Gran Duque d’Alba Solera Gran Reserva Spanish Brandy

For those who don’t know, brandy is distilled from wine and aged in wood to give it its characteristic flavor and color.  The word brandy comes from the Dutch brandewijin, meaning  “burned (distilled) wine.”  It is usually made from grape wine, but can be distilled from other fruit wines, most often apple, in which case it is called apple brandy or applejack generically, and Calvados in France.  (Calvados is in northwestern France, on the English Channel.)  Cognac, perhaps the best-known type of brandy, specifically comes from the town of Cognac and the delimited surrounding areas in western France.  So, all Cognacs are brandy, but not all brandies are Cognac.  For more detail on Cognac, click here.

Of course, wherever you find wine you will likely also find brandy, and Spain is no exception.  This brandy was first introduced in 1945 by a wine merchant in Madrid at that time. He was a good friend of the Seventh Duke of Alba, Jacobo Fitz-James Stuart y Falcó,  and asked the duke if he could endorse the new brandy he was about to offer for sale by applying the duke’s name to it. After tasting it the aristocrat was pleasantly impressed and suggested that for such a noble product it would be far more appropriate to use the name of his ancestor the Great Duke of Alba, Fernando Álvarez de Toledo y Pimentel, who was a Spanish noble, general, and diplomat, shown here. He was an adviser to two Spanish kings, governor of the Duchy of Milan, viceroy of the Kingdom of Naples, governor of the Netherlands, and viceroy and constable of the Kingdom of Portugal. Continue reading “Gran Duque d’Alba Solera Gran Reserva Spanish Brandy”

Gibbs Centa Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2016

In 1947, Dr. Lewis Gibbs Carpenter Jr., a farmer and psychologist, moved to Saint Helena from Gilroy and bought land on the Napa Valley floor. He began to work the property by growing walnuts, dates, and a small selection of grapes in the 1950s. Over the next twenty years, he replaced most of the nut and fruit orchards with several Bordeaux varietals of grapes, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Sauvignon Blanc, and Merlot, all of which were beginning to gain international attention following the Judgement of Paris in 1976. It was at this momentous event that Napa Valley garnered international respect as a premier wine growing region. This no doubt helped propel not only Carpenter’s vineyards to esteem, but the entire valley as a whole.

Dr. Lewis Gibbs Carpenter Jr.
Craig Handly
Spencer Handly

Although Carpenter himself never had plans of starting a winery, his sixty-plus years of premium grape-growing set the stage for Craig Handly, his son-in-law, to establish Gibbs Vineyards in 2013. Early in life, Handly was an Alaskan crab and salmon fisherman.  Later he became a print shop owner and a wine label designer, working for such brands as Beringer, Mondavi, and Kendall Jackson, among others.

In 2000 he and his wife Susan began crafting wines from the Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc grapes grown on Carpenter’s property. These first batches, made in a tank in the Handly family’s barn, were the beginning of his new career as a winemaker. Over the next decade, he honed his skills while making wines under his first labels, Terroir Napa Valley and Sentall.

After graduating from the University of San Diego in 2014, the Handly’s son, Spencer Gibbs Handly, joined the family in growing and making wine. He is the third generation of the Handly family working in the vineyards. He got his start in the vineyards when Carpenter taught him to drive a tractor at the age of five.

The Gibbs tasting room in St. Helena.

Continue reading “Gibbs Centa Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2016”

Graham’s 20 Year Old Tawny Port

True Ports hail from the Douro valley in Northern Portugal, and have done so for over three hundred years. The region’s predominant soil is schist, composed of various medium-grained to coarse-grained metamorphic rocks with laminated, often flaky parallel layers of micaceous minerals.  The low annual rainfall makes this probably one of the driest regions of the world where grapes are grown without irrigation. This terroir results in very low-yielding vineyards, with vines bearing only a very few small bunches of full-flavored grapes whose thick skins protect them from dehydration.

To make Port, a neutral grape alcohol is added to the wine partway through fermentation.  This stops the fermentation before the yeast has eaten all of the sugars, leaving a natural residual sugar of 9 to 10 percent, and boosting the alcohol content to 18 to 20 percent.  This was originally done in the early days of Port production to stabilize the wines for the long sea voyage to England, at one time the biggest market for Port.  There are four basic categories: vintage, tawny, ruby, and white.  Vintage Ports are of the best quality, and the most expensive, of course.  They are made from grapes of a single vintage and bottled within two years.  In order to maintain the highest quality standards, vintage Ports are only made in the best years, which are “declared.” These wines can age extremely well; there is an old English tradition where a vintage Port is purchased on a child’s birth year, and consumed to celebrate when he or she turns 21.  Tawny Ports are a blend of fruit from many different years, and can be wood-aged for as many as 40 years.  A high-quality tawny Port will always list the barrel age on the label.  The characteristic amber color is the result of this wood aging.  Ruby Ports are made from wines not deemed worthy of vintage classification, and are aged in wood for about two years.  These youthful, fruity Ports are often the least expensive.  White Ports are made like other Ports, just using white grapes.  These wines run the gamut from sweet to dry, and are usually consumed as an aperitif. Continue reading “Graham’s 20 Year Old Tawny Port”