Latest Posts

Taking Control of Total Package Oxygen

Appearing in the March 2020 edition of Wine Business Monthly

The oxygen transmission rate (OTR) of a wine closure is just one of several factors that contribute to the total package oxygen (TPO) in a bottle of wine. According to Dr. Paulo Lopes who conducts research and development at Santa Maria da Fiera-based Amorim & Irmãos, S.A. and has extensively studied the OTR of natural corks, closures are the least variable aspect when considering TPO. “We know precisely how much oxygen a closure will provide to the wine but only by accurately measuring oxygen during the bottling process are we able to make precision additions during winemaking.”

Lopes’ current research illustrates the oxygen release of natural cork over time, a measurement that is particularly relevant in the context of an oxygen audit designed to measure total package oxygen – the combination of the oxygen contained within the closure combined with the presence of atmospheric and headspace oxygen during bottling and the dissolved oxygen in the wine.

Oxygen Dynamics of Natural Cork

Not surprisingly, different grades of cork contain different amounts of oxygen; a longer, higher-quality Grade A cork with fewer lenticels will release less oxygen. “Longer corks are much more homogeneous in oxygen release,” said Lopes. “Also, due to the [sloping] shape of the bottle neck, the cork is less compressed and thus releases less oxygen.” To that effect, Amorim has created an online application which makes the OTR rates of it closures readily available.

Lopes is also researching the contribution of cork phenolics to wine. “Phenols from cork in low amounts can help shape the oxygen reduction potential of a wine by polymerizing some compounds to reduce astringency and bitterness,” he said. In effect, they provide extra protection against oxidation. “We’re working to understand the relationship between cork length and different kinds of wine. By using the same approach as the barrel industry we’ll be able to identify the optimal pairing between wine and cork.”

On average, a natural cork will release up to one mg of oxygen during the first six months in bottle and then continuously micro-oxygenate at just over one mg  from its cellular structure over a period of 60 months of storage.  Although it’s impermeable to atmospheric oxygen, oxygen from the cell structures of the cork travels through the plasmodems and lenticels in to the wine.

Corks used to seal wine bottles have a lifespan of about 25 years, after which they begin to lose elasticity and can start to let atmospheric air into the bottle along their sides. “After ten years, a cork will lose only one to two percent of its elasticity,” said Lopes. “And if stored in contact with the wine, it will absorb about three millimeters of wine. “

You can read the complete article here –

Slow Wine Guide 2020 – your free digital edition

Your free digital edition of the guide can be found at Slow Wine Guide 2020.

Join more than 80 producers from Italy, Slovenia, California and Oregon in San Francisco on Tuesday, February 18th at Pier 27, The Embarcadero for the Slow Wine 2020 USA Tour. Register to attend here.

The Slow Wine Guide evaluates over 400 different wineries and treats each with the utmost respect and attention. The Slow Wine team prides itself on the human contact it has with all producers, which is essential to the guide’s evaluations.

While other guides limit their relationship to a blind tasting and brief write up, Slow Wine takes the time to get personal with each winery in order to create a well-informed, detailed review of the wines themselves and the people behind the production.

Slow Wine selects wineries that respect and reflect their local terroir and practice sustainable methods that benefit the environment. And for the first time ever, those wineries that receive the snail or the official Slow Wine seal are 100% free of chemical herbicides, a quality that the Slow Wine Guide continues to passionately support.

Brief History

The first edition of the Slow Wine Guide to the Wines of Italy, published in 2010 by Slow Food Editiore (Bra, Italy), marked a watershed moment in the contemporary history of Italian wine writing. With its publication, the editors-in-chief Giancarlo Gariglio and Fabio Giavedoni not only abandoned the score-based formula that had dominated the field for more than 20 years but they also adopted a wholly new and innovative set of criteria.

For the first time, the pioneering Italian wine critics looked not just to the quality of the wines: They also took into consideration the wineries’ sustainable farming practices and the winemakers’ “Slow philosophy,” as Gariglio has put it, “which continues to be increasingly important to consumers in wine and food globally.”

Where a previous generation of Italian wine writers based their evaluations solely on subjective (and often modern-leaning) tasting notes, Gariglio and Giavedoni had their contributors base their selections on the wines’ relationship to the places where they are made and the people who produce them.

It was the first time that the Slow Food ethos had been applied so broadly to the world of Italian wine and it was the beginning in a new era of how Italian wines would be perceived throughout the world — and not just in Italy. In Gariglio’s words, they “wanted to tell the wineries’ stories.”

With the 2019 guide, the editors have continued their expansion into the US that started in 2017 with California to include Oregon. 

