Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Tasting aged wines with Jean K. Reilly MW and The Young Somms of Orlando

There is a collegial, ambitious, smart group of young sommeliers currently plying their trade at restaurants, wine bars, wine shops, and distributorships in the greater Orlando area. Since her arrival in the area, Jean K. Reilly MW has served as both mentor and glue to this group, encouraging their efforts and providing opportunities for skills/knowledge improvement. Her choice of Orlando as home has been a boon to these aspirants.

It was within this context that Jean partnered with me to expose these Somms to a focused tasting of aged wines from the world's leading regions. The tasting was held at Primo at the JW Marriott and was fully subscribed (15 attendees).

After a presentation on red-wine aging (the subject of my most recent blog post), we turned to the actual tasting. Jean's design called for the six wines to be tasted twice: first, to assess them on their merit and, second, to return deliberately disordered wines to their initial order based solely on sensory perception. The picture below shows the wines arrayed by order of the initial tasting. The wines were tasted left to right.

The wines were opened about 1.5 hours before the tasting. They were ordered from lightest body to weightest. The tasting notes that follow are an amalgam of attendee observations.

Bouvier-Girodet Gevrey-Chambertin 'Vielles Vignes' 2004
According to BBR, a cold snap in June delayed flowering and the remainder of the summer was colder and wetter than normal resulting in high incidences of oidium and mildew. The weather dried out in August and was fine in September, with quality fruit for those who selected rigorously.

The Bouvier-Girodet showed lifted sour cherry, moss, cedar, leather, mushroom, vanilla, and smoke. Elegant in the mouth. Crisp with a lengthy finish.

La Rioja Alta Rioja 904 Gran Reserva 2001
The weather during the growing season was optimal for grapevine development resulting in the vintage being awarded a Excellent rating by the D.O.Ca Rioja Control Board. The wine is a blend of Tempranillo (90%) and Graciano.

Vanilla, coconut, earth, wet clay, dill, and raspberry on the nose. Freshness with some salinity on the palate. Ripe fruit. Tannins still apparent. Lengthy, drying finish.

Aldo Conterno Barolo Bricco Bussia 'Colonello' 1978
Growing conditions similar to those experienced in Côte de Nuit in 2004 with cool, wet weather during the summer followed by a wonderful September.

Oxidative notes to begin, followed by mushroom, rust, tar, and Granny's attic. Beautiful wine on the palate. Still some astringency (but does not get in the way) along with tart cherry and leather. Long. Many years of pleasant drinking still ahead.

Chateau L'Evangile Pomerol 1990
Very mild winter followed by a cool spring and hot summer. Light rain in early September. Exceptionally high-quality Merlot.

This wine was a blend of 80% Merlot - 20% Cabernet Franc, aged for 18 months in oak barrels. Dried flowers with a plum undercurrent. Dried herbs, spice, and a savoriness. Mature tannins. Long, creamy finish. This wine did nothing to detract from my love of, and fascination with, this label.

Chateau Leoville-Las Cases St-Julien 2003
This was the famous heat wave vintage. The grapes were fermented in a mix of wood, concrete and stainless steel vats and then aged in partially new oak barrels for 18 months. The blend for this vintage was Cabernet Sauvignon (70%), Merlot (17%), and Cabernet Franc (13%).

This wine is well-developed on the nose. Blue fruit, caramel, cedar, vanilla, and some savoriness. Red and black fruit on the palate. This wine is aging very well with another 5 to 10 years before reaching its peak.

Seavey Cabernet Sauvignon 1994
100% Cabernet Sauvignon fruit planted on the hills above St. Helena. Aged in 50% new French oak barrels.

Rich aroma profile. Chocolate, cherries, and some age-related Granny's attic notes. Round on the palate. Lowest acid of the wines that we have tasted so far but still very pleasant.


