Monday matchup: Bold statements

I follow a lot of wine people on Twitter. This post is a response to a tweet from the winemaker at Silver Springs Winery on Seneca Lake. In addition to an eponymous label, Silver Springs also makes Don Giovanni wines, their premium label. The tweet in question was as such:

DonGiovanniWine: my 2005 Bold Merlot in a blind taste test will beat all other merlots …yes I just said that…

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Today's competitors on "Drink the Wine"

I happened to have a bottle of the 2005 Bold Merlot at home, and I was actually planning on writing tasting notes for it soon. When I saw this tweet, I couldn’t resist having the winemaker put his money where his mouth is. For the opponent, I chose another wine that I had around the house, Ty Caton 2006 Upper Bench Merlot, which I purchased from wine.woot about a year ago and have been “cellaring” in the closet.

This test was done as blindly as possible, with identical ISO 9000 wine glasses. Both bottles were opened at the same time and not decanted. Wine was poured into the glasses from the bottle before the test began to avoid bias, as the bottles are shaped considerably differently.
 
 
Stats:

Wine Don Giovanni Bold Merlot 2005 Ty Caton 2006 Upper Bench Merlot
ABV 13.7% 15.7% (!!!)
Appelation New York State (fruit from Long Island and Finger Lakes) Sonoma Valley, CA
Price Point $27 $37

Here we go:
Wine 1
Looks: dark red, getting to be brick-red.
Nose: Vanilla and oak, not too much fruit. I do get some cherry, and a spicy potpourri aroma. There’s a bit of an herbal tint in there too, with a bit of tobacco/cigar box. It may be running a little {hot}
Palate: Firm but not overpowering {tannin}. Medium-short finish, and I really like the tannin structure. It’s slightly on the acidic side and oaky on the palate. There’s something really nice that comes through on the finish about 10 seconds after swallowing/spitting. It’s subtle and I can’t quite pinpoint it, but it is satisying.
Overall, not too bad. I like its {balance}, but the phenolic (“spicy potpourri”) element is the loudest singer in the bunch, and it’s a little out of tune.
Rating: 3 corks corkcorkcork

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The contestants, as judged. Post-it notes are so I wouldn't get them mixed up while tasting.

Wine 2
Looks: Darker red, with hints of purple.
nose A bit of hydrogen sulfide at first whiff (dissipated after a bit), jammy, grape soda, huckleberry pie, with a little chocolate in there.
palate Sweet, very fruity. Cheek-puckering tannin, almost a smokiness on the back end, a lingering bitterness that’s not really that pleasant. Pretty alcoholic, too, finishing with some black licorice.

This is a big wine, but maybe not in the right ways. At times it reminds me of a fruity-smelling magic marker. You know the ones I mean.
Rating: 2.5 corks corkcorkhalfcork

Results: Don Giovanni was wine 1, and Ty Caton was wine 2. In a way, this probably wasn’t a fair comparison. These wines are completely different styles, and since this wasn’t DOUBLE blind (i.e. I would have no idea which wines I was tasting at all), I had my suspicions about which wine was which right from the get-go. The DG had an aroma that I pick up in many, many FL reds, which I describe as “potpourri” only because I’m not really sure what to call it. My hypothesis is that it comes from extended maceration and/or long extraction periods, which can add a lot of color to a wine from a wet vintage, but also extract some undesirables from the skins. I’ll keep you posted. Meanwhile, the TC can come off like a typical California WAY overripe, jammy, syrupy, alcoholic mess. 15.7% alcohol? It may as well be madeira! This may be a style that some critics really go for, but for me, I prefer the Don Giovanni. That being said, it’s not without its flaws, and I definitely wouldn’t say that it could beat ANY merlot out there.


A note about blind tastings: It’s important to point out that nobody buys wine blind. Nobody goes to the store and says to the clerk, “I’ve got $20, surprise me!” (though I might do that someday, sounds like fun). With so many wines out there (on the order of 10,000 labels authorized for sale in the US in 2007), there’s no way one can try them all and buy based on experience. The more adventurous consumers will reach for varietals and regions they haven’t had before, but it seems that in general, people buy wine based on lots of psychological factors that have little to do with the quality of the wine in question. This could explain why the results of truly blind tastings can often be rather surprising, especially to the tasters. However, human psychology is rather out of my jurisdiction and I’m content to just say that people do weird things sometimes.

I’ve been to Silver Springs a few times and whenever I go, the winemaker, John Zuccarino, is pouring behind the bar. The guy is nothing if not extremely enthusiastic about wine and the wines that he makes. Many times my friends have remarked that it was their favorite stop along the way on Seneca, even if the winemaker’s presence is a bit overwhelming for some. He makes some pretty good reds, and I highly recommend stopping by there if you’re traveling up the east side of Seneca.

