Saturday, January 30, 2010

NV Poema Cava Brut - Spain

Terry post:

First of all, I apologize for the poor quality of the photo. I recently upgraded my phone and I have not yet mastered the built-in camera.

Poema is a part of the Korbrands portfolio and home to a wide array of low to medium-priced wines.

It is not unusual for me to disagree with the glowing write ups provided by the wine producer. I have never disagreed so fundamentally with a write-up as I do with this Cava from Spain. They describe their Cava, thus: "Vibrant aromas of ripe peaches, pears and toasted bread with a hint of spice fill the nose. The palate is dry with a rich, creamy texture. Layers of flavor include orange rind and spice that persists through an elegant finish."

My impression: Thin. Painfully thin. Nearly non-existent on the nose and across the palate. Only the slightest hint of baked bread. No peaches. No pears. No spice. Decent acidity and lingering bubbles through a brief finish. I paired the Poema with sliced apple and baked brie and the wine was completely outclassed and overwhelmed.

I have had really great experiences with Cava's in the past and still consider the genre as a low-cost alternative to sparking wine from California and Champagne's from France.

Bottom line: The Poema offering is a threadbare, hollow and flavorless Cava absent the light fruity characteristics which make the wine a less-heavy alternative to sparklers and Champagne. I'd have done better with sparkling water and saved a few bucks in the process.

$7.99 at the package store at Dover Air Force Base.

~ Terry

Friday, January 29, 2010

Tasting Notes: Riesling

Brad Post:

This week four of us, two friends of ours, my wife and I, sat down around my dining room table to taste and evaluate the characteristics of four Riesling wines. The origins of these wines were: 1) Ohio, 2) Germany, 3) Australia, and 4) Washington. For this assignment, I guided our tasting following the advice given in Kevin Zraly’s book (Windows on the World: Complete Wine Course) and used the “60 Second Wine Expert” approach (p. 14). I intentionally chose wines that represented different geographic regions and flavor profiles. Each vertical tasting is conducted in the blind.

The Wines:

1. 2008 Riesling Reserve, Grand River Valley (Ohio), Debonné Vineyards. (Source: winery, price: $10.99)
This Riesling, our first, was a light, yellow-green wine that greeted us with a possible fault: a slight effervescence (bubbles attached to the inside of our glasses). First sniffs gave way to pleasant fruitiness, apples and apricot were predominant with a hint of tropical aroma. (Later we learned it was cold-fermented). Upon first taste we were welcomed to silky smooth, stereotypically sweet, medium bodied Riesling; and a slight spritzy quality, which I believe to be a fault since it was not bottled to handle the increased pressure (unintentional sparkler). Despite the light bubbly quality, the wine was enjoyable with a nice acid/sugar balance and a pleasant lingering aftertaste. Two small complaints: 1) the bubbles and 2) a little residual heat in the back of my throat post-swallow.

2. 2007 Riesling (dry), Way Kühl, Mosel (Germany). (Source: First Avenue Wine House, Cedar Rapids; price: $12.99)
Our second wine was a light yellow to straw hued and very clear Riesling from Germany. They say you can only make one good first impression. Unfortunately this wine was anything but “way kuhl” as was made brutally evident when we were greeted by the smell of rubber, burnt rubber to be exact. I may have been able to discern a hint of butterscotch, but I suspect neither that, nor the burnt rubber (sulfur compounds) were an intended goal of this winemaker. One of the notes I wrote to myself describes it as leaving a “residual, clingy nastiness in my mouth”. No fruity character at all.

3. 2009 Riesling, Yellow Tail (Australia). (Source: Target, price: $5.49)
Number three in our lineup was the ubiquitous and often ridiculed Yellow Tail. The saturated yellow color of this Riesling separated itself from the other three wines at first glance. Aromatically, the brand-new 2009 Riesling from Australia, failed to evoke much in the way of anticipated Riesling characteristics (i.e., apricot) but did provide a slight fruity quality reminiscent of pineapple. The bouquet from the bottle suggests a hint of a sulfur compound, but only slightly, and not to the absolute detriment of the wine. Perhaps calling this wine vinous would be an apt descriptor. A few characterizations from my notes: “lifeless, dry, boring, uninteresting, snoozer…not as bad as #2 and lingers, but not in a good way in my mouth”.

