Sunday, April 29, 2012

Burgundy: Côte de Nuit AOCs

The Côte de Nuit, one of the premier Burgundy wine growing sub-regions, is home to the most expensive incarnations of Pinot Noir wines and vineyard properties in the world.  This post covers the sub-region and its associated appellations.

The Côte de Nuit, along with its sister region Côte de Beaune, comprise the fabled Côte-d'Or (golden hills), a limestone escarpment which runs north to south for 45 kilometers (27 miles) from Dijon to Santennay.  The climate for these two sub-regions is as has been described for traditional Burgundy. The soil is predominantly rendzina (a dark, grayish-brown, hummus-rich soil) and brown limestone with a covering of loose rock debris and instances of a gravel-red silt mix that has slipped down the slopes and on to marl or limestone bases.  The arable land in the Côte is very shallow but the vine roots will exploit cracks in the limestone to travel to great depths in search of nutrients and water.

Within the Côte-d'Or, Côte de Nuit (named for its largest town, Nuit-Saint-Georges) occupies the narrow strip of slopes that are to be found between Dijon and Corgoloin.  The area is 3.2 kilometers (2 miles) wide at its widest point and shrinks to between 200 and 300 meters in some places.  Lying as it does along the 47th parallel (a similar latitude as Minnesota), the sub-region struggles to consistently reward viticulturists with adequately ripened Pinot Noir.

The wines from Côte de Nuit are classified according to the location of the vines from which they were sourced.  The best vineyards in the region are situated mid-slope on the hills where the best soils, exposure, and drainage are to be found.  These mid-slope regions are home to 24 of the Burgundy Grand Cru climats.

The plots which have the the most issues with drainage and ripening are located at the lowest elevation on the slopes and it is from those plots that we derive the wines that are assigned Bourgogne regional labels.  In addition, wines can be produced in Côte de Nuit and be labeled Bourgogne Aligoté, Bourgogne Passe-tout-grains, and Crémant de Bourgogne.  In addition, the elevated slopes of 4 communes have been assigned an appellation (Bourgogne Hautes-Côte de Nuit) for the production of reds, whites, and rosés which have been tested and certified as meeting stipulated requirements.  In the case of the Côte de Nuit Village appellation, if the grapes are sourced from a single climat, the name of that climat is permitted to appear on the label.

Village and Premier Cru wines are sourced from grapes that are grown above and below the mid-slope position that is reserved for the Grand Crus. In the case of a Village appellation, the name of the origin village must appear on the label and if a Premier Cru, the name of the village must be followed by the words Premier Cru plus the name of the source climat.  It should be noted that the amount of land devoted to the production of white wines decline as we move up the quality level with only one Grand Cru choosing to allocate precious land to the production of Chardonnay grapes.

Knowing Burgundy requires knowing much more than the AOCs: it also requires knowledge of the really good producers -- those who will produce at the top of the class year in and year out -- and knowledge of the vintages.  And even then you are not guaranteed to have a great bottle of wine when you open it.  When you do open a great bottle of Burgundy, however, it is a wine-drinking experience second to none.  So here are the names of selected producers that should be a starting point for any journey into the wines of the Côte de Nuit:

  • Faiveley
  • Jayer-Gilles
  • Leroy
  • Meo Camuzet
  • J. Grivet
  • DRC
  • Henry Jayer
  • Rene Engel
  • Mungeard-Mugneret
  • Mugneret
  • Jean Gros
  • Jadot
  • Drouhin
  • Roumier
  • J. Grivot
  • Comte de Vogue
  • Dujac
  • Mugnier
  • Ponsot

I will now shift my attention to reporting on the Stacole Burgundy tasting which I attended last week.

© Wine -- Mise en abyme

Friday, April 27, 2012

The Burgundy wine region (sans Beaujolais): An overview

I attended two Burgundy wine tastings (The Wine Room and Stacole Fine Wines) during the course of the past week and will be posting notes on one or both in the near future.  I will use this post to provide additional background on the Burgundy wine region, a process which was initiated with my earlier posts on the Beaujolais sub-region and Beaujolais AOCs.

The Burgundy wine region runs in a north-south direction for 360 kilometers (225 miles) from 100 kilometers south of Paris to the city of Lyon.  The major included sub-regions are illustrated in the map below.


The scope of this particular post is Burgundy to the exclusion of Beaujolais; thus, Chablis to Maconnais.

The climate in Burgundy has been described as "oceanic with some continental tendencies." Oceanic due to frequent rains (rainiest in the autumn and less so in the summer) and semi-continental in that (i) its monthly thermal amplitude (difference between mean temperature of the hottest and coldest months of the year) is among the highest in France; (ii) the winters are cold (average 1.6ºC) with frequent snowfalls; and (iii) warm summers (average 19.6ºC) with occasional violent thunderstorms. The short summers make berry ripening a challenge and, coupled with the possibility of rain, frost, or hail around harvest, provide lots of opportunity for vintage variation.

There is a "certain unity of geology and soil" within Burgundy but the geological origin and physical and chemical composition of that soil can vary between and even within vineyards.  Overall, the top layers are sedimentary soils (clay, marl, limestone) laid down during the Jurassic age (150 million years ago) overlaying bedrock (granite, lava, gneiss, schist) which dates to 250 million years ago.

The essence of Burgundy, and the rationale for the primacy of its wines, is terroir and, within that overarching framework, "climats," which are strictly defined vineyard plots with centuries-old names and quality attributions.  According to the official Burgundy website, "The basis of terroir is above all the sub-soil and soil from which the vine draws its nutrients and which create a secret alchemy of colors, aromas and flavors."

