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The Multitasking Tongue

Although we understand the physiology of the olfactory epithelium, the organ where volatile aroma compounds are converted in to the electrochemical signals that we perceive as aromas, smell or olfaction is still largely a mystery. For example, we have 400 types of olfactory receptors but we don’t know which volatile aroma compounds activate the majority of them.

As research continues to shed more light upon how our sensory systems function – we’ve tossed out the erroneous tongue map, a diagram of taste zones on the tongue that was based on misinterpreted research – recent discoveries reveal that our tongue plays a much larger role in the perception of flavor throughout our lifetimes. Flavor being defined as the perception of aromas and tastes combined with the sensation of textures and temperatures. 

At the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia, PA, a recent study revealed that we have both taste and aroma receptors on our tongues. The research was inspired by a child’s curiosity about how snakes use their tongues to sense their environment. Being equipped to respond to volatile aromas compounds or odorants means that your tongue also plays a role in the perception of aromas.

Until now it was thought that gustation or taste and olfaction were mutually exclusive systems sending signals through separate neural pathways to their respective cortexes only to be synthesized after they arrived.

When researchers at Monell discovered olfactory receptors side by side with flavor receptors in our taste buds, their discovery demonstrated that the initial cross talk of taste and aroma information may in fact occur there first.

At the very least, they have proven there are multiple pathways for the transmission of electrochemical signals to the olfactory cortex and we’ll certainly see more research further exploring how closely the perceptions of aromas and flavors are linked. 

In addition to being the location of our taste buds, the organs where aroma and flavor compounds are processed, we’re learning more about the physiology of our papillae, the bumps on our tongues that most people inadvertently refer to as taste buds. 

Three out of four types of papillae – fungiform, foliate and circumvallate – host taste buds. The fourth type, filiform, doesn’t have these receptors. Fungiform papillae have a higher concentration of taste buds all of which will decrease in number and change in shape becoming more closed as we age.

When papillae are open, it’s easier for aroma and taste compounds to come in to contact with the receptors where they are processed. Closed papillae reduce the contact area between these compounds and receptors resulting in diminished perception.

According to findings by researchers at Cardiff Metropolitan University, an active lifestyle and healthy diet, one that includes low to moderate consumption of the five tastes – sweet, sour, salt, umami and bitter – could help to slow down the changes that occur in papillae as we age.  

For those of us who routinely bathe our tongues in the acids, tannins and alcohol found wine, it begs the question, “How will a high level of exposure to these compounds impact our ability to perceive tastes and aromas over time?” What we do know is that your general state of health plays a significant role in the ability to smell and taste at any age.


Orchestrating the microbiome of a whiskey

Ask Jack Daniel’s enthusiasts what they like most about their preferred whiskey and the term “consistency” comes up time and time again. According to Kevin Smith, a microbiologist who serves as the Distillery Manager of Reliability & Technical Services for the brand, “The character and consistency of our spirits are the result of several different factors, and that is what defines our terroir.”

The concept of terroir expression in distilled spirits didn’t gain prominence until fairly recently, a shift driven both by research and best practices that determine desired flavors and character.

While grain sourcing is proving to be a factor of this expression for single malts, the use of multiple grains – as seen in the Jack Daniel’s grain bill of 80% corn, 12% barley , and 8% rye – makes the influence of any one component more difficult to detect.

“At Jack Daniel’s, we find that sourcing the highest-quality grains is far more important than the location in which the grains are grown,” Smith says. A grain bill is destined for conversion and Smith makes good use of the naturally-occurring enzymes in malted barley; this results largely in maltose fermentation versus a full glucose fermentation employing commercial (biotech) enzymes.

In other words, glucose fermentation tends to produces a lighter distillate, while a predominately maltose fermentation by yeast produces a richer, more flavorful distillate that better retains the natural flavor contribution of the barley.

“This choice has a greater effect on whiskey character that the terroir of the grain,” says Smith, who professes that microbiological processes are never easy to wrangle. Orchestrating the microbiome of a whiskey is no exception.

Good Yeasting

Yeasts also play a major role in defining a given whiskey’s aroma and taste. According to Smith, the Jack Daniel’s Distillery uses a proprietary yeast strain, dubbed “101,” with a subtle but identifiable character attributed to an ester (iso-amyl acetate). It’s sweet, fruity, banana-and-pear-like aroma carry over to the whiskey and remains post-maturation.

According to Assistant Master Distiller Chris Fletcher, the strain dates back to the Prohibition era when it was “originally maintained as an old ‘jug yeast.'” Fletcher places its importance second only to that of the barrel regime in terms of house style. “Commericial yeast is the standard in Scotland and Ireland, but we know that our yeasts are contributing a lot of flavor,” he adds.

Responsible for maintaining the yeast archive, Smith has isolated and catalogued various substrains of yeast since he joined Jack Daniel’s in 1998. When evaluating yeasts, Smith purposefully selects strains that produce low levels of fusel oils (200-250 grams per 100 liters). “The amount of fusel oils produced by a yeast can range from 100 – 700 grams per 100 liters. Our goal is to isolate desired strains for flavor and consistency,” he explains.

At the distillery, sour mashing is a two part process that unfolds during the yeast and mashing stages. The best-known component of the sour-mash process is the use of “backset” or spent stillage from the distillation run. This backset is added to the mix of grain and water in the mashing process. The second and very traditional component is the use of a “lactic-soured” yeast mash made exclusively from rye and malt grains and fermented by Lactobacillus debrueckii.