4. 2008 Riesling, Chateau Ste. Michelle, Columbia Valley (Washington). (Source: Target, price: $10.99).
I used to live in Seattle in 2001 and I even visited this winery in Woodinville – and quickly left overwhelmed by its grand scale. Beautiful place, but HUGE! Back then, I was just getting into wine and flailing around a wine shop was about as much as I could do at the time. Had I to do it all over again, I would be a frequent visitor and an enthusiastic advocate for Washington wines. So, by now you shouldn’t be surprised by my evaluation: Visually it is a lovely yellow, straw hued wine. The glass opened up with gorgeous hints of apricot (yes, apricot, lots and lots of apricot) as well as gentle undertones of tropical aromas. It only got better! Not that it took two tastes, but after I re-tasted this wine for the second go-round, I was blown away by the tantalizing fruitiness, everything I had been hoping for in a Riesling, the aromas and flavor profile reminded me of hiking in the Wallowa Mountains of Oregon! That’s never happened to me before. Here are some of my notes: “very nice acid/sugar balance, round, fuller, epitome of a Riesling…begins lightly sweet and lingers on and on in a very good way”.

Post Tasting Notes: What an interesting tasting! I was let down by my choice in German Riesling and surprised by the Ohio wine (only slightly bummed there was a slight fault there) and stunned and pleasantly surprised by the Washington Wine (Chateau Ste. Michelle) – great taste and fabulous value! One thing that I didn’t mention but something I heard/read about was training my palate (my research topic, by the way) is that one should try to smell as many aromas as possible. For this exercise, knowing that apricot is a common aroma, I pulled out a package of “Sun Maid: Mediterranean Apricots” I had in the cupboard. I went from package to glass (sniff-sniff) and sure enough, WOW…apricot is there!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Tasting Notes: Marechal Foch

Brad Posts:

My affinity for Marechal Foch, a French-American hybrid red wine grape (a cold-hardy varietal), is well established.  As the Rodney Dangerfield of the Midwest wine grape community – it doesn’t get much respect!  That’s unfortunate because if you were to investigate Marechal Foch, commonly referred to as “Foch”, you would soon recognize its real potential.  Foch is made into world-class wines in Ontario’s VQA region and most notably in Oregon where it is grown next to its relative, Pinot Noir.

Even my wine club, the Eastern Iowa Wine Club, has a soft spot in its heart for Foch.  Each year, during our annual amateur wine competition (Eastern Iowa Amateur Wine Competition), we honor the Marechal Foch with a special category and award known as the “Fochy”.  A true honor to win this inspiring trophy!

Recently I have taken to learning more about wine appreciation by enrolling in a class at Des Moines Community College.  In my VIN 150 class, I am learning about the wine industry, wine appreciation, and sensory analysis of the traditional wine grapes – vitis vinifera.  It is too frigid for vinifera in Iowa so we grow cold-hardy grapes, such as Foch.  Intrigued by my new education, I sought to learn more about the varietal tasting characteristics of Marechal Foch.  In my firsthand experience as a vintner and occasional drinker of Foch I’ve developed my own way of understanding this grape – and use the term “Fochy” to describe it.  Not being terribly satisfied with my ability to describe Foch in a thoughtful, wine-guy sort of way I thought I’d spend some time reading and compiling a list of common tasting notes.

Here goes!

Color: Deep color, deep purple, dark ruby

Berry: Blackberry, Raspberry, Strawberry
Tree Fruit: Cherry (spicy black cherry)
Fruit: Prune (black plums), figs – dark fruits*
            Fresh: Bell Pepper
Spicy: Black pepper
Earthy: Forest floor, earthiness*,
            Burned: smoky*, charred buckwheat, coffee, chocolate
Gamy aromatics*
Floral: Rose

Berry: Dark berries, raspberry, loganberry
Tree Fruit: Cherry (spicy),
Fruit: Dark fruit, plum
            Fresh: celery-like, ripe beet
Earthy: Forest floor, earthiness
Saddle leather

Reminiscent of: Syrah, Pinot Noir, Gamay, Grenache Noir, Mourvedre

Common Marechal Foch Adjectives: unique, distinctive, rugged, hybrid, gamy, herbaceous.

