Monday matchup: Cabernet Franc/Noiret blends

I haven’t reviewed a wine in a while, so here are two! It’s not every day you see a comparison of blends of Cabernet Franc and Noiret, a relatively new hybrid grape developed by Cornell. But this isn’t really your everyday wine blog.

Note: I tasted these two wines together, blind, in identical ISO 9000 glasses. I did this partially because I received the Stoutridge as a sample from the Hudson Valley Wine Goddess. For more details about samples, see the sample policy.

Fulkerson Winery Burntray 2007

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Appellation: Finger Lakes
Grape: 50% Cabernet Franc, 50% Noiret
ABV: 12%
Price Point: $12
Closure: Red molded synthetic cork

Technical Notes: 9 months in French and American oak.

Hedonic Notes: PEPPER! You are the hot dog guy in BurgerTime and this wine is Peter Pepper. Black pepper but also zingy white pepper are right up front on the nose. There is an interesting floral component, too. On the palate is a structured acidity, with some dark fruit and oak around but not so well integrated. A bit of {astringency} on the gums. It’s a little bit thin for me, but if it had a bit more {mouthfeel} I would really like it.

Rating: corkcorkcorknocorknocork 3 out of 5 corks for a fun, easy drinker with a spicy edge.

I’ve already written positively about my visit to Fulkerson Winery (on the west side of Seneca Lake). Unfortunately, this particular wine is sold out at the winery, but they have just released a non-vintage Burntray, which is 66% Cabernet Sauvignon and 34% Noiret.

Stoutridge Vineyard Cabernet Franc Noiret 2007
Appellation: Hudson River Region, NY
Grape: 50% Cabernet Franc, 50% Noiret
ABV: 12%
Price Point: $28
Closure: Natural cork

Technical Notes:From the website:

We are a gravity winery, meaning we never use pumps or filters in our winemaking. In addition we do minimal chemical processing to our wines. We do not “fine” our wines with gelatins, tannins or clays. We do not add water or sugar nor do we chemically adjust the acidity of our wines. We use minimal sulfites in our wines and we do not add sulfites or sorbates to wine after they are made. The wines are very nearly unprocessed and in a very natural state.

Hedonic Notes: At first sniff of this wine, I thought something was wrong. I got this odd, labrusca-type smell. While Noiret does have some labrusca parentage, the other Noiret wine certainly didn’t have a Welch’s grape juice aroma. Then I tasted it.

Bubbles mean fermenation.  Welcome in champagne, unwelcome in this wine.  I broke the screen on Sarah's camera at the Wine Festival (sat on it), so pictures are a bit hit or miss lately.

Bubbles mean fermenation. Welcome in champagne, unwelcome in this wine. I broke the screen on Sarah's camera at the Wine Festival (sat on it), so pictures are a bit hit or miss lately.

… The light effervescence on my tongue was unexpected, as was the ferocious acidity. I looked down at the glass to see tiny bubbles around the rim, which stuck around long after I had poured. Unlike Don Ho, though, these tiny bubbles in the wine did NOT make me happy. This wine had undergone a re-fermentation in the bottle. The off-the-charts acidity made me think that it had not fully completed {malolactic fermentation}. Now, MLF can be a real bugbear for winemakers, and it’s tough to tell exactly when it’s finished without an enzymatic assay or special test strips (both quite expensive). As the technical note states, the winery strives to use low sulfites. In this case, any sulfiting was not enough to dispatch the malolactic bacteria. In addition, this wine was unfiltered, so surviving malolactic bacteria probably paraded right into the bottle, where they were able to happily convert at least a little more of the malic acid into lactic acid (releasing CO2 in the process). This was OK in my winemaking class, where we were clearly amateurs and our MLF got stuck after about three weeks, but for a commercially released wine, re-fermentation in the bottle is totally unacceptable.

I wish that was the only thing wrong with this wine, but it was also {oxidized}. The sharp tinge of acetaldehyde on the back of my tongue was unmistakeable. When wines are unfiltered, winemakers generally rely on racking to clarify wine before bottling. Racking (i.e., settling wine, then decanting it off of the sediment into another tank or barrel) exposes wine to oxygen, so additional racking steps may have led to oxidation in this wine. After a day, the oxidation was even more pronounced and getting worse, while the Fulkerson was still very drinkable 2, 3, and 4 days after opening.

