable farmers market of flavor and a slight bitterness on the finish. Kleer also offers Passion Orange Guava and Berry Blast flavors at $55 for a dozen 12-ounce cans.
Finally, Santa Monica, California-based beverage company Mad Tasty is the maker of Unicorn Tears, a sparkling water with zero sugar and 5 calories per 12-ounce serving; its ingredient list consists of purified water, 20 milligrams of CBD (labeled as hemp extract), natural flavors of passion fruit and citrus, and citric acid.
“We consider the flavor profile of Unicorn Tears to be the baseline for what consumers like,” says Wamsley, noting its Sauvignon Blanc–like profile and almost IPA-like finish. In addition to Unicorn Tears, Mad Tasty also makes Grapefruit and Watermelon Kiwi expressions for $60 per six-pack.
SoRSE’s success in developing emulsions and flavor profiles that make it convenient for manufacturers to incorporate broad-spectrum CBD into their products is paving the way for more functional foods across a variety of categories. Specifically, says Michelle Sundquist, the company’s director of product management and development, “We see more opportunity in non-alcoholic beverages, confectionery, oral care, and the health and beauty categories.”
The sequence of 400 or so genes that control human olfaction is considered by geneticists to be unusually diverse among animal species. Until recently, researchers thought that any deviations resulting from that diversity led to a reduction in perception, but the results of a new sensory study have revealed otherwise.
Researchers from biopharmaceutical company deCODE Genetics conducted a two-year study on the olfactory genes of almost 12,000 people in Iceland—the largest of its kind. Based on the Sniffin’ Sticks test they administered, which involved identifying everyday smells, they found that genetic diversity does allow for enhanced olfactory ability—specifically increased odor perception and identification.
Participants in the study smelled six odors, five of which are commonly associated with wine: licorice, cinnamon, lemon, peppermint, and banana. They were asked to name what they smelled and to rate the intensity and pleasantness of the odors; overall, peppermint was the odorant most often correctly identified, indicating that it was the strongest odor with the lowest threshold. Crucially, the study found gene variations in participants associated with the perception of licorice, cinnamon, and fish.
People with an increased sensitivity to trans-anethole—a compound found in black-licorice products as well as botanicals such as anise seed, star anise, and fennel—carry a gene that makes licorice odors more intense, more pleasant, and easier to name accurately. (Other studies have found this predisposition to be much more common in East Asians than it is in Europeans.) The genetic variation for cinnamon, meanwhile, influences the perception of trans-cinnamaldehyde, the major ingredient in both Chinese and Ceylon cinnamon.
Tasters with that predisposition find cinnamon more intense and have lower identification thresholds, meaning they can name the odor more accurately. Fish was the sixth odor that subjects were asked to smell but the compounds responsible for salty or shellfish aromas and flavors in wine—umami, salinity, minerality, and oyster shell—can hardly be described as fishy.
For many people, however, the smell of fish can be powerful and unpleasant. Iceland’s national dish of fermented shark, known as kæstur hákar, is considered to be one of the most offensive-smelling foods consumed by humans; its fishy, blue cheese–like flavor has an ammonia-rich aftertaste that can only be described as that of urine.
This pungency is largely due to the presence of trimethylamine, a bacterial metabolite also found in animal and human secretions including semen. The synthetic version used in the study was a molecular compound of trimethylamine with the addition of small amounts of two volatile sulfur compounds. Participants who could not recognize or accurately identify it as kæstur hákar have a gene variant that results in a neutral or pleasing perception of what they may describe as rose, potato, ketchup, or caramel.
It’s safe to say that these individuals would not be able to detect high levels of volatile acidity in wine. Researchers noted that the inability to detect trimethylamine varies by population, occurring in 2.2% of Icelanders, 1.7% of Swedes, 0.8% of Southern Europeans, and 0.2% of Africans. This sheds light on one of the many reasons why fermented shark is well tolerated by many Icelanders. The enhanced perception of cinnamon and licorice also varies by population, leading researchers to believe that the human sense of smell may still be undergoing natural selection.
Written by Guest Contributor Laurie Love, WSET Level 3, FWS
Best known as an easy-drinking sparkling wine that’s also easy on the wallet, Cava and the expanding Spanish sparkling wine category are undergoing a transition that aims to improve both the quality and the image of this largely underrated wine.
