Category Archives: Wine Education

Food, Wine and Climate Change

Harvard Business School Graphic
(Harvard Business School Reference Material)

Wine and Food Products by Location

The importance of climate in vineyard management can not be over-stated. The entire European culinary and beverage marketing model establishes food/wine character BY LOCATION. This European developed idea to turn place-names into unique trademarks defining specific flavors and aromas has been the cornerstone of worldwide food and wine marketing for decades. The same thinking caused governments to establish laws and trademark protections for food and wine production. Wine laws arguably could be the most stringent. Here are a few of the most famous wine examples: American Viticultural Area (AVA) in the U.S., Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC) in France and Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) in Italy. This concept also applies to specialty foods: Parmesan Reggiano cheese may only come from Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena and Bologna, IT, Roquefort cheese can only be made in Roquefort, FR, Prosciutto de Parma can only be made in Parma, IT, etc. If you have never tasted these original foods (and not imitations), you need to splurge a little and buy these imported products. The difference in flavor is astonishing.

Impact of Climate Change on Wine Production

The French terroir concept is the basis of this wine marketing by area idea and has been developing for hundreds of years in Europe. It is the primary driving factor behind the establishment of wine laws controlling vineyard and winemaking practices by location. The definition of Terroir:

Complete natural environment in which a particular wine is produced, including factors such as soil, topography, and climate. – AND / OR – The characteristic taste and flavor imparted to a wine by the environment in which it is produced.

(Oxford Dictionary)

Climate has a direct impact on the terroir idea defined above. It affects many choices for producers, ie. grape varietals to plant, when to harvest, control of crop size, how to water, conditioning/fertilizing of soil, etc. All of these affect wine character, flavors and aromas. So, what is coming for the wine and food industries due to climate change? Hang on… crystal ball is out, here we go…

Vineyards and Resulting Wine by Location

Common thinking has been that vineyards should be planted between the 30th and 50th parallels (latitude) around the globe, both northern and southern hemispheres. Cool climate reds like pinot noir often are best grown near the 45th parallel and warm climate reds like nero d’avola and shiraz near the 35th. Cool climate whites like riesling are often grown near the 50th parallel (ripening reliably compared to past) and warm climate like petit manseng near the 35th. Vineyard elevation can affect this range, but only minimally. The impact is not just temps, but also length and intensity of sunlight during the growing season.

The most consumed varietals in the world: cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay are best grown in a much narrower range: 40-45th parallel. Why is this important? What if the most famous cab sauv growing region in the world (Bordeaux, France) became too hot for premium cab sauv wine production? Would these producers accept: producing poor quality wine, over-manipulate the wine to change its character, or tear out cab sauv vines and plant warmer climate varietals like aglianico and petit sirah? French wine laws would fall apart with any of these options and as a result wine consumers might change their ideas about where the best wines in the world are produced.

Climate Impact on Commonly Grown Wine Grapes

When cab sauv is grown in cooler areas, the wine acquires vegetal flavors: green bellpepper and tomato are common. When chardonnay is grown in warmer climates, it becomes too fruity and loses it signature acidity. What would happen if Burgundy, France became too warm to grow quality pinot noir, or Napa, CA became too warm for cab sauv? The transition has already begun… I have been collecting and tasting wine since the 90’s and red burgundy has become fruitier and Napa reds have become flabbier. Many Napa producers have already begun manipulating their wines to adjust for the differences. One option is to harvest earlier, but then the pips (seeds) are not allowed to ripen and complex flavors are lost. In Napa, where the area’s signature cab sauv is very fruity, this option would change the whole character of the regions’ wine production.

Changes and Timelines

Climate change has been slowly accelerating, but still is not likely to have a serious impact on wine in my lifetime. Although, consider this thought: a wine vineyard requires 5-10 years to fully mature and begin producing premium fruit for wine production. This requires thinking in terms of decades, not years. The last 25 years of climate change has seen a noticeable difference in the character of wine in many regions. Not enough to change the wine industry substantially, but at this rate, what will another 25 years bring? Will vineyard managers have the vision to react in advance, when there is still time to save the current wine styles of today? Will the industry opt to tear-out current vineyards and replant warmer climate grape varietals, or decide to abandon warming vineyard sites for planting in cooler climate areas farther north? It is likely to be too expensive to abandon existing vineyard sites… so my crystal ball shows the younger generations of wine drinkers adapting to Petit Sirah and Petit Manseng…

This has been a very interesting topic. If others in the trade have different ideas regarding the impact of climate change on the industry, please drop me a note. I am always curious about new strategies… and no, please do not suggest adding citric acid to the final product, thank you…

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Filed under Cool Climate Wine, Wine Education, Wine Industry, Wine Marketing, Wine Tasting

Austrian Wine Scandals

The Most Horrific Wine Event of the 20th Century

I was reading a recent Meininger Wine Business Report and found this piece: https://www.wine-business-international.com/wine/news/wine-adulteration-austria.