During this process, a lactic culture is scaled up from nine liters and added to into the yeast mash cooker; this lactic-soured yeast mash is then used to grow and scale up the yeast cultures in progressively larger stages from 250 milliliters to 13,000 liters before it’s added to fermenters. The combination of backset in the mash and the lactic-soured yeast mash drops the pH of the mash down to 4.8 or lower.

The souring process serves as a vital step that inhibits spoilage microbes and adds additional character to the whiskey. “By optimizing the [distillation] process through good yeasting, we not only achieve the highest yield [but] also improve aromas and flavors,” Smith says, noting that all Brown Forman distilleries use the traditional practice of lactic souring.

Distillation equipment also has a significant influence on the organoleptic character of the spirit and can either enhance or minimize the influence of the mash bill. “During and average 12-hour shift, we can run 300,000 to 350,000 gallons of fermented mash through the still columns,” says Distillery Operator Drew Smith. “In the grain mill, we can grind 55.000 pounds of corn in an hour’s time.”

A display of 16 screens in the control room makes it possible for Drew and the other distillery operators to maintain quality at this scale of production. “During the fermentation process we use technology that monitors set points and, during every shift, I measure and record the temperatures of each active fermenter as a precaution,” he explains. This ability to closely monitor all aspects of production enable the still house to meet demand and correct inconsistencies in real time.

The whiskey’s final influences come from charcoal mellowing – also known as the Lincoln County Process – and barrel maturation which together determines the finished style of the spirit. Not only do they modulate the yeast esters and the effects of lactic souring, they act as essential steps in maintaining the aforementioned consistency of Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey.

“Craft is about process, not about size,” says Kevin Smith. Considering his commitment to a task as complex as constructing the microbiome of Jack Daniel’s, perhaps “craft” would be better described as high art.

Kindred Spirits

A decade of collaboration and the evolution of Central Otago Pinot Noir.

When winegrowers in Burgundy found kindred spirits among the winegrowers of Central Otago the resulting collaboration now in its twelfth year has everyone who loves Pinot Noir cheering.

The idea behind the Central Otago Burgundy Exchange was born in 2006 when Sophie Confuron of Domaine Jean-Jacques Confuron attended the Central Otago Pinot Noir Celebration. Confuron, who had been invited to present a talk about how the beliefs and practices of the Cistercians advanced the notion of terroir, suggested to Rippon Estate’s Nick Mills that they start a student exchange between the two regions and the idea was born.  

80 stagiaires later, the success of the Exchange can be defined in several ways but according to Mills, it’s most evident in the approach the returning interns, from both sides, now bring to their craft. The Exchange has been as much about cultural awareness as it is about the practical experiences of making Pinot Noir having fostered reciprocal philanthropic and diplomatic support, art exhibits and a documentary video.

In 2017 a delegation of ten Central Otago producers – Aurum, Domaine Rewa, Domaine -Thomson, Felton Road, Gibbston Valley, Mt. Difficulty, Prophet’s Rock, Rippon, Quartz Reef and Wooing Tree – traveled to Burgundy to mark the 10th anniversary of the program. In doing so they brought a singular and defining celebration of turangawaewae (their place in the world) to the Chambre du Roi at the Hospices de Beaune.

The program which was administered through a winegrower association and agricultural college for each region: the Mosaïque Bourgogne International (MBI) and the CFPPA de Beaune in Burgundy and the Central Otago Winegrowers’ Association (COWA) and the Otago Polytechnic Central Campus is now in its twelfth year.  Although it’s no longer being formally administered, it’s well established and stagiaires continue to work in either region every harvest. One of the most compelling and celebrated examples of sympatico that has developed between the two regions can be found in Cuveé Aux Antipodes, a wine sourced from the Bendigo ‘Home Block’ at Prophet’s Rock.

Easily the region’s newest cult wine, the Prophet’s Rock Cuveé Aux Antipodes 2017 is a collaboration between winemaker Paul Pujol and Francois Millet, winemaker for 30 years at Domaine Comtes Georges de Vogüé and a master of the Chambolle grands crus Bonne Mars and Chambolle-Musigny.

Prophet’s Rock Cuveé Aux Antipodes 2017 easily the region’s newest cult wine.

On the final day of the 2019 Central Otago Pinot Noir Celebration, Jasper Morris MW led a guided discovery tasting of five Central Otago wines titled “12 Years of the Central Otago Burgundy Exchange – What have we learned?” 

During the course of the tasting, Morris made several observations about the evolution of both winegrowing and winemaking in Central Otago. He noted that producers were now more inclined to “letting the Pinot Noir come to [them].” 

Jasper Morris MW (l) and friend at the 2019 Central Otago Pinot Noir Celebration.

“There used to be too much winemaking [in Central Otago] and what it produced were wines capable of aging that may want cellaring for a few years.  We now see wines with a saturation of fruit and seductive herbs that will evolve versus simply aging well.”

Over the last decade, formal tastings at the Celebration have covered many aspects of Burgundian terroir. In addition to Morris, this year’s panelists included Lucie Lawrence from Aurum, Nick Mills and Louis Meunier, a winemaker from Domaine Jean-Jacques Confuron, who first came to Central Otago in his early 20s.

Louis Meunier, a winemaker from Domaine Jean-Jacques Confuron who participated in the Central Otago Burgundy Exchange.

