All posts filed under: SOMM Journal

Sicily’s native grapes and the dawn of Italian wine culture

Archeologists researching the dietary habits of prehistoric Sicilians have discovered that wine was on the menu 6,500 years ago. The discovery made by a team of archeologists led by Dr. Davide Tanasi of the University of South Florida pushes the timeline for established viticulture in Italy back from the latter part of the Bronze Age (1600–1100 BCE) to the Copper Age (4500–3500 BCE). While excavating a site on Monte Kronio in the Agrigento province in southwest Sicily, Tanasi found tartaric acid and its salts both of which are natural by-products of winemaking on unglazed pottery dating to 4500 BCE. It’s believed that the Mycenaean Greeks established viticulture in Sicily during the Bronze Age but the discovery has unearthed a much earlier point of origin for Italian wine culture. Native varieties being trailed in the experimental vineyards at Donnafugata’s estate in Contessa Entellina. PHOTO: DEBORAH PARKER WONG As the history of winegrowing in Sicily continues to evolve so do the efforts of forward-thinking producers who are working to preserve the island’s native grape varieties. Sicily’s indigenous …

The trilemma of primary, secondary and tertiary aromas

Primary wine flavors (the combination of aromas and tastes) come from the grape variety itself and are almost always fruity except when they’re not. Secondary aromas are those associated with post-fermentation winemaking and include yeast, lees, yogurt, cream, butter or cheese and a full spectrum of flavors derived from oak. Tertiary flavors are defined as deliberate oxidation, fruit development, bottle age or any combination thereof.

Campania Update: Focus on Falanghina del Sannio DOP

If you’re keeping tabs on wine quality in Southern Italy with its myriad indigenous grape varieties and oftentimes limited access to distribution, this update on the Sannio DOC should prove to be useful. Through a combination of research trips to Campania and the opportunity to judge the Radici del Sud “Roots of the South” wine competition which has been held in different venues in the town of Bari, Puglia since 2006, it provides a look at the key factors for the region and a snapshot of wine quality.

A Sparkling Continuity: Jordan Cuvée Champagne by AR Lenoble

In more ways than one, Champagne has begun infiltrating wineries in Sonoma and Napa counties. With several unprecedented examples that include Napa cult wine producer Sinegal launching its brand in conjunction with a prestige Champagne house, Sonoma’s Buena Vista Winery–branded Champagne and the unique partnership between Jordan Winery and the grower Champagne house of AR Lenoble, there’s a trend in the making.

Pyrazines: A double-edged sword

Pyrazines—too much of a good thing and they’re a fault; absent in varieties like Sauvignon Blanc and they leave something to be desired. In relation to bitterness, pyrazines can be the source of a flaw or fault, but that’s just one of many ways they can impact wine flavor. Ask any maker of Bordeaux varieties, someone who grows grapes in a marginal climate or experiences a colder vintage, about their concerns, and they’ll surely count elevated pyrazines among them. Admittedly, pyrazines are a double-edged sword. Without them we wouldn’t have the expansive range of wine styles that are possible from Sauvignon Blanc or the markers that help us identify the family of Bordeaux varieties and the likes of Carmenère. But in the extreme, pyrazines dominate wine at the expense of other varietal flavors. We’ve all tasted them—from pungently herbaceous boxwood (the polite reference to cat pee) and jalapeño pepper in Sauvignon Blanc to rank green bell pepper or even weeds in red wines that haven’t achieved physiological ripeness. Pyrazines are the family of volatile organic …

The good, the bad and the ugly

Many who consider the sensory evaluation of wine to be a purely subjective exercise cite our differences in perception as the basis for that belief. While it’s true that our abilities to perceive aromas and tastes vary, using an olfactometer we’re able to accurately measure the thresholds at which different tasters perceive the volatile organic compounds found in wine. Research has also shown that a like group of tasters, those who are equal to the task, can consistently gauge the intensities of the aromas, tastes and structural aspects of wine. Compared to humans, who scientists believe can detect in excess of one trillion odors and identify a few thousand, the latest generation of olfactory and gustatory biosensors can detect up to 350 smells in about 15 seconds. Developed by a molecular biologist and nanobioscientist in Grenoble, France, the Aryballe Technologies NeOse Pro, a handheld e-nose that made its debut at the Consumer Electronics Show this January, uses surface plasmon resonance imaging (SPRi) and biochemical sensors to analyze volatile organic compounds responsible for aroma and taste. …

Your glass is half full

Minerality — Without question the most controversial and elusive of wine descriptors.   This comes as no surprise given that the exact definition of what minerals themselves are is still under debate and has been expanded as an element or compound formed through “biogeochemical” processes.  Nutrient or dietary minerals—single elements like manganese, potassium, magnesium, iron, phosphorus, calcium, copper and zinc—are minor components of red wine. White wines have small amounts of iron, calcium, potassium, phosphorus and zinc. A serving of wine can also contain several milligrams of halite, the mineral salt (sodium chloride is the chemical name for salt), and we can accurately describe its taste in wine as saline minerality. Knowing that wine contains minerals, why is describing minerality so problematic?  Largely because aside from halite, nutrient minerals are essentially tasteless. Only when they’re in a highly concentrated liquid form, for example as a dietary supplement, do they taste offensively bitter. But the elusive flavors we describe as “mineral” in some wines can be readily attributed to specific compounds. The two of the most common …