Reader mail: Non-alcoholic wine?

Got a wine- or science-related question? Email me at ithacork *at* and I’ll do my best to answer it!

A little while ago I got an email from a reader. She writes:

I came across your blog online…I’ll be visiting the Finger Lakes soon and I was wondering if you know of any wineries that produce/sell de-alcoholized wine? I gave up drinking last year (sound decision, I promise) but still love the taste of wine. Am trying to find new and interesting de-alcoholized wines when I travel.


Here’s my response:

Thanks for reading the blog. I don’t know of any producers of de-alcoholized wines in the Finger Lakes, but I will ask around.

Do you drink a lot of de-alcoholized wine? I have had several alcohol-removed wines (in the name of science) and none of them really taste like wine to me. Alcohol actually does much for the body and especially the acid balance of wine. Alcohol-removed wine to me tastes extremely acidic.

Winemakers sensitive to those who choose not to drink alcohol can use glycerol or other agents to provide body and some even use capsaicin (from hot peppers) to replicate the “burn” of alcohol. Ariel Vineyards from California claims that its n/a wines have won gold medals against alcoholic wines. So maybe not all n/a wines are bad news.

For the Finger Lakes, though, might I suggest a compromise of spitting? I spit whenever I visit wineries, since I am usually the one driving my friends around. Spitting would give you the tasting experience and the opportunity to talk with the tasting room staff without taking in that much alcohol. Also people who spit really look like professionals, because most pros spit!

Failing that, i do know many wineries carry juice made from wine grapes.

Looking back on this advice, I’m not sure that recommending spitting was such a good idea. No matter this person’s reasons for avoiding alcohol (medical, psychological, financial, religious, or anything else), I’m not sure that the answer is bringing her into closer contact with alcoholic wine. Indeed, for those of you who do spit, alcohol CAN get into your system without you swallowing a drop. It can traverse mucous membranes contributing to some absorption into the bloodstream. Various estimates exist but some numbers that I saw estimate that 3% of the alcohol in a drink is absorbed through the mouth (questionable Ref: Wine Business Monthly). So after a full day of wine tasting, spitting only, you could still end up having the equivalent of a drink or two. Of course, that doesn’t count those wines that are so rich and delicious that you’re just compelled to gulp them down.

What do you guys think? Have you ever had a decent alcohol-removed
“wine”? Any advice for this reader?

Wine is a complex mixture of water (about 85-89%), alcohol (12-14%), organic acids like tartaric, malic, and lactic acid, sugar (sometimes), and volatile aroma compounds. If your goal is to remove alcohol from wine, you might think you could just boil it. Alcohol is more volatile than water, ergo boiling the wine will reduce the alcohol. The problem with that is that all of the aroma compounds in the wine are also volatile, so you would destroy the wine (not to mention the effect of heating the wine).

Alcohol can be removed from wines in many ways, but nowadays the most popular way is reverse osmosis. It’s a controversial topic in winemaking (see this article by PinotBlogger for some of the opposing viewpoints on alcohol removal), and I’m not really going to comment on the controversy, just the methodology.

Reverse osmosis involves high pressure, used to push the wine through a very stringent membrane filter. Only compounds whose molecular weight is smaller than 90 can pass through a tight RO filter. This includes water, ethanol, and the {volatile acidity} compounds ethyl acetate and acetic acid. Once these pass through the membrane, the alcohol and VA is removed by distillation and the water is returned to the wine. No water is added during the process. For a picture, see below.

This very simplistic diagram attempts to approximate the process of reverse osmosis on wine.

This very simplistic diagram attempts to approximate the process of reverse osmosis on wine.

Published in: on 22 September 2009 at 5:00 pm  Comments (4)  
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More Finger Lakes Wineries on Twitter

Hey twitterphiles, add these Finger Lakes wineries and wine personnel to Twitter!

For harvest updates, follow @flxcrush or look for the #flxcrush hashtag.