For those that are not familiar with Austria and its history with wine, this article will familiarize you with the 1985 scandal when millions of bottles for domestic and export sales were found to have had diethylene glycol (similar to automobile antifreeze) added. This stuff can be very unhealthy. But, on the upside, it does make the wine fuller bodied and sweeter. Nice trade-off there. Fortunately, no one was seriously hurt, but the result of that mess was the destruction of 36 million bottles of Austrian wine and the complete collapse of their wine industry. It would take almost 20 years and the addition of numerous laws and legal safe-guards for their wine industry to fully recover. There has finally been a huge resurgence in the popularity of Austrian wines in the last decade.

Latest Austrian Scandal

In several wine producing countries, it is illegal to add any type of glycerine to wine. Unfortunately, in the U.S., it is permitted. There is a huge difference between synthetic glycerine and vegetable glycerine. The synthetic type CAN be quite toxic. The vegetable version is very safe, but desirable as a wine additive? (discussion to follow below) 25,000 bottles were discovered and destroyed in Austria that were found to have synthetic glycerine added this year. The added substance in question was a trivalent alcohol that gives wine a higher viscosity and is harmless, but is forbidden by Austrian law. This synthetic glycerine was petroleum-based. Convictions and fines were the result. Sentences are not yet legally binding though. With Austria’s past, any chance of toxicity is serious bad form.

Wine Additives

Some of the additives listed below are illegal in certain countries, but most are permitted in the U.S. Although, we don’t get to know which are used in the wine we drink, BECAUSE WINE HAS BEEN EXEMPTED FROM USFDA FOOD LABELING REQUIREMENTS. What does this mean to you personally? Well, nothing here is outright dangerous, but don’t underestimate the impact on allergies, tolerances and such. For example, my wife has a known allergy to soy, others find they have limited tolerance to added sulfites, etc. In general, all of these can affect color, flavors, aromas and the viscosity of wine. Your reaction to this discussion might be: “but, these additives are only used in cheap wine”. You would be very wrong. This list is commonly used in all price categories.

Here is a short list of common wine additives:

  • Citric, Fumaric, Malic, Lactic and Tartaric acids – to acidify wine
  • Calcium Carbonate – to de-acidify wine
  • Oak and Oak Chips – to add tannin, flavors & aromas
  • Acetaldehyde – to stabilize color
  • Copper Sulfate – to eliminate sulfites and mercaptans (bad tastes/odors)
  • Sulfur Dioxide, Potassium Sorbate – to sterlize and preserve wine
  • Mega Purple – to add color and body
  • Tannin Powder – to add mouth-feel and make wine more ageable
  • Gum Arabic – to reduce astringency (tannin) in wine
  • Dimethyl Dicarbonate – to stabilize, sterilize and remove alcohol
  • Sugar, Saccharose, or Grape Juice Concentrate – to add sweetness also called “chaptalization”
  • Vegetable Glycerine – to add body and sweetness
  • Gelatin, Albumin (egg white), Bentonite, Casein – to remove haziness caused by free proteins
  • Water – to dilute over-concentrated wine
  • Engineered, Cultured Yeasts – to control the fermentation process (vs. wild yeasts)
  • Diammonium Phosphate – removes naturally occurring sulphur in wine
  • Protease – improves wine heat tolerance
  • Soy Flour – Feeds yeast to accelerate fermentation

Organic, Biodynamic and Natural Wine

All of this talk of additives has to lead your mind toward interventionist vs. non-interventionist winemaking philosophies. Have you considered the issue for your own wine consumption? Personally, I believe I can taste the difference in over-manipulated wines. Napa Valley producers in the low to medium price range have been utilizing these methods more of late. This is the key reason why my personal wine cellar has been moving towards a higher percentage of French and Italian wines, especially in the low-medium price ranges. France and Italy have very stringent wine laws regarding additives and in general, have winemaking cultures of less intervention. So, if you would like to address this issue, how can you know which U.S. wines to buy? It may be time for you to read the back label of that next bottle of wine… Wine in the U.S. can be “labeled” as organic, biodynamic, natural and sustainable… and can also be certified as such by a third party. Many U.S. wineries are implementing at least some of these practices. Here is what these terms mean:

  • Natural – Typically are made in a low-intervention style, fermented with native yeasts and contain only trace amounts of added sulfites. These wines are not filtered, or fined. This means they could contain particulates, or appear cloudy. Which is not necessarily a problem. These wines should have gone through the bare minimum of chemical, or winemaker intervention and are not often aged in oak. Wines produced with this approach may have limited stability and cannot be mass-produced, but are a different drinking experience, if you should choose to try them.
  • Organic – These wines fall into two categories: organic wine and wine made from organically grown grapes. Certified organic wines (USDA) have stricter regulations. Vineyards must not use synthetic fertilizers and all ingredients in these wines (including yeast) must be certified organic. No sulfites may be added, although naturally occurring is permitted. These wines will display the USDA organic seal.
  • Biodynamic – Unlike organic winemaking, biodynamic does not change between countries. When originally devised, the method had each day organized by fruit days (grape harvesting), root days (pruning), leaf days (watering) and flower days (vineyards to be untouched). Biodynamic practices are not required to follow this calendar, however. If you’ve seen biodynamic and organic wines grouped together at your wine shop, there is a reason. Biodynamic wines employ organic practices. They avoid pesticides and depend on compost, rather than chemical fertilizer. Therefore, the majority of these wines are also organic in practice. Certified biodynamic wines are permitted to contain up to 100 parts per million of sulfites, far more than the USDA certified organic wines. So, a wine that is organic is not necessarily biodynamic, although a wine that is biodynamic is often organic.
  • Sustainable – These wineries make an effort to utilize winemaking processes that protect the environment, support social responsibility, maintain economic feasibility, and are of high quality. This idea has less of a direct impact on the wine, but is an “eco-friendly” designation.

