Detecting Winemaking Differences By Comparing Bottles: TEXSOM Seminar

One of numerous fascinating seminars I attended at TEXSOM was “Tasting Focus: Distinguishing Winemaking Choices” led by Master Sommeliers (MS) Matthew Citriglia and Geoff Kruth. Wines were compared in contrasting sets of two. First up? Lees.

Lees are the dead, spent yeast cells and other leftover solids that, when in contact with a wine prior to bottling, add extra creaminess. Which, our esteemed MSs pointed out, can be confused with what oak barrels can do to a wine. Their #ProTip was to look for yogurt or cream cheese notes on the wine’s nose. (Seriously.) The wines:

No lees: 2014 Bodegas del Palacio de Fefiñanes Albariño de Fefinane (Rías Baixas, Spain)

27 months on lees, stirred for 6 months of that time: 2009 Bodegas del Palacio de Fefiñanes Albariño de Fefinane III Año

Detecting Winemaking Differences By Comparing Bottles: TEXSOM SeminarNext up? Skin contact. As in grape skin contact. Giving juice extra time to hang out with the skins adds mouthfeel, aromatics, and flavor. But there can be too much of a good thing which, in the case of skin contact, can lead to excessive oxidation. Wave goodbye to the character of the grape.

The wines chosen were really cool. I had a chance to have the Ryme “Hers” and “His” Vermentino thanks to my pal Elaine of Hawk Wakawaka Wine Reviews. She brought these bottle to dinner the last time I was in Napa. The origin of the Ryme “Hers” and “His” bottlings had to do with a disagreement between partners in wine and life (Ryan & Megan Glaab…the “RY” and “ME”) about how their Vermentino should be made. Thus, two separate bottlings. Also, #relationshiplesson.

No skin contact, whole-bunch pressed, 50% tank/50% neutral barrel: 2014 Ryme Wine Cellars Vermentino Las Brisas Vineyard “Hers” (Carneros, CA)

Two weeks of skin contact then pressed and aged in barrel for 10 months: 2013 Ryme Wine Cellars Vermentino Las Brisas Vineyard “His” (Carneros, CA)

(Note: Grapes for both “Hers” and “His” were picked at the same time.)

We moved on to malolactic fermentation, which softens and rounds the acids in a wine. “Malo” (or “ML”) also lends buttery, nutty, and creamy notes. Chardonnay is the textbook wine to demonstrate this winemaking process:

Low malo (25% of the wine goes through ML in barrel): 2012 Hanzell Vineyards Chardonnay (Sonoma, CA)

100% malo: 2013 Morgan Winery Chardonnay Double L Vineyard (Santa Lucia Highlands, CA)

Also interesting to note the Hanzell is 25% barrel fermented while the Morgan is 100% barrel fermented. Surprisingly, they have very similar pH, total acidity, and alcohol levels.

Now let’s talk Brix. Not Bricks. Brix. Which refers to sugar levels in grapes. Many winemakers are looking for a certain number to hit to determine picking. Others go based on taste. Some, a little bit from Column A, a little bit from Column B.

Kruth made his feelings known on the matter:

Two quotes were put up on the screen to illustrate how some winemakers make their picking decisions:

On picking by flavor: “My whole goal is to let the fruit speak. I let the grapes ripen until they taste good. When they taste good, the wine will taste good, too.” –Shauna Rosenblum

On picking early (grapes with lower Brix measurement) to preserve acidity: “You want a tart apple for that pie, because when you bake it, damn that’s a good pie.” –Ted Lemon

OK, so what wines were selected?

Lower Brix (22-22.5): 2011 Copain Wines Pinot Noir Wentzel Vineyard (Anderson Valley, CA) 13.2% ABV

Higher Brix (24.5-25): 2012 Patz & Hall Pinot Noir Chenoweth Ranch Vineyard (Russian River Valley, CA) 14.8% ABV

Now, oak:

All old barrels (some large American): 2009 Mayacamas Cabernet Sauvignon (Mt. Veeder, CA)

100% new French barrels: 2011 Paul Hobbs Cabernet Sauvignon Beckstoffer Dr. Crane Vineyard (St. Helena, CA)

We finished up the reds comparing whole cluster grape fermentation versus destemming:

80% whole cluster: 2012 Gramercy Cellars Syrah Lagniappe Vineyard (Columbia Valley, WA)

100% destemmed: 2012 Owen Roe Syrah “Ex Umbris” (Columbia Valley, WA)

Whole cluster fermentation gives you higher tannin, lower alcohol, and aromatic complexity. You get a cleaner fermentation, softer tannins, and a more fruit-forward wine by destemming the grapes.

