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 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!

Spotlight on Larner Vineyard in the new Ballard Canyon AVA

larner vineyard picture

I normally have a blast writing my own wine blog posts, but every now and then, I come across one that ‘does the job for me’ 🙂

In this case, Cameron Porter has done a fabulous job highlighting the Larner Vineyard, truly a crown jewel among Santa Barbara County vineyards. Chalk Art – the Mineral-Rich Wines of Larner Vineyard, is the blog post, and it is a great read!

This particular vineyard sits on the southern end of the new Ballard Canyon AVA, below other well known vineyard in the area including Stolpman, Beckmen’s Purisima Mountain, Jonata, Windmill Ranch and Tierra Alta. It’s chalky soils provide wines that are truly unique in their flavor profiles – well, at least to me they are!

Cameron does a wonderful job laying out what makes this vineyard unique among its peers – the climate, the soils, the careful understanding of the geology by Michael Larner, a former geologist who decided to go back to school to study viticulture and enology (and whom I am proud to call a former classmate – and a friend!).

For those of you attending the Garagiste Festival this coming weekend, you’ll get to know the area even more as Michael Larner, Mikael Sigouin from Kaena, and I share our wines from the region to compare and contrast them. And many of the producers from the area will be pouring at the upcoming Rhone Rangers event in the San Francisco Bay area the weekend of April 6. (In fact, I’ll be pouring my 09 Larner Grenache at a seminar focusing solely on that variety!!!).

And there will be more – including discussions about the AVA at this summer’s Wine Bloggers Conference taking place here in Santa Barbara County.

That said, it’s best to explore the AVA by either coming up or down here and driving it – or much better yet, by trying a sampling of the wines from the region. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed!

Cheers!

Would You Like an Ice Cube with That Glass of Red Wine?

red wine with ice cube

I’m just curious what your first reaction is when you hear that first line? Is it ‘outrage’, as in ‘I can’t believe anyone would even THINK of asking that question!’? Is it ‘disgust’ as in ‘I can’ think of anyone ACCEPTING an ice cube with their red wine!’? Is it ‘sympathy’ as in ‘I feel SORRY for that person who would put an ice cube in their red wine.’ Or is it something else?

I was talking with a good friend of mine the other day, and he said that he always thought that putting ice in a red wine was ‘blasphemous’ – until he was in Florida and every glass of red wine he had was served too warm! Guess what he did – yep, added a little ice to it to cool it down . . .

I continue to be amazed out how dated some of the’conventional wisdoms’ are in the wine business – the generally accepted ‘dos’ and don’ts’ that seem to guide so many people. Now, I know many of you are thinking – but that’s not me, I’m really open minded about all things wine.

Really? Let me hear it for white zin!!! Yep, I know many of you are laughing right now – it’s just a knee jerk reaction that is prevalent in the wine biz – both at the producer level AND definitely with consumers. Well, did you know that white zin continues to be one of the most popular wines out there? And no, it’s not just because ‘many wine consumers are uninformed’ . . . a lot of people, wait for it, actually LIKE white zin. You may not, and that’s cool – but it is not cool to look down upon or not accept those who do like it.

There are so many of these conventional wisdoms that I feel need to be ‘re-evaluated’ these days and either discarded or updated. What about the ‘only have white wine with fish’ idea? Can this ‘rule’ be broken?!?!? Heck yeah – I am many of my friends do it all of the time! What about ‘only reds with red meat’? Well, how about a nice glass of white burgundy or perhaps a roussanne – yep, these can and do certainly go with red meats.

What are some of your favorite ‘rules’ in the wine business that you feel need to be ‘broken’ or re-evaluated? Here’s another one to start the discussion – screw caps are only meant for ‘cheaper’ wines or only those wines meant for ‘consumption now’!

Cheers!

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

hose-bib-smaller

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!

Patience, Grasshopper . . .

grasshopperI continue to be amazed at how wine is made so differently today than it was only a decade or two ago. Yes, there are plenty of new techniques being used today and ‘tricks of the trade’ such as reverse osmosis, de-alcoholization, micro-oxygenation, and many other, are more common than one might think.

What I mean by the original statement, though, has more to do with ‘drinkability’ than anything else. It used to be that for ‘better wines’, one would need to ‘lay them down’ for a number of years until they were consumed. Why was this generally done?

First off, wines used to be made in a more straightforward way that lead to certain varieties exhibiting their naturally more ‘aggressive’ tannin and bitterness structure. Take cabernet sauvignon, for example.  Other than a few producers like Silver Oak, these wines usually were made to ‘lay down’ and were not that enjoyable young. This was certainly acceptable though, as both the wineries and consumers agreed that it was okay to have ‘green flavors and aggressive tannins’ and basically, this was the sign of a wine that would age well.

Second, there was and continues to be this conventional wisdom that great wine is meant to age, and if wines were ‘too drinkable’ young, they could not be considered ‘great’. I believe this had more to do with ‘old world wine region’ think-speak than anything else, but it stuck here as well.

Nowadays, I’m amazed at the notes I see on young wines – and I mean infants of wines. Here we are in early 2014, and I’m already seeing tasting notes on 2012 cabernets and 2011 Bordeaux wines. Now grant it, the Bordeaux notes are on ‘futures’ wines, but these wines have been bottled and are being served, and the notes do not imply that drinkers will sit on them for years and years before consuming.

So what’s the problem here? Is there one? Well . . . . .

There are plenty of wines that are still made with structure that need time,  plenty of time to fully develop their flavors. If they are being ‘judged’ by those who are used to drinking young wines that are not made in this style, though, they may not be looked upon as ‘favorable’, but instead, too ‘backwards’ or too ‘tannic’ – qualities that had been looked for not too long ago.

With a bit of patience, though – be it simply decanting or enjoying over a few hour period – many wines were show their ‘true stuff’. The question is, will you or your friends have the patience to wait?

Curious to hear your thoughts on this.

Does Size Really Matter? In Wine Glasses…yes.

WSJ - Does the wine glass size really matter

Photo by F. Martin Ramin/The Wall Street Journal

How particular are you with the glasses that you use to taste or drink wine? Does the size and shape of the glass really matter that much?!?!?

For those of you who have ever attended a seminar put on by Riedel, you’ll know that the answer is yes, size and shape do truly matter. I was amazed at the differences that I noticed tasting the same wine out of multiple glasses, including a plastic red cup. Why the red cup? It was meant to show what happens when you drink a wine at a picnic or somewhere else where wine glasses are not available.

The size and shape will help determine where a wine ‘hits’ your mouth – some will force the wine to the middle and back of your mouth, and some will land the wine at the front of your tongue. In each case, you have different taste buds present, and therefore a different ‘taste sensation’ will occur.

Same for aromatics – different shapes will lead to different aromatics being more or less ‘prominent.’

George Riedel explained it in a similar manner that a sommelier did in this article – that a wine glass is to wine as a speaker is to music. Great analogy, IMHO, as the glass can deaden or highlight highs and lows in a wine, can ‘pump up the bass’, or can ‘smooth out’ the treble a bit if need be.

At the end of the day, did this make me want to go out and purchase 4 or 5 different glasses for each of the different types of wines I like or produce?

No, it didn’t. Why? Because I’m a fairly practical person with limited budgets for such things – and because I’m okay with a great ‘all around’ glass that does a wonderful job for me.

What about you? How many different types of wine glasses do you have, and, more importantly, do you employ them all regularly or usually have a ‘go to’ glass?

Thanks for playing (-: