Thursday, June 25, 2009

Bench Trials

Brad Post:

As an aspiring winemaker, few things get me as techno-wine-geeked-out as conducting bench trials. Now don't get me wrong, I love the notion of winemaking as a craft, an artistic venture of guiding a grape to its true greatness with love and care. But, there is the scientifically-minded Brad whose grape-juices get flowing at the thought of checking pH, TA, SO2 and conducting bench trials.

Bench trials allow a winemaker to tweak the wine, generally using sound scientific procedures and organoleptic analysis (taste and smell), to adjust via additions (e.g., sugar, acid, tannins, etc.) the final wine we all enjoy. For the home winemaker a bench trial is usually done by taste (on the fly), such as adding sugar to a finished wine to balance or sweeten it up before bottling.

For a commercial winery, whose livelihood depends on not screwing up, bench trials are frequently used prior to any additions. As an example, I volunteer at a local winery who is considering making a tannin addition to three of their red wines (several hundred gallons each). In advance of making an addition, the winemaker sought out three different tannin options (yes, there are several different tannins one can put into a add some mid-palate complexity) and set-up a strategy to assess the additions. Here is how it went:

We created a 3x3x3 bench trial matrix. This means, we have three types of tannins, at three different concentrations (e.g., 10g/hl - the low point; 20 g/hl - a mid-point, and 40 g/hl - a high point), and three different red wines. All told we are testing 27 bottles + 3 (standards = a comparison of the unaltered original wine) = 30 bottles of wine to taste.

After a set amount of time to allow the tannins to incorporate into the wine, the winemaker will bring together a group of volunteer tasters to evaluate which additions work the best for each wine. If none of the additions improved the wine quality then the standard (original) wine will be bottled.

I have to admit the bench trial process is enjoyable! Frankly, the critical evaluation of the wines (the tasting) is a lot of fun and in the end helps craft a better wine. So, the next time you're enjoying a glass of wine think about how much art and science went into your bottle.

Happy Tastings!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Poor Foch!

Brad Post:

"I don't get no respect" is a line from the late Rodney Dangerfield and must surely be the sentiment of our grape friend, Marechal Foch. Marechal Foch is named after a French Marshall (military rank), Ferdinand Foch, from WWI who helped negotiate the armistice. The Foch grape is a hybrid and was developed by French viticulturist Eugene Kuhlmann in Alsace in the early 1920's and brought to the United States in the '50s.

Foch has grown widely in popularity in Canada and the United States, but is no longer grown by the Europeans because of hybrid restrictions. "Wines made from Marechal Foch tend to have strong acidity, aromas of black fruits and, in some cases, toasted wheat, mocha, fresh coffee, bitter chocolate, vanilla bean, and musk" (1).

In Iowa and parts of the Midwest, Marechal Foch has achieved a bad reputation because of its strong varietal characteristics, frequently with powerful vegetative overtones probably a result of poor enological practices (green stems in ferment or fermented on the skins for too long) or harvest decision (overripe).

Because of the powerhouse characteristics of Foch it is recommended to vintners by those in the know to use the following techniques: 1) hot press (to extract colors quickly), 2) carbonic maceration (e.g., similar to how Beaujolais is made - in a sealed vessel purged of oxygen), or 3) Press off skins quickly or after a very short maceration (e.g., think of a blush wine) (2).

I have tasted very good Foch from a couple wineries in Iowa: Prairie Moon and Summerset Winery in the Des Moines area.

In an attempt to challenge and elevate Marechal Foch the Eastern Iowa Wine Club's - Eastern Iowa Amateur Wine Competition is creating a special category for the Foch, called the "Fochy" award! It is our goal to make a wonderful, Burgundian-styled, wine from this disrespected Midwestern hybrid.

If you are interested in tasting for yourself: Come to the Benton County Fair (Vinton, IA) on July 23rd for the judging - visitor can also taste the wines and vote for their favorites.