Writing in on June 10, 2010, Benjamin Lewin MW reminded us that in the same year (1855) that the Medoc Classification was introduced, Jules Lavalle published a topographic map of the Côte d'Or which placed each vineyard into one of four classes.  The key difference between the two classification schemes at the time that they were introduced? Bordeaux was classified by price while Burgundy was classified by terroir.

And it was the Lavalle classification scheme that was the basis for mapping the Côte d'Or into 400 appellations when the appellation system was introduced in 1938.  The climat classification scheme used in Burgundy today is shown in the table below with the Regional appellations at the lowest end of the quality pyramid and Grand Crus at the top .  Regional wines can be made from grapes grown anywhere within the region; local (Village) wines must be made from grapes grown in the named village; Premier Cru wines must be made from grapes grown in so-designated vineyards; and Grand Cru wines must be made from grapes grown in Grand Cru vineyards.

Mr. Lewin points out that given the difficulty with berry ripening in Burgundy, higher quality ratings would be assigned to plots where the vines ripened reliably even in poor vintages.  And, in his view, the ripening advantage would accrue to the vineyards in the middle of slope.  As shown in the figure below, all of the Grand Cru vineyards are located center-slope in Burgundy.


The distribution of the vineyards by Burgundy sub-region is shown in the following table, as is the distribution of wine production.

Non-Beaujolais Burgundy is largely a two-style, two-grape region.  As shown in the table below, 60% of the region's wine production is white and 32% red.

White wine in the region is made primarily from the Chardonnay grape and the red from Pinot Noir.  The Chardonnay vines flourish on clayey marl-limestone soils and there is a strong correlation between clay content and wine aroma levels.  Chardonnay wines from Burgundy are considered the best representation of the grape and are noted for complexity of aroma and flavor, fruit depth, structure, minerality, and crisp acidity.  The sub-regions that gain the most acclaim for their Chardonnay include: Côte de Beaune, Côte Chalonnaise, Macconnais, and Chablis.  Whites from Chardonnay can be produced in each of the previously described AOCs.

The Pinot Noir grape thrives in well-drained marl and limestone soils with the style being light and elegant or powerful depending on the limestone content and climat location.  The clays at the bottom of the slope produce powerful but less elegant wines.  Grand Crus from Pinot Noir are concentrated in the Côte de Nuit and are characterized as "profound and subtle" with great harmony existing between body, bouquet, and color.  Burgundy reds are structured on acidity and are lighter-bodied and tangy in youth but develop a huge bouquet of aromas and flavors, as well as minerality, with age.  Reds from Pinot Noir can be produced in each of the previously described AOCs.

There are some Burgundy wines which do not conform to the two-grape, two-style rule.  First, Gamay, which is the mainstay off the Beaujolais sub-region, is also prominent in Macconnais.  Aligoté is a grape that is used primarily to make a regional white wine called Bourgogne Aligoté as well as being one of the potential ingredients of Burgundy sparkling wine (Crémant).  In Auxerrois, 109 hectares of Sauvignon and Grey Sauvignon are planted to produce a light, fruity wine for the Saint-Bris AOC and César is combined with Pinot Noir to produce a wine called Irancy.  Finally, Tressot and César are grown in small quantities and used in production of White Burgundy ordinaire AOC in the Yonne district.

Passetoutgrains is a blended red wine made from 1/3 Pinot Pinot Noir, < 2/3 Gamay, and a mix of Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, and Pinot Gris not in excess of 15% of the blend.  The constituent grapes are generally co-fermented and the wines are intended for early drinking.

A sparkling wine -- Crémant -- is produced in the Burgundy region using the Methodé Champenoise.  This wine style was granted an appellation in 1975 and is produced under the following requirements:
  • Le crémant de Bourgogne blanc -- minimum 30% Pinot Noir and/or Chardonnay
  • Le crémant de Bourgogne blanc -- Chardonnay and Aligoté
  • Le crémant de Bourgogne blanc de noirs -- Pinot Noir
  • Le crémant de Bourgogne rosé -- Pinot Noir or Pinot Noir and minimal amounts of Gamay.
Thanks to Napolean's inheritance laws, Burgundy growers number in the thousands and own, on average, 5 hectares (12.5 acres) spread over nine different appellations.  Given this lack of economy of scale many growers are unable to make their own wine.  They instead sell either grapes or juice to négociants who then make, store, and distribute the wine to the broader market place.  Given the combination of the AOC complexity, a history of vintage variability, the number of producers, and the existence of négociants, selecting wines from this region can be a daunting task.  Know your producers.

© Wine -- Mise en abyme

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Blog name change to align with content

Mise en abyme (pronunciation miz-ohn a-beem) is, according to the Literary Encyclopedia, "A French term derived from the heraldic device of inserting a small shield within a larger shield bearing the same device ..."  In later English literature the term was used to refer to a literary technique called "a play-within-a-play" (as in Shakespeare's Hamlet) while in classic art it was used to describe a technique wherein ever-smaller copies of an original painting were placed in the center of the painting giving an impression of movement ever deeper into an abyss.  In common modern usage the term is used to indicate a story within a story.  And such is the use as intended in the new name of my blog.

The previous blog name and picture, while having provided yeoman service over the years, did not fully capture and convey what was occuring in the body of the posts.  The blog has truly come to represent my continuing quest for knowledge and understanding of all aspects of all things wine and a commitment to share those learnings once I become comfortable with them.  It also reflects my focus on placing things in order and providing frameworks within which that order can be imposed, analyzed, and disseminated.  But, more importantly, because of a need to provide background to any story that I am telling, the main thrust has always been packaged within a broader context.  In my book, a story within a story.  So if I am reporting on a wine tasting, I want to tell that story within the context of the broader wine region.  I will write a post on the region first, and then follow up with a post on the actual tasting.  The series I am doing now about wine quality has taken me down to components and elements and will provide fodder for this blog well into the future.

The concept is illustrated in the figure below where a story about wine odor is being told within the context of the story of the overall winemaking process which is itself being told within the context of the the winemaking process as it is practiced across the globe.

The photograph underlying the new blog name fully captures and communicates the conception of a story within a story and is doubly significant in that it has a bottle of wine (Smith-Haut Lafitte) as part of the representation.  This picture was taken at Chateau Smith-Haut Lafitte on the first day of the Decanter d'Yquem Weekend.  As I had related the story at the time:

Madame Cathiard took us into a sub-basement with access secured through an electrically operated door which opened upwards from the floor. As we descended into the room she indicated that it was named Le Paradis -- the paradise. On the left-hand side of the room was a table on which lay every size of wine that is produced at the château, proceeding from smallest to largest. On the right side of the room was a line of bottles of the château's red wines arranged from oldest to most recent. At the front of the room was a glass cube containing a wine bottle which, through the influence of imbedded mirrors, appeared to be the entrance to a hole stretching to infinity.

If you currently read and enjoy this blog, you will find that nothing has changed except the "above-the-fold" material.  So there is no reason to change a good habit.  If you are new to the blog, where have you been all this time?  If you have any thoughts on this change, or suggestions as to how I can improve the content or context of this blog, I will be receptive to same.

© Wine -- Mise en abyme

Friday, April 20, 2012

Odor as an indicator of wine quality: Mapping the sources

Most of the stock photographs of wine notables that you encounter show them holding a glass of wine to their noses.  This is no accident as wine odor is one of the key markers of wine quality and they want to be shown either assessing the quality of the wine or wallowing in the enjoyment that accrues to a person who is fortunate enough to be sniffing a high-quality wine.  According to Vincent Ferreira (Laboratory for Flavor Analysis and Enology, University of Zaragoza), "The most relevant notes of great wines are caused by complex associations of aroma compounds playing different notes ..."  And it is these compounds and their notes that will be the focus of a series of posts (beginning with this one on the sources) on odor as an indicator of wine quality.  The arrow on the figure below shows our current position on the Wine Quality Assessment Framework.

We begin with some baseline definitions.  An odor is a volatile compound, or combination of volatile compounds, that stimulates the olfactory organ to register a smell.  The odor threshold of a compound is the lowest concentration at which its smell can be detected.  The perception threshold is the minimum detectable concentration for 50% of a group of tasters while the recognition threshold is the minimum concentration of that compound necessary for identification of the odor.

If we relate the foregoing to wine, quality wine can be characterized as having complex associations of aroma compounds that exceed the odor threshold; and, for a subset of tasters, exceed the recognition threshold.  But what are the sources of these odor?  The figure below shows the sources of wine odors.

As the figure shows, wine odors are a sum of the odors from the grape, maceration, yeasts, alcoholic fermentation, malolactic fermentation, and aging.  The Wine Institute characterizes these odors as shown in the table below.

Over the course of the next few posts I will detail the elements that ensure the production of quality wine grapes, characterize the sources of wine odor, and, finally, show how the interaction of these odor compounds aid in the perception of a quality wine.

© Wine -- The View From Orlando

Monday, April 16, 2012

The origin of wine: The when and where

In my previous post on the origin of wine I noted the scientific consensus that the vitis vinifera that is used in the production of 99.9% of the world's wines is a domesticated version of vitis vinifera silvestris, a wild Eurasian grape that still survives today in a number of Eurasian and North African habitats.  The modern wild grape is dioecious, must be cross-pollinated by insects, and fruit is only produced by the female plant. Somewhere in our distant past, and at a specific geographic location, someone(s) took this wild grapevine into cultivation and selected for plants that were hermaphroditic (self-pollination by wind; fruit production by every flower) and bore larger, juicer, and tastier fruit with fewer seeds.  The questions to be answered are: when and where did this domestication occur?

Doctor McGovern (Ancient Wine) states that while it cannot be ruled out that Paleolithic man did not have some contact with wine -- the Paleolithic hypothesis -- humans living in that era did not have the technology or lifestyle to be credible actors in the domestication of silvestris and vinification of its juice.  He instead points to the Neolithic era as being the most likely answer to the when question.  Writing in Penn Museum's Expedition (The Beginnings of Winemaking and Vinification in the Ancient Near East and Egypt, 39(1), 1997), McGovern et al., propose the Neolithic as being the first period in our annals when all of the requisite conditions for domestication  of the wild grapevine were present simultaneously:
  • Humans were living in year-round communities
  • The above was brought about partly as a result of the domestication of many different plants and animals
  • People living in this era had invented bread and beer, both requiring fermentation with yeast
  • Pottery vessels (which would become important for the storage and transportation of wine) first appeared around 6000 BC.
A number of archaeological findings serve to cement the Neolitihic as the period within which the grapevine was domesticated and wine made and also allow us to narrow down the answer to the where question:
  • Pips from vitis vinifera vinifera dating to the 6th millennium BC were found at Chokh in the Dagestan Mountains of the northeast Caucusus (McGovern et al.)
  • Pips from vitis vinifera vinifera dating to between the 6th and 4th millennium BC were found at Shomutepe and Shulaveri in Transcaucasia (McGovern et al., This et al.)
  • Discovery of "wine jars" dating to between 5400 and 5000 BC at Hajji Firuz Tepe in Iran.
Hajji Firuz Teppe, an ancient town located in the northern Zagos Mountains of Iran, was the subject of an archaeological excavation in 1968 at which five 2.5 gallon (9 liter) jars were found imbedded in an earthen floor along a wall of a Neolithic mud brick building.  Two of these jars had a yellowish residue on the bottom which, after being subjected to infrared liquid chromatography and wet chemical analysis, proved to be a combination of calcium tartrate and terebinth tree resin.  Tartaric acid in the amounts found can only be associated with grapes and the amount of wine that would be housed in the five containers would be much more than required for a single family's use.  Clay stoppers that perfectly fit the openings at the top of the clay jars were found in close proximity to the jars and was assumed to have been used to prevent the contents from turning to vinegar.  These factors led the archaeologists to tag this site as a wine-production facility -- playfully called "Chateau" Hajji Feruz by Dr. McGovern.  As wines in Greece even today are resinated, the assumption is that resin was added to Neolithic wines either as a preservative or for medicinal purposes.