FINAL THOUGHTS: With Foch it seems you either love it or hate it.  I cannot help but be inspired by the winemakers of Ontario and Oregon who continue to work with this challenging grape.  The wine industry in Iowa is young and the first plants we planted were Foch and frequently the first grapes to be pulled out were also Foch.  There is much to be learned by this wine grape, first of which is Patience – patience in learning its peculiarities, patience in learning how to craft delicious, albeit, unique and distinctive wine.  And secondly, patience from our vineyard, in understanding and enhancing its growth potential.  Finally, there needs to be an appreciation from wine consumers, a daring, a spirit of adventure to try something that is “earthy, gamy, spicy, and smoky” – that sounds like a real treat to me!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Wine School

Brad Post:

During the past year I have chronicled my experiences in wine making, first as an amateur and now as a assistant winemaker at a local winery. From my experience in the cellar I have learned a good deal about the process, and in particular how to identify wine faults or problems that we (winemakers) can strive to correct. I feel relatively confident in my ability to detect a fair range of wine faults and to distinguish amongst the wide array of Midwestern grown wine grapes - helpful as a wine judge.

My perpetual problem, in life and education, is the more I learn the less I feel I really know about the subject. So I immerse myself in a subject (part of my obsessive/compulsive self, I guess) to feel more confident in my abilities. This too for wine. I lack the necessary vernacular when it comes to describing wines. Surely I can identify a Zinfandel from a Cabernet but I'll have a more difficult time detecting the lychee (what the hell is lychee anyway) or the asparagus in my glass of wine.

In my typical response to a life-challenge, I hit the books, or should I say: hit the books and the wine! As part of my enology certificate program at DMACC, I have enrolled in VIN 150 - Introduction to wine: "This course presents introductory information on wine appreciation, focusing on sensory analysis, production, classification, and culture of wine."

Throughout the course of the semester my class and I (via blended format: meaning, we'll do 90% of the course via online, recorded lecture followed by a two-day tasting workshop) will learn about the world of wine and get serious about appreciation and sensory analysis. Follow along as I stumble through the course and offer your insights and suggestions to help my wine education improve.

Paul, the course instructor, asked us to find 3 bottles of Chardonnay and to just taste the wine. Try to describe the color, aroma, and tastes. He gave these basic instructions intentionally in an attempt to challenge us. Later he'll provide specific guidance to help us along.

Here are my first tastings notes on Chardonnay

After reading another students comments about blind tasting, I thought I'd follow suit and try my Chardonnay tasting semi-blind (i.e., I bought the wines but someone else poured them blind for me).

Prior to this tasting, I must admit, I hadn't tasted a Chardonnay for several years. My past experience with this varietal was as an over-oaked and buttery snoozefest. Every Chardonnay I'd drank tasted the same and I eventually stopped drinking it. Bonus for me that I took this class and was greeted with a variety of yumminess.

1) Louis Jadot Pouilly-Fuisse 2007 (white Burgundy) - 14.99 Hy-Vee.
1a) Color: gold-green, maybe a light straw color. All three wines were very similar in color/hue.
1b) Aroma: bright and lively fruity aroma, maybe green-apple or peach.
1c) Taste: Initial sensations were very fruity, thin, tart on the tip of my tongue.1d) After-Taste: Slight lingering finish, nice, some burning in the back of my throat, a zing at the end.

*Dramatically different from another students bad experience (she detected sulfur compounds).

2) Tisdale Chardonnay, NV (California) - $3.99 (Fareway).
2a. Gold-green, a smidge darker than the others (richer color) - might be slightly oxidized.
2b. Aroma: completely different than #1 (above). Notes of butterscotch and vanilla. Lacks fruity characteristics of #1.
2c. Taste: smooth, round.
2d. After-Taste: no lingering aftertaste. Flat and lifeless.

Thoughts: for the money ($3.99) it really was alright.

3. McWilliams Chardonnay (2008) - Hanwood Estates - South Eastern Australia: $7.99 at Fareway. (Oaked).
3a. Color: gold-green, light straw
3b. Aroma: green apple, fruity - similar to #1
3c. Taste: good acidity in mid palate; fruity and something else
3d. After-Taste: nice long finish...looooonnnng.


Post Tasting Notes: All three wines were okay. Number 2 wine (Tisdale) was my least favorite; and the Pouilly Fuisse and McWilliams were both very nice. I think my very favorite was the McWilliams. With only a light touch of oakiness, I was surprised to find such fruit in this wine. Chardonnay is back on my list of wines to drink.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

2007 Penfolds Koonuga Hill, Shiraz Cabernet - South Australia

Terry post:

It was Phil Spector who in the late 1960s was a producer of music and invented the "wall of sound".

The "wall of sound", was a technique of applying layers of sounds, reverberations and echo over the original track. The overall effect was, as described by a contemporary of Spector, as "bathing in sound".

The Beach Boys song, Good Vibrations is a good example of the "wall of sound" technique.

Why, you may ask, do I begin a review of an Australian red with a primer on Phil Spector's "wall of sound"? Well, because they are so very similar.

Where Spector layered sound, Penfolds layers flavor, depth and intensity.

My Impressions: Inky. Bold. Full-flavored. Mouth-filling. Plums and spice on the nose, mildly tannic, with a (regrettably) short finish. The addition of the Cabernet Sauvignon pumps up the acidity, and rounds-out what would otherwise have been just another flabby Australian Shiraz. Wonderful.

I paid $9.99 for this bottle at my local grocery store and it compares very favorably with the teeth-staining yumminess which I have come to appreciate in the more expensive Shiraz-based Yalumba blends.

At the price and the enjoyment: this wine is a steal. Buy it and drink it now.

~ Terry

Monday, January 11, 2010

2003 Ridge Lytton Springs - California

Terry post:

Full disclosure: I really enjoy the wines of Ridge Winery. Year in and year out I have found Ridge to be a reliable producer of high quality wines. I have enjoyed reds and whites from Ridge, with my favorites being the hearty, big and stunning Zinfandels from Ridge.

Drinking a Ridge Zin is like coming home, or listening to Brahms, or reading Neruda. It is a warm spring day after a long winter. It is all things right and wonderful in the world.

It is then with that level of anticipation that I opened up one of my three remaining 1.5 liter bottles of the 2003 Ridge Lytton Springs and experienced nearly total heartbreaking disappointment. The wine was past its prime.

Like this author, the wine is in it's long slow and inevitable decline.

My impressions: India ink to dark garnet in color. Blackberries, cherries and strawberries on the nose - but muted, lacking crispness and individuality. A muddle of dark fruit. Absent the brightness that I experienced with a bottle I opened last summer. Less tannic than I recall. Softer than it should be. Moderate finish with cherries.

My experience with this bottle of Ridge highlights one major drawback when you save a bottle of wine for a special occasion. The special occasion may never arrive and your wine begins to slowly fade away. Sitting in the quiet darkness of my wine closet this 1.5 liter bottle had waited patiently for a special occasion which never came. Its biological clock continued to tick away aging slowly from youth to old age without any consideration of my occasions: special or otherwise.

76% Zinfandel, 18% Petite Sirah and 6% Charignane.

This is still a good wine and will kick-butt over many California Zinfandels today. It just isn't as good as it used to be.

~ Terry

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Typical Bottling Day

Brad Post:

Industrial wineries can afford the luxury of state-of-the art bottling machines; glistening stainless steel assembly lines that automate the entire process from fill to cork to label.  In scaled down versions cellar workers have to unload the new, clean bottles which are then fed, one by one, through a circuitous bottling path ultimately returned to the boxes from whence they came. And then there are the rest of us, smaller wineries who fill bottles using the traditional method.  Traditional method - that's a nice way of saying by hand, using lots of help.

A Glimpse of a Typical Bottling Day

Just yesterday, in an attempt to replenish our stock of a customer favorite, we bottled 300 gallons of a white wine which yielded about 1,500 bottles - or a pallet (4'x4'x8' high) full of cases and then some.  Here is an account of our bottling morning:

8:30am - Arrive at winery.   Get instructions from winemaker.