~Happy Tastings!


1. Wikipedia
2. Iowa State University - Viticulture
3. Prairie Moon Winery
4. Summerset Winery

Saturday, June 6, 2009


Terry post:

Okay. I admit it.

I have not been pulling my weight as far as this Blog is concerned. My brother has posted some well thought-out opinion pieces recently and about all that I have done was to post comments which read something like, "yea...i agree."

Real deep.

I promise to do better.

Some of you know that I have been the Wine Director for Restaurant 213 for sometime. Well, that came to a conclusion last week at the mutual agreement of the Chef and myself and I have some mixed feelings which I'll discuss.

It has been an absolute honor to be the Wine Director for a fine dining restaurant such as "213". It has given me the opportunity to sharpen my tasting skills as well as my financial skills when it comes to making selections for the wine list. Since 2004 when I started working with the Chef I have helped the wine list grow from something that was good locally into a listing which has received honors from Wine Enthusiast, Wine Spectator, Chesapeake Life Magazine and Coastal Living Magazine. We have grown from just under 80 selections to over 440 selections - many of which in the challenging $30 and below price point.

The breaking point for the Chef and I came a few weeks ago after I had spent considerable time updating the wine list to include adding new and deleting old wines. It is not an inconsequncial task: it had taken all of my Saturday morning. When I delivered the eight copies of the wine list (double sided, color, on card stock) he pointed out that he'd added some new wines since I'd been in the week before and that he wanted them added to the list. I was pissed: turned on my heel and walked out the door.

The issue, the real issue is that a great Chef is like any other artist in that they are so focused on doing that which is important to them that they are oblivious to others. That was the case here. The Chef was just passionate about his restaurant, and the fact that I'd spent over 5 hours preparing this set of menus was irrelevant to him: he wanted perfect and what I presented wasn't perfect.

In 2004 when I started working with the Chef I had a fair amount of spare time. I no longer have that spare time, in fact putting the wine list together took time away from my family. I expected appreciation - something I did not receive.

What does this mean? It means that I am now out of the business of sipping fine wine almost every Friday afternoon and I will miss that.

I vividly recall one wine rep bringing in my first-ever taste of a Yalumba Shiraz-Viognier from Australia: huge nose, smooth and loads of berries. If every I was shocked by a wine, it was with that Australian.

Here are some of the most important lessons which I learned and am comfortable with sharing:

1. If you like the wine it is a good wine. Don't get wrapped up in all the B.S. which sometimes surrounds a wine. Be particularly aware of drinking the current hot wine whatever it should be.

2. Price does not equal quality. This is the first deriviative of my initial point. You would be shocked at how much expense crap is on every restaurant's wine list.

3. Inverse rule. The Wine Director at a fine dining restaurant will spend an inordinate amount of time seeking out high-quality, low priced wines for the wine list. It is easier than falling off a log to fine a great wine to sell at $80 to $100 at a restaurant. It is a real challenge to find a great wine which can be sold, at a profit, at $30 or less. I estimate that I spent 80% of my time finding wines in the $30 and below segment.

4. A typical restaurant will sell their wines for 2.5 - 3.5 times the price they pay at wholesale. While the price sounds high, there are a lot of costs associated with buying, holding and serving wine which is invisible to most diners. A storage locker which holds 2400 bottles and costs just over $15,000 to install. The investment that restaurant owners take in the proper care of wine bottles ensure that you get what you pay for. Serving costs include broken and stolen stemware: you have no idea. The Chef once told me, "Everyone steals from me". Glassware is broken, and stolen as is some of the wine. Side story: we used to have very, very nice pepper grinders and salt grinders on each table. They were milled aluminum with a plunger to actuate the grinding. They cost $28 a piece and every single one was stolen out of the restaurant within 6 months. We replaced them with cheap $1 shakers which no one steals. You get the idea.

I still plan on discussing wine it will now be from the perspective of more of an outsider.

Drink up!

~ Terry