According to This et al., "Uncertainty remains about the place and period of the original domestication ... but archaeological and historical evidence suggest that premier domestication occurred in the Near East."  McGovern takes the position of the Near East as the locale and the Neolithic as the period.  Doctor Jose Vouillamez sees Transcaucasia as the consensus center of origin for botanists, archaeologists, and historians but avers that recent findings in genetics, archaeology, and linguistics point to southeast Turkey between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers as the point of origin.  The genetic aspect of this claim does not seem to be supported by the Sean Myles et al., study (Genetic structure and domestication history of the grape, PNAS 2010) which only goes as far as claiming a Near East origin for vitis vinifera subspecies vinifera.

From its origins in the Near East, vinification had diffused to Egypt and Lower Mesopotamia by 3500 - 3000 BC and to Crete by 2200 BC.  From Crete it migrated to Rome and its colonies and then up the major rivers to Europe and from there to the New World.

Hello world.

© Wine -- The View From Orlando

Friday, April 13, 2012

The origin of wine: The grape story

The origin of wine is shrouded in the mists of time, legend, religion, and myth but this reality should not dissuade us from peering through the mist seeking, as we do in so many areas, answers to the question "How did it all begin?"

In his book exploring the origin of viniculture (Ancient Wine: The Search for the Origin of Viniculture, Princeton University Press, 2003), Dr. Patrick E. McGovern pointed to a number of ancient origin stories and their inability to stand up to even the most elementary scrutiny.  For example, some of the ancients held that wine had sprung from the blood of humans who had fought with the gods (and apparently lost).  In a Persian origin story, one King Jamsheed was such a lover of grapes that he had them placed in a jar (to ensure a year-round supply) and had that jar labeled "poison."  One of the harem consorts had been suffering with a terrible headache and, I guess, to end the misery, drank the liquid that had pooled in the jar.   After a long, deep sleep, she awoke, miraculously cured of her condition.  She, of course, relayed the story to the king who recognized the medicinal benefit of the brew and ordered that it be made in greater quantities for broader consumption (he had a captive customer base)

While these apocryphal tales can be easily brushed aside, the field of archaeology has provided some tantalizing clues as to the origin of wine, and it is these pointers that I will relay using, as my guide, works from Dr. McGovern (who, by the way, is the Scientific Director of the Biomolecular Archaeology Laboratory for Cuisine, Fermented Beverages, and Health at the University of Pennsylvania Museum) and other leading scholars in the field.  The effort will be broken down into two phases: (i) an examination of the origin of the wine grape and (ii) an attempt to identify the geographical and temporal origins of viniculture.

According to Dr. McGovern, the modern day wine grape can probably trace its roots back to a climbing vine called Ampelopsis that lived over 500 million years ago.  Isolation -- spawned by the breakup of the super-continent Pangea, desertification, and other natural barriers -- led to today's plant family Vitaceae.  Vitaceae, according to Gyulai et al. (Morphogenetics of Ancient Vitis -- A Genotype Reconstruction), are woody climbers comprising between 13 and 17 genera (subdivisions), inclusive of Vitis, and 700 species.  The figure below shows selected elements of the Vitis taxonomy.

According to Patrice This et al. (Historical origins and genetic diversity of wine grapes, Trends in Genetics, 2006), the Vitis genus is comprised of 60 inter-fertile species, of which Vitis vinifera L is the only species used extensively in winemaking.  This species, according to This et al., first appeared approximately 65 million years ago and is the only species in the genus that is indigenous to Eurasia.  Two forms of the species still exist in Eurasia and North Africa today: V. vinifera subspecies vinifera (sativa) and V. vinifera silvestris (sylvestris).  Silvestris is the wild form of the species, according to This et al., while vinifera is its domesticated counterpart.

The wild form of V. vinifera can be found today from Portugal to Turkmenistan and from the Rhine riversides to the northern forests of Tunisia. The characteristics of the modern Eurasian wild grape are as follows: astringent; small fruit with many seeds; high acidity; tough skin; and black or dark red color.  Silvestris is also largely dioecious; that is, the male and female reproductive organs are carried on separate flowers (as opposed to hermaphroditic, where the male and female sex organs reside on the same flower thus simplifying the fertilization process).  Research has shown that primitive forms of silvestris were hermaphroditic (Dr. McGovern) and, up to today, between 2% and 3% of silvestris retain that characteristic (Dr. José Vouillamez, Anatolia -- Cradle of Wine? Wines of Turkey presentation).

The sameness of the wild grape stands in stark contrast to the diversity of subspecies vinifera (as of today, almost 10,000 clonal types exist and 99.9% of the world's wine is made from its grapes).  According to Dr. McGovern, this "... diversity is recent and the result of choosing traits that are desirable and propagating them by cuttings or routings."  What was the source of this traits?  The literature is unanimous in finding that silvestris, the wild Eurasian grape, was, at some time in the past, taken into cultivation by our forebears and domesticated.  The capability of selecting and propagating traits was, according to Dr. McGovern, unknown to humans of the Paleolithic age.

