01 May 2020

The ex-pat solera system

Have you ever noticed that sherry never has a date on the bottle? Other Spanish wines do. Rioja, Navarra, Penedès, they all display their year of vintage, so why not sherry? Like most wines, sherry is matured in oak casks. But it is not simply stored until ready for bottling. Instead, there is a hierarchy of casks, traditionally arranged in several tiers with the youngest wine at the top and the oldest at the bottom in a large cask called the solera. Bottles are filled from the solera, but the solera is never emptied. As matured wine is drawn off for bottling, the solera is replenished from the next oldest cask which is in turn replenished from the next oldest, and so on, with new young wine being added to the top tier. This system means that the bottled wine is a blend of every vintage since the solera was first started. There is much more to this system than I have described, but you'll get the general idea.

Now, the ex-pat solera. I am of course joking. There is no such thing as an ex-pat solera. But you might like to try this. Get yourself a 25-litre food grade plastic keg with a screw cap and a serving tap. Make 25 litres of red or white table wine aiming for around 13% ABV. Make this in five 5-litre water bottles, not in your 25-litre keg. When the wine has finished fermenting and is reasonably clear, transfer it all into the large keg taking care that very little sediment is poured in. (A little doesn't matter). Now you have to be disciplined. Don't take any wine from your keg until you have made new wine to replace it. In other words, your 25-litre 'solera' keg is always full. When you have a new 5-litre wine ready, draw off 5-litres from your solera for drinking and replace it immediately with your new wine. This way, you can gradually improve and refine what comes out of the solera. For example, if it seems a little flat, you can deliberately make 5-litres with extra acidity. Or if the colour is more dark rose than true red, you can have fun making an intensely dark 5-litre batch by pulp-fermenting grape juice and elderberries or blueberries together.

One word of warning- before and after using the tap and removing/replacing the cap thoroughly wipe them with sterilising solution. And when finished drawing wine tie a small sterilised plastic bag over the tap as an extra precaution.

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