wine education

Thoughts on Vintage Reports

You always hear a lot about vintage variation and it’s importance on the wine produced during said vintage. There are a variety of vintage charts out there that will tell you which vintage from a particular region was great or horrible, but those are sometimes fallible. Don’t get me wrong vintage charts are a great resource for a baseline of understanding a broad scope of how a vintage performed but it doesn’t tell you the whole story.

A vintage report can sometimes be misleading, depending on how it was produced. People like Parker and Spectator seek out the best Chateaus, wineries and Bodegas to taste from, not necessarily the little artisan winemaker down the street. For better or worse it can give you a false impression of what the weather has done for a region. The little guy could have explored some vineyard tactics to thwart late season rain that larger producers didn’t want to risk and thus pulled their fruit early. Some people think that vintage assessments are made to early, and thus you hear about “sleeper vintages”. Ones that took a while to come into their own, and were initially not given superior marks. Incidentally, these “sleeper vintages” can provide some excellent values.

I think that vintage reports can sometimes provide too much information. Meaning that, it provides just enough information for a person to ignore a wine that may be perfectly fine or even great, but is overlooked because “2004” only got a 85 rating. That could lead us to a discussion on ratings in general but that is another post.

By the tone of this post, it may seem that I don’t put much credit in vintage reports but in fact I do. As I said at the beginning of the post, it gives you a great jumping off point for research on a wine. Also, one of the biggest places I think it helps is restaurant wine lists. On a list where you don’t recognize a single label, knowing that a certain vintage was supposedly “perfect” may help you in finding a nice bottle.

Weather is a key factor in wine making, grapes are an agricultural product and thus rely heavily on the right weather conditions. Technology has come a long way to help mitigate some of the problems that can occur in an off vintage, but nothing can really help a cold, rainy growing season. The problem with weather is that it can sometimes be fairly localized. What’s happening on one side of the county may not be happening on the other side. For larger more developed growing regions, vintage reports are usually broken down into smaller AVA reports and provide a better micro-vintage report.

One of the best and free vintage reports out there is over on Enobytes blog. I always wish there was better free detailed content on vintages out there versus just ratings. Parker publishes that information but you have to pay for it, and Spectator and Enthusiast both do, but again it’s in their magazines. Wineries will often have vintage report information on their sites but always end up telling you they were very pleased with how things turned out, not always giving you the complete picture.

In the end, take vintage report information with a grain of salt, well, maybe two grains.
Cheers!

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Categories: wine education | Tags: | 1 Comment

Trained wine tasters think more about their sips

After reading the story in the Wall Street Journal about “Why wine ratings are badly flawed?” it got me thinking. Not about wine ratings because that part of the article I agree with, wine ratings are subjective, and can generally be inconsistent across various types of “raters”. I’ve always thought it weird that one wine in Spectator can get a “90” and then in Enthusiast receive a “78” or vice versa.

There is a rich history of scientific research questioning whether wine experts can really make the fine taste distinctions they claim. For example, a 1996 study in the Journal of Experimental Psychology showed that even flavor-trained professionals cannot reliably identify more than three or four components in a mixture, although wine critics regularly report tasting six or more.”

The above comment is the one that got me thinking and one that I disagree with. Personally I know that I can taste more than 3 distinct flavors in any wine. Also, my years working in Sensory Research did many studies with trained panelists in which they identified more than three components in a mixture. I tried to find the study with no avail and was kind of disturbed that the author of the article in the WSJ didn’t put in any reference to the exact article. So, I couldn’t look at that particular study and examine exactly how that experiment was conducted.


In searching for some rebuttal papers I came across a cool article that I remember reading years back in the Journal “NeuroImage”. Using Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) this study showed that trained wine tasters, in this case 7 sommeliers, showed higher brain function when it came to tasting wine versus untrained wine consumers.

A larger and well-defined cerebral network elicited by wine tasting was identified in sommeliers compared to naïve subjects that included the left insula and adjoining caudal orbitofrontal cortex, the left putamen, the right inferior frontal gyrus (opercular portion), and the inferior portion of the middle frontal gyrus in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) bilaterally.”

…A final intriguing finding was the consistent activation in sommeliers of the inferior DLPFC. In this region the BOLD signal time-course peaked initially during the taste period and then well after the cue to swallow had been given, suggesting higher cognitive processing modulated by expertise.”