© Wine -- The View From Orlando

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

A brand new DAC

In a press release dated April 5th, 2012, the Austrian Wine Marketing Board (AWMB) announced that the Agricultural and Environmental Ministry had decreed that as of the 2011 vintage, certain "region-typical quality wines" from Burgenland could be released under a new appellation, the Neusiedlersee DAC.  This post will examine the new DAC as well as the namesake Burgenland sub-region with which it is associated.

The Burgenland wine growing region is divided into four sub-regions -- Neusiedlersee, Neusiedlersee-Hügelland, Mittelburgenland, Sudbergenland -- each, with the exception of Neusiedlersee, of which was associated with a DAC (Districtus Austriae Contrallatus; controlled designation of Austrian origin): Neusiedlersee-Hügelland with the Leithaberg DAC; Mittlebergenland with the Mittelbergenland DAC; and Sudbergenland with the Eisenberg DAC.  With the announcement of the Neusiedlersee DAC, all of the Burgenland sud-regions now have associated DACs.  Let us take a closer look at the Neusiedlersee sub-region.

The Neusiedlersee wine growing sub-region of Burgenland lies on the western side of the large, shallow steppe lake from which its name is derived and stretches from the town of Gols in the north to Seewinkel on the Hungarian border to the south.

The area experiences what is referred to regionally as a Pannonian climate -- hot, dry summers and cold winters -- which is moderated somewhat by the presence of the lake and numerous shallow salt lakes that disturb the regularity of the vast enclosed vineyards that are characteristic of the sub-region.  The area experiences high humidity and autumnal fogs, perfect conditions for the formation of botrytis and the associated sweet wines.

The soil in Neusiedlersee is diverse: close to the lake it is sandy sediment while the soils in the northern part of the zone range from black earth to gravel interspersed with chalk and limestone deposits.

Vineyards cover a total of 7,649 hectares and both red (Blauer Zweigelt, Blaufränkisch, St. Laurent, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot) and white (Welschriesling, Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay) varieties are supported.  The region had previously been known for its sweet dessert wines (Berenauslese, TBA, Eiswein, Strohwein) from primarily Welschriesling but, over the past 20 years, the red wines made with from Zweigelt have been drawing notice.

Neusiedlersee DAC

While it is the eighth Austrian DAC, Neusiedlersee DAC, according to the AWMB, "... is the first DAC to focus on the dominant domestic red grape variety, Blauer Zweigelt."

Blauer Zweigelt is a cross of the St. Laurent and Blaufränkisch varieties that was engineered at the Federal Institute for Viticulture and Pomology by one Fritz Zweigelt in 1922.  This early ripening, vigorous variety is resistant to frost, drought, and many vine diseases and, while robust enough to function as a monovarietal, blends well with Blaufränkisch, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon.

The wines from this variety are typically fruity and spicy with good acidity, moderate alcohol, and low tannin levels.  Zweigelt is an excellent food wine which pairs well with fish, spicy foods, and white meat.

The ministerial decree announcing the formation of the DAC allows for the marketing of the new DAC beginning with the 2011 vintage and distinguishes between a Neusiedlersee DAC and a Neusiedlersee DAC Reserve.  The legal requirements for both elaborations are provided in the table below.

© Wine -- The View From Orlando

Monday, April 9, 2012

Tasting of selected current Cornerstone Cellars offerings

While in Napa for the 2011 version of Premiere Napa Valley, I was invited to stop in at the Cornerstone Cellars Tasting Room in Yountville.  I showed up with my posse early on Thursday evening and spent a pleasant hour chatting, sharing experiences, and tasting wine with Craig Camp, the General Manager of the enterprise.  I had such pleasant memories of that evening that I arranged a return visit for my trip out to Napa in mid-March of this year.

Craig had arranged for us to have lunch, a plan which was placed in jeopardy by (i) the late arrival of my plane into Oakland, (ii) a steady rain between Oakland and Napa, and (iii) a slow, soggy, schedule-killing ride between Oakland and Napa.  Craig was understanding, however, and was ready and raring to go when I arrived at the Cornerstone tasting room 2 hours late.

Our (now) late lunch was at Bistro Jeanty, a country French restaurant just across the street from the Cornerstone tasting room.  Craig grabbed two bottles of wine and off we went.  After we were seated, talk turned to the Cornerstone Cellars current offerings and the bottles that Craig had brought along.

The table below shows that Cornerstone's current offerings are distributed across two labels: the flagship Cornerstone Cellars and the newer Stepping Stone by Cornerstone.  Craig went to great lengths to explain that Stepping Stone is a sister label rather than a second label using declassified fruit.  He sees one of the key differences between the two labels as being that the Stepping Stone has more south Napa fruit in its offerings.

Cornerstone Cellars does not grow its own fruit nor does it own any winemaking facilities.  Instead the grapes are sourced from  reputable growers and winery space is leased for winemaking and aging activities.  The table above shows the grape source(s) for each wine.  Names of specific vineyards are not available for the Willamette Valley Pinot Noir.

The first bottle opened was the 2010 Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc.  According to Craig, the grapes for this wine were grown 200 feet above the valley floor and, as such, provide a different range of aromatics.  The wine is cold fermented (2 - 3 months) after which it spends 6 months in 2- to 3-year-old barrels.  The barrels allow oxygen influence and lees contact for aromatics and texture.  This wine had great aromatics, inclusive of citrus, stone fruits, melon, and tropical fruit and a creaminess which accompanied a mineral acidity and a long, palate-pleasing finish.  In order to show its compatibility with food, Craig ordered Pike dumplings with lobster sauce as an appetizer.  The creaminess of the wine paired exquisitely with the creaminess of the lobster sauce.

Pike dumplings poached with lobster sauce (Source: Urbanspoon)

The second wine tasted at Bistro Jeanty was the 2009 Cornerstone Oregon Willamette Valley Pinot Noir.  As shown in the table, the wine is sourced from five different AVAs in the Willamette Valley.  They were aged for 14 months in 60% new French oak barrels.  I accompanied this wine with a tasty Beef Burgundy.  The wine exhibited classic Pinot Noir red fruit notes along with an earthiness and a soft finish.