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This is only a small portion of the detritus floating in my spit cup after tasting these two wines.

Science!
Hey gang! Here’s an experiment that you can do at home! Make sure you get your parents’ permission, though. In the winespeak dictionary, I explain how it’s thought that the mechanism of astringency is the precipitation of proteins in saliva by tannins. Additionally, perception of astringency correlates well with protein precipitation assays (Ref: Kennedy et al.,, “Analysis of Tannins in Red Wine Using Multiple Methods: Correlation with Perceived Astringency “, AJEV, 2006) Well, if you’ve got a spit bucket, you can observe this phenomenon for yourself!  All that chunky stuff floating around when you spit out a red wine is precipitated protein, mostly PRPs (proline-rich proteins).  It’s thought that PRPs evolved as a defense mechanism against polyphenolic compounds, like tannins (Ref: Baxter et al., “Multiple interactions between polyphenols and a salivary proline-rich protein repeat result in complexation and precipitation.”, Biochemistry, 1997).

Published in: on 30 March 2009 at 3:14 am  Comments (3)  
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Cab Suave

Sheldrake Point Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 (PRE-RELEASE!)
sp_cs
Varietal: Cabernet Sauvignon 96% Cabernet Franc 4%
ABV: 12.5%
RS: 0.3% (Dry)
Price Point $N/A (yet!) will update on release.
Notes:
Looks: Great color. Deep red hinting towards purple.
Nose: Ripe blackberry & raspberry with a bit of an herbal note (mint-ish), and how about this one? pretzels! Like the buttery, toasty outside of a pretzel stick.
Palate: Juicy, lovely {mouthfeel}.  It rolls around on the tongue well. {Tannins} are not so big.  If you really concentrate, though, the {astringency} is detectable but definitely not the biggest player in this wine.  With soft, subtle tannin, it’s up to the acidity to balance this wine, which it does quite nicely.  There is a touch of quinine-like bitterness on the finish, but it doesn’t last that long.
Rating: 3 corks corkcorkcork

If you’re expecting mouth-puckering tannin, this is not the cabernet for you.  However, it is really drinkable.  It goes down smooth, and will do great with food.


I realize I’ve been pretty Sheldrake/Cayuga heavy recently, but this one’s on a time limit. See, being the well-respected *ahem* and important *cough* wine journalist *cough cough* that I am, I have connections *snerk* that allowed me to get a sneak peek at Sheldrake’s estate reds, to be released April 4. Actually, I just joined Sheldrake’s wine club, and I had to buy these like everyone else.  But I do have a VIP card, so there! Anyway, there will be a big foofaraw at the winery next Saturday with chocolate and cheese, etc., so that might be fun to check out.

beta-ionone-label

β-ionone. It smells unmistakeably like raspberries.

Science!
The molecule of the day is β-ionone. Its descriptors include violet, raspberry, and “woody”. Yes, Beavis and Butt-head, I said “woody”. This molecule has a low detection threshold in wine (90 ppt). To give you some perspective on parts per trillion, a ppt is a nanogram per liter, or 10-9 grams per liter. Basically, if you poured a few drops (~300 mg) of this stuff into an olympic-sized swimming pool (2.5 million litres) full of wine, you’d probably be able to smell raspberries while you swam.

Just imagine it!

Just imagine it!

Molecules like β-ionone are thought to be formed by degradation of carotenoids, e.g., β-carotene. Other norisoprenoids formed in this way include β-damascenone (baked apples) and TDN, the “petrol” aroma descriptor mentioned in my post about riesling ice wines. (Ref: Mendes-Pinto, “Carotenoid breakdown products the—norisoprenoids—in wine aroma”, Archives of Biochemistry and Biophysics, 2009.) Now to find an olympic-sized swimming pool full of wine….

Published in: on 26 March 2009 at 1:56 am  Leave a Comment  
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Palate-friendly hybrid

vignoles

Six Mile Creek is in the town of Ithaca, right on 79.

Six Mile Creek Vignoles 2007
Varietal: Vignoles (also known as Ravat 51)
ABV: designated as “table wine” so between 7-14%
Price Point $9.75
Notes:
Looks: Mild yellow, kind of like a light vegetable oil
Nose: Right away there’s pear and creamy component kind of like baby food (like mashed bananas or something). Perfumey floral aromas are present, too, with touch of sulfur off-aromas* on the back end.
Palate: Fresh acidity with a little sweetness. Very enjoyable, I would drink this a lot, especially for the price.
Rating: 3 corks corkcorkcork


Six Mile Creek is the closest winery to Ithaca, and they have some decent wines. They also have grappa (made from distilled grape skins), limoncello, vodka, and gin, all distilled from grapes. Usually I’m not too big on hybrids, but I really liked this wine.

