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A barrel of fun

The Shepherds Inn
Published by in wine ·
Tags: oak
There are two uses of oak in the field of wine, one is the cork which is used as a stopper and harvested from the bark of the Quercus suber every nine years. The other is the oak used to make wine barrels.
The great French oak forests such as Nevers, Limousin  and Tronçais were first used by Napoleon for ship building purposes. Although very good for making ships, English oak is too dense for making wine barrels.  The oak from warmer climates better allows the wines to breathe in the barrels.
Barrels made by coopers are used for the storage and maturation of wine, beers, whisky and vinegars. The wood can affect the flavour of wine and adds tannins. If the wine can breathe this softens and develops the flavours.
In Bordeaux the size of the barrel is 220 litres which gives a large surface area of wine in contact with the wood. Only the best and most expensive Chateaux can afford to use new oak each year. The used barrels will be sold on to lesser chateaux after two years.
French oak barrels are made by taking split wood which has been seasoned outdoors and then constructing the staves into a barrel over a fire. A metal hoop is then forced over the barrel which contracts when cool to hold the staves together and makes a watertight container.
In America, for wine and bourbon casks, the wood is not seasoned outside.  It is kiln dried and sawn instead of being split.  This gives softer tannins and a much more oaky vanilla taste to wine stored in them, such as Rioja.  Many Scotch whisky distilleries will have barrels made that are given to Sherry producers to use for a few years.  They then get them back to store whisky in giving the whisky its colour. Cognac aged by the docks in London ( a cool damp area ) takes on less colour from the wood hence the term very superior old pale .
In Cognac the spirit is aged in Limousin oak.   Poor soil in the Limousin forest results in wood that is at the far end of the scale in terms of looseness of grain. The release of flavours in such wood is too aggressive for wine , but makes it ideal for spirits. As it rests in the barrels there is an evaporation called ‘the Angels share,’ without this the spirit would be too harsh as it softens it.   

Harvest time

The Shepherds Inn
Published by in wine ·
It is harvest time in many parts of Europe with a mixed picture so we will look at how the weather affects vine growing during the year. Ideally a very cold winter is required as this can kill bugs and disease on the vines, then an early bud burst would be advantageous .Vines grown in dark soils have an advantage here as the soil warms up faster than white chalky soils and cold clay soils  .  This year we had an early bud burst but this was followed by a sharp frost which if you are limiting the number of buds to increase quality can reduce your crop considerably.
Next in the life cycle of the vine is the flowering, this usually takes place about May June with gentle breezes wafting through the vineyard although this year it rained cats and dogs giving a very uneven flowering and therefore uneven fruit setting.
If it continues to rain all summer the vines will need spraying several times to stop rot and mildew.
The grapes can and will ripen without bright sunshine and will still ripen on overcast days it just takes a bit longer so in many northern areas the harvest will be up to three weeks is not just sunlight on the grapes but sunshine on the leaves that help ripen the grapes
In the southern parts of Europe they have had the opposite problem Too much heat and at high temperatures the vine will just shut down and if the vines do not have canopy management i.e. leaves covering the grapes  so that the bunches can become scorched.
There is a balance to be struck which does not seem to have happen in Europe we need rainfall for the vines to grow and the grapes to swell and we need sunlight to ripen the grapes but steadily over the summer to increase the sugars and decrease the acidity. So it will be a mixed year this year with some excellent wines being made but with the quantity lower than in previous years. The one thing we can be certain of is that the price of a bottle of wine will go up.