At the conclusion of lunch we headed back over to the tasting room to savor additional wines from the 2009 portfolio.

Grapes for the 2009 Stepping Stone Cabernet Franc is sourced from one of the coolest zones in Napa according to Craig.  The wines were subjected to gentle fermentation, in order to yield softer tannins, and spent 18 months in oak. This wine has a herbaceous cherry character accompanying a round, red fruit mouthfeel and soft coating tannins.  A hint of bitterness on the finish.

Craig sees the 2009 Stepping Stone Cabernet Sauvignon as being a little more accessible than the Cornerstone Cabernet Sauvignon.  It can be consumed in 2 to 3 years but can also age well.  On the nose stewed dark fruit, vanilla, and talcum powder.  On the palate chalky green tannins, dark fruit, jam, power.

The 2009 Cornerstone Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is a more characteristic Napa Cabernet Sauvignon with copious amounts of rich black fruit and tannins along with licorice and soy.

The 2009 Cornerstone Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon is inky in appearance with intense dark fruit notes and a phenolic spiciness.  Powerful black fruit on the palate with coating tannins.  This wine will need some resolution time.

The 2009 vintage was the market entry for the Cornerstone Cellars Napa Valley Red Wine, a four-vineyard blend which is aimed at being "... the most profound expression of the vintage ..."  This wine displayed rich dark fruits, cassis and oak on the nose and delivered on the palate.  Some green tannins and heat.  Long, powerful finish.

During the course of our conversation on this afternoon, Craig mentioned his admiration for the wines of Cathy Corison and his long-term goal of moving Cornerstone wines to more reflect that "balanced" style.  I applaud that sentiment as that particular style aligns with my perspective.  The question that Craig will face in that journey is whether his current grape providers will go along for that ride or whether he will have to align with sources that are already there.

© Wine -- The View From Orlando

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Appearance as an indicator of wine quality

I recently developed and reported on a framework for the assessment of wine quality, a position at which I had arrived rather tangentially.  I was writing a post on wine balance as a quality measure and, upon concluding, realized that I had not defined quality as a concept or wine quality as an ideal.  Over the course of two subsequent posts I corrected these oversights and then returned to the task of elaborating the components of balance as contributory inputs to wine quality.  My starting point for these discussions, as shown in the quality assessment model below, was fairly "deep in the belly of the beast."  In my future posts on this topic I will be working in a more structured, top-down manner beginning with today's post on appearance as a wine quality marker.

There are two main factors to be considered when visually assessing a wine in terms of quality: clarity and color.


According to the WSET® standards, clarity can be categorized as either clear or dull.  Most of the wines available commercially are pretty clear because, especially in the U.S. market, there is a "finickiness" about consuming products that are cloudy, or dull, or impregnated with suspended particles.  The factors which can contribute to dullness in a wine include: cloudiness/haze, bubbles, and suspensions.


Cloudiness, if not the specific intent of the winemaker (e.g., Scholium Project, selected Gravner wines), could be the result of improper racking/clarification or protein instability.  Most wineries rack their wines from container to container in order to separate it from solid elements that have sedimented out of solution (There is, of course, an oxygen-exposure element to some racking but that is outside the scope of this discussion.).  Intuitively, there will be higher concentrations of large solids sedimenting out of the wine in the earlier stages of storage and then slower sedimentation rates with the passage of time as fewer and fewer large pieces of insoluble material remain in the wine. Some wineries will introduce fining agents such as egg white, bentonite, or isinglass which bind with proteins and fall to the bottom of the containment device.  Some of the flavor elements in the wine exists as solids and some winemakers refuse to fine because of fear of this process diminishing the wine's flavor profile.  If racking and fining does not clear up the wine, the winemaker may resort to filtration.  Again, many purists decry filtering because of fear of "flavor-napping."

A second potential source of cloudiness in wine is protein instability.  According to Dr. Bruce Zoecklein, Enologist at Virginia Tech (and my go-to guy), the major source of protein in wine is the grape and amounts can range between 10 and 275 g/l (Protein Stability Determination in Juice and Wine). White wines have large insoluble proteins which precipitate out of solution imperceptibly.  The more rapid precipitation, which is visible as protein haze, is, according to Dr. Zoecklein, probably the result of protein-flavonol bonding.  Addition of bentonite in the winery can eliminate this protein haze.  Some of the proteins in the solution may precipitate out if the wine bottle is subjected to heat and would manifest as the cloudiness/haziness that would render the wine's quality suspect in the eyes of the consumer.

Secondary Fermentation

If the wine is not a Vinho Verde (young, easy-drinking wine from the Minho region of Portugal), or a designated sparkling wine, it should not contain bubbles.  Bubbles in a still wine is an indication of secondary fermentation in the bottle, a situation that occurs when the wine is bottled while still containing appreciable levels of residual sugar and viable yeast cells.  Under the appropriate conditions, the yeast will begin to ferment the residual sugar (because that is what yeasts do) producing alcohol and releasing carbon dioxide in the process.  Given the anaerobic environment within the bottle, the carbon dioxide dissolves into the wine and will alert to its presence either by pushing the cork up through the capsule, causing the bottle to explode, or manifesting as bubbles when the wine is poured into a glass.


One potential suspension in a wine glass is sediment.  Now sediments are, of course, not harmful if ingested but if encountered in a glass poured in a restaurant the consumer should be teed off.  As wines age, pigments precipitate out and fall to the bottom of the bottle.  Ending up with a mouthful of sediment is an unpleasant feeling and is one of the reasons that older wines should be carefully decanted before being poured into wine glasses.