“Through my time in Central Otago, I’ve come to know another side of Pinot Noir and its transparency of this terroir. Over the last ten years I’ve also seem climate change first hand with early bud beak and increased sugar levels at harvest. It raises many questions: ‘How adaptable is Pinot Noir? Will vines be able to reach old age?’”

The flight of six wines were produced by stagiaires who had participated in the exchange program. A charming Quartz Reef 2016 with lovely focus made by Alex Millot was followed by five wines produced from hallowed Burgundian terroirs including Premier Cru and Grand Cru sites by French winemakers who had participated in the Exchange in Central Otago. They were selected to demonstrate both the technical and philosophical evolution that has closed the gap between the two regions. 

The last time I conducted field research in Central Otago was 2011 at the very beginning of the 3.0 era. Since that time, there’s been an evolution in the overall quality and style of the Pinot Noir wines being produced here. There’s far less extraction and domineering new oak apparent in the wines and significantly more emphasis on transparency of terroir.

That evolution doesn’t smack of emulation, it transmits tūrangawaewae or respect for place. Over the last decade the vines have matured right along with the winemaking allowing Pinot Noir to take center stage.

Central Otago 4.0 Insights from the 14th annual Central Otago Pinot Noir Celebration

The three-day 2019 Pinot Noir Celebration held in Queenstown, Central Otago delivered on Chairman Paul Pujol’s welcome promise of examining the region, its producers and their wines with a perspective as fresh as a stiff breeze off Queenstown Bay. 

The evolution of the Central Otago wine region over the last decade – dubbed 4.0 in the region’s timeline – has been both inspiring and, in many ways, climatic. Evidenced by the fact that at least one sub region – Bannockburn with 325 hectares under vine – is now considered fully planted.

In 2016, Bannockburn vineyard owners collaborated to produce a vineyard map of the entire sub region detailing vineyard ownership, varieties planted, topography, row orientation and individual vineyard blocks. The three-year project was spearheaded by Felton Road’s Blair Walter whose tenure as winemaker there began in 1997.

According to Walter, this level of technical vineyard mapping is vital to the evolution of Central Otago as a fine wine region. With the emphasis that’s being placed on bottling single vineyard Pinot Noir which accounts of 78 percent of plantings in Bannockburn, it’s a giant step towards dialing in the terroir of this young, aspirational sub region.

The boundaries of Bannockburn as defined by the map encompass land south of the Kawarau River and east of Walkers Creek (Kawarau Gorge), across to the Clutha Arm of Lake Dunstan. In addition to Pinot Noir, the region is planted to Pinot Gris (8%), Riesling (6%) and Chardonnay (5%) with another seven varieties making up the balance.

The Bannockburn sub region of Central Otago will become a formal GI in the New Zealand Geographical Indications (Wines and Spirits) Registrations Act.

With a recent update to the map completed, vineyard owners are on track to register Bannockburn as a formal GI in the New Zealand Geographical Indications (Wines and Spirits) Registrations Act. “We’ve been progressing the application and now that the 2019 harvest is over, a few of us will be putting the final touches to it,” said Walter. “Hopefully we’ll be ready for filing sometime in June.”

Felton Road winemaker Blair Walter (l) with Melanie Eldridge and Neil Punshon of Trialto .

As New Zealand’s southern-most winegrowing region, the evolution of Central Otago can be defined in four waves: Plantings that took place prior to 1990 establish the timeline at 1.0 (these include Rippon and Gibbston Valley), 2.0, a second wave of vineyards planted between 1991 and 1997 (Felton Road was first planted in 1992 by Stewart Elms), 3.0 includes sites planted between 1998 and 2007 defines the most dynamic period of growth and development for the region, and 4.0 which began when plantings picked up again in 2010.

Central Otago 3.0

The decade spanning 1998 to 2007 was the focus of the Discovery Tasting presented on the first day of the Celebration by a panel composed of winemaker Jen Parr of Valli Wine, Emma Jenkins MW, Mike Winter, viticulturist at Te Kano Estate, Felton Road winemaker Blair Walter and moderator Sarah-Kate Dineen of Maude Wines. Tasked with illustrating the dynamic 3.0 era, they selected six wines that set the stage for the success that has since followed. 

Providing proof of concept with regard to the longevity of Bannockburn, Walter’s Felton Road 2010 Cornish Point Pinot Noir was striking in its youthful intensity showing flickers of smoke and umami on a medium-weight body and lifted finish.

The Felton Road 2017 Bannockburn current release.

It was an auspicious start down the road to a trio of 2015s: Mondillo Bendigo showed bright, ripe red and black cherries from that warmer site for a wine that was balanced and elegant with obvious restraint applied in the cellar. Notes on the Aurum Lowburn Mathilde describe a red and black “fruit explosion” on the mid palate, graphite and a moderate level of extraction. Judge Rock Alexandra was quiet on the nose with char, cranberry and raspberry on a medium body.

The 2016s expressed more primary fruit: Two Degrees Queensberry had earthier black fruit and purity with a flicker of complexing bitterness while the Valli Gibbston Vineyard revealed classic spiciness, pomegranate and pleasingly gritty tannins.

Of the key factors that influenced these wines, gains in quality were attributed to the more vigorous, drought-tolerant rootstocks namely 3309, 1068, 4453 that were introduced during 3.0 and found to be good for organic sites with permanent in-row groundcovers. The introduction of new clonal material including 943, 828 and MV6 which form more open bunches was also noted.  