Science!
I’ll talk about hybrid grapes like Vignoles another time (basically, they’re cold-hardy crosses between European-native {vinifera}, and Native American grapes.)

Hey, dudes, do you smell me?

Hey, dudes, do you smell me?

Now though, I’d like to talk about sulfur. Sometimes called “reduced” aromas or “sulfur off-aromas”, things like rotten egg, garlic, old cabbage, etc., can invade wine under certain conditions. For example, if the fermenting {must} doesn’t have enough nitrogen content, the yeast will metabolize the amino acids cysteine and methionine (the two sulfur containing amino acids) to create other amino acids and nitrogen compunds like nucleic acids. The result of this metabolism is the creation of hydrogen sulfide (rotten eggs, also one of the active gases in flatulence (Ref: Oghe et al., “Effectiveness of devices purported to reduce flatus odor”, American Journal of Gastroenterology, 2005, interesting read actually) and mercaptans (cabbage, onions). The human nose is actually quite sensitive to these compunds, detecting them at around 1 part per billion. This problem can be treated by copper fining, but winemakers have to be careful not to exceed the legal limit of copper. I’ve heard that if you have a pre-1982 copper penny, you can drop it in and remove some of the sulfides, never tried it though. A better way to get rid of sulfur off-aromas, especially hydrogen sulfide, is to aerate the wine, e.g., in a decanter or a pitcher, or heck, even a blender!
Other fun mercaptans include ethyl mercaptan, added to natural gas (which is odorless), so you know when you’re about to blow up. And 2-butenethiol is secreted by skunks. They’re not all bad, though. Grapefruit and passion fruit aromas (3-mercaptohexanol) are also mercaptans. If you’ve got too high a concentration, though, it will smell like B.O.

Published in: on 23 March 2009 at 6:53 pm  Comments (3)  
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Ignore TLC’s advice and DO go chasing this Waterfall

sp-t-07-006
Sheldrake Point Waterfall Chardonnay 2007
Varietal: Chardonnay
ABV: 12.5%
RS:Dry
Price Point $12
Notes:
Looks: Pretty pale yellow with hints of green
Nose: A little bit of freshly lit match (sulfur dioxide, a topic for another time), metallic pineapple, green apple, and slight herbal component i can’t quite nail down
Palate: lively acidity, good body on the {mouthfeel}, though it may be a touch heavy on the alcohol. Reminds me of a lemon meringue pie. I got some fennel too, like the bulb part. The finish is pleasant and long-lasting with lemony notes, like after eating one of those lemon girl scout cookies (Hmm, two mentions of girl scouts this week.) Very drinkable. With spring hesitantly arriving and summer just around the corner, the refreshing acidity on this one should make it pretty popular.
Rating: 3 corks corkcorkcork


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Sheldrake is one of my favorite wine producers on Cayuga Lake. They almost exclusively grow {vinifera} grapes and most of their wines are very good quality. Plus, they have a nice view of the lake, a nice tasting room, their staff are really knowledgeable. In fact, they keep a binder behind the counter with all of the winemaker’s notes on every wine that they have available to taste, including pH, total acidity, fermentation notes, types of oak used, and much more. Great for a wine geek like myself.

This particular chardonnay is fermented in all stainless steel with NO {malolactic fermentation} and never sees any oak, which allows the straight up aromas of the wine to shine. Don’t get me wrong, I like a big, oaky, buttery chardonnay, but I would rarely call it “refreshing” or “lively”.

Science!

<em>Oenococcus oeni</em> converts malic acid into lactic acid, "softening" a wine.

Oenococcus oeni converts malic acid into lactic acid, "softening" a wine.

I guess this is as good a time as any to talk about malolactic fermentation. Malolactic bacteria, such as Oenococcus oeni (guess where it was first discovered) convert malic acid into lactic acid. What does that have to do with wine? The primary organic acids in wine are tartaric acid and malic acid. You may be familiar with malic acid, as it is the main acid in apples. Lactic acid is the main acid in yogurt. In fact, the Germans call malic acid Äpfelsäure and lactic acid Milchsäure (tartaric? Weinsäure, of course!). But we digress.

Warheads.  Ridiculously sour.

Warheads. Ridiculously sour.

Malic acid has two acidic protons (i.e., two hydrogen ions that like to leave the molecule). Lactic acid only has one acidic proton. Thus, for the same concentration of malic and lactic acid, malic will be perceived as harsher and more acidic. I have done this test with several different acids and it is not fun. In fact, remember Warheads candy? The candy with the super sour coating? Well, the coating is primarily malic acid. Wow, my mouth literally watered when I typed that as I was brought back to fifth-grade Warheads eating contests.