Finally, some sweetness. A look at residual sugar:

2013 Maximin Grünhäuser Riesling Qualitätswein Trocken (Mosel, Germany) [7 g/L residual sugar]

2013 Weingut Schloss Lieser “SL” Kabinett Prädikatswein (Mosel Germany) [35 g/L residual sugar]

I preferred the second Riesling as the extra sugar balanced out the acidity. But by no means was this a cloying wine. A fine breakfast beverage as a matter of fact. As far as the dry (trocken) Riesling, 7 g/L is something normally I’d be able to detect on a wine. But the acidity of the Maximin Grünhäuser was so powerful the reveal was a surprise.

The challenge with all this geekery is how to decribe differences in flavor and aroma without jargon-dumping all over your guests (or readers). As Citriglia put it:

It’s also important to clarify that Citriglia and Kruth were not undertaking this seminar to trumpet one way of doing things as “better” than the other. Purely an exercise in nerding out.

I highly encourage you to repeat this kind of exercise with your wine-loving pals. If you can’t find the exact same wines, ask your local wine pro (or me) for some suggestions.

Get more TEXSOM:

Decade-old Chardonnay under screwcap? How is it?

Beer! Bugs! Barrels!

I was comped registration and accommodations for this event.

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How Does Chardonnay Age Under Screwcap? Kumeu River Wines at TEXSOM

When I attended TEXSOM, one of my goals as far as the seminars I signed up for was to embrace new experiences that would broaden my understanding about the world of wine. Actually, more like shine a light on a place, a person, and a process unbeknownst to me. This is why I chose to attend “Iconic Winery Retrospective: Kumeu River Wines” led by Winemaker and Master of Wine Michael Brajkovich, who traveled a great distance to show a group of Matés Vinyeard Chardonnays from 2005-2012 that knocked my socks off.

I have to confess that I’m not a big fan of aged Chardonnay, at least to the point where it gets mushroomy and oxidized. I enjoy the presence of fresh fruit along with some of the secondary characteristics that start poking out at the 5ish year mark. The color of the wine starts to golden up a bit and show more nutty, caramel-y (yet dry) notes. And after tasting the Matés Vinyeard Chardonnays of Kumeu River Wines, it’s like Brajkovich tailor-made these Chardonnays to suit my style. (Spoiler alert: He did not, has not, nor will he. Well, I guess I could ask.)

How Does Chardonnay Age Under Screwcap? Kumeu River Wines at TEXSOM

The first thing that makes Kumeu River Wines unique is its location: towards the top of New Zealand’s North Island. (Map via winery website.) Right by Auckland as a matter of fact. Besides where the winery is, another stand-out about Kumeu River Wines? A commitment to sealing wines under screwcap.

How Does Chardonnay Age Under Screwcap? Kumeu River Wines at TEXSOM

Kumeu River Wines Winemaker and Master of Wine Michael Brajkovich. Image via winery website.

An interesting way that Brajkovic framed the discussion over wine closures (for those not immersed or even versed in the subject) is to regard screwcaps as a seal especially adept at promoting bottle maturation while mitigating oxidation. And, hey, cork is no slouch in that department. But screwcap proponents would say regarding oxygen transfer that their closure allows more fine-tuning and consistency.

Brajovich also chimed in on the white Burgundy “premox” (bottles that are prematurely oxidizing) controversy in response to a question from the audience. As far as the root of the problem, Brajovich concluded his comments by stating he would paraphrase one of our American politicians: “It’s the cork, stupid.”

Back to the Kumeu River Wines Chardonnays. The 2012 is chalky, with a perfect amount of oak, and plenty of zest on the finish. Very Chablis-esque. Brajkovich called the 2010 vintage the best ever. The 2008 was where I started to notice changes in color and flavor. Finally, the 2006 may have been my favorite of the bunch; it had a lemon curd quality that I can’t get out of my head.

It was really painful to have to spit these wines during this TEXSOM seminar. And, at its completion, heart-rendering to dump the remaining Chardonnay into a bucket. Perusing the reaction to Brajkovich and his wines on Twitter, I can see I was not alone in feeling strongly and emotionally about the fruits of Matés Vineyard:

What are your thoughts on wine under screwcap? Just great for wines you pop-and-pour ASAP? Or do you/would you have bottles with screwcaps in your cellar? Chime in!

I was comped registration and accommodations for this event.