8:35am - Clean and sterilize bottling line.  Our bottling line is comprised of a bottle filter unit, a stainless steel cylinder housing unit that contains three membrane filters designed to remove anything larger than .45 microns (i.e., bacteria and other nasties).  The entire pre-bottling line (filter) and bottle filling assembly must be thoroughly cleaned and sanitized.  The bottle filling machine is a six-spout filler with a 34 gallon reservoir that allows the filler "me" to nearly continually fill and replace six bottles in quick succession.

While this is happening others are bringing in the pallet of bottles, setting up the semi-automatic corker, a device that vacuums the headspace (i.e., the distance from the top of the wine to the cork) and inserts a closure/cork.  The foil heater, a stainless steel unit designed so a bottle with a heat-shrink foil can be inserted, is plugged in and warmed up.  And the last piece of equipment, the semi-automatic labeling machine, is set-up with the appropriate label to be affixed on each of the 1,500 bottles of wine.

9:30am - Getting Ready to Bottle.   By now everything is cleaned and sanitized.  One more task must be accomplished before we can begin to bottle.  Next, I take a clean and sterile hose and connect it to the tank full of wine (the origin tank) and connect the other end of the hose to a diaphragm pump to gently move the wine from the tank through the membrane filter into the bottle filling reservoir.

9:35am - Bottling Time!  Let me see if I can paint a word picture of how this looks:  there are four of us, all facing the same direction and each working a different piece of equipment.  I am working the first of the series of equipment (from left to right), the bottle filling machine.  Directly behind me is a portable table filled with boxes of empty bottles waiting to be filled.  In front of me is my 6-spout bottle filling machine.  I insert each bottle into its respective spout and they fill, nearly simultaneously, and once filled I remove it and quickly replace it with a clean, empty bottle and pass the filled bottle to the cork machine operator.

The corking machine operator receives the full bottle of wine and promptly places the bottle into the machine, triggering the corker to insert a cork into the bottle.  This takes about 1/2 of a second.  The bottle is handed to the next station.

Another person is responsible for applying the decorative foil capsule onto the bottles.  The corked bottle receives the foil top and is inserted into the heating machine.  In about 1 second the previously over sized capsule is heated which nearly immediately shrinks the foil tightly to the bottle.

Next, the bottle is placed on the labeling machine and rotates as the labels become affixed. The labeled bottled are then placed into the awaiting boxes and when filled are loaded on the pallet.

12pm - Wine is Bottled!  This was a relatively fast bottling day (only 300 gallons) and four people who had the opportunity to rotate jobs.  After a quick lunch I went back to tear down and clean the bottling line.

12:30pm - Cleaning and Putting Away.  Another round of cleaning and sanitizing is necessary before putting the bottling line away.  As I've mentioned before, working in a winery is probably as much, if not more, about cleaning and sterilizing as it is about wine making. I may exaggerate a bit...but there is a ton of cleaning.

By 1:00pm the bottling line is cleaned and I am off on another cleaning job.  There is always something to clean in a winery, or wine to move, and then more to clean after that.

The "traditional" method of bottling wine is labor intensive but much more interesting.  During our bottling run I had a chance to hear stories about the winery owners historical ties to the land (his great, great grandfather grew up here) and how to deal with prolapsed uterus of a birthing cow.  Well, that story will have to wait until another time.

Brad Johnson is a contributing writer for Make Mine Wine Magazine, an artisan winemaker, researcher, teacher, and proud member of the Eastern Iowa Wine Club. He Tweets as "Iowine"

Saturday, January 2, 2010

2008 Mirassou Pinot Noir - California

Terry post:

Another day. Another Pinot Noir.

Pinot Noir has proven itself to be a challenging grape to grow in California. It has the reputation of being finicky and requiring nearly constant attention in the field and in the winery to coax the magic which hides inside. Absent attention and good luck Pinot Noir is little more than a one-dimensional grape without character, depth or finish.

You will not mistake the 2008 Mirassou Pinot Noir with the 2005 Morgan “Double L” Pinot Noir. They are both Pinot Noirs in the sense that my photography is equal to that of Ansel Adams: Not at all.