The point is that malolactic bacteria are often inoculated into wines after the primary alcoholic fermentation (yeast) to reduce the overall acidity of the wine.  Reducing acidity is not the only benefit of MLF, though.  It can help reduce {acetaldehyde} and release “trapped” aroma compounds enzymatically (Ref: Grimaldi et al., “Identification and Partial Characterization of Glycosidic Activities of Commercial Strains of the Lactic Acid Bacterium, Oenococcus oeni”, AJEV, 2000). A majority of reds undergo malolactic fermentation. Only some whites do, mostly chardonnay. The best way to determine whether or not your wine has undergone MLF is to try to detect a buttery aroma, like movie theater popcorn. This is the aroma compound diacetyl, produced by ML bacteria, which merits its own separate discussion.

Published in: on 19 March 2009 at 12:54 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Craic one open

55111805

Click to go the distillery website

Jameson Irish Whiskey
ABV: 40%
Malt: Blended
Price Point $28 for 750 mL
Happy St. Patrick’s Day! I figured as a little sidebar on this day, I’d taste some whiskey. Yes, I know Jameson is on the low end of the Irish whiskey spectrum and mass-marketed, but, like its beer counterpart Guinness, it has a virtual cultural monopoly on St. Patty’s day liquor.

There are typically three ways to enjoy whiskey on its own.

  • Neat: that is, right out of the bottle, room temperature nothing else added whatsoever
  • With water: add some water, ratio to taste (usually 50/50)
  • On the rocks: with ice.

Folks are usually pretty vocal about which way is best, so I’ll go for all three.
Disclaimer: For all the wine I drink, I am a whiskey novice. I’m tasting this like I would taste wine.

NEAT
Looks: Interesting orange/amber color, a little orange protestant representation on a very green day
Nose: No surprise here: it’s got high alcohol and it burns the nose*. Over the noise I get some toast (like toasted wood, not bread toast), vanilla, caramel, and a little mediciney (clove?) thing.
palate: Well, it burns your tongue too. Orange peel on a long finish that doesn’t burn the throat

WITH WATER
The water brings out plastic/medicine on the nose and practically eliminates the burning. In the mouth it rounds out the mouthfeel, adding some orange/vanilla creamsicle type stuff. It’s still quite oaky, which makes sense since it spends a good amount of time (way longer than wine) in oak barrels.

ON THE ROCKS
Probably my favorite. Diminished alcohol burn on the nose, allowing more pleasant aromas to come through, nice mouthfeel as I roll it around the tongue.


Irish whiskey lacks the smoky flavors of Scotch because smoking the grain/malt over peat fires is absent from the Irish process. Personally, I can do without the smoky flavors.

At the risk of getting in trouble from whiskey purists, let me offer a cocktail recipe. The only other beverage handy was green tea, and well, since it’s a green kind of day, I figured I’d go for it.

Its 3 bucks a gallon!

It's 3 bucks a gallon!

Wearin’ O’ the Green Tea:
1 part Jameson Irish Whiskey
3 parts Arizona Diet Green Tea with ginseng

Mix to taste and enjoy straight up or on the rocks.

The green tea’s got orange honey in it, and believe it or not, it really complements the whiskey. It’s kind of like a hot toddy, but unless you are a grandma, you probably don’t drink those.

On a hedonic note, I enjoyed this with a hot corned beef sandwich with sauerkraut on a pumpernickel bagel. It’s the closest I’ll get to corned beef and cabbage today, probably. Anyway, blasting some Cheiftains, Pogues, and Flogging Molly, chowing down on some corned beef and sipping Jameson. Pretty good St. Patty’s day, don’t you think?

So if you’re at the local pub tonight and buying some Jameson (or other Irish whiskey), don’t just shoot it back like a heathen, give it a sip and enjoy the fruity, toasty flavors of the old Mountain Dew. Sláinte!

Science!

Feel the burn!

Feel the burn!

Pure ethanol (alcohol) does have a “sweet” aroma, (Ref: Thorngate, “The physiology of human sensory response to wine: A review”, AJEV, 1997) but when it’s introduced into the nose, something else happens. The mechanism is not entirely understood, but interaction of ethanol with certain receptors triggers a response by the trigeminal nerve in the nose and mouth, which causes a “burning” sensation. Anyone who’s poured Scope down his pants that one time at scout camp knows that alcohol creates quite a burning sensation on the skin (I mean, hypothetically). Turns out these receptors also process capsaicin, the “hot” compound in hot peppers. (Ref: Trevisani et al., “Ethanol elicits and potentiates nociceptor responses via the vanilloid receptor-1”, Nature Neuroscience, 2002). This burning increases with increased ethanol concentration, and by Henry’s law, the more ethanol in the liquid, the more will be in the gas phase. The amount in the vapor phase will also be affected by temperature, thus my preference for rocks, and the reason you’d never want a room temperature martini.

Published in: on 17 March 2009 at 4:20 pm  Comments (3)  
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