Does it Matter . . . Closures . . .

cork oxidation

As many of you know, I am a huge fan of the screw cap. Let me say at the beginning here that I do NOT believe it is the ‘perfect’ closure as I do NOT believe that there is such a thing.

But let me explain why I use screw caps for all of my tercero wines. Again, this is not to say that it is ‘better’, but there is a reasoning that I think is important to understand:

I do not like TCA whatsoever. For those who do not know what this is, during the aging process of corks, mold grows on the air drying cork. Sometimes, but not all of the time, a chemical compound is created that eventually becomes TCA, or tri-choloranisole for those who dig scientific names J

What’s the big deal with TCA? Well, at low levels, it simply steals the aromas from a wine, making it appear that it has none. At higher levels, it makes the wine smell of wet cardboard or of a damp basement.. That said, if you are not familiar with this smell, you probably would not pick it out as a ‘fault’ but instead might find the wine ‘earthy’ instead.  And guess what – this happens as soon as the wine comes in contact with the cork at bottling. No, you can’t tell in advance if a cork is infected unless you run costly tests on EACH cork and no, the problem does not ‘appear’ later on years after bottling.

The other thing about natural corks – one of it’s most endearing traits, the fact that it is ‘all natural’, is also one of its most challenging.. How can that be? Well, since it’s all natural, no two corks are identical. The individual cells that make up the cork itself are different shapes and sizes, and this allows for slightly different amounts of oxygen to be trapped within the cork prior to bottling and for different amounts to get through the cork during aging. This ultimately leads to ‘bottle variation’ and can, in worst case scenarios, lead to too much oxygen getting in and the wine becoming clearly oxidized. (See the picture above for an example of the same wine bottled under cork and the ‘variability’ that has led to wines of varying color and oxidation levels).

Therefore, one of the main reasons I use screwcaps is to ‘eliminate’ these variables. As a ‘manufactured’ product, there is much greater consistency with screw caps, and thus the ‘variability’ that exists with different size  cells does not exist here. There also is no chance of TCA being introduced to the wine from the closure itself. (And for those of you who will ‘argue’ that TCA does make it into wines in other ways, you are correct . . . but the VAST majority of TCA issues are cork-related).

I have no desire to make ‘sterile’ wines at all. Wines are ‘living creatures’ that will continue to evolve as long as they stay in bottle, and truly ‘blossom’ hours or even days after the bottle is open. But I take offense to the fact that a lot of ‘bottle variation’ that seems to be accepted by consumers is preventable, and as a consumer first and foremost and a winemaker second, I want to be able to stand behind my product and know with a greater degree of certainty that what my customers are consuming is what I desired them to be.

I am certainly open to your thoughts on this issue and welcome them.

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Does It Matter . . . Ownership

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This is the first in a series of blog posts where I’m asking pretty simple questions about aspects of our wine industry that may or may not be known to the general public – and if it helps determine whether or not you will purchase specific wines.

Kosta Browne is a winery that was started by a couple of servers at a restaurant who combined their tips to purchase grapes for their first wine.  Their brand garnered early critical acclaim and the original shareholders ‘cashed out’ a part of their equity by selling off to a smallish investment company a few years back. The cash infusion allowed them to build their own winemaking facility, among other things. Now, this investment company has ‘cashed out’ and sold its share to another investment company.

Why am I telling you this story? Well – there are many that feel that since the original owners have received all of this money and they have new investors aboard, the natural direction will be to grow bigger and probably charge more for their wines. And the feeling is that as you grow bigger, you cannot hold onto the quality you are able to achieve when you are smaller.

This really got me thinking about winery ownership and whether or not that does or should impact your support of a winery or willingness to purchase those wines.  I think most would agree that you would not support a winery owner that was, say, a murderer or something similar.

Would you support a winery owned by Billionaires? Or one that has an association with a large pharmaceutical or agricultural conglomerate? Or does if just not matter?

And what about if you didn’t know but found out later – would that change your opinion about the wine and purchasing again?

The reality is that many wineries in the US are owned by larger corporations or investment companies, some of which are ‘wine oriented’ and some of which are not. Others were started an are owned by multi-millionaires that made their money elsewhere and decided to get into the wine biz.

Does this or should this affect your support of such a winery?

I’m listening . . .

Cheers!

The Good, the Bad, and the . . .

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As many of you know, I like to talk a little 🙂  I also like to write a little 🙂 AND I like to take part in discussions about many things, including wine every now and then. I am active on wine bulletin boards and love the interactions that take place, and it gives me plenty of ‘food for fodder’ for blog posts, etc.