In Pursuit of Sensory Literacy

When Sonoma’s La Crema Winery turned 40 last year, it celebrated the milestone with a unique exercise: Led by Dr. Henry “Hoby” Wedler, it was easily one of my top sensory experiences of 2019.

Wedler, who has been blind since birth, studied chemistry at the University of California, Davis, and serves as Sensory Innovation Director at Senspoint, a consulting practice he co-founded with several partners.

A native of Petaluma, Wedler has long explored the geology of the Sonoma County and has worked extensively with local clients in viticulture and winemaking—including Jackson Family Wines, which acquired La Crema from founder Rob Berglund in 1993.

After conducting a brief overview of the winery’s history and the terroir-related factors that influence the quality and style of wines grown on the Sonoma Coast, Wedler led a small group of professional tasters through six Russian River Valley AVA wines made by La Crema winemaker Craig McAllister.

While Wedler designed the experience to improve sensory literacy, he also described it as a “thought-provoking way of telling the story of a great growing region like the Sonoma Coast.”

To begin, the 2017 Kelli Ann’s Vineyard Chardonnay and the 2016 Bellflower Vineyard Pinot Noir were analyzed using all five senses. To help us connect aromas readily apparent in the wines with the aromas of microbial terroir from each expression’s respective vineyard, Wedler asked the group to moisten two vials containing soil samples with a small amount of water. 

Read the complete article here –

World Bulk Wine Expo 2019

Watch highlights from the show on this sizzle reel –

The bitter truth

According to neuroscientist Camilla Arndal Andersen, how consumers describe the taste of food can be misleading largely due to inherent biases. Among the most problematic is the “courtesy bias,” which comes into play when people respond with what they see as a socially acceptable opinion that doesn’t accurately reflect how they feel. There’s also the “bias blind spot,” in which we think we’re less biased than others. In short, we’re biased about our biases.

We see the courtesy bias at work in the wine industry when consumers say they prefer dry wines but, when given a choice, favor wines that are off dry or have much higher levels of residual sugar. Arndal Andersen points out that even trained tasters aren’t immune to bias; for example, foods that contain vanilla are rated sweeter by professionals even if they lack sugar. This can be explained by our long association between the two ingredients, which is based on a lifetime of exposure to their use in baked goods and desserts.

As one of the few low-threshold odors we still find pleasant even past the point of overexposure, vanilla—aka 4-hydroxy-3-methoxybenzaldehyde—is known to have 170 volatile compounds, of which vanillin is dominant. The vanilla flavor wheel used by the flavoring company FONA International specifies 29 distinct flavor characteristics for natural vanilla that it groups into ten main categories: smoky, spicy, botanical, sulfury, sweet, creamy, medicinal, cooked, fatty, and floral.  

Like wine grapes, natural vanilla grows in different places—among them Madagascar; Mexico, where it originated; or Tahiti—and has different taste profiles and potency. For example, Madagascar vanilla, typically called Bourbon vanilla, is highly sought after for its rummy taste and sweet aroma.

The demand for vanilla flavoring, however, has long exceeded the supply of vanilla beans. Natural and synthesized vanillin are used to create the impression of sweetness in foods, as seen in the mass-market chocolate industry’s practice of adding synthetic vanillin to products to counter the bitterness of cocoa. With the growth and popularity of the sweet red blend category, it’s no surprise to find that vanilla/vanillin is a dominant flavor descriptor for this style, as it undoubtedly helps mask bitterness imparted by tannins.

When tasting across a commercial-quality range of single-varietal, and blended red wines from California for a recent sensory project, the use of vanillin-flavored oak alternatives left a ubiquitous stamp across all brands and varieties tasted. While the organic polymers known as lignins that are present in oak serve as one source of vanillin, few consumers know that an estimated 85% of the world’s supply of synthetic vanillin is derived from petroleum or crude oil. (The other 15% comes from the manufacture of cellulose.)

As for the perception of sweetness that vanillin can contribute to red wines, while we may be aware of unconscious biases, there’s little scientific evidence that supports the idea that heightened awareness will reduce the occurrence of bias in general. In other words, it’s very likely that we’ll still perceive vanillin-dominant red wines as tasting sweeter.

James the Wine Guy Interviews Deborah Parker Wong, DWSET

Prolific video blogger and wine writer James Melendez tells me that this insightful interview is one of his most popular to date. Read it on his James the Wine Guy site –

Find his highly-rated video blog on YouTube –

Alentejo’s Dark Horse, Alicante Bouschet

As grape varieties go, it’s fair to say that Alicante Bouschet (Ahlee-KANT Boo-SHAY) is flashy in the vineyard. It’s one of the few—along with Chile’s Carménère and Campania’s Piedirosso— whose leaves turn a deep, brilliant shade as the growing cycle winds down.

