April 11th, 2006

What・s the skinny on stirring? Recommendation with wine pairing: Jumbo shrimp tails from Sun Shrimp go well with red wine.

We just completed a quick tasting of a stirring trial. One lot received our typical post-malolactic stirring of once a week for 6 weeks, while one lot received an additional 6 weeks of stirring. Both of us were able to pick out the extra stirring because the oak was more pronounced (or should I say the fruit character was diminshed?) and the wine richer. The .regular・ stirring allowed for a better expression of our fruit characters and appeared to contain a firmer, tart structure and yet did not lack in viscosity or richness. We both preferred the .regular・ treatment (though I should note that both are excellent wines).

Why do we stir? The party line is that stirring increases the richness of the mouthfeel by improving the infiltration of the products of yeast autolysis into your wine. Zoecklein notes that :stirring generates an oxidative process which increases the acetaldehyde content and which may increase the acetic acid concentration. Stirring also changes the sensory balance between fruit, yeast and wood by enhancing the yeast component, reducing the fruit, and, to a lesser degree, the wood component.;

As a matter or style, how much do we need here in California? Typically our Chardonnay is going to average about 1-2% more alcohol than our French counterparts from whom we are borrowing the practice. Riper flavors in combination with higher alcohols and partial to full malolactic fermentation are all going to enhance the perception of .richness・, no? So is there a risk of over stirring? Well, there might be if it really enhances the perception of oak beyond what one finds acceptable. I am not sure there can be too much stirring (unless you begin to oxidize your wine), but I wonder when the law of diminishing returns kicks in? For those who believe terroir has little to do with man・s intervention, why is it that many of the best .terroir driven・ Chardonnay・s in the world have loads of new oak, 100% malolcatic fermentation, and uber stirring? Where・s the fruit? As it stands I like our regime of stirring once a week for 6 weeks post-malolactic fermentation.

Tasting: McClaren Vale Shiraz (and Grenache)

April 9th, 2006

Its been a while since I have found the time to post a tasting. In the next week or so I hope to catch up. Our most recent jaunt has taken us to the McClaren Vale in South Australia. Probably one of the coolest regions in South Australia, it is still quite warm. It is also home to some big name producers such as Rosemont, d・Arenberg, and Hardy・s Tintara.

I found this tasting interesting for several reasons. The popular criticism of Australia comes on the heels of .Mondovino・ and is similar to the bashing Merlot received in .Sideways・ (;I・m not drinking in f@##%@$ Merlot;). It goes something like this: Australian wines are technical wines, wines of process not place, and all taste the same. Well, many of these wines did have similar characteristics, but they were also from a similar place. In fact, three of them ended up being sourced from vineyards along the same road. We realized we needed to be careful in using the common criticism becaue any differences were likely to be subtle regardless of the winemaking. In addition to that, if most people are using the same winemaking techniques, whether they are wines of .process・ or made more .naturally・ (define that how you like), then the major differences will be from the differences in the fruit source (terroir?). But that is another entry. Suffice it to say we did notice that the wines had plenty of acidity and were less tannic and big than we anticipated from Australia, is this part of the McClaren Vale Terroir? Freshly harvested jumbo shrimp from Sun Shrimp.

(Quick reminder: Scores presented are the average of the group rounded to the nearest 0.5 followed by the low then high individual score for a wine).

Yangarra Old Vine Grenache, 2003, $17 (Avg: 7, 6 and 8 ) I won・t get into how a Grenache snuck its way into a Shriaz tasting but I will say this was a widely accepted wine with no score lower than 6. Aromas and flavors of chocolate, blackberry, cola, cedar, and some soy with a very pleasant mouthfeel - seamless with good length. Probably one of the best wines we have tasted labelled Grenache. I would definately buy this again.

d・Arenberg The Footbolt Shiraz, 2003, $16 (Avg: 6.5; 4 and 7) One person rated this wine below 6. This wine received five 7s. I really enjoyed all aspects of this wine. Nicely balanced mouthfeel plus interesting, complex aromas of mince meat, blueberry, and mint. I have tasted this wine in groups several times and it always does well.