Another "deposit" which can sometimes be found in wine is tartrate crystals (sometimes called wine diamonds).  Wine contains both tartaric acid and potassium and under cold conditions they combine to form potassium bitartrate crystals.  These are harmless but unattractive to U.S. consumers so winemakers cold stabilize the wine in stainless steel tanks to force the crystals to form in a controlled environment.  The crystals formed in this manner adhere to the sides of the stainless steel tanks and the wine is then poured off leaving the crystals behind.  If a wine is not cold stabilized prior to bottling, tartrate crystals could precipitate out if the wine is subjected to very cold conditions.  Scch crystals, when they occur, are normally found on the underside of the cork or suspended in the wine.


According to the Wine Spectator (Inside Wine: Color), consumers associate darker-hued red wines with greater quality and winemakers are responding to this perception by pursuing viticultural and vinicultural practices that result in wines with the color the customers are demanding.

The color in red wine comes from pigments called anthocyanins which reside in the skin of the berry and provide the red, blue, and purple colors associated with the fruit.  Red varieties such as Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Petite Sirah have higher anthocyanin concentrations than do varieties such as Pinot Noir and Nebbiolo.  Viticultural techniques such as yield reduction, foliage removal, and control of vegetative growth can yield grapes with darker color while vinicultural practices such as pre-fermentation cold soak, pumping over, andy punching down all seek to extract as much color (tannins and flavor) as possible from the skins (White wines are not generally brought into contact with their skins).

In general, white wines are colorless when young, gaining a brownish tint as it ages.  Red wine should be purple to ruby when young, browning as color sediments out. A young wine with a brown color could be manifesting the effects of oxidation.

© Wine -- The View From Orlando

Monday, April 2, 2012

Drink Ribera - Guild of Sommeliers tasting at Miami Culinary Institute

I recently penned a post on the Ribera del Duero wine region as a frame for a then-upcoming Drink Ribera - Guild of Sommeliers Tasting which was to be held at the Maimi Culinary Institute on March 26th, 2012.  The event was held as scheduled but, due to illness, Eric Hemer, the MS tapped to lead the event on behalf of the Guild, was replaced by Juan Gomez MS of the Breakers Palm Beach.  This post examines the wines presented at the tasting.

This tasting was held at the Miami Culinary Institute, about a 45-minute drive south of Morton's, the site of the two previous South Florida Guild tastings (Typicity of Bordeaux and The Real Deal in Chile) that I have attended.


The tasting was held on the building's third floor, in a purpose-built culinary teaching room with abbreviated auditorium seating and a kitchen setting complete with stainless steel sinks, ovens, and stoves.

We were welcomed to the event by Jenny Benzie, Drink Ribera South Florida Brand Manager who then introduced April Cullom, Drink Ribera US Brand Manager and Juan Gomez.  After her own words of welcome, April delivered a presentation on the Ribera Del Duero wine region. And then it was time for the actual tasting.

The lineup of wines is shown below.  On entering the room, we had each been given a glass of rosé (which turned out to be the first wine of the tasting).  At each attendee position there were seven glasses, each containing a sample of the wines to be tasted.  The tasting protocol was as follows: April introduced the wine; Juan would then lead us through the actual tasting and a discussion of food-pairing options; and then the mic would be turned over to April for introduction of the next wine.

The first wine tasted was the aforementioned rosé, a 2010 PradoRey Rosado from Real Sitio de Ventosilla S.A. The winery, which was founded in 1989, sits on a 520 ha property which is subdivided into estates which are, in turn, subdivided into plots, each of which is planted with a different clone of Tinta Fina.  The estates' vines are espalier-trained and drip irrigated and are 90% Tempranillo, with the remaining 10% being divided between Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.

The 2010 PradoRey Rosado is 50% Tinta Fina and 50% Merlot.  The wine has a pale strawberry color and hints of honeysuckle, berries, fresh red fruit and petrol on the nose.  On the palate the wine has medium+ acidity, berries, strawberries, red plum, and a slight hint of tannin and exhibits tight integration between acidity, fruit, and alcohol.  Some of the pairing options proferred were chicken alfredo, fish (especially salmon), tapas, and cheese (manchego).

The second wine tasted was the 2010 Avaniel from Bodegas y Viñedos Monteabellón S.L.  This establishment was founded in 2000 on a 52-ha property with the express intent of producing high-quality wines which combined the best of old world traditions and modern techniques.  The estate's three soil types are utilized to full advantage in the production of its wines: the youngest vines are planted on plots closest to the river; the plots on soil that is a mixture of sand, clay, and limestone are on higher ground and are well suited to oak-aged wines; and the highest plots are stony with high limestone content and its grapes yield long, oak-aged wines.

The grapes for the Avaniel are from a plot called "Los Miles" where the vines range between 6 and 10 years old.  This wine is 100% Tempranillo and has aromas of violets, plums, black olives, licorice, and chocolate.  On the palate medium acidity and tannin, plums, ripe strawberries and a certain savory character.  It was felt that this wine would pair well with a Serrano Ham.

The Monte Castrillo Roble 2009  from Bodegas Peñalba Lopez was the third wine tasted in the series.  Grapes for this wine are grown on the Torremilanos Estate, a property acquired by Peñalba Lopez in 1975 and where winemaking has been ongoing since 1903.  According to April, this estate is focusing on sustainability.

This wine is 100% Tempranillo and has been aged for 7 months.  This wine has a dustiness on the nose in addition to hints of cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, white pepper, and ripe fruit.  On the palate cherries, plums, medium+ tannin, and a spiciness.  The spiciness will allow this wine to go well with a curry dish.