Central Otago 4.0

There was an abundance of star power during the walk-around tasting hosted at Amisfield winery on Friday morning including actor and vintner Sam Neill whose Two Paddocks wines are produced from organically-certified estate vineyards in three of the region’s main valleys – Gibbston, Cromwell and Alexandra.  

Forty producers were on hand to present two wines, a current release Pinot Noir and a second wine of their choosing. Time didn’t allow for a visit to every station but of the 38 wines tasted, older vintages many of which were Abel clone monovarietal or dominant distinguished themselves that crisp morning.

The Abel clone prior to veraison at Felton Road.

Older vintages by vintage:

  • Mount Michael 2005, fully developed with dried flowers, dusty fruit and forest floor.
  • Mt. Edward Bannockburn 2011, Abel clone with a smoky note that harkened back to the Felton Road 2010 from the Discovery tasting the day before.
  • Ceres 2011, on the weightier end of the style spectrum, a meaty, spicy, smoky example from Bannockburn clay.
  • Peregrin 2012, darkly fruited with generous, gritty tannins.
  • Akitu 2013 which is 70% Abel clone showed dried fennel and sublime balance.
  • Prophet’s Rock Retrospect 2014, chalky, clay soils, restrained with a very silky texture.

Standouts among the current releases from 2016 and 2017 spanned a range of styles from those that showed little use of new oak up to as much as 50% but nothing that warranted descriptors like “woody” or “oak dominant,” a sure fire sign of restraint. 

Ceres Pinot Noir 2017

Current releases alphabetically:

  • Akarua 2017, subject to the “morning bake” on the north-facing crescent overlooking the Cromwell Valley shows black cherries and raspberries, vanilla and resolved tannins. 2016 (tasted a few days earlier with winemaker Andrew Keenleyside) was leaner, focused and refined reflecting the vintage.
  •  Akarua Kolo 2016, earthier with a mineral backbone, generous intensity, umami and complex spice.
  • Aurum Madeleine 2016, with refined cherry, cola and umami notes.
  • Carrick Bannockburn 2016, floral with good red fruit intensity and 10% new oak.
  • Ceres 2017, more extraction, meaty, spicy and smoky.
  • Domaine-Thomson “Surveyor Thompson” 2017, Lowburn, biodynamic estate fruit showing transparency of terroir and silky, resolved tannins.
  • Mount Michael 2017, darker fruit and 50% new oak still integrating.
  • Prophet’s Rock Cuveé Aux Antipodes 2017, distinct red plum, wet earth and spice, transparent and silky.
  • Rockburn 2017, leaner red fruit, umami, tannins with a granular crunchiness.
  • Tarras The Canyon 2016, rich, spicy and elegant with fine, silky tannins.
An assortment of wines made by Andrew Keenleyside at Akarua.

On the final day of the Celebration, Jasper Morris MW led a guided Discovery Tasting of five wines titled “12 Years of the Central Otago Burgundy Exchange – What have we learned?”  Read about the experience here – Kindred Spirits.

Rare Back-to-Back Vintage Declaration for Port

“2016 was precision, 2017 is depth and freshness.”- Dominic Symington

“Years ending in seven have historically been very good for vintage port declarations,” said Rupert Symington, CEO of Symington Family Estates as he recounted vintages as far back as 1897 and 1907 during his opening remarks for the preview tasting of the 2017 vintage port declaration in San Francisco. “These [wines] are the final blends although they may not yet have been bottled. They’ll be coming through to the market in August.”

The flight of 16 vintage ports produced by the Symington Family Estates, The Fladgate Partnership and Quinta do Noval were presented to the trade during the tasting hosted on May 9th at the Nikko Hotel. 

Carlos Agrellos, techincal director of Quinta do Noval, offered general impressions of the 2017 vintage. “2017 is an exceptional vintage but quite different from 2016 in all aspects,” he said. “We experienced a cold, dry winter and a hot, dry spring and summer. It only rained 300 mm in the Douro in 2017 and the soils dried out which is very extraordinary. June was the hottest month on record since 1980 with extreme temperatures of 40 – 44 C. This put us 15 to 20 days early for all phases of vine growth. We began harvest on the 17th of August which meant that holidays were cut short as we rushed back from vacation to begin harvest. We finished the 2017 harvest on the date that we typically begin and although we have lower yields, we still see very fine grapes in extreme years such as this.”

David Bruce Fonseca Guimaraens, winemaker at The Fladgate Partnership (l) with
Carlos Agrellos, techincal director of Quinta do Noval, and
Charles Symington, chief winemaker of Symington Family Estates.