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Wild Beers, Oak Barrels, and Microbes at TEXSOM

Howdy from Dallas where I’m at TEXSOM, a most excellent beverage conference with a strong wine focus.

But one cannot live on wine alone.

Which is why I decided to get wild with beer. Not wild like pool-party in the 105 degree heat wild. (Well, it’s actually just a few people chilling and drinking beer and Margaritas. While I blog away. Le sigh.) More like wild in the manner of bacteria and yeast. Fermentation-type stuff.

Wild Beers, Oak Barrels, and Microbes at TEXSOM

This all happened at an excellent seminar (Wild Beers: Old and New World) led by two Master Sommeliers: Thomas Burke and Melissa Monosoff. The beers tasted, as Monosoff explained, were like the crazy relatives of typical brews with “tame” productive yeasts that facilitate predictable outcomes. Burke continued this familial comparison, noting that regarding these relatives, “Sometimes they’re super fun and sometimes they crash the party.” In other words, it can be a risky business to make beer this way.

What followed was a PowerPoint presentation with possibly the best title, ever:

Know Your Microbes: Bugs, Barrels & Beer

10 beers were in front of us in groups of two. One Old World, one New World. And both wild in the same way. Let’s start with lacobacillus! It’s a bacteria that makes beers sour, explored via a duo of gose. What is gose? Monosoff explains in terms we can all understand:

The beers:

  • Bayerischer Bahnhof Leipziger Gose, Bottle Conditioned Ale, Liepzig, Germany
  • Destihl Brewery “Here Gose Nothing”, Leipzig-style Gose Wild Sour Ale, Bloomington, IL (5.2% ABV)

The Bayerischer Bahnhoff was livery and tart, the Destihl incredibly sour and salty.

Round two involved acetobacter, the bacteria that creates acetic acid. Which can add a not-so-lovely nail polish remover smell to wine. (Monosoff noted that she recently taught a wine faults class and everything she mentioned shows up in this beer seminar.) For beer, it adds some puckery vinegar characteristic. Beers tasted:

  • Verhaeghe-Vichte Duchesse de Bourgogne, Flanders Red Ale, Vichte, Belgium (6% ABV)
  • 2015 New Belgium Brewing Company La Folie, Wood-Aged Sour Ale, Fort Collins, CO (7% ABV)
Wild Beers, Oak Barrels, and Microbes at TEXSOM

You think I was joking? KNOW YOUR MICROBES!

The Duchesse de Bourgogne was very balsamic-y, the La Folie less so.

Moving on to Brettanomyces, a yeast. It can add barnyard, horse blanket, and bandaid qualities. (YUM!) Which, actually, some people enjoy having show up in wine. Others see the presence of Brettanomyces as a tragic flaw, like one you’d find in a Shakespearian character. But Brett, as it’s affectionately (?) called, is quite the survivor. It’s pretty badass, actually. The two beers we tried with Brett did not have any horsey flavor, sorry (?) to say. Brett just added some additional intrigue and complexity, a little earthiness, to these brews:

  • Orval Trappist Ale, Abbaye Notre-Dame d’Orval, Belgium (6.9% ABV)
  • Victory Brewing Company Sour Monkey, Brettanomyces Tripel Ale, Downington, PA (9.5% ABV)

Then, it was lambic time. Defined on one of the slides displayed as:

Yup, a real boy-meets-girl type of tale. The lambics:

  • Boon Brewery Framboise Lambic Ale, Lembeek, Belgium (5.5% ABV)
  • Jester King Barrel-Aged Sour Ale with Raspberries (Atrial Rubicite), Austin, TX (4.9% ABV)

That Boon was awesome! And I really enjoyed the photo of someone from Jester cramming whole Washington raspberries into a barrel full of beer via a funnel placed in the bung. (!!!)

The final two beers were examples of those you’d cellar. You know, like wine. But much cheaper.

  • 2014 Fuller’s Bottle Conditioned Ale, London, UK (8.5%)
  • Stone Brewing Company Stone Farking Wheaton W00t Stout, Escondido, CA (13%)

I dug the Fuller’s but was not in love with the Stone, which tasted like a liquified oak barrel. My neighbor thought it akin to teriyaki jerky. But then I spoke to a couple people after who loved it. So what the hell do I know? I would, however, be very curious to see what it tastes like after 5 and 10 more years in the bottle.

Anyway, hats off to Burke and Monosoff for a seminar that inverted wine flaws and brewed up something fascinating, instructive, and liberally dosed with geeky fun. Cheers to beer!

I was comped registration and accommodations for this event.

Orval image via Wikimedia.

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