Here is a link to a page with detailed descriptions of all organic wine designations: https://organicvineyardalliance.com/organic-wine-definitions-behind-the-label/.

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Filed under Wine Education, Wine Industry, Wine Marketing, Wine Tasting

2007 Giacomo Grimaldi Barolo

Producer: Giacomo Grimaldi

Varietal: Nebbiolo

Appelation: Barolo, Sub-Appelation of Piedmonte – Langhe, Italy

Vintage: 2007

Score: 92 pts. – 100 pt. Scale, 17 pts. – 20 pt. Scale

Provenance: Buyer Cellared Original Purchase

Tasting Note:

This is/was an Old World style Barolo. There are certain wine styles that are produced for extended bottle aging and Barolo leads this category. Don’t expect to purchase a classic Barolo and drink it in less than 10 yrs. I know for some this might sound bizarre, but nevertheless, it is the reality for this style of wine. This was not originally an overly expensive Barolo ($33/btl in 2011), so it was fun to see how this held-up. If you are thinking 14 years is a long time to wait for an experiment, I agree… but these are the kind of purchases that are the most satisfying… when they succeed. As a wine collector, I have developed my palate just for opportunities like this.

The drinking window for a traditional Barolo is usually 10-20 yrs from purchase. I popped this first bottle last night at 14 years and I enjoyed it very much, but for some, the tannin might still be too much. IMO, this wine is drinking really well right now, but another 3-5 years of bottle age and this Barolo will be positively singing. Decanted for an hour. Nose is very closed for a Barolo, just some alcohol, tar and red fruit. The palate is raspberry, black cherry and red plum, tar and a touch of wood. The fruit is really holding up nicely as the wine ages. Structure is superb: high acid with medium+ tannin. I enjoyed the mouthfeel. Tannin is integrated, but mouth-filling, rather than drying. It is missing the Barolo signature floral nose/palate and could use more complexity to add interest. The finish was lengthy with a touch of dark chocolate bitterness and tar to round it out. This is enjoyable to drink on its own, but especially with rich foods (red meats/red sauces), the high acidity will pair well.

Evaluation

This was a solid Classic Barolo and a real value (in retrospect). It was not in the top 3rd of Barolos I have tasted at any price, BUT it had truly classic Barolo flavors, was well made, held-up to bottle aging very well and is continuing to evolve. It could have had more complexity, but then again, it was not priced at the more typical $50-100/btl. I am impressed with what this producer achieved at this price.

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Filed under Barolo, Cool Climate Wine, Nebbiolo, Piedmonte, Wine by Varietal, Wine Collecting, Wine Education, Wine Tasting, Wine Tasting Notes

Returning Faulted Wine?

Refusing Faulted Wine at a Bar, or Restaurant?

Have you ordered a glass of wine while out and find it tastes a little strange? Did you send it back and request a glass from a new bottle? Or maybe, ordered a bottle, only to find it didn’t taste as it should? Now, you know why wine enthusiasts smell the cork upon opening a bottle… The first situation above is quite common, the latter is rare, but it does happen. I will mention the most common wine faults here, but the primary focus will be:

How to handle the decision to send the wine back.

The appropriate conversation to engage the server when sending wine back.

Quick Review of Common Wine Faults

These are the most common:

Oxidization

Overexposure of wine to air/oxygen. Oxidized wines lose brightness in both color and flavor. Red wine turns brownish-orange and can have a vinegar and/or caramelized (sometimes buttery) flavor. This is very common when you are served wine by the glass. Sometimes, a glass can be poured after days of storing an open bottle.

Heat Damage

This occurs when wines are exposed to temps over 80 F for prolonged periods, or over 90 F for shorter periods. Cooked wines develop a jammy, sweet character that can taste like stewed fruit. This can be very common in places like Arizona, where I live. Wine must be stored under 70 F and away from light to remain in good condition after a few months. In places like AZ, this means storage in coolers during the Summer months. Some on-premise businesses turn their wine inventory quickly enough that room temp storage can be acceptable, but keep an eye out to determine if you plan to return.

When bottles experience high heat, the corks often leak, so you get a double hit from Oxidization AND Heat. This problem can sometimes be identified by inspecting the cork for wine stain to the very top.

Cork Taint or TCA

This was more common in years past. Technology has made it less so, but it still happens. TCA can have a taste/aroma similar to wet dog/newspaper. There are some that say 1/10 bottles with real cork closures will experience this. In my experience, it has been closer to 1/20 bottles.

Sulfur Fault

This results from improperly handling the addition of sulfites to wine. Sulfites are a natural byproduct of fermentation, but it is very common for winemakers to add sulfites as a preservative. When this is not handled correctly, it can cause burnt matchstick, rotten egg, or garlic flavors/odors. Biodynamic wines do not permit the addition of sulfites, if you are looking for sulfite-free wine.

Secondary Fermentation

This occurs when a small amount of residual sugar reactivates the yeast and adds carbonation to the wine. Some wine varieties are made purposely in this “frizzante” style, like Moscato d’Asti, but think of a Cabernet Sauvignon with bubbles…

Microbial Fault

This occurs when the winery and production areas are not kept clean. Certain of these faults can be part of the wine style, such as Brettanomyces. This adds that barnyard aroma to some wines and can become an acquired taste. There are additional “off” flavors and odors caused by other microbes too.

How to Handle the Decision

If you have identified any of these faults (or others), keep in mind, at most bars and restaurants they are serviced by distributors who will always take back winery faulted bottles. In the case of heat and oxidization, it is totally preventable and the management on-premise needs to know about the inventory storage problem. This issue is the primary reason mark-ups are so high for wine service. There are 4-5 6 oz. pours in a bottle. Some businesses try to recoup their entire profit in one glass purchased, others two. Either way, they are covered. Don’t accept odd tasting wine. If you can identify the fault, share it with the server. Let them know there is a solid reason for the return and they will have the information needed to deal with their supplier.

There is another discussion on the topic of returning wine, which I will address briefly. When the consumer doesn’t enjoy the wine selected… as the buyer, it is your job to engage the server and help them to understand what wine characteristics you enjoy. Although, sometimes the server does not have enough experience to assist, or they have not been trained to identify flavors/aromas in wine. This is the area where the decision has to be what you are comfortable with. Most restaurants and bars, will replace wines you don’t like, if you share your comments. At some establishments, this can turn into an argument and affect your service, so think twice about how you handle this scenario specifically.

How to Discuss the Return Request

Be confident in your identification of odd flavors/aromas and explain what you are experiencing. Share any clear evidence with the server, such as: the cork stained to the top for heat, or the horrible odor on the cork for TCA. I experience Oxidization Fault very frequently. I would say 1/5th to 1/3rd of all wine I order by the glass is oxidized and I almost always send it back. The restaurants/bars know when the bottle has been open too long. Any management worth their salt will mark their by-the-glass inventory with the date opened.

Where does the Responsibility Lie?

All small production wineries should be willing to replace bottles with faults caused by their production. The same applies to distributors and restaurants/bars for faults caused by their handling and storage. Be comfortable that there is always a mistake along the way that causes these issues and it is not your responsibility to suffer through dealing with it. Wine is a luxury item and producers, suppliers and servers should treat their service like it is a premium product.

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Filed under Restaurant, Wine Education, Wine Industry

Judging-Scoring Wines

Risky Business

At the risk of upsetting every wine critic/judge out there, I set out to create a wine scoring system that matched my view of fine wine. I will include this scoring template at the end of the article, for those that might be like-minded. Email me if you would like a self-calculating spreadsheet copy.

My Motivation

After pro Sommelier training (where scoring was discouraged), I was exposed to the WSET scoring method and wine judging courses. Both used a variation of the UC Davis 20 Point Scoring System. I was shocked how these systems were unable to separate amateur from premium wines effectively. In these classes, we scored fruit wines (cherry, blueberry, strawberry, etc.) and vitis labrusca wines (Concord, Chambourcin, Catawba, etc.). These wines were near undrinkable for me and were being given the same scores as mediocre Cali Cabernet. The methodology and scoring systems taught in these classes were intended to be appropriate for both amateur and fine wines. Although, away from class these same people would explain the intent of these systems was to score wines based on a comparison of LIKE wines. This is not how I understood the training and it is likely the public views this scoring similarly. This experience motivated me to build a scoring system that is weighted properly and could be used to provide comparatively accurate scores for amateur, professional AND fine wines, without a bias.

The Evaluation Criteria

First, it was necessary to determine what separates fine wine, from other wines. In that evaluation, I arrived at the following characteristics that are under-represented in the UC Davis System: Balance, Complexity, Finish and Aging Potential. All of these measures are intended to be scored in the UC Davis “Quality” category, but to make the scores more comparatively accurate, I decided these characteristics needed their own point categories. I then looked at what seemed to be weighted incorrectly in the UC Davis System and arrived at: Clarity, Color and Acidity. Four of twenty points for clarity and color is 20% of the score. This is weighted too heavily towards mediocre wines. Acidity was only 5% of the score – not weighted heavily enough. I realized, if I reduced the points for clarity and color, increased points for acidity and added balance, complexity, finish and aging potential categories… I might be able to devise a scoring system that could properly measure a Concord wine (for example) and build an appropriate score against say… an aged Bordeaux Gran Cru.