The flight began with Cockburn’s 2017 presented by Charles Symington, head winemaker for Symington Family Estates:

The estate vineyards blended to produce Cockburn’s are located in the Douro Superior at Quinta dos Canais. These south facing-sites are the hottest in Douro resulting in wines that are ripe with velvety tannin, high acidity and more evolved raisined fruit with dark chocolate and some astringency on the finish. The original blend focused on Touriga National and we’ve reintroduced 50% Touriga back in to the blend of 30% Touriga Franca, 10% Souzao, 8% Alicante Bouchet and 2% other. Souzao brings the acid and gives the wine length. On the nose there’s esteva followed by cassis, kirsch, black pepper and a dryness that gives it length. The wines are made in lagares and constitute 8% of Cockburn’s production. “There’s viscosity and more tannin that I’ve ever tasted in these wines.” Score: 98

Croft 2017 by David Bruce Fonseca Guimaraens, winemaker at The Fladgate Partnership:

2016 had a purity of fruit but there’s a different profile here with more wild fruit and tremendous structure. The blend is based on Cima Corgo and shows resinous herbs, eucalyptus, some passion fruit and tropical notes. It’s quite smooth on the palate, very fresh and vibrant with great potential for agebility. Score: 98

Croft Quinta da Roêda S­­elicos 2017 comments by Adrian Bridge, CEO, The Fladgate Partnership:

This is a new offering for us coming from some very old vines that perform well in drought conditions. There’s evidence of some red fruit and esteva on a lighter body with medium plus acidity.  The Selicos bottling refers to “silken” and these vines were the first plantings in Cima after Phylloxera. The estate is very low yielding producing 200 cases in 2017. Score: 97

Dow’s 2017 by Rupert Symington:

The Symington’s acquired the estate in the early 1900s which originally came from the Warre family. Historically shippers did not own land in the Douro but they began buying after Phylloxera and this started a tradition. Dow’s also bought Bonfim in Cima Corgo (1896) and Senhora da Ribeira (1890) in the Douro Superior. Markers for Bonfim are chocolate and green figs. Aromas here are deep violet and very fresh smelling, with boysenberry and vanilla on a palate that’s quite smooth with some astringency of green tobacco on the finish. “Classic Dow’s is on the drier side and it’s a keeper. Dow’s is a personal favorite of mine for a young vintage.” Score: 98

Fonseca 2017 by David Bruce Fonseca Guimaraens:

The most astringent of the flight indicating a wine intended to lay down. “You’ll notice some orange zest which comes from three quintas in Pinhão that are known for their freshness and firm finish.” Score: 93

Graham’s 2017 by Dominic Symington:

Sourced from the eastern mesoclimate of Cima Corgo this is a blend from four quintas. “The wine is an opaque black purple and very floral with violets, esteva, rose water, bergamot, some mint with medium acidity and very good intensity mid palate. It’s a voluptuous wine with very good length.” Score: 100

Graham’s 2017 The Stone Terraces – Charles Symington, chief winemaker of Symington Family Estates:

This is a micro-terroir wine hailing from two sites north and east-facing parcels below the main house of Malvedos. There’s a tropical note that shows in the aromas and on the palate there’s orange blossom and some peach with medium acidity and more resolved tannins. 600 cases were produced which is about 4% of our production. Score: 100

Krohn 2017 – David Bruce Fonseca Guimaraens:                

They did not show the 2016 in the U.S. because of a change in distribution of the brand which is now with Kobrand.  Quinta do Retiro Novo is located in the Rio Torto river valley and the wines tend to have more savory notes and higher alcohol. 2017 shows leaner somewhat austere fruit with orange blossom, cassis, grippy tannins and black pepper on a drier finish. Score: 96

Quinta do Noval 2017 by Carlos Agrellos:

There is a lot of variety in the terroir of the estate which ranges from 130 – 250 meters in altitude. They have options beyond the best parcels and lots to choose from resulting in a wine that presents a better representative of the estate. 2017 is more complex, very spicy and floral with medium plus acidity making it very fresh on the palate. Score: 97

Quinta do Noval Nacional 2017 by Carlos Agrellos:

Sourced from a small parcel of ungrafted vines of which 1.6 hectares has survived. The estate was replanted in 1924 and there have been 35 vintages from the site. The vines are quite different and express in a different manner giving wines that are fresh with less viscosity and density and somewhat gritty textures. We also find a bit of cedar, exotic wood and licorice. The wine is foot tread over three days. The site is capable of producing vintages in off years and the wines have their own rhythm. 200 cases of 2017 were made. Score: 99

Quinta de Romaneira 2017 by Carlos Agrellos:

There’s a wild aromatic expression here showing the wine is Touriga Nacional dominant. We find fresh berries, very bright, sweet cassis and not as much secondary. Score: 93

Taylor Fladgate 2017 – David Bruce Fonseca Guimaraens:                

They lost some bunches to heat in 2017 but they found records of similar conditions in 1945 and the result was a “typical Taylor” rather austere and precise. The wines have been scored very highly thus far. Score: 96

Taylor Fladgate Vargellas Vinha Velha 2017 – David Bruce Fonseca Guimaraens:                

This is the essence of the property, a Taylor on steroids, and the 8th release of the wine since 1985. A field blend of century-old vines that takes four vines to produce a single bottle. This is the most easterly property they own and the north-facing amphitheater vineyard works best in warm years. The wine showed peach skin, stone fruit and more evolved fruit, star anise and cedar, tootsie roll and dark spice. Score: 99

Quinta do Vesuvio 2017 – Rupert Symington:

The quinta is only 30 kilomters from Spain in the Douro Superior with very low yielding vines of just 700 grams per vine. It was originally the crown jewel of Don Antonia Ferreira and planted to olives after being devastated by Phylloxera. Vesuvio was one of the first properties planted to mono varietal blocks and has produced vintage ports since 1989. The wines are made in lagare but destemmed and cooled. 2017 is richly fruited showing blueberries, spearmint, vanilla and dry ginger. Score: 98

Capela do Vesuvio 2017 – Dominic Symington:

