TasteCamp East: Fined & Filtered

Note:  this is somewhat of a rant, and not really science-based, just an observation.  We will return to our regularly scheduled peer-reviewed science soon enough.

I had an awesome time at TasteCamp East a few weekends ago, for which, I point out,  I missed a Pussycat Dolls concert at Cornell. The things I do for wine…

Anyway, when I returned I read all the posts from other bloggers. Everybody had good and bad things to say, and Lenn interviewed may of us, yours truly included.  As I read through each post and interview (mine included), I couldn’t help but notice that many people liked to jump to hasty conclusions.  For example, “all the chardonnay is oaked and {flabby}” (something I implied in my interview) is a huge generalization.  Even though I tasted 156 wines, I barely scratched the surface of the Long Island wine scene and that certainly doesn’t make me qualified  to comment on it as a whole.  It shouldn’t make anyone qualified!

Why do so many wine writers feel the need to generalize so much when the only wines that they can accurately comment on are ones that they have actually tasted?  Saying “Overall, 2006 was a bad year for” grape X is a generalization.  It may be true that in that vintage, many wines didn’t come out as good as previous years, but the best wine producers, even in bad vintages, can still make good wines.

This is part of why I like wine so much!  Every bottle is a gamble.  There is so much bottle variation that even a bottle of the same wine is a gamble!  Plus, there are lots of other variables.  What kind of mood are you in when you try the wine?  Is it cold and rainy or hot and sunny outside?  Did your dog just die?  Were you told by someone else that the wine is really good (or really bad)?  Did the wine get a 96 in Wine Spectator?

I think what it comes down to is simplifying.  Oversimplifying.  It’s a very human thing to do.  We want to understand, so we have evolved to generalize and feel like we do understand.

In its very chemical makeup, wine is extremely complex.  It is so complex that we may never know all of the different molecules that give a wine its distinct characteristics.  Up from the molecular level, there are many factors that affect the grapes that come in, including:

  • weather
  • trellising
  • canopy management
  • green harvest
  • micro-climate
  • micro-flora
  • soil
  • temperature
  • slope
  • cover crop
  • clone
  • sugar at harvest
  • acid at harvest
  • phenolic maturity
  • and more…

Once the grapes are harvested (machine or hand? sorted or not?), a winemaker has many, many choices to make, all of which will affect the final product that is bottled:

  • destemming or whole cluster pressing?
  • crush?
  • cold soak?
  • long or short maceration?
  • saignée (bleed off some of the free run juice to increase skin to juice ratio in reds)?
  • clarify must?
  • wild yeast or inoculated yeast (of which you can buy over 40 strains from one of many companies)?
  • stomp, basket press, bladder press, screw press, or other kind of press?
  • how much pressure to use in the press
  • temperature-controlled fermentation?  warm or cool?
  • add yeast nutrients?
  • add sugar to raise potential alcohol? (chaptalization)
  • leave residual sugar or go to dryness?
  • let fermentation go to dryness and backsweeten?
  • stainless steel or barrel-fermented?  (or concrete or open-tank, etc.)
  • oak or no oak?
  • French (Allier? Vosges? etc.), American (Minnesota? Missouri? etc.), Chinese, Hungarian, or other oak?
  • how long to age in oak
  • malolactic fermentation?  partial or full?
  • when to remove the wine from yeast cells
  • cold stabilize to remove tartrate crystals (wine diamonds)?
  • add acid?
  • add tannin?
  • filtered or unfiltered?  sterile filter?
  • fined (casein, albumin, bentonite, etc.)?
  • copper fine to remove mercaptans?
  • 100% of one varietal or blend?
  • how much press fraction to blend in
  • closure?  (natural cork, screwcap, technical cork, plastic, bag-in-box, Zork, etc.)
  • and many more…

And there are variables at the consumer level, such as time in the bottle, storage conditions, and other psychological factors that I mentioned above.  So how can one, after tasting a small amount of the wine in a region, especially a New World region, make ANY broad claims?

My wine selection strategy for this blog is simple.  I usually review Finger Lakes wines, so I will go to a store (or winery) and buy a Finger Lakes wine.  Usually, the wines that I buy at the winery are ones that I liked (or thought would be interesting to review or tie in some kind of Science!…).  I have had many Finger Lakes wines, but nowhere near all of them.  So can I comment about riesling from the Finger Lakes in general?  No!  I can comment about my own experience and that’s all.