Winery Twitter username Lake
Atwater Estate Vineyards @atwaterwine Seneca
Lucas Vineyards @LucasWineTalk Cayuga
Hazlitt 1852 Winery @Hazlitt1852 Seneca

Finger Lakes Wine Marketing People
FLX Crush Updates @flxcrush
Morgen McLaughlin, President, Finger Lakes Wine Country @FLWineLady
Finger Lakes Wine Country @FLWineCountry
Cayuga Wine Trail @cayugawinetrail
Seneca Wine Trail @senecalakewine
NY Wine and Culinary Center @NYWineCulinary

Are there any wineries that you’re following that I’ve missed? Check out the complete list and let me know!  You can follow some or ALL of these wineries on this link:

Published in: on 18 September 2009 at 5:47 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Introducing Palate Press: the Online Wine Magazine

A few months ago, I got an email from David Honig, wine blogger and friend of this blog. It was an invitation to join an experimental wine writing project. From his email…

We are trying to collect the best wine writers on the internet in one place. You will appreciate the experimental nature the project. We are testing the hypothesis ‘if you filter the best wine writers and best wine writing on the internet through quality editors, then publish on a reasonable schedule (compared to blog aggregators that merely scroll away), you will create a product with commercial value to advertisers.’

How he came up with adding my name to this list I’m not sure, but I accepted his invitation and became a monthly contributor to Palate Press: the online wine magazine.

Palate Press is a compilation of articles and insights from some of the finest wine bloggers on the internet and updated daily. It’s administrated by David and Editted-in-Chief by “recovering wine critic” and wine celebrity in his own right, Mr. W.R. Tish. Since its recent launch, it’s gotten a lot of press, including an article in Wines & Vines .

My favorite article so far is one put up by the PinotBlogger, Josh Hermsmeyer, about finding {Brettanomyces} in white wines. Aside from the technical stuff, there are discussions about the ethics of shelftalkers, nutrition facts on wine bottles, and all kinds of other interesting wine-related stuff. If you like the content of this blog, then you should definitely check out Palate Press. My contribution will go live on September 24. It’s about labeling wine bottles and advertisements with health claims, and I’m pretty proud of the work that I and my editor, Arthur Przebinda of put into it. I’ll let you know when it goes live. Until then, do check out the other quaity articles on Palate Press. Do it now!

Published in: on 18 September 2009 at 12:59 am  Leave a Comment  

Wine Blogging Wednesday 61: At the source: Fulkerson Winery

This month’s Wine Blogging Wednesday theme, “At the source” is a bit lost on those of us lucky enough to live in a world-class wine region and visit wineries regularly, but here we go anyway. The task here is to visit and taste at a local winery. Well, don’t mind if i do!

A painted barrel in the Fulkerson tasting room, from the winery website

A painted barrel in the Fulkerson tasting room

On Labor Day weekend I took a full day off from lab (I actually do try to go in every day, Dr. Matt) and Sarah and I went down to Watkins Glen. The deal was that we would do Sarah-type outdoors things and then we’d do Tom-type wine things. We hiked through the Rim and Gorge trails at Watkins Glen State Park, then headed up the west side of Seneca Lake at about 4:00. Living in Ithaca, I usually only get a chance to visit Cayuga and East Seneca wineries (barring a special trip), so this was going to be a treat for me. Our goal was to get up to the hallowed Hermann J. Wiemer winery for some riesling flights, but there was a wedding there so they had closed early (Congratulations, Jeff and Melissa!).

As we headed back down to Watkins, we stopped at the much-lauded Shaw Vineyard, a tasting which I will review later, but our final stop of the day was Fulkerson Winery.

Fulkerson Winery is part of a farm that’s been family-operated for 6 generations, and at the winery you can buy a range of produce. In addition, Fulkerson has one of the biggest home-winemaking grape juice operations in the Finger Lakes. There is a ton of winemaking equipment and supplies (including bentonite and Zork closures, among many other things), and their website even has links to their home winemaking instructional videos. But enough about the place, how is the wine?

