Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Spritzy 2007 Oregon Pinots

I've heard of three reports of CO2 in the bottles of different 2007 Oregon Pinot Noirs. This causes a light effervescence (bubbles). It's considered a flaw. (Some wines are made to be spritzy--the Italian term for it as a desired trait is 'frizzante.'

Most likely cause is that MLF wasn't complete when the wine was bottled, and MLF continued in the bottle. This is odd, because most commercial wineries will test to ensure MLF is complete, before they bottle.

MLF = malo-lactic fermentation: The natural or induced conversion, by selected strain of bacteria, of malic acid (think green apples) to lactic acid (think butter). Some wines are usually put through MLF (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir), and some are not; this is because MLF is a two-edged sword: It reduces excess acid and makes a wine smoother, but it can also rob a wine of its bouquet and even some of its fruity flavors.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Five major European wine destinations in five days of driving!

Not many of us would try to drive 1700 miles in five days, to see five major wine regions in as many different countries. Read about it here.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Wine Economics, Wharton-style

Here is a very interesting article about changes in worldwide wine economics.

While the people in newly-wealthy countries have driven up the cost of premier wines to stratospheric levels (such as Lafite, DRC, Dom Perignon), thereby pricing them out of reach for most of the wine lovers of the world, it is also true that lower-cost wines have never been of such high quality before. It is indeed a Golden Age for the wine drinker who is willing to search for quality at the lower price levels (and that concept happens to be at the core of my wine business).

However, as efficiencies continue to be squeezed out by the large wineries, as wine costs to the consumer continue to fall, as more and more "value wine" vineyards are planted, it may become harder and harder for small artisan wineries to stay afloat. I fear the days of the Willamette Valley's most-expensive Pinot Noirs may be numbered, as the world fills with more and more less-expensive Pinots which are of increasing quality.

Thanks to K.D. for sending me the article.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Results of the "Red or White?" Test

On Saturday we held our blindfolded "Red vs White" test. Test takers could smell and taste, but not see, three wines. My group proved that experience in wine drinking is very helpful. Whereas college enology majors at Cal Davis failed the test (thereby causing the school to--very unscholarlyly--refuse to even confirm the test took place), and whereas about 70% of "wine experts" get the wine colors right (if the tester is not trying to fool them), look at this: Fully 86% (18 out of 21) of our group got the three wine colors correct! Super-skillful--you guys beat the experts!

Our group also tried to identify the wines' varieties, while blindfolded and while knowing nothing beforehand about the wines, and that proved much more difficult (for sure, I cannot reliably do it). Nobody got all three right (the wines were Owen Roe Cabernet Sauvignon, Chehalem Dry Riesling, and Anderson Family Vineyards Pinot Gris, all served at room temperature of about 64F in unmarked identical bottles). However, FIVE of our group got the "Riesling and Pinot Gris" varieties correct; congrats to Andrew, Lisa M, Joyce, Alex (who works at Penner Ash), and Margaret; and Lisa C. got the Cab and Pinot Gris correct. That was really impressive -- 29% of our group was able to identify two of the varieties. Assuming that "common and near-common" wine varieties encompasses perhaps 20 wine varieties, then the ability to detect two of the wines' types would arise by chance only 1/20 x 1/19 of the time, which is about 0.26% odds! That took demonstrated skill on the part of those tasters.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Is it Red or is it White?

We are about to host a tasting at which we'll see if blindfolded tasters can tell the difference between red and white wines, by smell and taste alone. Here is some background:

  1. (as reported by Molly Laas, Huffington Post) In 2001 in Bordeaux, Frederic Brochet gave 57 wine experts two glasses of wine: a red and a white (no blindfolds used). Most described the red one in “red wine” terms: jammy, red fruits. But the wines were the same white wine—one was dyed red with an odorless dye.

**If we have an expectation as to a taste, then we taste what we expect to taste.

2. (as reported in Slashfood.com) In Edinburgh, 578 wine lovers tasted a $6 wine and a $50 wine, but only 50% could pick the more-expensive wine (the same as could be achieved by guessing without even tasting the wines!)

**Price awareness makes us enjoy a more-expensive wine. [KLE: I think this is the “Celebrity Effect”]

3. (as reported by Calvin Trillin, writer at the New Yorker) Cal Davis poured red and white wines into black cups, so that the wine color could not be determined by the taster. Most of the tasters, who were enology students, failed to identify the wines’ color by smell and taste alone. The results were so embarrassing to the school that the school will not confirm that it administered the test, though one student confirmed the test occurred and said he had gotten only 3 of 7 wines correct. (And note that enology students are not necessarily skilled tasters.)