So basically the paper is saying that people trained in wine tasting have a additional cognitive processing that is linking both taste, olfactory and somatosensory sensations together to evaluate the wine. Pretty cool! With all this extra brain functioning going on, I don’t know how someone who is a trained taster could not detect more than three flavors in a wine or a mixture.

If anybody knows the exact journal number that was referenced in this WSJ article let me know, I would love to look at it.

Cheers!

References:

MLODINOW, LEONARD. “A Hint of Hype, A Taste of Illusion.” Wall Street Journal 14 Nov 2009,

Castriota-Scanderbeg, Alessandro, Gisela Hagberg, Antonio Cerasa, and Giorgia Committeri. “The appreciation of wine by sommeliers: a functional magnetic resonance study of sensory integration.” NeuroImage. 25.2 (2005): 570-578.

Categories: wine education | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

Test your wine knowledge and wish me luck!

Next Thursday I take my Certified Specialist of Wine (CSW) exam up in Washington DC. Needless to say I am nervous, I have never been a good test taker, but I’m hoping since I LOVE the subject, it will help my test taking skills. I know I have said it before, but the more I learn about wine and wine making the more I realize what I don’t know. Studying for this test has really taken that thought to a whole new level, which has been fun and enlightening all in the same breath. Where much of the information I have known at a top-line level, having to dive deeper into topographical differences between regions of countries, why certain grapes are grown where and the countless governmental rules that impose the wine making process around the world has been a challenge. But as I said I do LOVE the topic so it has been fun, not like learning calculus!

Along the way I have learned quite a few new facts ,while others have been clarified and explored to a deeper level. I thought it would be fun to put a few of them up on the site, so YOU could test your knowledge. I have put the answers at the bottom of the post.

  1. What grape is said to be the ancestor of all grape varieties?

  2. Trocken, Classic and Select are all terms for “dry” in reference to German Riesling? True of False

  3. What percentage of US wine does California produce?

  4. Were grapes first planted in Napa or Sonoma?

  5. Which has longer aging requirements, a Barolo or a Chianti Classico Riserva?

  6. What is the second fermentation called in the traditional method of making Champagne?

This is a small list of questions, the tip of the iceberg from my 8 inch stack of notecards and pages of notes. After really cracking down for the past couple weeks I feel my wine knowledge has quadroupled and I am feeling confident about the test. Needless to say a little luck could never hurt so keep your fingers crossed for me. 🙂

Cheers!

1. Muscat, 2. True, 3. 90%, 4. Sonoma, 5. Barolo (3 yr. Min vs. 2 yrs and 3 months), 6. Prise de mousse

Categories: wine education | Tags: , | 5 Comments

Ah So What the Heck is That?

The picture to the left is a picture of a non traditional wine opener, yes a wine opener. The term Ah So, is a translation from the German saying “Ach So” loosely meaning “Ah, I see”. Aptly named, because from looking at this object you would not think that it would be capable of pulling a cork out of a bottle, and after you figure out how to use it you exclaim “Ah, so that’s what it is for!”

Another name for the Ah So is the “Butlers Friend”, because butlers who were dishonest could remove the cork without puncturing or damaging it. They would do this in order to take a swig of wine, place the cork back in the bottle and their boss be none the wiser.

So other than being able to sneak wine if you are a butler, does the Ah So provide any benefits over other cork removal devices? What the Ah So specializes in is the removal of corks that are brittle and old that may break apart when the auger of a traditional corkscrew penetrates it. The Ah So works by the two prongs sliding down in between the cork and the bottle, and then by pulling straight up and twisting at the same time, the cork slides right out. Another useful trick this wine opener can help out with is if a cork does break in half, the Ah So can help get that last little piece out versus pushing it down into the wine.

I have only used my Ah So a couple of times and it is very tricky. I could never see using it on a regular basis but for corks that are impossible to penetrate or too brittle to work with I think this is your tool. Plus a wine geek’s bottle opener collection is not complete without one.