Mission accomplished. The Young Guns engaged fully in both of the tasting exercises and, at the conclusion of the event, effusively thanked us for the opportunity. The light continues to shine on Orlando.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Sunday, November 18, 2018

The evolotion of components during red-wine aging

According to winecurmudgeon.com, "as much as 90% of the wine bought in the U.S. is drunk within 24 hours" of purchase and "some 95 percent of all wine purchased in the U.S. is consumed within a week." And that result maps closely to the production dynamic as, according to Jancis Robinson MW, only small percentages of red and white wines produced can improve such that they provide greater drinking enjoyment at 5 years of age than they did at 1 year of age.

For those wines with aging potential, complex chemical reactions between their components -- and over an extended period -- will alter the aroma, color, mouthfeel, and taste such that they become more pleasing to the taster. Table 1 below captures the factors which contribute to the ageability of wine.

Table 1. Factors contributing to the Ageability of Wines
Selected Potential Impacts
Grape Variety Tannin and acidity are great preservatives; varieties with medium-to-high levels of one or both of these components are good candidates for aging
  • High-heat vintages may result in low acid levels and damaged skins
  • Too-wet vintages introduce disease risk and increases the ratio of water to acid/phenolics
Viticultural Practices
  • Overly long hang times may negatively affect acidity levels
  • Picking too early may yield phonetically unripe grapes
Wine Region Hot climates yield lower-acid fruit
Winemaking Style
  • Malolactic fermentation  on a low-acid wine will lead to even lower acid levels
  • Shorter post-fermentation maceration will yield lower tannin levels and the potential aging time of the wines 
Bottle Storage Poor storage conditions will negatively affect the life and quality of the aged wine

In the foregoing table, the role of acidity and tannins in preserving the wine against attack by microbes is highlighted but the ratio of these two components, plus sugar, to water is a key determinant as to how well a wine will age. The more diluted these components, the less well the wine will age. In addition, maceration length, and, hence, the increased volume of phenolic extraction, will improve the ageability of the wine. Acid and tannin levels of major grape varieties are provided in the figure below.

While a lot of attention on aging is focused on residence in the buyer's cellar, the aging process actually begins in the winemaker's cellar. The figure below is a block diagram which provides an overarching view of the aging process.

Table 2 below summarizes the changes that each of the wine components undergo from the freshly fermented stage until the bottle is opened many years down the road.

Table 2. Summary of the changes that wine components undergo during aging.
Young Red Wine
Cellar Aging
Inky dark color due to monomeric anthocyanin pigments extracted from skin
Monomers replaced by polymeric form (anthocyanin pigments + tannins)
  • Color loss due to continued polymerization and precipitation of tannin-anthocyanin complexes
    - Light brick red after 5 - 10 years
     - Light orange-red color further out
  • Varietal, grape, and yeasty aromas
  • Alcohols, esters, fatty acids, aldehydes, and ketones
  • Acquisition of toasted aromas to include
    - Smoky
    - Spicy
    - Cocoa
    - Vanilla
    - Roasted coffee
    - Toasted bread
  • Loss of certain grape and yeasty aromas
  • retention of varietal aromas 
  • Formation of new aromas (Savory, for example
  • Synthesis of new esters
  • Integration of all flavors to produce a harmonious and pleasing fragrance
  • Amount of alcohol in wine = ºBrix x ).55
  • Residual sugar should range between 0.2 - 0.3 g/l
- Oxidized to acetaldehyde

- Red wines should range between 0.6 and 0.8% TA
- Malolactic fermentation changes malic acid to the softer lactic acid
  • Acid precipitation
  • Ester formation
    - Loss of acidity makes wine taste less astringent and mellower
  • Grape tannins are largely responsible for the bitter taste in wine
  • Oxidative and non-oxidative polymerization of phenolic compounds
    - Reduced astringency
    - Smoother, softer taste
  • Flavonoid phenols polymerize and become less bitter, more astringent
  • Further polymerization leads to eventual precipitation
    - Reduction in phenolic compounds
    - reduction in astringency
- Grape tannins are responsible for the astringency in wine
- Conversely, astringency is increased by the phenolic products absorbed into the wine from barrel
- Astringency can be reduced by fining
  • Loss of astringency due to polymerization and precipitation of tannins
    - Wine becomes mellower and smoother

Wine Maturation
Wine is matured in wooden barrels to: (i) enhance its flavor, aroma, and complexity through transfer of substances from the wood to the wine; and (ii) allow gradual oxidation of the wine.