**Even skilled wine drinkers have trouble identifying a wine’s color by smell and taste alone. Other writers state that perhaps 70% of skilled tasters can identify red from white, blindfolded, IF the test is not designed to fool them.

So, in our test, let’s see if we can beat that 70% mark. I will not try to fool you.

I will blindfold you in a dark room, and pour three wines for you. You will try to identify whether each wine is white or red, then you will try to identify the grape variety, using only smell and taste. Each of these wines will be from a common or fairly-common grape variety.

***It is very important that, as the testing process is ongoing, you please DO NOT discuss the test in any detail with anyone else. Once it is complete, we will all discuss the results.

Bordeaux Primer

For my palate the best wines in the world are aged Bordeaux wines (followed closely by the much cheaper Walla Walla, Red Mountain, and Yakima reds of Washington). The "Bordeaux Blend" varieties are usually Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, sometimes with Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Malbec, and/ or Carmenere. Chateau Petrus, one of the most expensive wines in the world is almost all Merlot!, so don't diss Merlot--it is a great and noble grape.

Bordeaux's best red wine area is the Haut Medoc (upper Medoc). Haut Medoc contains many villages, or communes, and each of those contains many chateaus, most of whom grow their own fruit and make their own wine ("mis en bouteille au chateau" (bottled at the chateau), and that will always be on the label--the Pacific Northwest equivalent of that is "Estate" fruit).

Some of those communes are more famous than others (Pauillac, Margaux, St. Julien, St. Estephe, Graves, Pomerol, and St. Emilion are the best ones). (Not all of those are in Haut Medoc, however.)

In 1855 the 155 or so greatest Bordeaux were classified into five "Growths" or quality categories. The First Growths are at the top, and these chateau names are all individual chateaus, not communes, though there are sometimes communes of the same names, so it's confusing: The five First Growths are Lafite, Mouton, Margaux, Latour, and Haut Brion. Ch. Lafite is in Pauillac, but Ch. Margaux is in Margaux.

Together with the 1st Growths, the 2nd-5th Growths are also "Grand Cru" wines. The next step down is "Cru," and below that are the table wines.

I believe there is more variety in smells and flavors, among the First and Second Growths, than in any other wine region on the planet. The smokiness in the 1957 Ch. Haut Brion I had was so powerful, and so different from the pencil lead, cedar, and leather in the 1957 Ch. Lafite that it was amazing, and yet the wines were made in the same year, from vineyards only 40 miles apart.

To complicate it further, most of the First and Second Growths have second labels. Those second labels are for wines made from the same fruit, but the best barrels are put into the primary wines and the second labels get the rest. But often the second labels are pretty good, and of course they're cheaper. Ch. Lafite's second label costs hundreds per bottle, however.
To shock you into the Bordeaux prices, here are current retail prices for some Bordeaux:

2008 Pichon-Lalande (2nd Growth, from Pauillac): $110 (and this is perhaps my very favorite Chateau in Bordeaux, among all the 2nd-5th Growths) (and "Pichon Lalande" is common parlance for the full name, which is Chateau Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande"), and just check out the architecture of that place!:

2008 Reserve de la Comtesse (the above wine's second label): $40 at K&L Wines; scored 89 by Wine Spectator

2004 Haut Bages Liberal (5th Growth, from Pauillac): $45 (and 90 points Robert Parker; available at K&L)

1998 Ch. Lafite: $925 (98 points, Robert Parker)

2008 Ch. Lafite (1st Growth, Pauillac): $1200 (that is for ONE bottle!)

If you are younger, and you have some money, and if this "Chinese Bordeaux bubble" continues to dissipate, and if you have a good place to cellar your wines, then you should seriously consider buying some Grand Cru Bordeaux, as futures. That's beyond the scope of this piece, but email me if you want to learn more.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Wine Koolaid :-p

At a recent trade tasting I saw a proliferation of "sweet reds." These are cheesy, disgusting, unswillable wines that might be perfect for teenagers, if teenagers could legally drink. The interesting truth is that when surveyed across America, wine drinkers prefer sweet wines by almost two to one, including sweet reds! But this is not what they need. These residual sugar levels are so high that the so-called "wines" are diabetes bombs. The wines are selling out immediately and so I predict we will see many more of them come to market. But I hope they settle the sugar levels down to a healthier, more-reasonable level. Wow--it was painful to drink them, and I happen to LOVE sweet white wines . . .

[Photo attribution: a WONDERFUL image created by Theis]

How Climate Change's Extreme Weather Events Affect Grapes and Wine:

  We (Epona) joined the Porto Protocol a year or two ago; it's a collaboration of grapegrowers and winemakers, worldwide, who are focusi...