Pirramimma Grenache Old Bush Vine, 2003, $18 (Avg: 6; 5 and 7). Maxwell Wines, Four Roads Shiraz, 2000, $24 (Avg: 6; 4 and 7). d・Arenberg, The Laughing Magpie, Shiraz/Viognier, 2003, $20 (Avg: 5.5; 4 and 8 - that・s my 8 and I defend this wine - its tasty but maybe does lack a little in the mouthfeel as noted by others). Forefathers, 2003, $22 (Avg: 5, 3 and 6).

Yeast produce varietal character?

March 30th, 2006

�𦔒t is the winemaking which reveals the aroma hidden in the fruit. The wine tastes more of fruits than the grape does.�� This quote from Peynaud was used in a research article in the current edition of AJEV (57:1; 2006) that investigated the impact of yeast on varietal flavor of Sauvignon blanc. It is publications such as these that at the same time allow me to get my scientific fix (which more and more I realize I need) AND help me understand why we marvel over wine. I think fondly of working in New Zealand with the seemingly innocuous SB fruit that when fermenting became a showy, sweet mixture of boxwood, passion fruit, and guava. The 4 sulfur containing compounds responsible for these aromas are locked away in the grape, odorless, waiting to be unveiled by the fermentation process. The data clearly demonstrate that the varietal character of SB that I have come to adore is almost exclusively released by the catabolic activity of yeast. (Incidentally, the odoriferous forms of some of these have been found in guava, passion fruit, and boxwood). Not only that, but the strain of yeast can make a significant difference in the amount of character that develops. This makes me think differently about the yeast catalogues we receive which always have a nice little blurb informing you that this yeast does that, and that yeast does this. Ok, but here we have well documented evidence not just the word of someone trying to push a product.

Interestingly, natural strains from Sancerre were isolated and some found to be Saccharomyces bayanus var uvarum, and not S. cerevisiea. Unfortunately S. bayanus often produces two other compounds that can nullify the sensory impact of the delicious SB character. What does this mean for terroir, wine quality? Aren�脌 we told that maintaining varietal character is a key component to a quality wine? At the same time I have read that true wines of terroir are made from indigenous yeast. What is a winemaker to do? Enhance the character that most people look for and associate with SB, or let his wines ferment with an unknown indigenous yeast that may or may not �㶥eveal�� the true varietal character? If the soil and the climate are perfect for SB, but your cellar doesn�脌 contain an inoculum that produces significant SB character, are we to conclude you�胩e in the wrong terroir? All those compounds responsible for the aroma of passion fruit, boxwood, guava, grapefruit are just sitting in those grapes waiting to be revealed, but if you don�脌 have the right strain you don�脌 get the aromas.

I think this represents such a great example of how amazing wine is. We love SB for characters that the grape produces, but that we can only appreciate because it is a fermented beverage. One final note: although the yeast are required to release these compounds, the amount of precursor existing in the grape correlates with the amount revealed in the wine. Additionally of the 4 compounds explored in the study, presumably your climate, soil, and vineyard management could impact the concentration of each differently.

Let・s not jump to conclusions.

March 23rd, 2006

In a recent post, the trenchant blogger of Vinography noted that although a fan of modern science, sometimes it :just seems stupid.; The impetus for this comment is an article about the upcoming publication of the biochemical pathway utilized by grape berries to produce tartaric acid. I admit that I too am a fan of science and sometimes think it is stupid; but as a scientist, winemaker, and a personal collegue of some of the said researchers perhaps I can provide some perspective.

First, it is important to remember that when sourcing scientific information from a popular press article we must be cautious. The journalist is looking for a story, and I dare say that discovering that grapes may one day provide vitamin C in addition to its other medicianl properties is more of a story than :eureka, we・ve found the pathway for tartaric acid!; Second, the article admits that designing grapes with elevated levels of vitamin C :may be more than wishful thinking.; This is indeed the case and I am certain the researchers know this. Genetically engineering wine grapes is very difficult because they are not propagated via seed (incidentally grapes are also self-polinated and very unlikely to spread genetic material if they were genetically engineered). This research was not even conducted on grape berries, but predominately in grape berry cell cultures. What the article does not emphasize is the importance of understanding this pathway. The more we understand about the production of major (and miniscule) compounds in grape berries, the more we can dial in our viticulture to maximize a wine・s quality. That is the true, more pragmatic result of this study.

