Author: deborahparkerwong

The breath of life

It was an oxygen epiphany. Could oxygen be the key to making wines that shimmer with life? I, for one, have now added it to the long list of factors that may determine whether a wine seems dead or alive.

Vinexpo Explorer shines global spotlight on Sonoma County, Calif.

Vinexpo Explorer presented the gathering of wine buyers and press from 27 countries with an opportunity to take a deep dive into the region and its terroir, personality, and the myriad wine styles produced in Sonoma County. Spirited interviewed some of these buyers, most of whom were first-time visitors to the region, to gather their firsthand impressions of Sonoma County wines.

Cabernet with a twist

The practice of finishing whiskey in wine barrels has been around since the 1860s, when scotch producers first utilized Sherry butts as a means of transporting their spirits. But, the tables have now turned and winemakers like James Foster of Stave & Steel currently seek out whiskey barrels – Kentucky bourbon barrels, specifically – as an alternative oak-aging regime for its wines. This approach is hardly new: By the 1970s, Scotch producers had switched almost entirely from Sherry butts to bourbon barrels. They had also started experimenting with still-wine barrel finishes, although the practice didn’t become an established part of the single-malt market until 2004.  A short decade later, the first whiskey barrel-finished wines – primarily Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel and Shiraz – hit the shelves. While wine barrels can add fruitiness, body and even sweetness to whiskeys, it’s what bourbon casks can add to wine that intrigued Stave & Steel’s Foster. Foster who is Senior Director of Super Premium Wine for Livermore, Calif-based The Wine Group selected “freshly dumped” Kentucky bourbon barrels and ran trials …

Big data supports expert wine tasters

In the course of developing software for predicting consumer wine preferences, a Houston-based start up, VineSleuth, shed new light on the abilities of expert wine tasters and the validity of blind tasting assessments. Contrary to popular belief, the company’s VineSleuth metrics, which are based on the work of Chief Science Officer Michael Tompkins and his team, reveal that tasters can consistently identify aroma and flavor characteristics in blind wine evaluations. “We have extensive experimental data which support that expert evaluators have the capacity to precisely identify wine characteristics in blind repeat samples,” said Tompkins whose work spans thirteen years in the field of numerical methods. “During the course of our experiments, our vetted evaluators repeat sample characteristics about 90% of the time,” he says. VineSleuth’s data directly confronts the popular misconception that consistent sensory evaluation of wine is a random occurrence. In developing an algorithm designed to help consumers make wine selections based on personal preference, the company has established a benchmark based on the results of its top-performing tasters (including this author) and intends …

A tranquil moment with Didier Depond

In a rare tête-a-tête, The SOMM Journal joined Didier Depond, President of the Champagne houses Salon and Delamotte, for an effervescent lunch featuring their current releases at San Francisco’s Piperade. We began with the superbly chalky 2008 Delamotte, which hails from just six Grand Cru villages. The 100 percent Blanc de Blanc brims with texture and ripe golden apple notes, and after observing the intensity of fruit on the mid-palate, I queried Depond on the risk climate change poses to the houses’ iconic style. He was quite circumspect in his response: “The culture of the vineyards in Champagne relies on balance, and we will balance them with this shift.” Despite more extreme weather events like the freak hailstorms earlier this year, warming temperatures in this marginal growing region may in fact work to the advantage of Champagne producers. Addressing the elephant in the room, we discussed the hotly debated expansion of the Champagne AOP area by an additional 5 percent. “Historically, these approved areas were under vine,” Depond said. “And, despite what you’ve read, there …

Natural cork, a scapegoat for wine defects

When wine professionals encounter a sensory deviation in wine and the offending molecule isn’t obvious, cork often takes the blame by default.

Micro-lot Cabernet from Napa’s rockiest site

Cobbles reminiscent of the kind you find in the Southern Rhône aren’t the first thing you typically encounter in a Napa Valley vineyard. At Game Farm vineyard, owned and managed by Alex Vyborny and son Ben, it’s what differentiates their site from many others in Oakville. That cobbled terroir drew Goosecross Cellars winemaker Bill Nancarrow who sources fruit for the independent C. Elizabeth brand to the site like a bee to honey. 

Lodi home to California’s best wine value

Collier Creek 2016 Front Coach Chardonnay is, by all accounts, a first class
ticket for the price of coach. With a retail price of $9.99, you might assume that massive amounts of this wine are being produced but winemaker Susana Rodriguez Vasquez made just 5,000 cases.

Picchetti Winery scores big with 2017 Sauvignon Blanc

At first glance, this ethereal Sauvignon Blanc which is described by Mike Bruzus, associate winemaker at Picchetti Winery, as “almost color less, the palest straw” could be mistaken for water. But from the moment your nose comes within a few inches of the glass, there’s a rush of aromas, a jumble of fragrance that includes pink grapefruit, pineapple, gooseberry, honeydew melon, guava, lychee and mineral notes of wet rocks and saline. A precursor of what’s to come when you taste it and a certain indicator that this isn’t a “simple” wine.

Iberian varieties victorious for Lodi’s St. Amant Winery

If you enjoy port, the rich, fortified wine of Portugal’s Douro Valley, you’re already a
fan of Touriga. Touriga Nacional as it is known in Portugal is one of the five classic grape varieties that are blended to make Port wines. The Touriga variety that won this year’s Best of Show Red made its way from Portugal to UC Davis where it was selected by St. Amant Winery’s late Tim Spencer and planted at an estate vineyard in Amador County in 1980.