The estate was replanted by massal selection from the original vines and includes Alicante Bouchet and Souzao. The result is a gorgeous blend with lovely consistency in the growing cycle. Touriga Franca needs the heat and sun and with the advanced growing cycle in 2017 the gap was narrowed so it could be co-fermented with the old vines and Touriga Nacional. Very aromatic and sublime with black tea leaf and pretty blue fruit, mocha and medium acidity on the palate.  Score: 99

Warre’s 2017 – Charles Symington:

Originally Warre’s was mostly sourced from the Douro Superior and now they’ve gone back to Pinhão for a more feminine style with a high percentage (60%) of old vineyards that yield just 500 grams per vine. The wine shows forward fruit with blueberry, sweet/tart boysenberry and a touch of astringency 3600 cases were produced. Score: 96

Alto Adige’s mountains of earthly delight

Vineyards and apple orchards lie under the soaring peaks that surround Bolzano, the bustling center of Alto Adige, a pristine and autonomous region in northeastern Italy.  Less than a two-hour drive from Innsbruck over the dizzying Brenner Pass, Bolzano is a study in contrasts; a place where Austrian and Italian cultures merge and Old and New World lifestyles converge.   

Guests enjoy the alpine air and wines at Tiefenbrunner.

Restaurateur and Italophile Bobby Stuckey once observed, “There are certain places in Italy that catch Americans off guard because they are not what we expect Italy to be.”  Alto Adige is one such place.  With three official languages – German, Italian, and the ancient Ladin language – plus the addition of English which serves as the common language for visitors, the region is overflowing with culture. 

As evidenced by Otzi, the 5300 year-old Neolithic mummy on display in the Museum of Archeology in Bolzano, the fertile, glacier-carved valleys of Italy’s Alto Adige region have nurtured human civilization for millennia. They region continues to nurture travelers with the pristine air of the Dolomites and the pleasures of the glass and table.

Mediterranean plants including olive trees and artichokes flourish under snow-capped peaks in the gardens of Trauttmansdorff, one of Europe’s top five botanical gardens.

The region’s indigenous Ladin language and culture can be traced to 15 BCE when the people of the Central Alps were absorbed into the Roman province of Rhaetia. Filled with poetry and legends heavily influenced by Germanic myths and peopled by all manner of fairies, dwarfs, witches and heroes, Ladin culture is taught in schools and protected by local laws.

Laimburg Research Center’s Gewurtztraminer “Elyond,” the princess of golden hair, and Barbagol, the magical wizard.

Spring vegetables present unique wine-pairing challenges

My long-time editor David Gadd explores food and wine pairing in this seasonal feature for 805 Living.

Spring on the Central Coast is the time to begin enjoying garden-sourced vegetables, but some, such as artichokes, asparagus, and the brassicas (cabbage, kale, cauliflower, and their relatives) present unique challenges when it comes to finding ideal wine matches.

It seems a Ph.D. in organic chemistry is necessary to fully understand the
issue, but wine science educator Deborah Parker Wong can provide
some insight into what happens when certain vegetables meet the palate.
Take artichokes, for example: “A taste obliterating compound in artichokes
called cynarine blocks most of the taste receptors for acid, bitterness,
and salt, making anything you eat or drink taste vaguely sweet.”

Parker Wong suggests light-bodied red wines to counter that effect. On the other hand, she says, “When pairing wine with brassicas or asparagus, combat their notably high levels of organosulfur compounds and methoxypyrazines with dry, aromatic white wines. Steer clear of wines with overt greenness or pungency, which will only amplify green flavors, and opt for tropical, fruit driven, or perfumed white varietals to
help mask those sulfurous aromas.”

Read his story here –


The Simple Pleasures of Italy’s Native Grapes

Italians like San Francisco restaurateur Francesco Corvucci know that great-tasting food and wine don’t need to break the bank as long as they’re made with quality, authentic ingredients. For great wine value he looks to Sicily and Agrigento-based Fuedo Zitari, a winery that embodies this belief in its approach to winegrowing and yields expressions that are meant to be enjoyed by all.

Standing at the highest point in the vineyards of Feudo Zirtari at 1600 feet, you can see the blue waters of Mediterranean Sea which lies 30 minutes to the south west. The winery and estate vineyards are sited between the communes of Menfi and Sambuca di Sicilia in the province of Agrigento, an area designated for the production of high quality Sicilia DOC and Terre Siciliane IGP wines.

With more than 80 percent of all vineyards on the island found in the western half of Sicily between Agrigento, Palermo and Trapani, the communes of Santa Margherita, Belice, Menfi, Sciacca, Sambuca di Sicilia, Grotte and Campobello di Licata are key areas of production in Agrigento.

The region’s warm Mediterranean climate is quite dry but the Zirtari vineyards and those around them benefit from altitude, the moderating influence of the nearby Lake Arancio “the orange tree lake” and off-shore wind and fog that makes its way from the coast. Ancient marine fossils and sedimentary marl composed of limestone, clay and silt define the soils of the lower elevations and transition to rocky areas at higher elevations.

Flanked on the west by stands of pine, cypress and oak trees of the Risinata Forest, the landscape surrounding Feudo Zirtari is planted to a diverse polyculture of vines, olive groves and almond orchards overlooking Lake Arancio, a 400 hectare-wide reservoir that hosts migratory birds in spring and autumn, and great Grey herons and cormorants during the winter months.