The Shepherds Inn
Published by in wine ·
"Come quickly ! I'm tasting stars!"
During the  regular tastings run by Cumbria’s Master Sommelier Stephen Wilcock at the shepherds inn people have often asked about the origins of Champagne and how it became the wine of celebration. So with Christmas just around the corner and a good excuse to celebrate what could be better than a glass of Champagne .
The name derives from the Latin ‘campus’, ‘campania’ or field. In Old French this became ‘Champaign’; today, Champagne.
In the 1600 s we used to import wine from our nearest neighbour France and the only real method of transportation was by river, so the nearest wine region with access to a boat system was the Champagne region and the river of Marne which reaches the sea at le Havre.
The wine at this time was probably a white wine made from red grapes but without the cellar techniques we use today.
When the wine was brought up from the cellar to the table on a warm spring evening would resume its fermentation and become bubbly .
This appealed to the wine drinkers of the day and they asked for more of this sparkling wine .
So the French winemaking monks set about putting the sparkle into these wines. At this time some monks travelling from the south probably Spain came to visit the Champagne region and the stopper in their goats skin flask was made of cork. This enabled a stopper to be made that would keep the sparkle in the wine.  In the Hautvilliers Abbey, a near-blind Benedictine monk named Dom Pierre Perignon was experimenting with the wine . He was the cellar master at the abbey and basically an accountant , he made up from his disability with his sight with a supreme palate. He was able to differentiate between grapes from different areas and their value but also he was able to blend the different grapes to build a superb wine ( now called assemblage).
Putting the still wine in a bottle it was possible to start a secondary fermentation by adding some more yeast and some sugar just enough to raise the alcohol by about 1% and give carbon dioxide to the wine . The fermentation was slow ( the longer the bubbles take to put in the longer they are to come out.) and took place in the deep chalk caves that the Romans excavated.
but the downside was that there were two other by- products  one heat was allowed to dissipate by putting wooden lats between the bottles , and thicker glass meant fewer bottles exploded, and the other by-product was the dead yeast cells . this problem was that the dead yeast cells died and fell to the bottom on the bottle , this gave the wine a biscuity yeasty flavour but had to be got rid of before the wine was drunk .
This is where The "Veuve (Widow) Clicquot" in the early 1800s and at the age of 27 comes in she cut holes in her kitchen table and propped it against the wall allowing her to put bottles in horizontally and then gradually moving them to  an upright position knocking the slight sediment and then the heavy sediment on top to the neck of the bottle . this enables the plug of sediment to be expelled without making the wine cloudy. So small bubles are suspended in the wine .When  Dom Perignon first tasted the sparkle in his Champagne he said "Come quickly ! I'm tasting stars!"
It takes a long time to make a good bottle of Champagne and it should be savoured . Drink chilled  but not too cold and in a tall flute glass to retain the bubbles.
The bubbles actually take alcohol in to the blood stream faster and so puts one in  a party or celebratory mood faster .
This method of making Champagne i.e. fermented in the bottle is used in other areas of the world but not allowed to be called the closely guarded name of Champagne
The soil of Champagne is actually Kimmeridgean clay and it pops up again this side of the Channel in Kent allowing us also to make very good sparkling wine .
Othere noticeably areas of production are Italy with Prosseco, Spain with Cava ,Alsace and Loire that produce a more creamy mousse called Cremant  and excellent sparklers from Franciacorta Italy .


The Shepherds Inn
Published by in wine ·
The risk of frosts
In the early spring when the sap starts to rise in the vines some of the colder vineyard areas have to take precautions. There is a risk of frosts nipping the buds. A wine region that produces high quality wine such as the Chablis region depends on older vines planted in well drained flinty clay soil (kimmeridgian clay). These older vines send their roots deep, but on the surface the vine is pruned hard back to leave only 6 buds, so that it will produce quality rather than quantity.
The risk is that at the time the buds are about to burst a frost could destroy the vine.  These vines could be forty years old, so ‘quelle’ disaster.  Vineyards used to light fires to protect the vines, but in these enlightened days this method is frowned upon. Now water from a system of pipes buried under the top soil spray water onto the buds to protect them using latent heat.
The Chablis wine growing region is classified as Burgundy but is quite a way north, being halfway between Paris and Burgundy. The wine is always white and is produced from the early budding Chardonnay variety (or in this region called the Beaunois).
The area is centered around the town of Chablis and the river Serein with the best vineyards just north of the village on a southwest-facing slope.  These are the grand crus and there are seven of them Les Clos, Blanchots, Bougros, Vaudesir, Valmur, Preuses and Grenouilles. There are forty Premier Cru vineyards and then many village wines.
This region used to stretch as far as Dijon and has been well known for wines since the 1400s.  Its proximity to the ready markets of Paris helped, until the disease phyloxera struck. After phyloxera only the better areas were replanted with vines brought back from the new world. However, since 1970, the area under vine has quadrupled.  A new area has been planted, called ‘Petit Chablis’  producing wine that is lighter and less distinguished than the Crus which are wines worth laying down.  With their flinty dryness these wines are a perfect match for oysters or Chabichou cheese.


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The Shepherds Inn
On the Village Green
CA10 1LR

Mon - Thu: 11.30am - 11pm
Friday: 11.30am - 1am
​​Sat - Sun: 11.30am - 11pm
Reservations 01768 881463
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