All posts filed under: Winemaking

Climate change a double-edged sword for Amarone producers

This year the Consorzio Tutela Vini Valpolicella marks its 50th anniversary, a milestone that coincides with the release of the challenged 2014 Amarone della Valpolicella vintage one that allowed the top performing wines presented during the anteprima tastings to stand apart. Due to wet conditions that delayed ripening and diluted fruit concentration, the consorzio wisely moved to reduce the 2014 production of Amarone by approximately half.  As a result, there were 50 percent fewer wines presented at the anteprima in January when 43 wines were poured at the blind tasting in comparison to 83 in 2017. My list of the wines that scored 89 points or greater can be found below. While vintage conditions in Valpolicella have become increasingly variable, according to University of Verona Professor Maurizio Ugliano climate change is actually working to hasten the drying process that is so critical to the production of Amarone. Regulations stipulate that producers are allowed to cool the air in the fruttai or drying rooms using fans but they cannot artificially heat it.  As such, warmer conditions …

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 …

Twelve months of bubbles

From Asti to Champagne, bubbles were a bright spot in 2017.  While sparkling wine is no longer confined to special occasions, it continues to mark some of life’s most memorable occasions and its charm can elevate the most mundane moments. For many, 2017 was a year of exuberant highs and abysmal lows which made living in the moment and being grateful for predictable things like the quality of a DOCG Prosecco from Cartizze or the toasty aromas of a Champagne aged on the lees for a decade all the easier. Here’s a look at what I discovered about bubbles during 2017’s twelve months of tastings. January began with a traditional sparkling toast courtesy of the Boisset Collection whose exceptional Buena Vista “La Victoire” Champagne ($50) honors the history of Sonoma’s Buena Vista winery, the first to introduce méthode traditionelle sparkling wine to California in the 19th-century. “La Victoire” is a blend of 70% Pinot Noir from Premier Cru vineyards from the Montagne de Reims, and 30% Chardonnay mostly from Grand Cru Mesnil sur Oger and Chouilly. The wine …

Red blends: Greater than the sum of their parts

While researching the current popularity of blended wines in preparation for a talk at the 2017 International Bulk Wine and Spirits Show about blends that begin life as bulk wine, I discovered white blends emerged as the exception rather than the rule. Consumer preferences for monovarietal white wines—Sauvignon Blanc is currently the fastest-growing white variety—are the likely drivers there, but that doesn’t stop winemakers from creating successful proprietary blends. In 2014, blended wines accounted for more than 40 percent of new entries to the U.S. market, with the lion’s share going to reds (29.3 percent) and whites accounting for just 1.9 percent. When surveyed, domestic consumers said they liked blended wines because they are experimental, interesting and trendy with better value. But it’s not the classic blends from regions like Bordeaux, the Southern Rhône, Valpolicella and Rioja they’re referring to; it’s the under-$25 blends that are marketed as nothing more than just that—blends. One striking example of success with modern blends is Dave Phinney’s Locations Wine portfolio, which goes even further by eliminating vintage and relying …

Go with the flow

To filter or not to filter? You’ll find winemakers in both camps. But when filtration is called for, cross flow technology is proving to be the best case scenario for leaving wine sitting pretty. Although there are scenarios where older filtration technologies like hardwood cellulose pads or diatomaceous earth (DE) are better suited to the task, the minimal risks and considerable rewards of state-of-the-art cross flow filtration are readily apparent in the cellar and in the glass. “There’s a time and place for unfiltered wines,” says Gary Sitton, newly-appointed winemaker at Ravenswood Winery (Sonoma, Calif.), founded by winemaker Joel Peterson in 1976. “We view filtration as a tool that lets us guarantee the quality of our Vintners Blend and County Tier wines.” In an effort to work more sustainably in the cellar when filtration is necessary, winemakers like Sitton have found alternatives to crystalline silica-laden DE filtration, which requires workers to wear protective gear and to dispose of hazardous waste. “From a quality perspective, cross flow has let us move away from the use of pads …

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 …

Bitterness: Examing the chemistry behind the taste sensation

Humans are particularly sensitive to bitterness. Thanks to a small but novel family of 30 genes, we can perceive thousands of bitter compounds. Our ability to discern bitter tastes evolved as a way to keep our early ancestors from eating poisonous plants. Bitterness is a taste sensation that we experience when monomeric flavonoid phenols, the compounds that are responsible for bitterness in wine, reach the bitter taste receptor cells on our taste buds. As the receptors send electrochemical signals to the gustatory cortex, we experience bitterness. To what degree determines whether we consider a wine to be merely complex, flawed or faulted. Read the entire article here –Bitterness June July 2016  

The Minor Components of Wine

Wine is, for the most part, water and ethanol which in turn become vehicles for the minor components that are largely responsible for aroma, taste and texture. Through the efforts of researchers at the University of California at Davis and the University of Burgundy in Dijon, our understanding of wine’s biochemical landscape is expanding rapidly. Research focusing on metabolites known as metabolomics, the scientific study of the set of metabolites present within an organism, cell or tissue, has now validated the concept of terroir by showing that every vineyard and every wine has a fingerprint that, like our own, is utterly unique. At the metabolic level, wine contains a record of how it was made—a fingerprint that points to the origin of the oak and “memories” of sulfur dioxide additions that were made to the must. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Beyond general references to tannins, acids and sugars, the lesser elements of wine are usually left to their own devices. Knowing what constitutes those components and how they collectively contribute to wine …

Berry Sensory Analysis: A Common Language for Describing Maturity

If everyone on your winegrowing and winemaking teams shares a common language, there’s less risk involved when it comes to making crucial decisions. Few would argue that the most crucial decision a winemaker faces is when to pick. Beyond establishing intentions for the style and quality of the finished wine, making confident, proactive picking decisions relies on accurately assessing levels of ripeness. This acquired skill is on that vineyard managers and winemakers typically master through trial and error as they learn to speak the same language when describing degrees of fruit maturity and other sough-after qualities. Using the analytical method of Berry Sensory Analysis (BSA), a technique to describe the characteristics of grape maturity developed by Jacques Rousseau at the Institut Cooperatif du Vin in Montpellier, France, and introduced in Northern California by Enartis Vinquiry in 2006, winemakers can c onfidently assess fruit quality for specific wine styles and, in turn, gain more control over harvest timing decisions and production methods. Read the entire article here: Berry Sensory Analysis

Will Magnetized Yeast Revolutionize Riddling?

New technique promises to speed sparkling wine production. There’s no mistaking a gyro­palette at work, its top-heavy robotic arm twirling a wire pal­ette of bottles like a baton. But you’ll need a scanning elec­tron microscope to see the iron nanoparticles that have the poten­tial to make it obsolete. The early adoption of the robotic gyropalette by Cava producer Cor­doniu in the mid-1970s was a mile­stone that altered the course of the modern sparkling wine indus­try. Mechanized riddling reduced the amount of time required to move spent yeasts cells into the neck of a bottle from two months to a matter of days, all without any adverse effects on the sensory qualities of the wine. The wholesale adoption of mechanization by traditional-meth­od sparkling wine producers and many Champenoise dramatically reduced the production costs and time to market imposed by the labor-intensive technique of hand-riddling bottles. As such, bottle-aged sparkling wine became a viable and affordable alternative to still wine. Almost despite technology, this time-honored method remains very close to its original form. Beyond the gyropalette and …