In the first instance, many of the wood's native aromatic compounds, as well as the aromatic compounds created during seasoning and toasting, are absorbed, and integrated, into the wine, thus contributing to wine richness and aromatic complexity.  For example, hemicellulose will hydrolyze upon exposure to wine, creating, as a result, sugars and acetyl groups.  The sugars are further converted to furanaldehydes and ketones while the acetyl groups are converted to acetic acid during maturation.  A small proportion of lignin will dissolve in wine (these are called native lignins) while some undergo ethanolysis and are oxidized to aromatic compounds.  These compounds have low olfactory thresholds and will, therefore, impact the wine's aromatic profile. As noted by Dr. Murli Dharmadikari, common descriptors of oak-aged wines are oaky, vanilla, smoky, toasty, spicy, and coconut.

In terms of gradual oxidation, wine loss from barrels amount to approximately 2% per year, resulting from the fact that water and ethanol are smaller molecules and will diffuse into the wood and, ultimately, escape as vapor.  If the air in the cellar is dry, more water is lost and the wine is more concentrated in terms of alcohol.  If the environment is too humid then more alcohol is lost, reducing the ethanol content in the remaining wine.  This loss of liquid opens up a space between the wine surface and the barrel which the winemaker generally "tops up" in order to prevent oxidation and acetic spoilage.  During this "topping-up" process, small amounts of oxygen are dissolved in the wine.  Oxygen is also introduced into the wine during winery operations such as filtering and racking.

The oxygen which is now in the wine reacts with resident phenolic compounds in a manner such that: (i) tannins are softened (polymerization and precipitation as well as tannin-polysaccharide combinations); (ii) complex aromas develop; and (iii) there is improvement in the wine's body and mouthfeel.

In a Herjavec, et al., study, the authors found that the sensorial characteristics of barrel-aged wines were modified, due to the wood-derived compounds. These wines manifested roundness in taste with a complex retro nasal aroma." Barrel toast also affected flavor perception: aging in medium-toast barrels yielded a smoky, roasted, and raw oak flavor while light toast resulted in a more fruity aroma.

Cellar Aging
As the wine continues to age under ideal conditions, chemical oxidation and polymerization and precipitation will result in a continued loss of astringency and color. The loss of astringency results in a mellower wine while the loss of color yields a light orange-red colored wine.

The perception of acidity will decrease -- and with it the perception of astringency -- due to formation of esters resulting from chemical interactions between acids and alcohol and some precipitation of acids.

Beatty discusses the formation of savory aromas (beef broth, cured, smoked and grilled meats, mushrooms, vegetables and herbs, roasted nuts, caramel, and soy sauce) resulting from Maillard reactions ("a series of chemical reactions between reduced sugars and compounds with free ammonia acids") which can occur under wine-like conditions (relatively low pH, relatively low storage temperatures, an aqueous solution) at very slow reaction rates to "produce savory aromas over the course of years or even decades of aging."

And finally, the aged wine will exhibit a bouquet that is more developed and layered and should also show a lengthened finish.

Alyssa Mae Beatty, Characterization of "savory" aroma compounds in aged red wines via gas chromatography-olfactometry and descriptive analysis. Dissertation, Purdue University.
Seth Cohen, Managing Wine Aroma, Presentation, North Carolina Wine Growers Association, 2/5/2012.
Dr. Murli Dharmadhikari, Wine Aging, extension.iastate.edu
Denis Dubourdieu and Takatasgi Tominaga, Evolution of Toasted Aromas  in red wine during barrel maturation.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

A Vertical Tasting of Christian Moueix's Ulysses Napa Valley at Vintage Vino

The land upon which Christian Moueix's Ulysses Vineyard lies has had as many owners as its namesake had adventures on his epic journey home after the conclusion of the Trojan War. The land came into American lore as a part of the 1836 Rancho Caymus land grant by the Mexican government to the farmer/trapper/settler George C. Yount (after whom the town of Yountville is named). Yount planted the first grapes in the area on what is now the Napanook Vineyard (also currently owned by Mouiex and the source of the grapes for the highly regarded Dominus wine).