For a few bucks, we were able to select 5 wines, so Sarah and I shared. Some quick, unofficial highlights (feel free to skip):

  • We started with the 2006 Lemberger, which some would consider the “Great Red Hope” of the Finger Lakes. Nice acidity, some interesting cherry, maybe a bit of VA on the bottle I had. Bought 2 bottles.
  • My note on the 2007 Dornfelder was “interesting, buy and drink again”. It’s a light, fruity, low tannin grape, and the only other place I’ve heard of it grown in NY is at Channing Daughters in Long Island. Bought 1.
  • The 2007 Burntray I also liked. It’s a 50/50 blend of Cabernet Franc and a recently-released Cornell grape called Noiret. Noiret is known for its distinct black pepper aroma and in this case it complements the CF quite well. Bought 1.
  • The next one was one I have been looking forward to trying. The 2007 Vincent is a varietal wine from the Vincent grape, a hybrid originating in Ontario and released in 1967. It’s generally used for color and found in many blends in the Finger Lakes, but this is the only one I’ve seen so far that’s mostly Vincent. I didn’t find much going on in the glass, except for a slight bit of sulfur, so I thought that I should give this one another shot. Bought 1.
  • The 2007 Cabernet Franc is actually blended with 20% Lemberger, a combination that seems unique to the Finger Lakes. It tasted slightly sweet, with a nice oak component. Bought 1.
  • The 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon seemed a bit thin and overoaked (smoky).
  • On the white side, the 2007 Traminette (another Cornell grape, with Gewürztraminer parentage). Normally with Traminettes I get a lot of old lady perfume. That is, a huge bouquet of flowers shoved right up my nose. In this case, the flowers are more subdued and the hint of sweetness balances them out well. Bought 1.
  • The 2007 Riesling is made in a dry style but wasn’t terribly distinctive for me. Well-balanced, just not much to write about.
  • The 2007 Ravat 51 (aka Vignoles) was very nice. Vignoles is generally made in a late-harvest, high-sugar style and this one clocks in around 6.3% RS (that’s 63 g/L). Kiwi was te first thing that came to mind, with some subdued tropical fruit and citrus flavors (think starfruit, which doesn’t really taste like anything in particular, but is somewhat citrusy).
  • Vidal Iced Wine demonstrated some apricot with an interesting richness and smokiness. “Iced” wine is generally made from late harvest grapes brought in and frozen, then pressed. This is distinct from “Ice wine” in which case grapes must be picked frozen on the vine. Nonetheless, bought 1.
  • Finally, the Cabernet Franc Ice wine was a little bit soapy?

Overall I appreciated the variety. We only tasted a fraction of the wines available, including their huge seller Airship white (made with Niagara) and a wine made with a local table grape called Himrod. Fulkerson has actually created a huge jump in price for Himrod in the area because of its demand for this grape. Our tasting room staffer was very knowledgeable and friendly, giving lots of information about a wide variety of grapes. For me, tasting room staff can make or break the experience, and our staffer did very well, especially considering it was near closing time. The tasting room’s high ceilings and new atmosphere (recently built in 2004) make it a very pleasurable experience. I highly recommend stopping by if you’re on the west side of Seneca. Look for more detailed (and controlled) reviews of these wines on this site in the coming weeks.

Thanks to Lenn (aka my new boss) for hosting WBW this month. Check out the New York Cork Report in a few days for a wrapup of other wine bloggers’ tasting room experiences.

I buy a lot of my wine from tasting rooms. Again, I have that luxury because I live within a little over an hour of most of the wineries in the Finger Lakes. The tasting room influences my choices greatly, since I can taste a wine right there and decide whether or not I like it, then buy accordingly. Sometimes, I find, though, that something that tasted great in the tasting room is pretty meh when I get home and taste it in a more controlled environment. Wine tasting is very psychological and I suspect that that environment has an effect on your perception of the wine you taste.