Cheers




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Categories: ah so, wine education, wine openers | 3 Comments

New Years Eve Sip and Growers Champagne

Growers Champagnes (aka Farmer Fizz) are finally becoming, dare I say more popular and available, and this year Megan and I purchased one to enjoy on our quiet New Years Eve. With that said, what exactly are growers Champagnes? Growers Champagnes are Champagnes that are made by the grower themselves, pretty self explanatory huh. Are you asking yourself, but isn’t that how most Champagnes are made? Well to start with, the major Champagne makers (Moet& Chandon and Veuve Clicquot are a couple) which account for 80% of the Champagne produced, only own about 12% of the vineyards. These mass produced, highly marketed Champagnes are transformed into sparklers that barely resemble the terroir from which they once came. By extreme contrast, growers who produce their own Champagne (recolant-manipulants) have the ability to buy only 5% additional grapes to supplement their crop. This allows for the Champagne to be much more hand crafted and express the nuances of the land where they were grown as well as the style and finesse of the winemaker/grower. For more info click HERE!

For New Years Eve we decided to have the Pierre Peters “Cuvee de Reserve” Brut NV. We picked it up from our friends at the Barrel Thief who in addition to it, had a great selection of growers Champagnes.Pierre Peters is from the Cote de Blancs more specifically le Mensil Sur Oger in the Southern part of Champagne. This Champagne is a Blanc de Blanc meaning that it is made from 100% Chardonnay grapes. The grapes are grown on approximately 43 acres (17.5 Hectares) of soil that is has mostly a chalky make up as does most of the Cote de Blancs which is where the name comes from meaning literally “white slopes.”

My Tasting Notes

Nose – Yeast, sourdough bread, if you have ever crushed grapes in a bladder press during harvest, there is a particular smell that the crushed grapes emanate when you are removing them from the press and this came through on the nose of this wine – very cool

Taste – very nutty, bright green apple, stone

Mouthfeel – Teeny tiny pin pricks on the tongue, after swishing it around in my mouth it turned into a frothy foam, with nice prickles down my throat after I swallowed

Finish – med to long in length, left me feeling very refreshed

At $44 dollars this is by far the best Champagne I have tasted, the best sparkler being the ‘96 Gloria Ferrer Cuvee. Since the Gloria Ferrer was truly the best sparkling wine that I have had before it was really all I had to compare it to because the Pierre Peters truly blew the other Champagnes I had had prior out of the water. Luscious yet tight, commanding the attention of my entire palate, I have never had that experience with another Champagne.

For more information on Growers Champagne check out the following link to Terry Theise Imports or head over the Barrel Thief and ask them about to tell you more about Growers Champagne.




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Categories: champagne, Pierre Peters, wine education, wine industry issues, wine tasting | Leave a comment

The Wine Book Club

In the spirit of Wine Blogging Wednesday (WBW), Dr. Debs of Good Wine Under $20 (along with several other well known wine bloggers) has started a new adventure with The Wine Book Club and asked both bloggers and non bloggers to join in.  Every other month, a blogger from wine blogosphere will be asked to host the Book Club, by suggesting a book for everyone to read and report back on.  You can post your review, comments, reactions, etc… on your blog just like WBW or post to a choice of 3 different webpages.  For all the details check out Dr Debs post on her site. This seems like it will be a lot of fun, and force me to read books I have sitting around the house and acquire some new ones.

The first book club is being hosted by David McDuff of McDuff’s Food and Wine Trail. The book he chose for our first adventure is the book entitled Vino Italiano: The Regional Wines of Italy.

Cheers everyone, see you at the first “meeting” on Tuesday February 26th.



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Categories: Wine Book Club, wine education | 2 Comments

Education Series – What exactly is an AVA?

If you read wine publications, blogs, and newspaper columns or have ever looked closely at some bottle labels you may have come across the acronym, AVA. AVA stands for American Viticulture Area and is a designation given to certain wine growing regions by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB).  AVAs can be big, like the biggest that crosses 4 states and covers 26,000 square miles (Ohio River Valley AVA) and small, the smallest of which covering less than a quarter square mile. (Cole Ranch AVA).  An AVA is a system for defining geographical grape growing areas in the United States. The regulations state that you may use an AVA designation (such as Sonoma Valley, Stags Leap District or Columbia Valley) on your wine label only if 85% of the grapes for that wine are grown in the AVA that is printed on the label.  The system was put in place to create governmental wine controls similar to that of Old World wine making countries like the AOC in France and the DOC in Italy.  The AVA system is much more easy going that the AOC and DOC, the only major stipulation being the 85% rule mentioned above, where as the AOC and DOC can define which grapes are grown in which regions, barrel maturation times, and alcohol levels and so on.