Winegrowing is an ancient practice in Agrigento as evidenced by some of Sicily’s oldest palmenti, the gravity-fed wineries that were carved into the hillsides where the island’s native capers and wild asparagus now grow on rocky outcrops by the ancient Greeks. Although the region’s long history of winegrowing is attributed to the arrival of the Greeks in the eastern part of Sicily in the 8th century BCE, according to native Italian winegrape expert Ian D’Agata, indigenous grape varieties including Inzolia (Ansonica in Tuscany) and Nero D’Avola (Calabrese) are genetic natives.

The happy fate of native grapes

Due in a large part to modern winemaking, the fate of native or autochthonous grapes that tend to be lower in acidity like Inzolia, once primarily used for the production of Marsala, now have a new lease on life. While the variety is grown almost exclusively in Sicily (96%) and found in almost every Sicilian DOC, its resistance to drought means it’s particularly well-suited to cultivation in the Agrigento region. 

Inzolia is a rare example of a naturally tannic white variety; what it might lack in acidity, it makes up for in tannin. Modern viticultural practices and blending with internationally-grown varieties like Chardonnay produce wines that have more structure from extract and citrusy, yellow apple, pear, apricot fruits and nuts nuanced with flavors of spice and a soft, mineral finish.

At Feudo Zirati, the marriage of indigenous varieties and internationally-grown varieties is particularly successful.  The resulting wine style is one that’s contemporary and still tastes authentic to the region.  The Feudo Zirtari Bianco is a 50/50 blend of Inzolia and Chardonnay grown at an elevation of up to 1550 feet on pebbly clay with a good amount of limestone. Chardonnay ripens early here and its affinity for that soil type helps maintain acidity in the grapes and provides a backbone of acidity for the blend.  Inzolia turns golden yellow as it ripens later and the floral and fruit character of both varieties are protected by cool, anaerobic winemaking practices.

The winery’s Rosso is an unoaked 50/50 blend of Syrah and Nero D’Avola, an indigenous variety known as the “little black grape” which is grown on clay soils with some limestone. These deeper soils generate more intensity in Nero D’Avola producing flavors of dark cherries, sweet spices, licorice and cocoa along with the grape’s signature high acidity.  Blended with Syrah the wine is floral with both red and black fruits and a fresh, lean mineral quality.

San Francisco restaurateur Francesco Corvucci, a Calabrian native whose gift for the cuisines of Southern Italy has brought life to several once-iconic North Beach locations, is a proponent of both wines. “My lists are devoted solely to Italian wines and my cuisine to Italian ingredients and dishes. In practice, the success of this wine style is undeniable; it more than satisfies a traditionalist like me and is very accessible for consumers.” 

Corvucci’s desire for accessibility and deliciousness runs second only to his vision of revitalizing San Francisco’s North Beach one folded slice of Neapolitan pizza and glass of Feudo Zirtari at a time. “Over the last fifteen years, the neighborhood had begun to lose traction,” he said. “Some of it was due to generational change and that it was no longer a top destination for younger consumers.”

His focus is on casual, absolutely authentic cuisine most notably the three kinds of mozzarella – freshly-made fior di latte and mozzarella di bufala along with an imported burrata –  has made Il Casaro which occupies the former Steps of Rome a destination since it opened in 2014. Il Casaro is just one of his and partner Peter Fazio’s family of four restaurants: Barbara Pinseria & Cocktail Bar, Express Barbara, Pasta Pop Up and there’s a fifth location in the making.

There’s no denying the simple pleasure of a perfect slice and Corvucci’s motto is, “Pizza is for everyone.” He views wine with the same pragmatic idealism. “I want to serve the domestic wines of Italy, the wines that remind me of what I grew up with.” While there are no expensive wines on his lists, the wines consumers enjoy in his restaurants still play an important role. “Wine is a natural partner with pizza and, like pizza, it needs to be a simple pleasure, one that can be enjoyed by everyone.”

The Not-So-Great Divide

Methyl Anthralinate Exposes Differences in Expert and Consumer Likeability

A recent study conducted at jointly at Penn State University and the University of California Davis illustrates significant differences in what consumers and self-described wine experts find likeable in wine.

The wines in question were six pairs of unoaked Chardonnay that had been doctored with increasing amounts of the compound – methyl anthralinate (MA) – that gives some native American vitis labruscana grape varieties their “grapey-ness.”  

Grapey is the labruscana winegrowers preferred synonym for the more common descriptor “foxy” that is used to characterize the distinct, often pungent aromas associated with certain varieties most notably the Concord grape. In contrast, the descriptor “grapey” is also used when describing the characteristics of vitis vinifera varieties like Riesling and Torrontes and, as such, it isn’t always viewed negatively by experts or consumers.  

According to researcher and Ph.D. student Demetra “Demi” Perry, “We didn’t record if the experts could identify MA. The study is meant to address reasons for the [low market value] of labruscana grapes reflected in price per ton.”

It hypothesized that wines with high concentrations of methyl anthranilate would be largely rejected by wine experts in California who view the compound which is inherent to vitis labruscana and found only in those varieties as a fault. Consumers from California and Pennsylvania which has 30,000 acres of Concord under vine and self-described wine experts from California were asked to rate their preferences against a control wine.

As anticipated, the California-based experts were far more likely to reject the MA-spiked wines. Their rejection threshold (130.3 ng/l) was significantly lower than that of non-experts (1704.9 ng/l). But contrary to the belief that experts disdain labruscana characteristics, neither group wholly rejected the samples that had the highest level of methyl anthranilate.  The study also tested 2-aminoacetophenone (2AAP) but the compound wasn’t rejected by subjects at any intensity.