Yount sold 640 acres of Rancho Caymus to Charles Hopper in 1850. Hopper had originally traveled to California from Missouri in 1841 but had returned shortly thereafter. He came back out to California with his family in 1849 and settled in Napa Valley. Hopper planted his first vines on the property in 1873 and gifted the land to his daughter Missouri in 1877. Missouri was forced to sell the land in the 1880s after her husband's death.

The original ranch has been broken up and sold off in pieces. The land that comprises today's Vine Hill Vineyard, Missouri Hopper, Ulysses Vineyard, and Kelleher (see map below) passed through the ownerships of Whitton, Hahn, and Taddei before being purchased by Bruce Kelham in 1959. The Missouri Hopper Vineyard was purchased from the Kelham Family by Andy Beckstoffer in 1996.

The Ulysses Vineyard, as noted by Antonio Galloni (Vinous), had been a part of the Missouri Hopper Vineyard. It came under the ownership of the Schmidts either before or during the Beckstoffer acquisition and was purchased from them by Christian Moueix in 2008.

The soil at Ulysses is a deep, gravelly clay loam. It is valley floor soil, but with excellent drainage. When purchased it was home to a substantial number of Merlot vines but, given his early experience at Dominus, Christian pulled out all of the Merlot vines and replaced them with Cabernet Sauvignon. The vineyard composition is now 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Cabernet Franc, and 6% Petit Verdot.

As is the practice at all Moueix properties, Ulysses is dry-farmed, a practice which, he maintains, enhances root depth and drought resistance.

Grapes are harvested at "perfect ripeness" and fermented/macerated with extraction facilitated by pump-overs. The wine is aged for 20 months in 40 - 50% new French oak.

John Siudut of Vintage Vino organized a tasting of the first three vintages (2012 - 2014) of Ulysses, said tasting held at Vintage Vino and led by him and Billy Hendriksen. Attendees were limited to 10 people in order to ensure meaningful pours for each participant. The bottles were opened at 2:00 pm and the tasting began a little after 5:00 pm.

Parlo and Soo

John showing a label to some of the attendees

They're happy

Billy prepping to lead the tasting

John bringing his expertise to bear
According to Billy, the 2012 growing season had heavy spring rain and a mild, warm summer. The Ulysses 2012 was perfumed with honeysuckle, dried herbs, leather, vanilla, and dark fruit. On the palate, dark fruit, green herbs, and green pepper.

The 2013 season was characterized by a very dry spring and consistently warm summer and fall. Early ripening with 6.4 inches of rain, compared to a historical average of 17.5 inches. Yields in 2013 were between 1.4 and 2.5 tons/acre. The 2013 Ulysses showed more green pepper than the 2012. Fruit-forward, vinous, with fruit somewhat overwhelmed by the green character. More green notes on the palate. Intense. More structured than the 2012.

The 2014 season had a dry, early winter with heavy rain in February. Much higher than average temperature with moderate heat spikes. Yields of 2.2 tons/acre. The 2014 Ulysses  exhibited dark fruit, wet cigarette, and baking spices on the nose. A slight green note. Lusher, plusher, and softer on the palate than the preceding wines. Creamy. Open.

For comparison purposes, we tasted two wines from other Moueix properties: 1996 Dominus (similar varietal composition as the Ulysses) and the 2005 Trotanoy (from his Pomerol estate of the same name; Merlot-dominant).

The Dominus showed chocolate, tobacco, coffee, black tea, coal tar, and a duskiness. Complete from front to back. Rich and creamy. Beautiful. Long, creamy finish.

The Trotanoy was young. Dark and red fruit, earth, and baking spices. Power on the palate with red fruit. Way too early.

The Ulysses wines are currently young wines from young vines but the long-term potential of this vineyard is apparent. Great job by John and Billy in walking us through this very revealing tasting.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Monday, October 29, 2018

Domaine Jean-Louis Chave tasting at Digress Wines: The Saint-Joseph and Selection wines

In describing a Domaine Jean-Louis Chave wine, Master Sommelier Ian Cauble (of SOMM fame) wrote "it is impossible to tell the story of France's Rhône Valley or the Syrah grape without referencing this family's enormous contribution." In the same piece, Ian points to Jancis Robinson affirming that "... in the entire northern Rhône Valley, 'no one is more respected than Domaine Jean-Louis Chave'."