A Wine Scoring Template

Now I was ready to put my scoring template together. I realized that many media outlets still use the old Robert Parker 100 pt system and decided to add it to my template. I wanted to help both systems arrive at a roughly equivalent score. I realized this could only be done, if I started the 100 pt score at 50, instead of 0. You will see what I mean below. The closer the wine came to the premium category, the better my 100 pt method seemed to arrive at an accurate score. It was the opposite with my 20 pt method, albeit much closer to reality than the UC Davis 20 pt method.

After the long explanation, here is my effort to build a scoring system that can evaluate both a poor blueberry wine and a Gran Cru Bordeaux – with the same template – done accurately and with a logical systematic approach.

In the past, my Somm training won out and I tried not to add scores to my tasting notes. In retrospect, I think this was mostly due to being uncomfortable with the systems available. I intend to use my scoring template moving forward and hopefully develop consistency and comparative accuracy across my tasting notes.

Feedback

I would be very interested in other opinions regarding both the thinking that drove this creative process AND the relative accuracy using this scoring system. I am also open to modifying aspects, if the changes fit within the logic model used to build it. Please feel free to leave your comments on this page. Thanks!

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Filed under Wine Critics, Wine Education, Wine Industry, Wine Marketing, Wine Tasting, Wine Tasting Notes

Wine Additives

This is an important topic and a good article from the “A Matter of Taste” site on the topic. If you are a wine enthusiast, it might be something to consider for future purchases. If you are interested, use the link to access the website here:

Link to Article on Wine Additives

European Wines vs. U.S.

This issue highlights the local AVA, DOCG, AOC (etc.) regulations/laws. Some of the typical U.S. additives are not permitted in much of Europe: chaptalization, acidifying and fining agents, etc. The chemical additives category may be an even more important topic of discussion. I have found generally, I NEVER get headaches from French/Italian fine wines. Hit or miss with U.S. product.

What is your experience? Do you think it could be additives? If so, the only option to change this, is speak with your dollars. When visiting tasting rooms and talking to retailers, ask about additives. If you can’t obtain the info, consider that in your buying decision. I am a huge proponent of listing ingredients on wine labels. If you just can’t part from your faves, consider one of the several wine filtering utensils available in the aftermarket… but consider these too. Could they be using chemical agents to filter the wine? Happy wine hunting!

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Filed under Wine Education, Wine Industry

2009 Delectus Cabernet Sauvignon Boulder Falls

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2009 Delectus Cabernet Sauvignon Boulder Falls

Napa Valley, CA Winery – Sonoma Knights Valley AVA Fruit

If you haven’t tried older Delectus wines, you should. The winemaker before 2016 (Gerhard Reisacher) had some interesting ideas that make his red wines worth investigating. The extended cold soak, cool fermentation and extra time their reds spent on the lees drive a different profile. When you include the high quality fruit coming from well-managed Knights Valley estate vineyards, you have reds that show notable balance for fruit-forward high-alcohol wines.

Delectus was acquired by Vintage Wine Estates in 2016. Vintage hired a new winemaker and lost their access to the Knights Valley vineyards. For the record, I have no idea what they are doing today, but if you can get your hands on inventory from vintages prior to 2016, it is worth giving them a try.

Winemaking Ideas

These are not classically styled Old World wines. In good vintage years, the extended cold soak makes the wines quite extracted. The longer cool ferment and the extra time on the lees seems to affect the tannin and add a finer texture. In my opinion, if you were to marry this philosophy to a cool climate region, that would be something special. Instead, you have wines chasing Robert Parker’s next 100 point score. Don’t get me wrong, these are well-made wines and I do enjoy them as what I call “cocktail wines”, or accompanying rich red meat dishes. The usual high-alcohol makes these dry wines taste sweeter. Somehow, Mr. Reisacher managed to make these high-alcohol wines fairly integrated and balanced. Something you don’t see much of in Napa Valley.

My Wine Tasting Note from CellarTracker

Like other tasting notes on CT, this wine also hit me as odd. To get the first question out of the way, it does not taste hot, even though the label lists 16.7% ABV. Shockingly, the alcohol is well integrated. Upon first pour, this is a high-acid fruit bomb. At 9 years of bottle age a surprise… decant and give it an hour before you drink and you will find the real wine underneath.

At first, the nose is almost non-existent, but later reveals itself after a couple of hours. Once it develops, the nose is alcohol, plum, blackberry, black currant and menthol. With time open, this wine becomes well-integrated. The palate starts with blended red & black fruit (like boysenberry compote), but after time it settles down and morphs into the blackberry, plum & black currant you expect. The wine is dry, but the high alcohol content makes it seem somewhat sweet. The mouthfeel starts out soft, but thin and then the tannin shows and the texture begins to fill the mouth – high tannins and high acidity abound. The mid-palate shows immediately after the fruit and is all dark chocolate (without bitterness) that follows to a very long finish. This wine rewards patience. I agree with one of the other CT notes. Much like a Conn Valley Cab. As fruity and bold (perhaps more even), but the tannin is fine-grained and softer. I would be concerned about giving this more time in the bottle. The alcohol is so high, without the big fruit/acid/tannin behind it, the alcohol will likely begin to dominate. It seems to be drinking well now, but is definitely for those who enjoy fruitier, high-alcohol wines.

Napa and the 100 Point Race

This is every bit like the more expensive “cult” wines I have tasted. If you are a fan of that style, track down one of these older vintage Delectus wines and give it a try. They stand-up to aging and offer a similar experience for a lot less!

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Filed under Bordeaux/Meritage Blend, Knights Valley, Napa Valley, U.S. Wines by Region, Wine Collecting, Wine Education, Wine Tasting, Wine Tasting Notes

Storing / Serving Older Premium Wines

e010682d525778b52a3834ccdf7b6fc7--wine-o-drink-wine  Aged vs. Young Wine

The figures vary, but most studies show that at least 95% of all wine by volume is consumed within 48 hours of purchase. So, what is going on when you read about a 1985 Domaine de la Romanée-Conti selling for $9,600/btl, or a 1986 Chateau Margaux for $440/btl at auction? Why are these wines so expensive and what makes them special? I will only touch on the idea here and save the deeper treatment for a future article. The bottom line is: these wines tend to be softer, fuller, more complex and balanced. For those interested in experiencing older, aged bottles and discovering the difference for yourself, it is time to review how to store and serve the wine for maximum enjoyment and protection of investment. It is necessary at this point to make a couple of quick statements: all wines are not made to age and some labels tend to age well in a given age range. Just because the wine is older, does not mean it is better. If you would like to purchase a couple of special bottles for entertaining (lets say), you will need to spend time on some serious research, or find an uninvolved party with wine training to help.

Storage

A small group of white wines can age well too (common example: Mosel Riesling), but the vast majority of aged wines are red. So, what is the criteria for extended storage of red wines? The critical elements:

No Light, No Vibration – Light and movement speeds the chemical reactions that age wine prematurely.

Consistent 55 F Degree Temp – The best temp environment for slowing the chemical reactions and allowing a slow aging process without “shocking” the wine. Temps over 80 deg. for days, or over 90 for hours can “cook” wine and add unpleasant “stewed” fruit flavors.

Near 70% Humidity, Bottles Stored on Side – This will ensure the cork does not dry out. If you have opened a wine with a crumbling cork, you will understand.

If you are looking to age a bottle well for over ten years, these conditions are critical. When done properly, this is part of what is called “good provenance”. It is best if you purchase aged wines from re-sellers, or auctions that guarantee good provenance. You will be able to taste the difference.

Serving

This is where many people connect with an image of the tuxedo-wearing sommelier with the towel over an arm and the haughty attitude. Whether you are interested in this type of wine experience, or not… I won’t share my opinions about this part of the service experience. Instead, I will focus on the treatment of the bottle and the wine to ensure the best quality product is being served.

Stand-up Your Bottle(s) Two Days Before Serving – This will make it easier when it is time to serve. As tannin oxidizes with age, it often leaves behind sediment that can be very unpleasant. Allowing the sediment to settle is helpful.

cork puller

Two-Prong Cork Puller vs. Corkscrew

Cork Pullers of this type cost roughly $6-$25. Some of the more expensive ones are a little handier, but there really isn’t much difference. Save your corkscrew for young wines. Anything over 10 years of age, I would open with this cork puller and save yourself the embarrassment of fishing crumbled cork out of your wine while serving guests.

mylar circle

Mylar Pour Spouts

These cost around 50 cents each, but will save much expensive wine from dripping on the table/floor. Basically, these are no-drip spouts and they work great.

vinturi_sreen_pack_1000px_500px

Vinturi Screen

Most wine enthusiasts have a Vinturi to aerate young tannic wines. Filtering your aged wine when pouring to remove the sediment is a must. It is easy to just pull the screen out of your Vinturi and use it. Other utensils are specifically made for this purpose. Any way you go is fine. Just trying to simplify…

decanter

Simple Glass Decanter

Look below in this article for comments on the controversial topic of decanting older wines. Wines like those mentioned above can benefit from what is called a “soft decant” to help the wines “open” and realize their full flavor profile. Personally, I highly recommend it. If you are transporting the bottles to taste with friends, just pour the wine immediately back in the original bottle… softly and pop in the cork. In this way, the group can see the original label when served. Look for a decanter with a lip, like the picture above. It will make it easier for the pour back in the bottle, without spilling.

Decanting Older Wines

You are unlikely to find two Somms who address this issue alike. This is my opinion:

Splash Decant

There is a huge difference between what is called a “splash decant” and a “soft decant” as described above. The splash version is rough treatment of the wine for maximum agitation (have a laugh and Google the Mollydooker “shake”) and is intended to introduce as much surface area of wine to as much air (oxygen) as possible. This type of decant is meant for wines like young Napa Cabernet Sauvignon. This will soften the tannins slightly (dry, cotton-mouth feeling), prior to serving.

Soft Decant

This technique is used with older wines to speed the “opening” of the wine. I have sampled older wines that tasted so closed on pour, they were virtually tasteless… but after 20-30 minutes, they blossomed into great wines and beautiful flavor profiles. Granted this is the extreme, but it does happen often enough. The other advantage can be what is called “blowing off” odd odors. Some older wines can develop unpleasant odors in the bottle that just require five minutes (or so) to dissipate. The soft decant can resolve this issue.