Here in Virginia we have six official AVAs

The Wine Institute has a great WIKI page that goes into much more detail than I have about American Viticulture Areas with facts, figures, and controversy. Currently there is much debate about proposed regulatory changes to the AVA definitions by the TTB, one of which being the grandfathering of brand names that carry AVA designations, but don’t necessarily make 85% of their wine from that AVA.

For more information on AVAs, email me or check out the following sites.

Wine Institute on WIKI

Appellation America

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Wine Bottle Sizes – Who knew there were so many?

 

I just thought I would shoot a little fun wine fact out at everyone today. Below I have listed all of the actual allowable bottle sizes for wine. Can you believe there are so many? I think I knew up to Methuselah, but that was as high as I thought the list went, and as you can see I was wrong. The list technically refers to the allowable bottle sizes for wine in France and more specifically Champagne and Burgundy but is accepted worldwide. The names themselves, once you get past Magnum, are from the names of Biblical Kings. Magnums and Double Magnum’s make great gifts for wine enthusiasts are always impressive when you show up to a party with one.

Split = Quarter Bottle

Half = Half Bottle

Bottle = well umm, a Bottle

Magnum = Two Bottles

Jeroboam or Double Magnum = Four Bottles

Methuselah = Eight Bottles

Salmanazar = Twelve Bottles

Balthtazar = Sixteen Bottles

Nabuchadnezzar = Twenty Bottles

Soverign = Thirty-Four Bottles, I mean come on

Cheers!

Categories: bottle sizes, wine education | 4 Comments

Education Series – Gather ‘round the Oak Barrel – Part 2

In part 2 of this oak barrel trilogy I will be discussing the cooperage process, which is the process of making the barrels themselves.You may recall from part 1 that this whole process starts in the forest. Coopers (those individuals who make barrels) have historically utilized wood from the region that they are familiar with, meaning that American Coopers made barrels from American oak and French from French oak, and so on. This is not the case anymore; both French and American oak is being shipped across the pond to Coopers in either country.

The first step of barrel creation is the creation of the staves, which are the slats or boards that form the sides of the barrel. Although the staves can be sawed, the preferred method is to split the wood by hand or by machine to help preserve as much of the natural wood grain as possible. Keeping the grain of the wood intact is crucial to making water-tight barrels. After the staves are shaped, they are stacked together and typically set outside to age in the elements, as wood normally would. Sometimes to quicken the process, the staves are dried in a kiln prior to being set out to age. This entire process can take up to several years. Once the staves are properly aged, they are shaped, notched, and beveled and then finally ready for inspection.

 

image credit:http://www.ukcraftfairs.com/coopering.asp

After the coopers have okayed the staves for barrel assembly, they start piecing them together to form the shape of a barrel. The staves are placed one by one inside of metal hoops (the chime hoop is first, then the quarter hoop, and then the bulge hoop; see picture) a process which the French call “mise en rose”, or “raising the barrel.” The phrase literally means “setting the rose,” most likely because unbent staves in the first hoop look like an open flower. The next step is to shape the barrel and set the 3 final hoops. This process is done by bending the wood staves via fire, water or steam. These methods soften the wood enough so that it can be bent and molded into the perfect shape, as well as allow for the three remaining rings to be riveted into place.

image from Winebusiness.comThe next step in the process is toasting the inside of the barrel. This process is sometimes done simultaneously with the heating of the staves for shaping, and sometimes may not be done at all. Barrels can be toasted using a variety of different heat sources. Whether it be gas fire, burning oak chips, convection, etc. the end result is that interior of the barrel staves are toasted to a specified level. Winemakers can specify ahead of time how “toasty” they want there barrel to be, from light to heavy toast. To achieve the varying toast levels, coopers use different time and temperature equations, developed through years of personal experience. Technology has helped in this process, as sensors can be placed inside of the barrels to know when the desired level of char has been achieved. In Part 3 of this series I will talk about how the varying toast levels affect wine flavor.

The final step is the shaping and fitting of the barrel head. Larger staves are cut and bound together and then shaped to fit snuggly into the end of each barrel in grooves called crozes. Barrel heads are usually left un-toasted.