This could have been a bad bottle, but something tells me there is something systematic about at least one of the faults that I discovered. This could be one of those cases where “natural” doesn’t necessarily mean “good.” Are you listening, Alice Feiring?

Rating: halfcorknocorknocorknocorknocork 1/2 out of 5 corks for reminding me of our batch of Pinot where MLF got stuck and the wine oxidized while we waited for MLF to restart.

I feel bad because I investigated Stoutridge after hearing a glowing recommendation from a reader about the winery (Sorry, Matt!). This wine apparently won a gold medal at the New York Food and Wine Classic, AND Debbie sent it to me, so maybe it was just a bad bottle. At any rate, I would like to try more wines from the Hudson Valley, in addition to giving this one another shot.


Science: Grape Profile: NOIRET
Noiret (nwa-RAY) marks the first {hybrid} grape I’ve had since I decided to begin my quest to drink wines made from 100 different hybrid grapes, and it’s a good one to start with. It was released by Cornell University in 2006, though it had been available for test runs by growers since 1994. It has a complex interspecific parentage, being a cross between Steuben, commonly a table grape, and the not-so-artfully-named NY65.0467.08, of which one of the parents is Chancellor. Its lineage includes vinifera, labrusca, and ruspestris grapes. Its major aroma characteristics seem to be black pepper and some dark fruit. In general, when I think Noiret, I think pepper.

According to John Iszard, Fulkerson has apparently been making wine from Noiret since 2003 and they are very pleased with its performance. I have heard through the grapevine (HA!) that vegetative growth (i.e., favoring leaves and shoots over fruit) can be a concern with Noiret, and viticulturalists at the Geneva Experiment Station are still experimenting with different rootstocks to control vine vigor. This grape’s performance so far makes it promising, especially given the complexity that a little pepper can add to a wine. Look for this one to appear as a blender in many wines in the future.

For the full details on this grape, see this bulletin released by Cornell.

Home semi-sweet home

Six Mile Creek Semi-Sweet Riesling 2007

SSRiesling07

Appelation: Finger Lakes
Varietal: Riesling
ABV: “table wine” an email to the vineyard asking for details got no response. tsk, tsk.
RS: ~5%
Price Point: $13.50
Notes:
Nose: Something spicy/cinnamony on the nose like Dentyne gum with some light floral aromas.
Palate: Canned peaches, sort of like fruit cocktail. Sweetness and acidity* are {well-balanced} in this wine. It doesn’t taste like 5% (50 g/L) residual sugar, but it is still pretty sweet. Many dessert wines come with an absurdly long finish, but this one drops off almost immediately. It’s easy to forget you’ve been drinking this riesling.

Rating: corkcorkhalfcork

Six Mile Creek is pretty much in Ithaca and because it’s about 5 minutes away I end up there somewhat frequently. I like the tasting room and the view from the deck out back is really gorgeous (vines and a pond). I think that this and the vignoles I reviewed earlier are some of their best offerings. This wine’s a pretty good value at $13.50. It’s not too complex, but will definitely be a crowd-pleaser.


*Science!
Perception is a tricky thing. Every individual expresses different levels of smell and taste receptors, and many different alleles for those receptors. After that, everyone’s brain seems to handle the information that those receptors provide differently. Often, perception takes place over complex chemical mixtures (e.g., food and wine). It’s not entirely known how the brain handles multiple signals (in series? in parallel? or as a mixture?). What is known is that some qualities of a sample can suppress or accentuate other qualities. In this case, let’s talk about acid-sugar balance.

Try this without sugar.  Just try it.

Try this without sugar. Just try it.

I first learned about this particular topic when I was about 9. I was mixing up some Kool-Aid (unsweetened, in the paper packet as opposed to sweetened in the large container) in our big orange pitcher. I emptied the packet (which may have been Purplesaurus Rex) into the pitcher. For those unfamiliar with Kool-Aid, the contents of the packet are pretty much citric acid and dye, and you’re supposed to add about a cup of sugar to a 2-quart pitcher. You can probably see where this is going. I took a big gulp of the liquid BEFORE adding sugar, and it was awful. Extremely tart. Added a cup of sugar, and I had purple-lemonade goodness.

tasteprofile

The scale that could be coming soon to riesling labels near you.