The Cava wine category is evolving from its origins as a Denominación de Origen (DO) to the inception of five sparkling wine designations that are in use today: Conca del Riu Anoia, Clàssic Penedès, Corpinnat, Cava de Paraje Calificado, and Espumoso de Calidad de Rioja. These designations seek to improve the overall quality and global image of Spanish sparkling wine by focusing more on terroir and establishing higher standards—for aging, for production, for winegrowing, and more—than the original Cava DO traditionally has.
Original Cava DO (1986)
Cava was established as an official DO in 1986, shortly after Spain joined the European Union. Prior to that, sparkling wine made in Spain was simply called Cava, which means “cave” or “cellar.” The term refers to the traditional method of sparkling wine production used by Cava where secondary fermentation happens in the bottle while it rests in the production cellar or cave. This is the same method used in Champagne. The first traditional method sparkling wine made Spain was crafted in 1872 by Josep Raventós of the Cordoníu family in Catalonia after he had spent some time in the Champagne region of France. Raventós is considered the founder of the Cava industry .
Cava DO wines must be made in the traditional method with a minimum of 9 months on the lees (basic Cava), 15 months on lees (Reserva, 18 months beginning with 2021 harvest), and 30 months (Gran Reserva). Sweetness levels are the same as for champagne; however, Gran Reserva may only be Brut or drier. Authorized grapes include both indigenous (Xarel-lo, Macabeu, and Parellada) and international varieties (Pinot Noir and Chardonnay). The heart of Cava production is the Penedès region of Catalonia. However, Cava grapes can be from any of eight non-contiguous Cava growing regions throughout Spain (including Catalonia), and producers are allowed to buy base wines from other regions.
It is precisely this laxity of sourcing that prompted several quality-focused Cava producers to question the DO’s commitment to terroir specificity and geographic indication of origin. From that arose five new Spanish sparkling wine designations in use today: Conca del Riu Anoia, Clàssic Penedès, Corpinnat, Cava de Paraje Calificado, and Espumoso de Calidad de Rioja.
Conca del Riu Anoia (2012)
A new generation of Raventós, Pepe Raventós of Raventós i Blanc, broke away from the Cava DO in 2012 and established Conca del Riu Anoia (Anoia River Basin) as a potentially separate DO. Pepe felt that Cava DO had become too volume-oriented without focus on geographic origin and terroir. Among other things, Conca del Riu Anoia defines a small geographic area in the Penedès region between the Anoia and Foix rivers. It stipulates grapes must be indigenous, can only come from vineyards that are organically farmed, and are minimum 10 years old with set yields, and wines must age on the lees for 18 months minimum. So far, Raventós i Blanc Winery is the only producer following this designation, which has no legal recognition. However, Raventós is an historic name in Spanish sparkling wine production, so this designation carries quite a bit of clout.
Clàssic Penedès (2013)
At the same time that Raventós was breaking from Cava, 18 Cava producers left the Cava DO and formed a subclassification of the Penedès DO called Clàssic Penedès in 2013. Unlike Conca del Riu Anoia, Clàssic Penedès is a legal designation for Spanish sparkling wine recognized by the Consejo Regulador and the EU, the first such designation outside of the Cava DO. The primary goal of Clàssic Penedès was to establish a premium sparkling wine category from a specific region within the classic growing and production area of Cava in Catalonia.
The rules for Clàssic Penedès require that grapes come from certified organic vineyards, notably the first sparkling wine designation in the world to do so. There are strict regulations against buying base wines from outside the region; all production must take place within the producer’s own premises with the Penedès DO.
Furthermore, Clàssic Penedès wines may be made in the traditional method or the ancestral method, the only Spanish sparkling wine designation with regulations for ancestral sparklers. Traditional method wines require minimum 15 months lees aging (equivalent to the current classic Reserva level of Cava), and all wines must be vintage and include the date of disgorgement. Ancestral method wines may be released after four years on lees, and label with the term “No Degorjat” (or “No Degollat”), indicating it has not been disgorged.
Clàssic Penedès went a long way toward terroir specificity and promoting organic production. But several issues remained: to use the Clàssic Penedès designation, producers had to leave the well-recognized Cava DO. Also, the rules allow for a laundry-list of grape varieties, including international varieties (such as Gewurztraminer and Riesling!) alongside the traditional indigenous varieties, and the designated growing region is still considered too large. For these reasons, in addition to the fact that the name may seem too generic, several premium producers opted to remain in the Cava DO while they worked independently on forming yet another more stringent sparkling wine designation: Corpinnat.