The resplendent, purple-hued robe of the variety’s canopy emerges when anthocyanins, the same pigments responsible for its red pulp and dark skin, are activated as the vine approaches dormancy.

A relative newcomer to the teinturier family of grapes, which are so named for their red pulp, Alicante has a unique anthocyanin fingerprint. It was bred as an improvement over its grandparent grape, Teinturier du Cher, a variety hybridized by renowned French viticulturalist Louis-Marie Bouschet with Aramon to create Petit Bouschet.

Henri Bouschet continued the experiments of his father in 1866 when he crossed Petit Bouschet with Grenache Noir (known as Alicante in southern France), resulting in Alicante Bouschet and several biotypes.

Alentejo, which covers almost a third of Portugal by area, encompasses roughly 18,000 hectares of vineyards. Last year, the region ranked third behind the Douro and Lisboa (formerly Estremadura) in total wine production, and although Alicante Bouschet is not among the country’s top ten varieties under vine, Alentejo is second only to Spain (where the grape is known as Garnacha Tintorera) in plantings of the variety.

In addition to vineyards, the region’s gently rolling landscape has historically been dotted with cereal crops, olive trees, and cork forests. In this continental climate with very low rainfall, the winters are cold and an ever-present risk of frost extends to the spring season; the hot, dry summers, meanwhile, necessitate irrigation.

A mix of heterogeneous soil types abounds, with outcrops of clay schist, granite, gravel, rañas deposits of sandy, clay loam, and ferrous limestone.
The region’s natural landmarks have helped producers define mesoclimates
ideal for producing monovarietal Alicante Bouschet.

The Vidigueira fault, which marks the border between the Alto Alentejo
and Baixo Alentejo provinces, is a long, east-west-facing escarpment that tempers the warmer southern climate. It’s here that Herdade do Rocim, an estate sited between the municipalities of Vidigueira and Cuba with 60 hectares under vine, produces an Alicante Bouschet expression from vines planted in the 1970s. Traditional foot treading and barrel aging produced a 2016 vintage laden with deep plum and velvety tannins framed by sandalwood and dark spice.

South of the fault lies the 1,700-acre Herdade dos Grous estate; its 70 acres
under vine share the schist soils of the nearby hills of Monte dos Magros. The 2016 Moon Harvested Alicante Bouschet, aged in French oak, illustrates how young Alicante Bouschet tends to show fewer primary aromas. Instead, there’s the promise of tertiary aromas that will develop and even predominate during aging, with bittersweet chocolate, espresso, char, and mulberry on the palate. Moderate acidity helps counterbalance the wine’s grip, and decanting will help release any reined-in aromas.

Alicante Bouschet’s adaption to this terroir has been helped along by its drought tolerant-nature and producers’ shared understanding that this thick-skinned, high yielding variety performs best when it’s planted in low-vigor soils and aggressively pruned.

Traditionally reserved for blending with Aragonez, Castelão, and Touriga
Nacional as well as Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah, Alicante Bouschet–dominant wines can be labeled either Alentejo DOC or Alentejano Vinho Regional (IGP). With a total approved vineyard area of 11,763 hectares, DOC wine production exceeds the IGP’s production of 6,233 hectares.

Another producer, Dona Maria Vinhos, bottles an Alicante Bouschet–dominant (50%) DOC Grand Reserva: a classic blend that sees the addition of 20% Syrah, 20% Petit Verdot, and 10% Touriga Nacional. Produced from old, dry-farmed vines planted in iron-rich clay-limestone soils at an elevation of 400 meters, the grapes for the 2012 vintage were foot tread before the wine aged one year in new oak. The firm and lithe result positively vibrates with crisp dark fruit, mocha, and uncured tobacco.

Because of its heritage, Alicante Bouschet contains a higher proportion of
anthocyanins than all of the other international varieties planted in Alentejo and in Portugal at large. With a total phenol index over 60, it ranks among the grapes— including Portugal’s native Tinta Barca and Borraçal, Italy’s Barbera and Corvina, and France’s Tannat—with the highest levels of antioxidant stilbenes known as resveratrol.

The presence of high phenol levels is readily apparent in the mouth coating texture of the 2015 Alicante Bouschet from Herdade São Miguel, whose clay- and schist-based vineyards are surrounded by the cork forests of Redondo. Lighter and more medium-bodied than the wines of southern Alentejo, the wine spends one year in oak and shows a combination of red and black fruit with lavender, nutmeg, and some white pepper.