One Small Step for Man, One Giant Leap for Whisky

Ardberg Distillery sits on the south coast of the Isle of Islay in picturesque Argyll and Bute in Scotland. It’s a world away, quite literally, from the International Space Station (ISS), which travels at 17,000 mph at some 250 miles above the surface of the Earth, completing an orbit every 90 minutes.

In August 2011, these two unlikely partners were brought together by an experiment to see how the absence of gravity effects turpenes – organic compounds associated with flavour in spirits and wines. Micro-gravity environments are a fascination for companies looking for novel ways of producing products. Space-matured whisky is undoubtably a novelty!

Ardberg prepared a package of 6ml of whisky distillate (unmatured whisky) and shavings from oak maturation casks. This was sent to the ISS via a Soyuz rocket launched from Khazakstan. in January 2012 the whisky and wood shavings were mixed at the same time as identical quantities of whisky and shavings were mixed together on Earth. Both whiskys were matured for 971 days, after which the intergalactic sample was brought back to Earth and sent to Ardberg for comparison with its Earth-bound sample.

In case you are wondering why Ardberg didn’t simply send a cask into space, the cost of putting a kilogram of mass into orbit is currently around £5,000. Significantly cheaper than it used to be but still very expensive! For a 200 litre american oak barrel that would likely cost in excess of £1 million.

And what were the results of the experiment? Arberg published a detailed report, and noted that although the samples were very similar, the flavour profiles were different.

One of the most interesting results is that the sample matured in space did not take on as much of the oak characteristics as the sample matured on Earth. If this is due to the lack of gravity then it may be that in the future it would be possible to more accurately determine the age of whisky by analysing the concentration of oak characteristics. Perhaps this might also help prevent whisky fraud in the the future if nothing else.

Whisky and space, two of our favourite topics!

Image by “STS132 undocking iss2” by NASA – http://spaceflight.nasa.gov/gallery/images/station/crew-23/hires/s132e012212.jpg. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.

Age wine in 48 hours? You’ve got to be Oaking!

Well, the pun was rubbish, maybe the product is better.

We were surprised to come across an implausible-sounding wine gadget called Oak Bottle. Supposedly in a mere 24-48 hours you can accomplish what takes months or even years with established wine ageing practices.

How can this miracle be accomplished? Oak bottle is, as you might have guessed, a bottle made of oak. The theory goes that instead of leaving your wine in a standard 225 litre oak bottle for a while to age it, simply emptying a cheaper bottle of wine into an Oak Bottle will have the same effect, but in less time. The manufacturers claim that as there is less liquid and more oak, hence a greater surface area for the wine to be in contact with, that the oak maturing process happens more quickly.

Ageing wine in oak barrels has been common practice for wine makers for centuries. Recently we posted about the world’s oldest wine being rehoused for only the third time, and it was well over 500 years old. Oak barrels add flavours of vanilla, spice and impact tannins.They allow wine to interact with oxygen very slowly, often resulting in 10% of the wine in a barrel evaporating over the course of a year.

The top fifty most expensive wines in the world are oak aged. So the prospect of being able to age a cheaper wine and make it taste like a more expensive wine will surely appeal.

It has long been known that smaller barrels affect wine more quickly due to the greater surface area to volume ratio. So perhaps the notion that a 750ml Oak Bottle might be able to age wine in a few days is not so silly after all.

We remain skeptical however. If you fancy experimenting, they are available here. You even have a choice of flavours.

Image is “Wine Barrels” by Sanjay AcharyaOwn work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Chianti or Chianti Classico – What’s the Difference?

Ever wondered why some Chianti’s are called Chianti Classico and some aren’t? We sum up the distinctions for you, starting with Chianti.

Where it is made

A Chianti wine must be produced within the Chianti region. So far so good.

The first mention of a wine area called Chianti dates back to the 13th Century. At that time, the area included the villages of Castellina in Chianti, Gaiole in Chianti and Radda in Chianti. These three villages in the hills between Florence and Sienna formed the League of Chianti to promote their wine – interestingly, at this time it was a white wine!

It was none other than Cosimo III de’ Medici, the penultimate Grand Duke of Tuscany, who in 1716 added the village of Greve and a further area to the north of Greve to the League and declared that these were the only recognised producers of Chianti.

This delineation remained until July 1932 when the Italian government expanded the zone, doing so again in 1967, to cover a large part of central Tuscany. Today the Chianti zone has eight distinct districts, all of which have Denominazione di origine controllata e Garantita (DOCG) status. Chianti Classico is one such district.

DOCG status is the strictest of the three destination of origin regulations used in Italy. These require wine produced in such an area to use defined production methods and meet rigorous standards of quality.

What it contains

Baron Ricasoli created the Chianti recipe of 70% Sangiovese, 15% Canaiolo and 15% Malvasia bianca in the middle of the 19th Century. In 1967, DOC regulation set by the Italian government firmly established the “Ricasoli formula” of a Sangiovese-based blend with 10–30% Malvasia and Trebbiano.

However by the 1970s producers were releasing blends with a higher proportion of Sangiovese. These so called “Super Tuscans” began to outperform the established Chianti’s on price. The Italian authorities responded by upping the content of Sangiovese in Chianti’s to between 75% and 90% – note, this did not affect Classico or Riserva wines.

So what about Classico?

Chianti Classico wines must be produced within the Classico district of Chianti. This district includes the original Chianti heartland dating back to the 13th Century.