When consumer subjects were further divided in to low and high-interest groups, no wine was “too grapey” for the low-interest consumers. Acceptance of grapey aromas in wine by consumers in Pennsylvania where Concord jams, jellies and grape juice are commonplace can be attributed to the propensity to like the familiar, a phenomenon known as mere exposure. The more familiar you are with a pleasant odor, the more likely you will rate it as pleasant.

Interestingly enough, not all wines described as “grapey or foxy” exhibit high levels of this compound. MA may be an important aroma constituent in some native varieties but their characteristic grapey flavor isn’t solely attributed to its presence. As an isolated compound MA which is also found in gardenias and jasmine is described as fruity, grape-like, orange blossom and musty with a floral, powdery nuance.  

The perfume industry deconstructs its aroma precisely in percentages of odorants: fruity (37%), citrus (25%), narcotic (22%) which is a heady, intoxicating floral note, linalool (9%), muguet (3%) Lily of the Valley, aliphatic (1%) fatty notes, and vanilla (1%).  Highly pungent oxidized aliphatic notes are also found in fox musk but that association has more to do with ripe grapes being an attractive meal for a fox than smelling like one.

Non-vinifera wines also have higher concentrations of compounds with vegetative and earthy aromas: eugenol (clove), cis-3-hexenol (fresh cut grass, leafy), 1,8-cineole (eucalyptus), and the pyrazines 3-isobutyl-2-methoxypyrazine (IBMP), and 3-isopropyl-2-methoxypyrazine (IPMP).  Concentrations of IBMP and IPMP in non-vinifera wines have been measured well above concentrations reported in physiologically-ripe vinifera grapes. The result is seemingly an entourage effect that creates labruscana’s distinct aromatic signature.

If, as the Penn State study hypothesizes, MA is universally viewed by experts as an indicator of lower quality wine and a fault, it’s surprising that the experts in this study failed to reach a complete rejection threshold. While that question wasn’t explored, it’s easy to surmise that even at the highest concentrations tested experts are aware MA is an inherent varietal characteristic and, unless it detracts noticeably from wine quality, its presence wouldn’t constitute a fault. 

Perry is also working on another study with Dr. Gavin Sacks involving de odorizing Concord grape juice in an effort to make it more commercially viable. Their goal is to remove grape-derived odorants, such as MA, while retaining the important base chemistry (e.g., pH, titratable acidity, soluble solids) of the juice and without sacrificing color. “There are similar processing technologies currently utilized in the wine industry for remediation of wine flaws, but most are targeted at processing wine whereas we have taken a step back and decided to target the juice instead,” she said.

Beyond the Bar: Wine country visits that take you beyond the tasting room

Gone are the days when wine tasting was synonymous with standing at a bar. Wineries are now offering tasting experiences that include such activities as hiking with your dog, appreciating a world-class sculpture garden and breathing through a yoga class. If you think a standard wine tasting at a bar sounds more like drudgery than a dream day, these four non-traditional wine tasting experiences are for you.

Imagery Estate Winery is located just outside of Glen Ellen in the heart of Sonoma Valley. Enjoy an hour-long Vinyasa class with a sequence that instructor Jes Williams says will keep you present and centered for the rest of the day. After practice, you’ll enjoy a walking tour of the winery, followed by a tasting in the winery tasting room. Yoga + Wine ($25-$35 per guest) is offered from 10 am to 12 pm every second Sunday through September. 14335 Highway 12, Glen Ellen, 877.550.4278,

Spend the morning hiking with your furry friend through Kunde Winery’s 1,850-acre estate filled with vineyards, oak woodlands and native grasslands that stretch from the Sonoma valley floor up into the Mayacamas Mountain range. This moderately strenuous hike runs from 9 am-1 pm and concludes with a much-deserved outdoor tasting and wine country lunch ($90 per guest). Dogs must be on leash. Kunde donates a portion of the proceeds to Dogwood Animal Rescue Project and Sonoma County Humane Society. 9825 Sonoma Highway, Kenwood, 707.833.5501,

Jeff and Roberta Kunde with their dogs.

Donum’s 200-acre estate is home to 40 contemporary works by such well-known artists as Ai Weiwei, Yayoi Kusama, Louise Bourgeois and Keith Haring. Conceived by Danish collector, vintner and co-owner of Donum, Allan Warburg, the Sculpture Park includes site-specific commissions interspersed with 150-year old olive trees, lavender gardens and vineyards. The experience of combining wine, nature and art is, according to Warburg, “far more powerful than if you enjoyed them separately.” Donum is open seven days a week for wine tastings by advanced reservation only.

The private pavilion at Quintessa Winery offers a Zen-like view of Dragon Lake and one of the most elevated tastings found in the Valley. Held in a glass-walled, open-air pavilion nestled among the slopes of Rutherford, this experience takes you far from the maddening crowd. The 90-minute Quintessential Experience begins with a walking tour of the estate winery followed by a seated tasting that includes a vertical tasting, exclusive barrel selections and rare library vintages plus a cheese pairing. The Quintessential Experience ($150 per guest) is offered daily by appointment at 10 am, 12:30 pm and 3 pm. 1601 Silverado Trail S, St. Helena,

Quintessa Winery’s pavilion.