There is currently a somewhat heated discussion occurring involving a rather pricey Napa Cab that has been fun to watch – and take part in. This particular cab is produced by a well-established Napa winery that has a reputation for well-made wines, and has had that reputation for quite some time.

In fact, this particular cab was made in honor of their 40th Anniversary as a winery. That’s a long time to be making wines – and keeping the doors open for ANY business. So what’s the ‘issue’ here? Well . . . .

This cab happens to be made in a very ‘new world’ style. It’s rich, unctuous, and speaks little of ‘old world  cabs’ that the winery was known for in the past. Some might find it difficult to even determine what variety the wine is – something I personally have a problem with but others apparently do not. I don’t hold it against the wine or the winery – it’s the way they wanted to make this particular wine. And even though it’s ‘sweet’ to me, others have found it unbelievably drinkable – even at the retail price of nearly $60.

Side story – a very well-known winemaker once poured me a glass of wine and asked what I thought. I told him that it was an interesting wine but couldn’t tell what variety it was. ( It turned out to be a Grenache, my favorite variety, from a very sought after new world trophy winery.). His comment to me, which still rings in my ears years later – ‘when a wine is perfect, it transcends the variety.’ Yeah, right – BS!!!

So who has the ‘right’ to say whether this is a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ wine? Who has the right to tell you, me, or anyone else that they are ‘crazy’ or ‘wrong’ for enjoying a wine such as this one?

I’m curious to hear your thoughts on this . . .

On Enjoying Wines (Part 1) . . .

Conflicted 1

 

I stand a conflicted man today. Well, I’m ALWAYS conflicted in many ways – life is never as ‘straightforward’ as I would like it to be  🙂

Today, though, I am conflicted over something I see happen again and again with wines, especially those enjoyed by more of the ‘wine geek’ amongst us. There is a term oftentimes used in wine called ‘typicity’. This is a term that has been used for centuries elsewhere in the world where wine has been made a lot longer than here in the US.

It is a word that somewhat goes hand in hand with the often-used term ‘terroir’. Typicity has been used in places like France to ‘ensure’ that wines coming from a specific region show a ‘lineage’ to the other wines produced from there. For instance, if you produce a cabernet franc from the Chinon region of the Loire Valley in France, it should smell and taste ‘typical’ of others that have been produced there.

This ensures that traits and characteristics associated with a region, or grapes from that region, remain intact, and that, despite vintage variations and new vignerons arriving on the scene, that this remains the ‘rule’. This does NOT mean that a winemaker cannot go slightly ‘vogue’ and do something different, This also does not mean that ‘typicity’ cannot ‘evolve’ with changes in viticultural or enological practices.

Why do I bring this up? I’ve been enjoying a wide variety of wines lately, as have many of my friends who post about them on wine bulletin boards. I’m surprised and amazed at times, though, that wines that are not only enjoyed but compared with the greatest examples of a specific ‘variety’ show no such typicity to that variety. And therein lies the problem to me . . .at least to me.

How is one to compare and contrast wines from the same variety if there is no ‘similarities’ between the two of them? I’m curious to hear your thoughts . . .

Cheers!

 

Does It Matter How A Wine is Made or Just Whether You Like It Or Not?

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As many of you know, I love to partake in other blogs and wine bulletin boards, for these discussions are always ‘fruitful fodder’ for my own blog here. And believe, not a day goes by where another topic comes up that I feel is perfect to ‘verbiage’ about it!

There is constant chatter about being ‘non-interventionist’ when it comes to making wine, ie. taking as few steps as possible in going from grape to bottle. I think all of us can agree that, in theory, this is a desired path, and not only with grapes to wine, but with farm to table, etc.

The reality is that winemakers are interventionists, each and every one of us. By mearly making the decision WHEN to pick a grape, we have intervened. By choosing specific rootstocks to put into the grand, we are intervening. By choosing to age our wines in stainless steel or oak or cement, we are intervening. And on and on and on.

But there are many other steps taken by some, but not all, winemakers to go from grape to bottle, and this is where it gets a bit ‘sticky’. One discussion veered off toward the topic of MegaPurple, a product that was created to give red wine more color and to add a touch of sweetness.

The product itself is created from wine grapes, so it is a legal additive and is approved for use in wine. That said, it is associated with mass production, ‘industrial’ wines that lack color and depth and therefore NEED this product in order to make them palatable and, more importantly, visibly ‘appealing’.