As with Bordeaux, the different districts of Chianti have unique characteristics that can be exemplified and perceived in some wines from those areas. Chianti Classico wines are premium Chianti wines that tend to be medium-bodied with firm tannins and medium-high to high acidity. Floral, cherry and light nutty notes are characteristic aromas.

Chianti Classico must be at least 80% Sangiovese, must have a minimum alcohol of at least 12% with a minimum of 7 months aging in oak. Also, since 2006 Chianti Classico cannot be white, it can only be red.

What’s with the Black Rooster?

Chianti Classico wines are easily identified by the black rooster seal (known as a ‘Gallo Nero’) on the neck of the bottle. This indicates that the producer of the wine is a member of the Chianti Classico Consortium, the local association of producers. The consortium was founded in 1924 to protect and promote Chianti Classico and to prevent wine fraud.

Legend has it that in the 13th Century, the warring provinces of Florence and Siena agreed to settle their border dispute on the crow of a cockerel. The provinces agreed to a race; when the first cockerel crowed at dawn they would each send out their fastest rider to the rival city. Where the riders met would become the new boundary.

On the night before the race, the Florentines starved their black cockerel to ensure that he sang earlier, thereby giving their rider an advantage. Hence the inclusion of the black cockerel motif to designate superiority.

It has been said that when you taste Chianti Classico, you’ll never forget it – and we couldn’t agree more.

If you are interested in trying a Chianti Classico we have one available.

Image is “Montefioralle-Panorama“. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

World’s Oldest Wine In A Barrel Is Rehoused… Again

Lying in the Cave Historique des Hospices de Strasbourg in France is a very old wine. It is an Alsatian white wine made 20 years before Christopher Columbus set sail from Palos de la Frontera in Southern Spain to explore the Americas.

Having been around for more than half a millennia it’s not surprising that the barrel it was originally housed in failed and was replaced in 1718. After it was discovered that the newer barrel was leaking last April (2014) the wine was transferred to a steel vat whilst a new barrel was made to house it. Apparently, this week the wine was transferred to the new barrel built by people from the Radoux cooperage in France.

Incredibly this wine has only been tasted four times.

The first was in 1576 to celebrate an unlikely alliance between Strasbourg and Zürich, Switzerland. Strasbourg doubted that Zurich, around 150 miles away, would be a useful partner. The Swiss overcame French doubts by bringing porridge to them in under a day. This is now celebrated in the Hirsebreifahrt, or millet porridge trip, every ten years.

The second was in 1718 to celebrate the laying of the first stone of what would become Strasbourg’s first public hospital.

The third was during the Second World War. On 23rd November 1944 General Philippe Leclerc de Hauteclocque led the 2nd French Armoured Division in liberating Strasbourg, the capital of Alsace, from German occupation.

Finally, in 1994 tests were conducted by the department in charge of policing products and preventing fraud, the Direction Générale de la Concurrence, de la Consommation et de la Répression des Fraudes (DGCCRF). Seemingly they also tasted it as apart from remarking that the wine has an ABV of 9.4% they also said:

“the old thing has maintained an astonishing sprightliness… a powerful, very fine aroma.”

This is a pretty remarkable story… a little too remarkable… whilst researching I noted that Philippe Junger, in charge of the cellars, said in 2003 in an article from Jancis Robinson:

“About one percent of the volume evaporates each year, it’s the angels’ share, so we add a bottle of dry white wine every three months.”

Being the wine geeks that we are, it seemed to us that if this was the case then probably not much of the original wine would now be left. Using our rusty maths the Charles Rose Wines team reckons that in fact less than 1% of the original wine would now be present.

Can we really still call this a 1472 vintage? Junger also said:

“… in this barrel there is dry matter from at least 300 litres of 1472 wine, so it remains a 1472 vintage.”

Perhaps for such a historically significant wine we can just give it the benefit of the doubt.

Image is by Marylou Jean (photo), Alchemica (sorting, storing), TroisiemeLigne (comments, localization) (Own work) [GFDL or CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Rioja Classifications: know Your Reserva From Your Crianza

Here at Charles Rose Wines we love Rioja. There a few different types when classified by age.

If you have ever wondered about the difference between Reserva and Crianza then let us fill you in!


There are four classifications of Rioja. The differences centre on how long they have been left to age in oak.

It is impossible to talk about Rioja without mentioning oak.

Oak has been a part of Rioja production for around three centuries and is key in producing a Rioja’s hallmark vanilla flavours.

Originally it was French oak barrels which were used. Increasingly, American oak is now a popular alternative. Many producers use both. How many oak barrels might a winery own? Probably around 10,000… at least!

So, the four classifications of Rioja are as follows.


Wines labelled as simply ‘Rioja’ have spent less than a year in an oak ageing barrel.


Red wines must have been aged for a minimum of two years.

White and rosé wines must have been aged for at least a year.

For all three types a minimum of six months must be spent ageing in oak.


Red wines must have been aged for a minimum of three years with at least a year in oak.

White and rosé wines must have been aged for at least two years with a minimum of six months in oak.

Gran Reserva

Red wines require a minimum of five years of ageing with at least 18 months in oak.

White and rosé wines require at least four years of ageing with a minimum off six months in the bottle.

What do we stock?

We carry our favourite Rioja, a Beronia Rioja Reserva because we believe it is offers the best balance between taste and price. This particular wine is aged in French and American oak for 20 months with a further 18 months in the bottle.

If you have a favourite Rioja then let us know! Get in contact by email or leave a comment.