If you think you are a wine expert, you’re wrong.  There is more wine out there than you could ever taste, and there is more wine knowledge out there than you could ever know.

Wine is about your individual experience and your individual palate.  In fact, there is so much psychology involved that sometimes it really frustrates me.  I understand molecules because they react predictably and rationally.  People, well, I might never understand them.  For me, I will just take it one bottle, one molecule at a time.

Published in: on 22 May 2009 at 6:52 pm  Comments (5)  

Great estate

Lamoreaux Landing Estate White (N/V)

Forgot to take a picture of the bottle, so here is a small one.

Forgot to take a picture of the bottle, so here is a small one.

Appelation: Finger Lakes
Varietal: 55% Riesling 45% gewürztraminer
ABV: 12.8%
RS: 1.75%
Price Point: $10
Looks: Lemony-green
Nose: Intense nose of flowers, peach, and lychee (What’s a lychee, anyway? I can only find them in cans, but they’re pretty good! Check the Asian section of the local market)
Palate: Pear coming through on the palate, and some passion fruit*. Good amount of sweetness and balanced acidity. A tad short on the finish, but all in all a nice wine. For under $10, I’d definitely get it again.
Rating: corkcorkcorkhalfcork for outstanding {QPR}.

Winemaker Paul Brock is new at Lamoreaux Landing, and I understand that this is one of his first wines there. He’s also trained as a chemical engineer, so he’s got that going for him. Many estate whites in the Finger Lakes are made with Cayuga White, or other hybrids or native grapes. While there’s nothing necessarily wrong with these, it’s refreshing to see an estate white made with the aromatic white varieties that the Finger Lakes is known for. So far, it seems he’s doing a great job out at Lamoreaux. See where a little science can get you?


In the last science section, we talked about volatile thiols and how enzymes in saliva can free them up. One example of a volatile thiol is 3-mercaptohexanol. It smells like passion fruit, and can be quite nice. At high concentrations, though, it starts to smell a little bit sweaty. When I first smelled a sample that had been spiked with this chemical, I though I had forgotten to put on deodorant. Nope, it was the wine. At least that time it was…

3-mercaptohexanol. Fruity and sweaty.  Kind of like Richard Simmons.

3-mercaptohexanol. Fruity and sweaty. Kind of like Richard Simmons.

This is a good example of something that can be pleasurable at low concentrations, but when the concentration gets too high can be considered a fault. Some people feel this way about the characteristic aromas of {brettanomyces}. But that’s a story for another post.

Published in: on 19 May 2009 at 11:56 pm  Comments (3)  
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Even though the semester is technically over, I’ve had a very busy week workwise. Unfortuntately, I don’t get paid to blog about wine (one can dream, though…). HOWEVER I do have lots of tasting notes in the hopper, including notes from a tasting of 12 or so rieslings (!). So I expect to make up the difference later this week with more notes on, you guessed it, rieslings!

Published in: on 19 May 2009 at 2:09 pm  Leave a Comment  

You just got blogrolled.

Logo shamelessly stolen from LENNDEVOURS.com

Logo shamelessly stolen from LENNDEVOURS.com

I had tasting notes for today, but I left them at work. And I couldn’t open another bottle of riesling since I have two open bottles here already (sangiovese and sangiovese/CS/CF/freisa/merlot blend, if you must know. No, I don’t exclusively drink Finger Lakes wine). So look for an entry tomorrow. I’ll give you a hint on tomorrow’s wine. The producer’s name rhymes with Clamoreaux Flanding.

In the meantime, I’ve finally updated my blogroll to include people I met at TasteCamp East, which means some quality blogs. Feel free to click through, or you can be like me and add them all to Google Reader. You can add Ithacork to Google Reader by clicking this link.

Plus, if you like the Science! section you should check out Jamie Goode’s wine blog, and his website WineAnorak.com. He is kind of my wine science blogger idol.

Published in: on 15 May 2009 at 2:30 am  Leave a Comment  

Monday matchup: Finger Lakes vs. Rheingau

Yep, it’s still riesling month. I decided to put some FL riesling up against another famous riesling producer, Germany.

The two competitors, plus my trusty Purity spit cup.  Featuring the festive Easter tablecloth.

The two competitors, plus my trusty Purity spit cup. Featuring the festive Easter tablecloth.

This test was done blind, 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 one is a screwcap.


Wine Hermann J. Wiemer Dry Riesling 2007 Fürst Löwenstein CF Riesling QbA trocken 2007
Appelation Finger Lakes Rheingau
ABV 12.5% 12.0%
RS 0.9% 0.9%
Price Point $17 $16

Here we go:
Wine 1
Looks: pale yellow with a hint of green, with a little spritz
Nose: very strong lime peel, dominant petrol. It’s like WD-40 (I toasted enough tent caterpillars with my friend Brian when I was a kid to know what WD-40 smells like. It’s part gasoline, part floral sweetness) Part of that may not be all TDN, it may be more sweaty/grapefruity.
Palate: nice acid balance. Also limey on the palate, like biting into a lime. Not as acidic as a lemon, and a little bitter. A bit of pear on the palate, but the finish is what makes this wine really good. After a while in the mouth it develops some tropical fruit flavors*, like the Skittles that come in the blue bag. But you’ve got to be patient!
Rating: 3.5 corks corkcorkcorkhalfcork It’s really, really good, but the petrol is a bit much.

I need some better lighting up in this piece.

I need some better lighting up in this piece.

Wine 2
Looks: about the same as wine 1, including the bubbles on the bottom of the glass
Nose: Very different. Intense green apple, cotton candy, and a little bit floral
Palate: Very acidic, almost off {balance}. Palate like the core of a pineapple, the part that’s not quite ripe and really tart. As for the finish, the only thing I get is acidity, like the one oboe player that didn’t cut off the note with the rest of the section.
Rating: 3 corks corkcorkcork Also pretty good.

Some of you reading could probably tell which wine was which from the descriptors. Well, maybe. Anyway, I had a hunch that #1 was the Finger Lakes riesling, and it was! Overall, in spite of the WD-40 on the Wiemer, I liked the overall palate better. I liked the nose better on the Rheingau, but it just wasn’t enough to carry it through. Both good wines, and I would definitely buy them again. In this case, Finger Lakes riesling takes it.

Hermann J. Wiemer also produces premium single vineyard rieslings, which I have tasted before and are really, really nice, but a bit more expensive than the standard dry (~$30 or so). Wiemer is one of the most respected riesling producers in the Finger Lakes and it’s easy to see why.


Sometimes flavors show up only after a little while in the mouth. This could be due to the way we perceive aromas (it’s not clear whether things are parsed one at a time or all at once), but in the case of some aromas there is a molecular reason why they may take a while to show up.

Many tropical fruit, peachy, grapefruit, passion fruit and other aromas are thiols. They’ve got a sulfhydryl group sticking off of what is usually an alcohol. Now, we’ve talked before about some sulfur compounds being rank-smelling, like hydrogen sulfide and mercaptans. Some mercaptoalcohols, however, can be quite pleasant.


But there’s one problem. The thiols like to bind up with the amino acid cysteine (which also has a thiol group). The S-cysteine conjugate molecules are not volatile and therefore are not perceived as aromas. During fermentation, yeast enzymes can liberate the volatiles from their cysteines, but often a large portion are left cysteine-conjugated. However, saliva contains enzymes called lyases that free these compounds from their cysteine anchors and lets them fly into the nasal cavity retronasally. This phenomenon was discovered in sauvignon blanc grapes (many, especially from New Zealand will have pronounced tropical/passion fruit aromas) (Tominaga et al., “A New Type of Flavor Precursors in Vitis vinifera L. cv. Sauvignon Blanc: S-Cysteine Conjugates”, J. Ag. Food Chem., 1998), but these compounds have also been found in riesling and other aromatic whites (Tominaga et al. (again), “Contribution of Volatile Thiols to the Aromas of White Wines Made From Several Vitis vinifera Grape Varieties”, AJEV, 2000).

Published in: on 13 May 2009 at 1:48 am  Comments (2)  
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