Therefore, should a winemaker admit to using this, they would be ‘banned’ from many a discussion about ‘better’ wines because, you know, it just shouldn’t ‘happen’. These ‘smaller production, higher value’ wines obviously don’t NEED this product because, you know, they are ‘better made’ and more ‘artisinal’.

Guess what – this product, along with others that wine connoisseurs would find ‘unmentionable’, are used by smaller producers from time to time. And what about ‘oak chips’, created so that wines could age in stainless steel but still have that ‘oak flavor and aroma’ that consumers just dig? Again, this product is associated with lower priced industrial wines, but I know of a few producers who have used this, and continue to say in their marketing that their wines are ‘aged in French oak’. They just conveniently forget to add the word ‘chips’ J

Which brings me back to the original question – do you care how a wine is made if you like it? Or in other words, do the winemaker’s means justify the winemaker’s end? Do you truly care if MegaPurple is added if you like the finished product? And just as importantly, how would you feel if that winemaker didn’t disclose this?

Looking forward to hearing your thoughts on this today . . .

Cheers!

What Does It Mean When a Wine is ‘Corked’?

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I am having a lot of fun these days in the tasting room and elsewhere asking folks what they think of when I say a wine is ‘corked’. It is a bit ‘disturbing’ as well, though, since there obviously is a LOT of misinformation out there, and it seems as if the wine business really isn’t doing too much to change that.

It’s been really interesting to hear the descriptions thus far, and I thought I’d share some with you – and please note that many of these are from ‘experienced’ wine drinkers:

‘It’s when a wine just tastes bad.’

This, to me, is still one of my favorites . . .

‘It’s when a wine has a port-like flavor and smell.’

This can be many things, but if I had to guess, it would probably be oxidized, perhaps from exposure to heat at some point.

‘It’s when the cork breaks up when you try to take it out’.

You may not know this, but most wineries ‘measure’ the moisture in corks before they go into the bottle during the bottling process. If it’s too dry, the usually reject the lot, for it won’t create a perfect seal and therefore can cause too much oxidation during bottle aging, and can lead to leaking, or perhaps brittle corks. (And on the flip side, it can be problematic if it’s too moist as well.) Corks also dry out over time if wine is stored vertically, for the wine is not in contact with the cork anymore. This is one of, if not the, main reasons why most bottles should be stored on their sides.

‘It’s when a wine smells like vinegar.’

There are many potential causes of this, but this should not be a descriptor for a ‘corked’ wine. High levels of volatile acidity lead to the smell of vinegar in a wine, and there are a couple of different causes. In many cases, this is due to the wine itself – either having very high pH’s that make it difficult to keep the wine from ‘oxidizing’ and leading to this, happening during the winemaking process, or perhaps due to a bad cork seal leading to oxidation.

‘It’s when a wine smells like a barnyard’

Nope, in most cases, this would be due to brettanomyces, a ‘spoilage’ yeast that is generally caused by poor cleaning in the winery or perhaps bad cleaning of older barrels. Brett, as we refer to it, can also continue to ‘bloom’ in bottled wines if they are bottled unfiltered and if they are exposed to elevated temperatures at any time during their lives.

I happen to have a hose bib right outside of the back door to my tasting room, and I discovered long ago that the water that comes out of there is a perfect ‘standard’ for TCA, which is the telltale sign that a wine is ‘corked’. The water smells like wet cardboard/wet cement/damp and moldy basement. THIS is what is meant when a wine is ‘corked’, or at least ‘bad enough’ that these scents are noticeably present. (If a wine is just ‘slightly’ corked, the aromatics will simply be ‘muted’.)

Why am I writing this? I believe there really needs to be more education about ‘corked wines’ in our industry if we want to get a true idea of how many bottles out there are truly affected by this. Right now, the feeling is that the ‘problem’ is getting better and better because of steps taken during the production process. The reality is, though, that if consumers have no clue what a ‘corked’ wine truly is, could numbers that we’ve been seeing be ‘greatly understated’? And more than that, don’t we as an industry owe our ‘customers’ a better understanding of what they are drinking and why a wine may not smell or taste the way it is ‘supposed to’?

We owe it to consumers to let them know that wines do go bad, and explain to them how and why. These are the ‘touch point’ opportunities for us in tasting rooms, at wineries, in restaurants, at wine shops, during wine seminars – use those to not only highlight the ‘good’ things, but also let them really experience and be able to name some of the ‘off’ things as well.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this please.

Cheers!