Finally I would like to attempt to answer some of the questions posed on Vinography for scientific inquiry:
1) Do the biodynamic practices and voodoo like mystical practices like stirring 50 times in one direction then 50 times in another actually do anything that can be measured or quantified? Of course there is no clear answer and evidence is conflicting. The most recent study published in the American Journal of Enology and Viticulture compared organic versus biodynamic farming (Am. J. Enol. Vitic. 2005 56: 367-376). The only difference in treatments were the biodynmaic preparations. Over I believe 3 vintages, there were no differences except a slight change in yield:pruning weight ratio (though both were in an acceptable range). Unfortunately no convential viticulture was used in the study. Strict BD proponents will always say you cannot measure the benefits in technical numbers (which seems funny to me because they are adament it is changing the quality). They are selling a philosophy, a faith (be it good or bad). I won・t get into my position, but I think there can be good and bad conventional, organic, or BD farmers. Also, BD has shown some measurable success in Europe where the soils are often much much less vigorous. Why do we want to find something to enliven and enrich our deep, rich California soils (yes, deep and rich even in some of the best producing vineyards)? Let・s move on.

2) What are the physio-chemical manifestations of terroir when it comes to chemical composition of the grape? Good question and there has been some work in this area from France. Specifically, they have used expensive equipment to analyze elemental compounds in finished wines to look for correlations between certain elements and a particular appelation, say St. Emillon. I need to review the most recent article, but I am fairly certain they found some correlations. Interestingly the impetus for this study was to find an objective way to prevent frauding of wines wtih blending wine from a different AOC into the one on the label. Furthermore a study in Spain indirectly demonstrated evidence for terroir by providing data that water stress and soil type (terroir?) both impacted the type and level of certain carotenoid compounds (which are known flavor precursors).

3) Do corks really let oxygen into the bottle and does that oxygen really play a role in aging? Ah, yes and yes. I guess it is not absolutely clear that air moves through the cork, but over 20 years some must get through the cork, and more likely through the cork/glass interface. Oxygen most definately plays a role in aging as in the formation of oxidized compounds that impact flavor (to name one example).

4) Based on trends in global warming, where in Norway will be the best place to grow Cabernet in 30 years? Let・s hope somewhere on the west coast, I hear it is gorgeous there.

5) How can we make Carmenere taste good? You can・t.

Although I am only one winemaker, I do try to stick with the data and try to remove my own bias (impossible). I would love to write more about biodynamic wines (I recently attended a talk on the subject) but it will have to wait. Keep up the good work Alder. Let・s not blame the scientists for being scientists, if they cared about wine as much as us they might be blogging about it, or at least making it.

Enology: Oxygen and Oak

March 9th, 2006

Given that the topping regimes are beginning with the .05, I want to revisit the topic of oxygen and oak (previous entry). It is taken for granted that aging wine in oak not only imparts yummy complementing flavors to the wine, but also is an excellent way to slowly expose the wine to O2. Now, I do not doubt that the wine in oak is exposed to more O2 than the wine in a sealed stainless tank, but is it really true that the O2 is coming into contact with the wine through the staves? Before answering let me say that this issue is beyond taken for granted, what I am about to do is commit enological heresey. For most this discussion is useless because it is already settled. Not only that but in their minds there was nothing to ・settle・, it just is, a fact, a priori. Back to my answer: no.

When barrels are topped and tightly bunged a vacuum is typically created as the wine moves into the staves via capillary action. The existence of the vacuum (heard each time you remove the bung) is the strongest evidence that air is not moving into the barrel (whether through the staves or bung hole). If air was moving in it would fill the space created by the wine moving outward, negating formation of a vacuum. The strength of the argument for oxygen passing through the staves is based on diffusion and/or permeability theory using Fick・s or Darcy・s law respectively. The problem is that the stave is not a uniform .membrane・ for air to pass through making the calculation of gas flows almost impossible to estimate due to the variation in the size and number of channels.

So am I saying that no oxygen moves into barrels during aging? No. O2 most certainly does move into the barrel, just not through the staves. Most of the O2 that moves in is going to occur each time we top the wine and in a case where the bung is loose thus allowing air to fill the headspace. Additionally, the amount of O2 entering each time we top is probably negligible compared to a racking. Of course this begs the question, do we need to top as frequently as we do if very little air is moving into the barrel. Well, in theory, no. If the bungs are very tight and a vacuum typically forms, then it means your headspace is not filled with O2, so why top it. I・m not sure its a risk I want to take until I can :tight bung and roll; (which I won・t get into now).