The next wine in the lineup was the 2008 Emilio Moro from Bodegas Emilio Moro S.L.  Bodegas Emilio Moro, currently one of "... the DOs benchmarks ...", has a history stretching back more than 120 years to the father of the founder Don Emilio Moro. Drawing on his father's philosophy and practices, Don Emilio founded the winery, which would bear his name, based on the principle "To make good wine, to make the best wine or not be involved." Ownership of the winery continues in the family to this day.  The winery, located at 1950 feet up on the banks of the Duero River, is unique in that its vineyards are planted with some of the purest Tinto Fino clones available, drawn from vines originally owned by Don Emiliano's father. In an effort to ensure that the individuality of the terroir is manifested in every instance of its wine, natural fermentation is practiced.

The grapes were sourced from vineyards that are between 15 and 25 years old and the wine was aged for 12 months in 50% American oak and 50% French oak.  The wine exhibits aromas of baking spices, pale red fruit with medium+ tannin and medium acidity.  A slight drying on the palate.  This wine would go well with a roast lamb, suckling pig, and cured sheep's milk cheese.

The 2008 Matarromera Crianza from Bodegas Matarromera is made from grapes grown in a south-facing vineyard called Pago de San Román that sits at 2788 feet altitude.  The wine is 100% Tempranillo and spent 14 months in French and American oak barrels and 10 months in bottle after fermentation in stainless steel tanks.

On the nose jalapeños, violets, rose petals, dark ripe fruits, mushrooms, oak.  On the palate molasses and oil.  Balanced.  Would pair well with a skirt steak or lamb chop.

Bodegas Vizcarra's JC 2008 was the next wine tasted.  The estate is a 35-ha property whose old vines are both bush- and wire-trained and where organic farming is practiced.  The winery is a proponent of gravity flow, a practice which it fully implemented in 2007.

The wine is 100% Tempranillo which has been aged for 15 months in 50% French and 50% American oak.  Bright fruit, spiciness, dill, almonds, nutmeg, sour cherries, cassis, and raspberries on the nose.  Ripe fruit and medium tannin and acidity on the palate.  This wine would pair well with a paella and pizza.

Bodegas y Vinedos Ortega Fournier, producer of the 2004 O. Fournier, is a 105 ha property sitting at elevations between 2300 and 2600 feet, said location providing an 18-degree temperature differential from daytime to nighttime and the associated benefits for the grapes and wine.  The winery, originally built in 1979, was known as Bodegas Hnos. San Juan before being bought by the current owners in 2002.  Grapes are harvested manually and fermented in stainless steel, cement, or French oak vats.

The 2004 O. Fournier is 100% Tempranillo and was fermented in stainless steel tanks before spending 18 months in new oak barrels, of which 80% were French.  The wine is unfiltered.  On the nose spice, vanilla, clove, green bark, sandalwood, lavender, dried fruits.  On the palate sweet ripe fruits, pumpkin, raspberries, cranberries, and plum.  This wine would pair well with a sun-dried tomato risotto, short ribs, or grilled portobello mushrooms.

The Pesquera Reserva 2008 by Alejandro Fernandez - Tinto Pesquera was grown on a 200 ha estate where some of the vines reside on gravel terraces while others lie on high table land.  All vineyards are Tempranillo with vines ranging in age from 15 to 30 years old.  The harvested grapes are fermented with natural yeasts at 22-27℃ with twice daily pump overs for maintenance of skin contact.  The wines are stored in stainless steel tanks for 20 days post-fermentation after which they are transferred to oak barrels.

The 2008 edition of this wine was subjected to whole berry fermentation and then pressed after a 2-3 week maceration.  After pressing the wine is poured (without clarification) into a combination of American, Spanish, and French oak barrels.  The wine was stored for 24 months in American oak and  racked frequently during this period.  Bottle aging extended for 12 months after the residence in oak.  On the nose a smokiness, coconut oil, dill, cranberries, strawberries, and plum.  The wine is somewhat muted by the oak.  A softer edge, very spicy, with coconut oil on the finish.  Medium+ acidity and tannins.  Balanced and complex with a long finish.  Would pair well with crostini with goat cheese and sun-dried tomatoes, prime rib with herbs and garlic, pork chop, squab, duck, and rabbit.

The final wine in the lineup was the 2004 Protos Gran Reserva from Protos B. Ribera Duero De Peñafiel.  Founded in 1927 by a group of area growers, Protos owns 100 ha of vines but has access to another 500 ha of vines owned by associates as well as another 300 ha of vines owned by non-associate growers who have become regular suppliers to the organization.  

The 2004 Protos Gran Reserva was sourced form 60-year-old vines and was aged in oak for 24 months. On the nose violets, lavender, mushrooms, olives, soy, balsamic, truffles.  On the palate dry, dark fruits, dried herbs, dried cranberries, medium+ tannin and acidity, and high alcohol.  This wine would go well with a wagyu filet, lamb, Ossobucco, stewed meats, and a petite filet.


Overall the wines presented very well.  The younger wines were characterized by ripe red fruits (plums, cherries, strawberries), medium to medium+ tannin and acidity and a pepperiness.  The older wines were characterized by dried fruits along with baking spices and pepper.  These wines cry out for food.

The previous tastings had multiple MSs in attendance and their interplay and interaction added both to the breadth and depth of the event as well as to the information and teachings disseminated to the attendees.  Master Gomez did a yeoman job but the event would have been even richer with another MS along.

There was one small downside to the new location.  The large circular tables that furnished the Morton's tasting room for the prior Guild tastings in South Florida provided the opportunity to interact with fellow attendees in a meaningful way.  The culinary-classroom setting of the Miami Culinary Institute gave us a clear view of the presenters but this came at the sacrifice of the much treasured attendee interaction; the opportunity for in-tasting interaction was limited to those on either side of you.

© Wine -- The View From Orlando