A bunch of respectable wine bloggers and some dude in a Cornell jersey listen to winemaker Roman Roth in the palatial tasting room at Wölffer Estates, in the Hamptons, Long Island (photo credit: Lenn Thompson)

A bunch of respectable wine bloggers and some dude in a Cornell jersey in the palatial private tasting room at Wölffer Estates, in the Hamptons, Long Island (photo credit: Lenn Thompson)

While I couldn’t find any studies to this effect, a recent paper does show that a person’s expectations about a wine can influence his or her perception of the wine (Siegrist and Cousin, “Expectations influence sensory experience in a wine tasting”, Appetite, 2009). In this study, researchers served participants a glass of wine. In some cases they said “Parker gave this wine 92 points” and in some, “Parker gave this wine 72 points”. Some had no information at all. Those with positive information beforehand gave the wine a higher score than the ones who received negative information beforehand. So if your tasting room attendant is telling you about the double gold medal this wine received or the good rating it got from Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast, or even Wine and Spirits, there’s a chance that that will influence how you perceive the wine.

Allow me to give some more evidence to support the “wine tastes different in the tasting room” theory:

  1. The tasting room is aesthetically pleasing. It is nicely decorated, and you’re surrounded by, say, old wine barrels. You pet the winery dog. You’ve got a lovely view of the vineyards outside and it’s a gorgeous day (or a crappy day!)
  2. The tasting room is fraught with distractions, from the treat-begging wine dog to the bachelorette party that just rolled up, to the weird guy next to you who keeps asking questions about the wine and spitting into the dump bucket (not that I know anyone like that…)
  3. The actual environmental conditions (temperature and humidity for example) are likely different from your home.
  4. Arthur from the suggests that over the course of the day, tasting room bottles are poured from (tipped over) many times, resulting in lots of aeration of the wine. I’ll buy that.
  5. Along the same lines, tasting room bottles may have been open for more than a day, especially those “reserve” flights that you may have to pay extra for.
  6. The glasses you use in the tasting room are different from the glasses you use at home. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to say that the shape of a glass can bring out certain aromas or flavors (I have whole other rant about that issue!). The size and shape of a glass does, however, influence the intensity of aromas, and tasting room glasses tend to be stout and durable, rather than bulky with huge headspace.
  7. Bottle variation can be huge. I’ve talked with some tasting room managers, who pour bottle after bottle of the same wines every day, and they have said that the variation between bottles can be tremendous. This is not only a function of the amount of cork taint present in the bottle but likely a symptom of storage conditions and the variation in closure integrity.
  8. The amount that you sample in the tasting room is very small. Come on, a 1 oz. pour? When I review a wine for this site, I generally enjoy the bottle over the course of an evening and comment about things that show up as conditions change. With this small pour, you’re probably spending a minute, 2 tops. Sometimes your pourer is rushing you along as well.
  9. Usually, when you visit a tasting room, it’s in the context of several other tasting room visits. And if you’re like 99.9% of wine tasting room customers, you’re not spitting. Suffice it to say that your physical and mental state may be altered during your tasting room experience.

I’d like to see some studies done about this, but I have no idea who would fund such a thing. Plus, hey, it might take a little bit of the fun out of the tasting room experience if you’re cynical about it from the get-go. There’s nothing wrong with wine tasting different in the tasting room. For me, it’s the best place to talk to someone who understands something about the wine they are serving (I really love talking to the winemakers themselves so I can ask the really technical questions, but that’s not possible in all circumstances). At the end of the day, wine tastes better when you’re having fun, so why not visit your local winery tasting room with some friends?

Even van der Merwe would love this one

Indaba Chardonnay 2008

Picture lifted from importer, since I wasn't going to get out the camera at the table, especially not on a date.  I did take some notes, though...

Picture lifted from importer, since I wasn't going to get out the camera at the table, especially not on a date. I did take some notes, though...