The Hearty Red Wine for Men

February 28th, 2006

Ray・s Station is like Irish Spring soap X manly, yes, but I like it, too. The Chronicle is on a role. This editorial regards a new brand designed to appeal to men. A wine forKmen? The winemaker in me just doesn・t get it. Can you imagine me trying to figure out what I can do in the vineyard to make this wine more manly? The majority of the vineyard crew are already male, don・t take showers frequently, and pee anywhere they deem fit out in the wilderness of our vineyard. That ought to make our wines more manly, right? Clearly this is a marketing gig that will be successful, but annoys me nonetheless. The :man; in me is even a little irked, but when he reads :John G. Ray believed if you could catch it and cook it, it would go with red wine,; and :Ray・s Station is positioned as a big, bold, in-your-face wine for guys, packaged in a he-man-heavy glass bottle and with a black label embossed with a stallion,; I thought, damn right baby! But wait, I don・t like in-your-face winesKblasted marketing nabbed me again.

Recognition for acid

February 22nd, 2006

I think many people who visit here understand the importance of acid in wine, but it is nice to see one of the most important aspects to a wine・s mouthfeel, structure, and aging potential get some props. One interesting note from the article is that Wine Opinions of St Helena found in a consumer survey that :a plurality of men and women, young and old, agreed that they don・t want wines described as .crisp or tangy with distinct acidity・.; Although I may hesitate if a red were described this way (as if the wine・s prominent feature was tanginess), I do think tart structure in red wines is critical to the mid-palate, finish, tannin perception and aging potential.

I・m back

February 22nd, 2006

Lost a little time with some server problems. Acutally, it wasn・t the server at all but the domain name managers. Entries to come shortly, still tasting and still opinionated.

Enology: Monitoring Brettanomyces

January 23rd, 2006

The best way to assay for Brett is probably with your nose, but checking every single barrel each time you top can be daunting. Monitoring acetic acid levels in your wines can be a good indicator for general spoilage or O2 exposure. It should be recalled however that Brettanomyces will only produce acetic acid if it is exposed to O2. So if your barrels are anaerobic, monitoring acetic acid will not tell you if you have Brett., you have to stick your nose in it or put a sample under a scope. There is a good article in J. Sci Food Agric (1997, 75, 489-495) on the subject that was the impetus for this reminder.

Tasting: International Reds

January 13th, 2006

The idea for this one was to get a snapshot of some red wine from places in the world besides Australia, France, Italy, or California. So our host assigned each of us a country. New Zealand, South Africa, Argentina, Spain, USA (but not CA), and Chile. Unlike last week, there was more differentiation among the scores. To paraphrase the negative description of the night: :its as if someone in Virgina had some vines in their backyard and after reading about all these successful wineries that use copious amounts of oak they decided, .hey, I can do this,・ and through together some unripe fruit in a bunch of new oak.; UhKhe was wrong, no VA represented. Average score followed by low and high. Enjoy.

Glen Carlo, South Africa, .Grand Classic・, $19 (Avg: 6.5+; 6 and 8 ). This wine did not receive a score below 6 and is only $19, I・d definately buy it again. I forgot to note the vintage of this Bordeaux varietal blend, probably 2002. A great example of the amount of Brettanomyces character that is acceptable. A little closed aromatically with some spice, but fruity in the mouth with nice meddling of oak and a peppery finish. Great mouthfeel!

Susan Balboa, Mendoza, Malbec,2002 $23 (Avg: 6; 3 and 8 - RH strikes again). Juan Gil, Spain, 2003 $14 (Avg: 5; 4 and 7). Col Solare .Red Wine・, whoops, forgot vintage again - $58 (Avg: 5; 2 and 9 - this wine was contrversial). Araucnao, Valle de Calchagua, Carmenere 2003 $9 (Avg: 4; 3 and 6). Zenith Vineyards, Marlborough, Reserve Pinot noir 2000 $ 20 (Avg: 3.5; 2 and 6 - the 6 was later revised to a lower score, JD rated it based on the assumption it was Greanche).