Actually the final final step is the branding of each barrel with the Cooperage house’s logo on the head of each barrel. Sometimes wineries pay to have their name burned into the head as well.

Again, I will give my disclaimer that this is a primer into the barrel making process. The process for making an oak barrel for wine or other spirit is a great skill and coopers apprentice for years before they are allowed to shape and toast the barrels themselves. Although this process is being done more and more by machine in order to make barrels cheaper (though not by much), there are still a lot of cooperages that do most of the work by hand.

Here are some links to cooperages that can give you more information into this really fascinating process.

World Cooperage

Nadalie

Categories: cooper, education series, wine education | Leave a comment

Education Series – Gather ’round the Oak Barrel – Part 1

oak-barrels.jpg

This Education Series is going consist of 3 parts. Today we will focus on the types of oak that are used in barrel making, where they come from, and what makes them different. Next Tuesday, in part 2 we will talk about cooperage, the process by which oak barrels are made. Then the following Tuesday, part 3 will consist of the role that oak plays in the wine making process.

So before we talk about where the oak for oak barrels comes from, let’s define what types of oak are used for wine barrels. Almost all wine barrels are made from white oak due to its non porous nature and ability to create a water (or wine) tight seal. Getting a little bit technical here, the white oak used for wine barrels are all from the Quercus species of oak, 2 are European and 1 is American.

When you walk into a tasting room, 9 times out of 10 the winemaker or person doing the tasting will tell you “this was aged in French Oak or American Oak” or sometimes both. At least this is true for most wineries here in the United States. Although these are the most common, oak for wine barrels can be harvested in many other regions in Europe. In fact, in Piedmont, Italy where Megan and I were this summer, the preferred choice for aging the Nebbiolo grape is Slovenian oak.

To date there has been no general consensus on which forests in the United States provide the best American Oak for barrel making. Currently, Minnesota and Wisconsin are in the lead, while small amounts of barrels, mostly on an experimental basis, are also coming out of Oregon. Generally oak from forests in the Southern US are considered too sappy and unsuitable for barrel use.

In France it is a bit more complicated – There are 6 main forests that French Oak is produced from, though these by no means comprise the complete list. These six are found mainly in Northern France: Western Loire and Sarthe, Limousin, Nievre and Allier, Vosges, Jura and Bourgogne, and Argonne. Each forest provides oak that has distinct characteristics, for instance the Nievre and Allier forests are known for wood that is consistently tight grained, and thus more prized with winemakers.

So besides the price tag, $650 for American oak barrels and $850 for French barrels on average, what is the difference between the two most popular oaks, French and American? The answer is the flavor. American oak is much stronger in its flavor or “oakiness” and thus the wines that are put into it need to be stronger (more full bodied) wines. American oak is typically used in Spain, Australia and North and South America. Wines from these regions, such as Rioja, Shiraz and warm climate “BIG” Cabernet Sauvignons are typically put into American oak.

French oak is by far the gold standard when it comes to barrels made for wine production. French oak is much softer, and usually tighter grained, imparting less tannins into the unknowing wine. Barrels from certain forests that are renowned for their superior French oak can command prices well over $1000 a piece.

This was just a primer into where oak for oak barrels comes from. If you would like any more info on oak, shoot me an email, I will be happy to oblige.

Stay tuned next week for Part 2 of …. Gather ‘round the Oak Barrel.

Reference: Oxford Companion to wine 3rd edition.

Categories: oak, wine education | 2 Comments

Education Series – What are Tannins?

tannin.gif

A while ago I said I was going to start a wine education series. As you may have noticed, I didn’t get very far with that idea– I think I did only one entry on malolactic fermentation. So I am recommitting myself to this effort through Education Tuesdays. Every Tuesday I will post on a topic, term, or subject that I think needs to be more talked about or better explained.

To start off the series, today’s bit is on tannins. The term tannin is used a lot when describing a wine, whether it is to talk about the mouthfeel (soft, harsh, firm, gripping, etc.) or to determine it’s aging ability. So what is a tannin?