My impressions: Light red in the glass. Cherries but not much else going on with this medium-bodied wine. No hint of the other fruit and spice typically associated with Pinot Noir. No depth. An odd chemical aroma which I cannot place. Short astringent-medicinal finish.

I paid $9.99 for this bottle which places this Pinot Noir at the lower end of the price scale for this varietal. Not a terrible wine. Not a great wine.

I’d sooner save up my money I’d spend on five bottles of this wine to buy one bottle of a really good Pinot Noir.

~ Terry

Friday, January 1, 2010

Cold Stabilization: Wine Diamonds B-Gone!

Brad Post:

In my last posting I provided some background on "wine diamonds" and suggested they are unattractive but totally harmless. Today, I will discuss the general idea of instabilities in wine and talk about what we do in the cellar to minimize one form of instability: tartrate stabilization - also called "cold stabilization".

You might be surprised that clear wine can result from what begins as cloudy, particle-laden, fresh-pressed grape juice.  In this juice are a variety of sugars, acids and proteins that live together in a fermentation environment.  Eventually with enough time the particles, that you can visibly see, begin to sink to the bottom of the fermentation tank yielding a clearer wine. Periodically throughout the fermentation and aging process the clearing wine is transferred off the settled particles (e.g., dead yeast cells, bits of grape skin, and other unsightly things) into a clean, new tank. The process continues somewhere between three and five times, with periodic filtering (to remove smaller and smaller particles) until the crystal clear wine is bottled.

Hidden Instabilities.

Over time the crystal clear bottle of wine can undergo a change leading to crystal formation and haze in your wine.  There are two main forms of instabilities we encounter in the cellar: protein and tartrate. We'll focus on how to manage tartrate stability or how to minimize/eliminate "wine diamonds".

Potassium Bitartrate (aka: cream-de-tartar) or tartartic acid are relatively stable in grape juice but less so in wine.  Several factors, such as pH, temperature and alcohol content influence the crystallization (or precipitation) of bitartrate salts (i.e., wine diamonds).  In other words, the clear wine you take home and place in your cool cellar can affect the stability of your wine and may cause crystal formation.

Preemptive Intervention in the Cellar!

Fortunately there are approaches winemakers can use to minimize the chances of crystal formation.  (Some winemakers intentionally do not intervene because of winemaking philosophical reasons - yes, there are philosophies of winemaking).

Because crystal formation is temperature sensitive a winemaker could lower the temperature of the aging wine to help encourage tartaric acid crystallization.  Perhaps you've been in a wineries cellar and noticed a frosty patch on some of their stainless steel tanks -- this preemptive measure, to cool the wine to near the freezing point (28-30F) for two to three weeks, is frequently employed.  For high acid, Midwestern grapes this is nearly a must and yields a side benefit of reducing acidity.

Cooling a tank is somewhat effective for encouraging crystal formation; however, if you think of crystal formation as a process analogous to the formation of a hail stone in a summer storm it may help.  Hail is formed as a little piece of ice crystal is lifted, repeatedly, inside the cloud.  After several trips up and down inside the cloud the small ice crystal has grown in size and eventually falls to the ground. The second method to encourage tartaric acid crystal formation is similar.

Called the Contact Process, this cold stabilization process continues to chill the wine (as described above) but adds another step: seeding the wine with cream-de-tartar.  Chilling the wine to near freezing temperatures (or lower) and adding cream-de-tartar crystals to the cold wine essentially works like a magnet for other tartaric acid crystals to adhere (i.e., just like a hail stone).  The seeded wine is circulated, via closed pump-hose system for 15-30 minutes and is left to chill for a week, then transferred to a clean tank or filtered and bottled.

So, the next time you see wine diamonds in the bottom of your glass you can tell your friends they are harmless; and that crystal formation is pH, temperature and alcohol dependent; and that maybe, just maybe it was a philosophical decision not to cold stabilize the wine by the winemaker.


Brad Johnson is a contributing writer for Make Mine Wine Magazine, an artisan winemaker, researcher, teacher, and proud member of the Eastern Iowa Wine Club. He Tweets as "Iowine"