I prefer to decant most red wines, if I have the time and patience. Even lighter red wines like Pinot Noir. This is again a controversial topic in the Somm community. This treatment serves the same purpose for lighter wines as it does for older wines.

Needless Concern

Don’t be nervous about serving older wines to guests. It can be a great shared experience and the cornerstone of a memorable dinner party. I hope this information will help you feel more comfortable and inclined to investigate aged wines.

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Sign, Sign, Everywhere a Sign!

122110calvin_resolutions

Calvin & Hobbes – Bill Waterson, Copyright – Andrews McMeel Publishing

I am not the only one seeing the changing face of the U.S. wine industry and the industry resistance to any kind of meaningful response.

Sources

Wine-Searcher just posted an article regarding a recent wine symposium where the topic of conversation has been adjusting to the changing market. See my previous article at this link: Trends Changing the Wine Industry and the Wine-Searcher article at this link: Gloomy Outlook for Small Wineries.

Can Small Wineries Survive the Changes?

Here are the data points changing the face of the wine industry with limited response by producers (the numbers across multiple sources had some variation, so the figures below are approximate):

  • 90% of all wine made in the U.S. is sold by the 320 wineries that exceed 50,000 cases of production. Of that 90%, more than half is dominated by the top FIVE: Gallo, Wine Group, Constellation, Trinchero and Delicato. The other 9,000+ wineries are bringing only 10% of all wine production to market in the U.S.**
  • With the recent on-going consolidation in wine distribution, the top FOUR by volume nationally (Southern, Republic, Breakthru & Young’s) deliver approximately 60% of all wine distributed in the U.S., but represent only 30% of the wineries.**
  • In the case of wineries producing fewer than 10,000 cases, distributors were responsible for only 33% of sales in 2016. A 6% decrease over the previous year and the trend is continuing.**

Is your head swimming with numbers yet? Suffice to say, BIG has become financially BETTER today and could very well push SMALL to the side of the road. Why? The answer is in the numbers above. How do those other 70% of under-represented wineries bring their wine to market? Winery Direct-to-Consumer (DtC) sales is only 2% of all wine sold in the U.S. currently.

Solutions

Small wineries better become experts at marketing, capturing clientele and earning their continuing loyalty… and fast! If they do not already have a developed DtC customer base, it is near too late. Those who wish to survive, should be investing now! The large distributors dominating the market already have large portfolios of wine labels and shelf-space and wine lists only have so much room.

There were two great hopes: the loosening of rules in cross-state shipping of wine allowing the emergence of online wine retailers and the advent of wine big-box retailers (think Total Wine). At one time, it was looking like these two channels buying winery-direct could represent small wineries and fill the gap. Although just like the DtC space, they are missing the expertise to deliver the volume of sales needed. Can online retailers get better at building inviting online platforms and tools to identify and explore the consumer palate? Can big-box retailers provide a better buying experience that allows thousands of labels to be properly represented? Unfortunately recently, wine commerce laws have become stricter (see recent changes in FL) and it is making it more challenging for both of these channels to grow fast enough to fill the gap.

Why Should Consumers Care?

Well, if you have favorite wines produced by wineries with under a 10K case output… supporting them with your DtC purchases will become important to their continued survival and your continuing supply. It is that simple. The survival of small wineries is in your hands…

 

**Reference sources for this article were: Various Wines & Vines articles, Grand View Research – Wine Market Trends Report, Forbes Food & Agriculture articles, L.E.K. Insights  – Trends Affecting the Wine Industry, Dr. Liz Thach MW – Blog and Statista – Alcoholic Beverage Statistics. The internet provides so much rich content, if you search!

 

 

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1984/1985 Napa Vintages: Comparative Blind Tasting

Recently, I attended a single-blind* tasting with a group of wine collectors whom I regularly meet to share interesting wine. While it has lately become popular to bash the direction of Napa reds and the influence of Robert Parker on the Napa wine industry, here was a chance to evaluate the longevity of Napa wines, BEFORE the wine style began to change. I will try to walk you thru the mindset of a single-blind tasting and wine evaluation. Hopefully, you will find it interesting. Hitch-up your britches, pour a glass of wine and let’s git after it…

(*”Single-blind” is the term used when you are provided with only general information, say: growing region and vintage, or Bordeaux blend and cool climate vineyard. With a minimum of information for context, you must then determine as much about the wine as possible, such as: grape varietal(s), winery – maybe even winemaker, etc. “Double-blind” tasting would include no information about the wine prior to tasting.)

Starter

I always enjoy starting a wine evening off with bubbly, but 1983 Dom Perignon? What a start to a great evening. The Dom still had medium+ acidity, was well balanced, but had moved beyond nutty to more of a brown butter component. The age on the wine gave it a beautiful texture. For those who have not drunk aged Champagne, the texture can be so gorgeous, it is worth tasting for the mouthfeel alone. The young Veuve Clicquot was bright and bracing as it should be.