Turns out there is some science to back up the concept that sugar can balance acidity in wine. (Nordeloos and Nagel, “Effect of Sugar on Acid Perception in Wine”, AJEV, 1972). Basically, increased sugar decreases perception of acidity. The International Riesling Foundation has taken this into account. The idea behind their new “taste profile” is to give an idea of the sweetness of a riesling on the label so consumers know just how sweet their riesling will be. However, this rating is not just based on sugar content. It is based on sugar/acid ratio with a small adjustment based on pH. You can read more about the IRF and its new labeling scheme at their website or on a nascent Finger Lakes riesling blog called Stressing the Vine, which did a fine job covering this. For the record, I would guess that despite its hefty sugar content, this wine is probably on the high end of “medium-sweet.”

Published in: on 9 June 2009 at 11:48 pm  Comments (5)  
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Contains sulfites

Boordy Vineyards Icons of Maryland Riesling

Old school cartoon Oriole looks happy about this wine, but he is dying inside.

Old school cartoon Oriole looks happy about this wine, but he is dying inside.

Appelation: “American”, grapes are sourced from WA state.
Varietal: Riesling
ABV: 11%
RS: 3%
Price Point $12
Notes:
Looks: Pale yellow, a bit darker than a typical riesling from NY would be.
Nose: On the nose it is definitely not a NYS riesling. Very floral, perfumey. A bit of fruit cocktail comes in as well, but the major player in this nose is sulfur dioxide, aka sulfites, which kind of smell like when you first light a match. Wow. It burns my nose.*
Palate: Brazen acidity. Like “yeah, I’m acidic, what are you gonna do about it, punk?” So much sulfur that I can taste it on the palate and all the fruit is gone. Sweet, acidic, sulfurous. Yikes. As it goes down it feels like it will give me heartburn the next day. Blech.

Rating: 1 cork cork Maybe I am just sensitive to it, but i definitely wouldn’t want any more of this.

I went to Baltimore this weekend for an a cappella reunion concert. While picking up some plonk for the afterparty (André anyone?) I decided to review some MD wine. Boordy Vineyards is the largest winery in Maryland, a state that could be considered an up and coming wine region. Unfortunately, I didn’t look carefully at the bottle and ended up grabbing a wine made with grapes grown in Washington state. When I was there I thought I remembered them mentioning riesling vines, but upon further research it was that they had torn them out. Oh, well.

I have toured the winery and it is one of those “party” wineries. It is a fun atmosphere and they give a pretty informative and fun tour. So if you’re between Baltimore and the PA line, I recommend that you stop by.

As for this wine, a little sugar can be used to cover up some faults, but the SO2 is so profound in this wine that not even the 3% RS could save it. Sometimes you find this sulfite heavy-handedness in Mosel rieslings, as well as occasionally here in the Finger Lakes. I would avoid this one, though the label is nice. It’s got a Baltimore oriole on it.

*Science!
Sulfur dioxide, commonly called “sulfites” on the label, is an antioxidant and antimicrobial agent that has been used for making wine pretty much since wine was first made. SO2 irritates your nose, causing a trigeminal response (see the Jameson post for further discussion of trigeminal response), a burning sensation in the nose. In certain individuals, it can irritate the lungs and cause an asthma-like response. This wine likely has lots of sulfites added because residual sugars can bind SO2, rendering it inactive. If a wine has high residual sugar, chances are it will have higher SO2 to curb microbial activity. Sulfites are the most important preservative and rest assured they will keep coming up again and again in this section.

Addendum:
I didn’t want to get into the whole equilibrium thing, but yes, sulfites exist as molecular SO2 (the actual antimicrobial agent), HSO3-, and SO3–. At wine pH (3.5 or so), most (~95%) of the SO2 will be found as HSO3-. This means that to have enough molecular SO2 for microbial stability, you need to add about 20x more (usually people use potassium metabisulfite). THEN molecular SO2 can associate with ketones and aldehydes, including sugars, so you’ve got to add even more! Problem is the legal limit (US) is 350 ppm (total, free and bound), and the detection threshold is 2 ppm as molecular. And if you have oxygen pickup on your bottling line, then you’ve probably already lost it all! My theory is that the reason this was so overwhelming was that it had a combination of high RS (better add more SO2!) and high acidity, so probably a lower pH (though not necessarily), so more of that extra SO2 was available as molecular, and more went up my nose. I see too much SO2 as a winemaking mistake and it really puts me off a wine. I even tried this a couple days later after it sat in the fridge for a while and it still had biting SO2.

Thanks to Vinogirl for her comment.

Published in: on 21 April 2009 at 5:27 pm  Comments (4)  
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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


picture-7

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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