Simultaneously, a band of independently-minded premium producers worked to form Corpinnat. Corpinnat, which means “heart of Penedès,” was formed in 2015 and authorized by the European Union in 2017. Corpinnat was officially launched in April 2018 as a terroir-driven, premium quality-focused collective. It is not a separate DO, but rather a brand and collective of winemakers and growers. Corpinnat wines are certified under the Vino Espumoso de Calidad category, its guidelines are enforced and audited by the European Bureau Veritas, and Corpinnat is an EU trademark.
The rules shine a bright light on grape sourcing: all vineyards must be certified organic, grapes must be hand harvested and grown and sourced from the strictly defined Corpinnat region, a 997 square kilometer area that encompasses approximately 23,000 hectares of vineyards. Additionally, grapes must be minimum 90% indigenous varieties, and there are minimum pricing standards for grapes, protecting growers. Corpinnat producers are required to make their own base wine on their own premises and undergo traditional method secondary fermentation in the bottle for a minimum of 18 months lees aging.
Intentionally, all of these rules effectively exclude large-scale producers. As of December 2020, there are 10 Corpinnat-authorized producers who left the Cava DO in order to use the Corpinnat brand.
Cava de Paraje Calificado (2017)
Meanwhile, in response to the movement started by Raventós as well as Clàssic Penedès and Corpinnat producers away from Cava DO, the Cava DO Consejo Regulador created a new subclassification called Cave de Paraje Calificado (CPC) in 2017. CPC addresses the terroir issue by requiring single estate bottlings from single vintage certified organic vineyards. International varieties are still allowed, but the vines must be minimum 10 years old and owned and controlled by the producer. Minimum 36 months lees aging is required and wines must be Brut or drier.
The downsides are that large-scale producers can still qualify, and participating wineries’ overall production are not taken into consideration.
To complicate things even more, the Cava DO Consejo further changed the rules in July 2020 forming two new “super classifications”: Cava de Guarda and Cave de Guarda Superior. In the Cava de Guarda bucket is basic Cava with minimum 9 months lees aging. The Cava de Guarda Superior category encompasses all of these: Reserva, Gran Reserva (minimum 30 months and only Brut or drier), and the new Cava de Paraje Calificado. At the same time, the Cava DO also increased the minimum required aging time for Cava Reserva from 15 to 18 months, thereby aligning it with Corpinnat.
Espumoso de Calidad de Rioja (2017)
Meanwhile, Rioja DOCa has gotten into the act. Rioja, arguably the most well-known Spanish wine region, is one of the eight regions in Spain authorized for Cava production. As further evidence that quality-focused producers are moving away from the Cava designation, in 2017 the Rioja DOCa Consejo Regulador authorized a new sparkling wine category, Vino Espumoso de Calidad de Rioja, with wines so designated being first released in 2019. The designation is for traditional method sparkling wines only. Aging requirements exceed those for generic and Reserva Cava (15 and 24 months, respectively), while wines aged 36 months or more are labeled Gran Añada. Grapes must be hand harvested and can be any of varieties authorized in Rioja DOCa. These wines are part of the Rioja DOCa, so are not labeled Cava DO.
Throughout the wine industry, consumers worldwide are demanding more terroir-focused wines, with a movement away from mega producers to micro producers with a more personal, hands-on approach. The growth of sales in the grower-Champagne category is a good example of this. The thinking is that smaller production from a more specific geographical area yields better quality wines.
Moreover, savvy consumers are looking for premium wines sourced from certified organic vineyards, and producers are responding by stipulating organic production methods. Organic production requirements are a key and growing trend. These things are becoming more and more important to wine drinkers. On the whole, the changes that have taken place in the Spanish sparkling wine category go a long way towards meeting these market demands.
However, producers opting out of the Cava DO to follow these more stringent terroir-focused categories face an uphill climb to establish these as top-quality sparkling wines. They risk losing market share without the well-known and heavily-marketed Cava designation. Clàssic Penedès, Corpinnat, and Conca del Riu Anoia, are not well-known nor easy to find outside of Catalonia. In addition, the flurry of activity in this category (new designations and subclassifications, changing terminology, zones and subzones, etc.) all but certainly will create confusion in the market. And retailers will need to be educated and prepared to educate consumers on the differences between these designations.
“As a retailer, it’s not necessarily an explanation or conversation I want to get into with every customer who’s looking for a ‘Cava,’” said retailer Andy Booth, co-owner of California-based The Spanish Table. But with time, exposure, and word of mouth, these pioneering sparkling wine producers will reap the benefits of adhering to strict production rules while supporting the all-important and on-trend organic vineyard certifications. In the future, they will be seen as trailblazers that improved the quality and image of Cava.