Hello there! I'm Dr. Vinifera, but you can call me Vinny. Ask me your toughest wine questions, from the fine points of etiquette to the science of winemaking. And don't worry, I'm no wine snob—you can also ask me those "dumb questions" you're too embarrased to ask your wine geek friends! I hope you find my answers educational, empowering and even amusing. And don't forget to check out my most asked questions and my full archives for all my Q&A classics.
Dear Dr. Vinny,
How does a solera system work for making Champagne or fortified wines?
To imagine how it works, picture a stack of barrels with the oldest barrels on the bottom and the youngest barrel on top. Wine is bottled from the barrels on the bottom, and the missing wine is then replaced with wine taken from the next youngest barrel, and then that barrel is topped off with wine from the barrel above it, and so on. New wine goes into the last barrel on the top every vintage.
When done right—most important, the barrels are never completely drained—the oldest barrels on the bottom will always contain a portion of the original vintage used in the solera—even if it’s only a trace amount. It also maintains a steady, complex style, continually blending a similar proportion of older wine with newer wine.
Solera production is pretty rare. It’s not always easy for a winery to hold back a lot of wine (they have more incentive to sell it than store it), and it’s easier to keep wine in one tank than dozens of individual barrels.