All posts filed under: SOMM Journal

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.

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. 

Residual light and the color gradation of rose

While the level of residual sugar plays a role in the finished style of a wine, the color of all wines—and the color of everything we see, for that matter—is determined by residual light. Any systematic analysis of wine begins with a careful observation of color and what we see is the result of light waves being reflected by compounds in the liquid. The plant pigments associated with flower and fruit coloration are known as flavonoids, with the most commonly known being the anthocyanins—derived from the Greek words for flower and blue, anthos and kyanos. These water-soluble pigments found in leaves, stems, roots, flowers, and fruits show us red, purple, or blue hues depending on their pH levels. Read the article here Residual Light June-July 2018s

Third Year’s a Charm for Willamette: The Pinot Noir Auction

Seventy eight lots of barrel-selected 2016 Pinot Noir and three collaborative lots of Chardonnay were auctioned by the Willamette Valley Wineries Association on Saturday, April 7 at the Allison Inn & Spa in Newberg, Oregon. The event which is now in its third year raked in a total of $800,000, an amount that bested the 2017 take by more than half and exceeded expectations for both average lot ($9,099) and bottle price ($124). The exceptional quality and range of style of the 2016 vintage was showcased at preliminary tastings held April 6th at Domaine Drouhin Oregon and Stoller Family Estate and the auction lot wines were poured for final consideration during the few hours preceding the live auction. 2018 auction chair Laurent Montalieu, owner and winemaker for Soléna Estate and Hyland Estates, said “We expect 2016 to go down in history as a benchmark year for Oregon.” Returning auctioneer Fritz Hatton met little resistance from an enthusiastic crowd of national and international bidders almost half of whom were first-timers at the event. Antica Terra winemaker …

The pursuit of luxury

Considering the benefits of spending more on wine. Luxury wine brands rank among a handful of product categories that are an outright contradiction of the law of demand. Known as Veblen goods after the American economist Thorstein Veblen, luxury products like wine, cars, jewelry, and artwork occupy a rarified status among consumers who are inclined to buy more as the price increases. While conspicuous consumption stands in direct opposition to the pursuit of quality for value that drives many a savvy wine buyer, neuroscientists have reported that when we buy luxury goods, we experience emotions of trust, security, contentment, and confidence over the duration of ownership. Apparently there’s more to the experience of drinking a bottle of ultra-premium Champagne, even if its lifespan lasts just a few hours during dinner. Authenticity and timelessness are considered the hallmarks of established luxury brands, but it’s possible for newly-minted brands to achieve a similar status when their underlying concept demonstrates those principles. Champagne is unquestionably a luxury product, and many brands and wines of the highest quality occupy …

Aszú revolution: Modern styles redefine Hungary’s historic elixir

From grapes desiccated by noble rot in the Tokaj wine region of Hungary burst forth a plethora of traditional and modern wine styles. Rarest among them is the world’s sweetest and most complex grape elixir, Eszencia: a honey-like nectar once reserved for royalty that’s been coveted for centuries. The long history of wine made from aszú fruit (originally meaning “dried grapes,” the term has evolved to include grapes with high sugar levels affected with noble rot, or Botrytis cinerea) in Hungary dates to the mid-16th century. By the year 1737, a three-tier classification system of the Tokaji vineyards was in place—notably predating the sweet wine classification of Port by several decades and Sauternes by more than a century. Sweet and aszú Tokaji wine styles rely on clean fruit, botrysized bunches, or individual aszú berries. The latter are picked in multiple passes through the vineyard and then worked into to a paste or dough; varying amounts of this material are then macerated in fermenting must or wine. The two main grape varieties allowed are Furmint and …

Amorim's Dr. Paulo Lopes.

The Myth Buster: Dr. Paulo Lopes dispels long-held beliefs about cork

When it comes to wine storage, old habits are hard to break. But Dr. Paulo Lopes, Research and Development Manager at Amorim Cork, advises that if temperature and humidity are maintained at the correct levels, wine can be stored upright with no ill effects. In fact, sparkling wine should always be stored upright: a little-known fact that seems lost on many wine experts. During the course of his groundbreaking research, Lopes has seen no difference in the amount of oxygen found in wines that have been stored horizontally or vertically. Using science to debunk the myths that persist within wine culture is liberating largely because the facts can be even more compelling than the misleading maxims. In his recent presentation at the San Francisco Wine School on the reductive and oxidative nature of wine, Lopes made it abundantly clear that, after bottling, the main source of oxygen in wine comes from the cork itself. Atmospheric oxygen doesn’t make its way through the cork (neither does mold, for that matter); rather, the air trapped in cork’s …

The dark matter of dirt

With millions of unknown species existing in a ton of soil, biologist Edward Osborne Wilson has called bacteria “the dark matter of the biological world.” While our knowledge of the roles known bacteria play in the vineyard enables us to make delicious wine, the unknown far exceeds the understood when it comes to analyzing these soil microbiomes. According to biochemist Paco Cifuentes, who has compared studies from hundreds of vineyards, there’s a distinct kingdom of organisms found only in soils farmed sustainably with organic fertilizers. When evaluating the health of a vineyard, the presence of these organisms becomes a marker for sustainability and diversity. “In a conventionally-farmed vineyard, you’ll find on average 500–700 different types of microorganisms,” says Cifuentes. “In sites that are farmed sustainably, we find anywhere from 1,000–1,200 microorganisms, the majority of which are bacteria.” This promotes an environment of checks and balances where beneficial organisms can effectively suppress harmful organisms and help prevent disease. That vast array of potentially present microorganisms includes “a dozen or so very distinctive organisms that never show …