Our latest Wine Word of the Week is solera which refers to a system of fractional blending and aging associated primarily with fortified wines (i.e. Sherry, Madeira, Port) and non-vintage sparkling wine (i.e. Champagne). The purpose of the solera is to produce wines with a consistent “house style” rather than exhibiting the nuances of vintage variation which is most commonly seen in the majority of wines sold in the US today.
A solera system is comprised of a set of casks or barrels arranged in tiers which contain different vintages of the same type of wine. The word “solera,” taken from the Latin “solum” meaning “floor,” literally refers to the lowest level of casks which contains the oldest wine, while the youngest wine is located in the top tier. In this dynamic system, older vintages of wine are partially removed (5-30%) for bottling and the casks are then “topped off” with wine from the cask above it which contains a younger wine. Over time the wines assimilate in the cask and the younger wine takes on the desirable characteristics of the older one. This barrel replenishment occurs all the way up until the first tier of barrels is topped up with the current vintage’s wine.
Today the use of the solera is quite rare, occurring almost exclusively in the traditional regions mentioned above. This is likely due to the method’s cost and time intensive nature, since a large portion of wine remains in the solera system for years before making its way into the market, not to mention the actual cost and number of casks required.
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