The technical definition for a tannin is a plant-based polyphenol that binds and precipitates proteins, and is found in grapes skins, seeds and stems as well teas, and other fruits and plants. The name “tannin” is actually derived from the tanning process of animal hides.  The non-technical answer is that tannins are the substance in wine that makes your mouth feel dry and if too pronounced, can provide a bitter taste.  If tannins are excessive as they might be in a young wine, it feels like someone sucked all the moisture out of your mouth. If the wine has been aged, or did not have prolonged contact with the skins, the tannins will be much softer and give you what is described sometimes as a velvety feel in the mouth.

Other than the skin and seed contact that can give red wine its tannic structure, oak and other wood barrels that red wine is commonly aged in can provide some tannins as well.

I mentioned that tannins can be reduced over time with aging, and that pronounced tannins in a particular wine can relate to its ability to age well (in addition to fruit, acid and alcohol levels). So how does this work? What are the tannins doing in that bottle of wine over time?

First, the reason that the wine has better age ability with increased tannins is due to the chemical’s natural preservative effects. Second, the reason that wines taste less tannic and feel less harsh over time is that the tannins gradually polymerize (fancy word for join up) and when joined together in long chains give a much softer mouthfeel.

This was a bit of a technical description but was more in my terms, so I hope it made sense. If you have more questions about tannins or need some more clarification please shoot me an email.

Categories: education series, tannin, wine education | Tags: , | 2 Comments

The Evil Cellar Palate!!

I think the first time I read about cellar palate was on the website of Jim Law’s Linden Vineyards here in Virginia. He emphasizes that he and his staff taste wine from around the world on a regular basis to keep their palate honed and to ward off the evil cellar palate.A recent article by Jancis Robinson on SFGate.com brought the issue to my attention again. She reminds us that cellar palate is not just a problem for winemakers, but for consumers as well. Personally, I am not sure that I would define cellar palate as a problem for ALL consumers. If you always drink one particular wine or wine region, and that is all you drink and will most likely not drink anything else, then it doesn’t matter if the consumer adapts to the fact that the wine they continually drink is flabby or overly herbaceous and so on and so forth. In fact, in that case cellar palate may be beneficial, as consumers are able to gradually overlook deficits in their favorite wines. However, becoming accustomed to the poorer aspects of the wine would probably be accompanied by becoming “numb” to the best parts of the wine as well (the strawberry notes may taste less luscious over time).

On the other hand…

If you are a consumer like me who likes to drink many different wines, it may be a different story. For example, if you get on a pinot noir (soft, fruity, earthy) kick for a couple weeks, then go out and have a Syrah from the Rhone region, it may taste closer to an Aussie Shiraz. This is similar to a story that Jancis recounts in the first part of her article. Obviously, if you haven’t had this particular Syrah before (or ever had a Syrah), this first skewed experience could affect your opinions and purchase decisions for future Syrahs.

I think cellar palate further exemplifies the idea that every wine you drink is referenced against every other wine you have had before. As regular consumers, not trained expert wine panelists, we can have a hard time evaluating a wine on its own merits. Of course, most consumers won’t sit there and think “well this Cab. is similar to the one I had 2 years ago, but definitely better than the one I had at the tasting last week.” He/she evaluates against the whole collection of memories of Cab and in fact, not just Cab., but all wines they have had before.

So I believe to further your enjoyment of wine it is a good idea to take Jancis Robinson’s suggestion and drink globally. The more wine you can taste will serve 2 purposes. One, it will keep your palate fresh and keep you from falling susceptible to cellar palate. And two, it will really help you to learn what wines you really enjoy, AND THAT IS THE MOST IMPORTANT PART.

“Nobody tells you what you should put on your pizza, they shouldn’t tell you what to like about your wine.”- Gary Vaynerchuk

Categories: wine, wine education | 1 Comment

Wine Closure Systems and the Environment

VS.

Cork vs. Screw cap: A fight over the environment” is the title of a recent article in the Seattle Times. The title being what it is, I thought it would be a push towards screw cap usage to better the environment – I was surprised to read that I was wrong.

Apparently, cork farming is good for the environment on an ecological as well as a socioeconomic level. Cork trees take up 6.7 million acres of land in the Mediterranean regions where they thrive, and cork is a sustainable product that promotes healthy growth of the tree over its approximate 200 year life span.

Here is a quick primer on how cork is harvested (from winedefinitions.com). After about 25 years of the tree´s life, cork used for wine can be harvested. It is after this period, the tree is considered mature and the cork is cut in the form of strips. These strips are then carefully removed and dried for 6 months or so, after which they are boiled for a few hours and then left to dry for around 3 weeks. Subsequently, they are cut and/or molded into the correct cork size. The cork trees can be restripped every 8-14 years throughout its lifespan.