The Cat (Wine) is Out of the Bag

Out of the bag quite literally… Here are the pics of the bottles out of their paper bags, after we wrote our tasting notes and had attempted to select which bottles matched which producer. Our host served charcuterie, bread and some beautiful pate I really enjoyed to clear/accompany the palate.

1974 Robert Mondavi Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon

Very balanced wine, but reaching its limit. Still with medium acidity and medium-minus tannins, this drank reasonably well, but the oxidation had taken over the fruit and was a few years beyond its drinking window. The fruit had moved to more prune and raisin, than fresh fruit flavors. This would have drunk better at around 35 years of age, around 10 years ago. The brownish color around the rim and prune flavors gave it away, almost all of us identified this wine correctly.

1984 Diamond Creek Vineyard Volcanic Hill Cabernet Sauvignon

This wine still had strong tannins. It was a little watery with a very restrained nose and palate. Diamond Mountain region wines in the past have tasted big, tannic, with subdued fruit and without much nuance (IMO)… but with age, developed great mouthfeel. Exactly how this wine tasted. This was an easy tell, with some tasting history to reference.

1985 Silver Oak Alexander Valley (Sonoma) Cabernet Sauvignon

This was the fruitiest of the bunch and had the most obvious oak.  This was the surprise of the evening (IMO). Recent vintages of Silver Oak Cab Sauv are not generally viewed as being able to stand up to extended aging, but this 80’s era vintage was balanced and still fruity. A nice wine with tremendous character for 30+ years of age. With the most obvious oak on the nose and palate, this fit the Silver Oak tasting profile, making for a high probability of accuracy.

1984 Beaulieu Vineyard Georges de Latour Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon

I mistook the next two for each other. I have always had an odd relationship with BV as a producer. I have not really cared for their lower priced wines, having only a minimum of value (IMO), while their famous Georges de Latour release every year is good, but over-priced. They also seem to develop complex flavors in their higher priced wine, some flavors of which I don’t care for. So, I may have gone into this tasting with preconceived notions… which is always an interesting aspect of blind tasting. I guessed this wine was the Joseph Phelps, mostly because I enjoyed this wine as having the most balanced profile of the wines tasted and having the most gorgeous mouthfeel. Frankly, I didn’t think a BV wine could be this good. (buzzer sound) Well, I blew that one! Chalk one up for having a closed mind.

1985 Joseph Phelps Backus Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon

I described this one in my notes with the typical wine industry generic term, “food friendly”. The kiss of the death for uninteresting wine in a tasting note in the U.S. This was the most acidic of the bunch. Which was amazing, since this wine was 33 years old. It was a little vegetal with a touch of tomato, but no green bell pepper… both characteristics of under-ripe Cab Sauv. Hard to believe this wine was from a warm vintage. This could only happen in a Napa vintage before 1995. No self-respecting Napa producer would ever harvest Cab this early in a warm year today. I enjoyed this wine the least of the bunch. Poor balance and “interesting”, but not particularly pleasant flavor profile.

1988 Lynch Bages Bordeaux Blend

This was smokey, with medium+ acidity and medium tannin. This was another example of an aged Bordeaux showing balance after extended aging. The flavor profile included an earthiness, that when you taste enough of 1st-5th growth Bordeaux wine, you come to recognize. Still with fresh fruit (blackberry) and stewed currants, the fruit was forward on the palate. I am not a huge fan of Pauillac region wines. I prefer the St. Estephe and Margaux regions in Bordeaux, but this was drinking nicely at 30 years and was a strong representative of Left Bank Bordeaux.

The Finish

IMG Port Btl

Just WOW!

This aged, vintage port was exceptional! The fruit had lasted very well. Not too sweet, tasting like a more recent vintage… but for a port, this wine was so balanced… integrated alcohol, good acidity, soft & full mouthfeel. All of us agreed, this was the outstanding wine of the evening. I wish I could hold on to ports this long. This one was worth the wait.

Recap

Well, there you have it. A great evening! I hope you enjoyed the personal perspective and found insight into blind tasting methodology. I think you can see, blind tasting accuracy is mostly: having tasted a lot of wine labels and being able to hold them in your memory. These were all exceptional wines, wines I would score from 90-99 on the Parker scale. We definitely proved the point, most collectors can easily identify Bordeaux in a line-up of Napa Cabs. All of us guessed the Lynch Bages correctly.

Napa Cab Sauv: Now & Back Then

Not many are allowed the opportunity to taste a selection of Napa Cabs from the 70’s & 80’s. This was a great experience. I will reiterate comments made before about Napa in the last 30+ years… Prior to 1995 Napa made true Bordeaux style wines: structured, leaner, lower alcohol and well-suited for extended aging. 1995 to 2003 was an interim period, where Napa Cabs were fruitier and more ripe than before, but still able to handle 10-20 years in the bottle. 2004 and after, most of the wine was produced for optimum drinking windows in the 5-10 year range. This is just a gross generality. There are individual exceptions with both shorter and longer aging windows, but in general, I have found this evaluation to hold true.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

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