Appellation: South Africa
Grape: Chardonnay
ABV: 12.5%
Price Point: $17 in a restaurant, so probably $8-10 in the store.
Closure: Screwcap

Technical Notes: (from importer’s website) Partially aged in oak, “left on its {lees} for several months to develop further in complexity” More information can be found here (I love this!

Hedonic Notes:
When you’re on a date and trying to impress your dining companion, you might think twice about ordering the cheapest wine on the menu. When you’ve been with your date for over 8 years, it’s not really as much of an issue. Anyway, perhaps subconsciously inspired by my recent viewing of District 9, I thought I’d check out the bargain basement this time with this ZA Chardonnay. Chardonnay is tricky ordering from a menu, particularly because its style is largely at the whim of the winemaker, ranging from acidic, zippy, un-oaked styles (a style that I tend to prefer) to full {malolactic fermentation}, rich, oaky styles. So it’s really somewhat of a crapshoot if you don’t know the producer.

At first, this wine has got nice pineapple and crisp pear on the nose. I really appreciated the medium-bodied {mouthfeel}, and the acidity was refreshing (note, I had this before I knew it was aged on the {lees}). I took the bottle out of the provided chiller (nice, but unnecessary) and after a little while, the oak started showing through with vanilla highlights. Not too much, though, subtle and enjoyable. It’s balanced and easy-drinking with a long finish that waxes a bit lemon meringue.

Rating: corkcorkcorkhalfcork for great QPR, even in a restaurant setting.

Another endearing characteristic of Indaba is found on the label. Again, from the importer’s website:

“Indaba” is the Zulu word for “a meeting of the minds,” or a traditional gathering of tribal leaders for a sharing of ideas. The brand was created as a celebration of the democratization process in South Africa, and from its inception, the wines have conveyed the spirit of South Africa to American consumers. A portion of the proceeds from the Indaba wines supports a scholarship for formerly disenfranchised South Africans who are interested in wine-related careers. Through growth of the brand and via the affiliated scholarship, Indaba is proud to be a part of the positive changes that are altering the face of South Africa’s wine industry

The state of the modern South African wine industry is interesting. Since the end of apartheid, winemaking has become empowering for many South Africans, so there’s something to feel good about supporting the study of enology and viticulture there.

You may have noticed some changes to the info I give at the top of the page. I have started including a spot for wine closure type, because I think it’s interesting. Other people find it interesting too (Jamie Goode, my scientist/wine writer hero, has written an entire book on Wine Closures. I’ve got one on order.)

This may be old news for some, but screwcaps are no longer the sole domain of Carlo Rossi jug wine and Arbor Mist. Many high-quality wines are bottled under screwcaps, including a vast majority of the wines of New Zealand. There’s way too much to tell about them in one post so I’ll just give a brief introduction.

A disassembled screw cap (from Wikipedia)

A disassembled screw cap (from Wikipedia)

Screwcaps (also called Stelvin closures if you want to sound fancy) comprise three parts:

  1. a thin layer of tin foil
  2. a threaded cap that is screwed on to a threaded bottle
  3. a liner between the cap and the tin

The liner is the most important part of this closure, as it is the barrier through which oxygen can enter the bottle. Oxygen transmission is probably the most important parameter for a wine closure, and screwcaps generally have consistently low oxygen tranmission (orders of magnitude below natural cork and other synthetic closures). Given the importance of oxygen species in wine aging, it’s not surprising that wines under screw caps might age differently. How differently? Well, that’s sort of yet to be seen, as wide-scale adoption of these closures is a recent phenomenon. Screwcaps sometimes come under fire for “causing” reductive aromas like burnt match, struck flint, etc., but are also known for accentuating flavors and aromas caused by volatile thiols. Whether or not they actually cause reductive aromas, and the mechanism thereof, will be the subject of a post down the line. Probably the next time I pop a wine with a screwcap, which, in the Finger Lakes, might not be for a while.

Published in: on 15 September 2009 at 8:45 pm  Leave a Comment  
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