Next, the washing process occurs where a variety of chemicals are used to sanitize the corks against bacterial growth. Some manufacturers are utilizing new technologies such as irradiation as a weapon against the potential bacteria growth, which results in cork taint. Corks are then sealed in bags containing inert preservation gases before being shipped to wineries.

Since the trees are not killed during harvest, it is considered a sustainable resource. The article points out that, as screw cap usage goes up, cork farms will begin to be neglected and will eventually die. Since the majority of cork forests are privately owned, the decline of business for farmers could lead a sell-off of land and subsequent industrial and commercial development. Obviously the ecosystem would be terribly disrupted, in addition to the sociological impacts of 100,000+ people losing their jobs, which could also be devastating to the economy.

So why do winemakers use screw cap closure systems if the use of them threatens cork tree existence? Well it is mostly an issue of quality. Cork is a pretty awesome closure system but it can have its bad days. The biggest reason for use alternative closures whether it be screw caps or synthetic corks is the removal of the possibility that the wine will get cork taint, chemically speaking TCA (2,4,6 Trichloroanisole). TCA will give the wine that famous musty, wet cardboard smell that affects an estimated 5% of all bottles sold. Also, screw caps aren’t susceptible to drying out and letting in air that can oxidize and ruin the wine, or just become brittle and break apart as someone is trying to open there bottle for dinner. So if your brain is anything like mine, you are thinking – well at least screw caps are recyclable? According to the article they are not. The typical process involves non renewable resources and a plastic insert that make it difficult to reuse and not acceptable to most residential recycling programs.

So my question to help settle the debate would be to ask, which manufacturing process is better for the environment? Does one process have less of an environmental impact than the other? Unfortunately I do not know the process of making screw caps nor do I know how much energy and/or waste is produced in the process for cork making outlined above. And at the winery level, which is most efficient on the people power as well as which method has the smallest carbon footprint? The question above is purely to settle the environmental/ecological side of the debate. There is no real way to account for the loss of 100,000 jobs unless you build screw cap mfg. facilities on the sites of old cork farms.

Obviously their are other debates out there on cork vs. screw cap like: screw caps take away the romance of opening the bottle, and only cheap bottles have screw caps. Well the second is definitely not true anymore as bottles over $100 are starting to show up on wine store shelves with brand new screw caps.

So what does everyone think? Give me a shout with your opinion on the subject.

Categories: wine, wine education, wine industry issues | 4 Comments

Wine Education Series

Today’s topic: Deciphering German wines (in particular Riesling which is the majority of wines produced in Germany)

German wines in general can be broken down into 2 categories

  1. QbA (Qualitatswein bestimmter Anbaugebiete) – basic everyday, inexpensive, quaffing wines.
  2. Qmp ( Qualitatswein mit Pradikat) – quality German wine with specific traits and the highest class of German wines.
  • If a wine is designated as QmP it is then designated more specifically on the ripeness of the grape at harvest. The following is a list of those categories
    1. Kabinett – grapes picked during normal harvest time, typically light bodied and low in alcohol
    2. Spatlese – this word literally translates to late harvest, fully ripe grapes with greater intensity and strength. Spatlesen wines may be dry or have a hint of sweetness.
    3. Auslese – very ripe grapes harvested in select bunches, more rich and intense than Spatlese and exude a lush sweetness
    4. Beerenaulese – berry selected – very rare and expensive wines made from individually selected grapes. These wines exhibit “Deep honeyed richness”.
    5. Trokenbeerenaulese – these are the richest sweetest and most expensive wines in all of Germany and are usually made from single selected grapes that have been affected by botrytis.

The above terms all determine ripeness at harvest, on the bottle we can look for other terms to actually determine the sweetness (RS) of the wine.

    1. Trocken – completely dry wine
    2. Halbtrocken – from dry up to 1.8% residual sugar

The main regions for German Riesling are Mosel Saar Rower, Pflaz, The Rheingau, and the Rheinhessen.

Stay tuned for more wine education series. If there is something you would like to learn about in particular, please shoot me an email.

Categories: German Riesling, wine education | 1 Comment