So it was a very big deal when Digress Wines recently partnered with Progress Wine Group to host a tasting of Chave wines for its customers. I have previously reported on our tasting of the Hermitage flight and now turn my attention to the St. Joseph and J-L Chave Selection wines.

Lineup of Chave wines tasted at Digress Wines event.
Photo credit: Brian Herbst

The Saint-Joseph wines are sourced from Chave-owned vineyards while the Selection wines are the fruit of a negociant business where there is a mix of owned vineyards and purchased fruit. In the cases where fruit is purchased, JL Chave either farms the land or manages the growers tightly to ensure that Chave-quality fruit makes it into the wine.

The map below is drawn from my post on the St-Joseph appellation and shows its commune-level structure. The tables immediately following show the actual climat-level sources for both the Saint-Joseph and Selection wines.

Table 1. Vineyard sources for Domaine Jean-Louis Chave Saint-Joseph wine.
Vine Age

Some of the oldest St-Joseph vines. Some date back to pre-WWI, others to the early 1980s, but most from 1992 and 1993

Granitic; some dusty loess and clay in lower reaches

Extension of the Les Olivier hill. SE exposure. Runs up to 250 m

Les Oliviers
Granitic at the bottom but much of the soil is a clay-galet stone mix

Noted for its ripening quality

Les Côtes Derrière
Firm granite
Most southerly site at Mauves; 30 ha




Lower down on the slope

Chaves family origin

Les Côtes de Pouilly (known locally as Bachasson)
Full granite
1.5 ha planted every year from 1996 - 2002
Jean-Louis resurrecting this old family vineyard. Upper flank is south-facing

Table 2. Vineyard sources for JL Chave Selection wines
LabelAppellationVariet(ies)yVineyardsVineyard Age (years)FermentationAging
CircaSt. JosephRoussanneMauves (granite)5 - 60BarrelBarriques — 14 months
Mon CoeurCôtes du RhôneSyrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre (~5%)Visan (clay-limestone); Vinsobres (clay soil rich in limestone; 900 feet elevation); Cairanne (Mediterranean climate); Rasteau (used in select vintages)20 - 60Stainless steel tanks12 14 months in a mix of old and new barrels, demi-muids, and large foudres
OfferusSt JosephSyrahMauves, Tournon, and St-Jean-de-Muzols supply 80% of blend. Owned vineyards. Remaining vineyards located around Serreirès. Farmed5 - 80 50% destemmed. Fermented in wood tonneau and stainless steel tanks.Aged in barriques and foudres for 18 months
SileneCrozes-HermitageSyrahHillside vineyards in Larnage and Gervans; 50% owned5 - 25Wood tonneau and stainless steelAged in barriques for 15 - 18 months

We were served the 2016 Circa and Mon Coeur wines during the reception. The Circa showed white flowers and green herbs. Finely etched and mineral-driven on the palate. The minerality offset a lack of acidity. The Mon Coeur was perfumed with red fruit and vinosity dominant. Light bodied  with dried herbs and spice on the palate. Drying character on the palate.

The Offerus 2015 was spicy with some florality and elegant dark/blue fruit. Structured. Light fruit on the palate but the wine still retains its structure. Nice mineral/acid finish.

The Silene 2016 was perfumed with spice and green herbs. I was unimpressed by this wine.

The Domaine St-Joseph 2014 was aromatic with sawdust, animal, and bacon on the nose. Bacon and dark fruit on the palate. Could have been brighter. The 2012 showed bacon, blood, and herbs on the nose and palate. Saline character and pleasant red fruit on the palate. The 2009 showed spice, black fruit, and meat on the nose. Medium-bodied with blackfruit, blackpepper, and meat on the palate. Pleasing. The 2008 had a similar character to the 2009 except distinctly more blood and minerality.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme