Wine Blogging Wednesday 62: A grape by any other name…

wbw

This month, for Wine Blogging Wednesday, Boston wine bigwig Dale Cruse selected a very clever theme. The idea: drink wines called by their lesser-known synonyms. For example, if you like Zinfandel, have a Primitivo. This exercise is also interesting because regional names tend to denote regional winemaking styles. (Think about Syrah vs. Shiraz!)

In this case, since it is Regional Wine Week (and since I forgot to stop at the wine store on the way home), I decided to hit on what has become a bit of a touchy issue in the New York wine community.

Blaufränkisch or Lemberger?
Same grape, two goofy names, and strong opinions about said names.

(Note: these wines were tasted together, blind, in identical ISO 9000 glasses)

Channing Daughters Blaufränkisch 2007
Appellation: The Hamptons, Long Island, NY
Grape: 75% Blaufränkisch (or whatever you want to call it), 25% Merlot
ABV: 12.5%
Price Point: $25
Closure: Natural cork

Technical Notes: from the website: Estate-grown in the Hamptons. “…[A]ll the fruit was hand-picked, de-stemmed, crushed by foot and punched down by hand. The wine was handled minimally and bottled by gravity.” 12 months in older oak barrels.

Hedonic Notes: Brilliant bluish-purple color. Smells like purple, and according to Homer Simpson, purple’s a fruit. Kind of a black raspberry thing. A little H2S at first, but that blows off quickly. An herbal component is thrown in for good measure. The acid backbone shines through, all the way to the medium-length finish. It might be a tad too acidic for me. The {astringency} that comes in at the end seems a bit late and not really necessary. A little woody/cardboard as well on the finish. This wine has its really good moments, particularly after swishing around for a little while, but it’s far from perfect.

Rating: corkcorkcorknocorknocork 3 out of 5 corks

I’ve written about a Channing Daughters wine before, the Meditazione. This winery is doing some really innovative things on Long Island, and I’m all about more people growing this grape. I wish more Channing Daughters wines were available up here, as I’ve found interesting characteristics in almost all of the wines that I’ve tasted from there.

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Keuka Spring Lemberger 2007
Appellation: Finger Lakes
Grape: 100% Lemberger (or whatever you want to call it)
ABV: 13%
Price Point: $19
Closure: Natural cork

Technical Notes: Estate-grown, harvested at 21 Brix (pretty ripe). Whole berry fermentation, cold soak before and extended maceration after fermentation (for color and tannin extraction), mix of older and new French oak.
Hedonic Notes: Wow. Big, pure fruit up front. There is distinct citrus which brings to mind a sort of mixed berry marmalade. Beyond the fruit is a toasty and vanilla oak component which I rather like. It is integrated very well. Acid is present but subdued in the mouth by substantial alcohol, which also contributes to a nice, full-bodied {mouthfeel} without running {hot}. The mid-palate is a fruity blast of cherry. It just keeps on giving into a long, slightly earthy finish. Lovely. Good to the last glass.

Rating: corkcorkcorkcorknocork 4 out of 5 corks for a wonderful effort from Keuka Springs, who continues to surprise me with great offerings.

Honestly, when I tasted these two, I thought that this one was the Long Island. Not because it was better, but because of the noticeable oak. It was a mistake, though, since Channing Daughters isn’t your typical Long Island winery and they make very judicious use of oak. Shows what stereotypes can do. When I found out that this one was the Finger Lakes Lemberger, I was very pleased.

A note about names: Lots of people seem to prefer the name Blaufränkisch and I’m not sure exactly why. I talked about this a little bit before, but I’m convinced it must be the ümlaut. The name itself has become a cause célèbre to some naïve people who feel as fancy as a maître d’ when they are able to coördinate their sentences to put a smörgåsbord of diacritical marks on words like açaí, El Niño, and crème fraîche. They say that Lemberger reminds people of Limberger and thus stinky cheese. I say whatever helps people remember the name of the wine is fine by me. Blaufränkisch just seems a tad too Teutonic to be memorable to the average consumer. Lemberger is like hamburger! In fact, I would love this wine with a hamburger. Or even a frankfurter. Not that it really matters, but for the record, I am in the Lemberger camp.

Thanks to Dale for hosting a thoughtful and thought-provoking WBW.

Science!

Who says the Finger Lakes can't make bold, dark reds?

Who says the Finger Lakes can't make bold, dark reds?

The Lemberger was cold soaked and given extended maceration for maximum extraction of color and tannin. Cold soaking, leaving the grapes in cold storage for a day or two after harvesting and usually adding dry ice, can have several purposes, including weakening the cellular structure of the skins to promote the release of color compounds. I sort of did this with my strawberry wine, but only because I forgot to buy yeast that day. You’ve got to be careful with extended maceration, though, especially if your fruit isn’t ripe. In this case, the Lemberger seemed to be pretty ripe. Overly long macerations, I’ve found, can lead to a spicy aroma that is not unlike potpourri. I have detected this aroma in many Finger Lakes reds, and I think that some tend to overextract in hopes of gaining the most possible color in a region that sometimes has trouble adequately ripening reds. This is one reason I think Lemberger has such a bright future in this region. It ripens well in the cool climate and provides stunning purple color. In my winemaking class last year, one group’s project was a thermovinified (must heated at 65C for a bit before fermentation) Lemberger, and the result was extremely purple.

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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.

Stats:

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.


*Science!

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.

s-cysteine

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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The Arist-rkats!

Dr. Konstantin Frank Rkatsiteli 2006

In Soviet Russia, wine crushes you! (apologies to Yakov Smirnov)

In Soviet Russia, wine crushes you! (apologies to Yakov Smirnov)

Appelation:Finger Lakes
Varietal: Rkatsiteli
ABV: 11.4%
RS: 0.75% (the website says 0.75 g/L, (0.075%) but that is bone-dry. probably a typo.)
Price Point: $18
Notes:
Looks: Lemon yellow with a tinge of green
Nose: The floral notes remind me of both riesling and gewürztraminer. The biggest fruit in this basket is pineapple*, with some regular apple. Also, it kind of reminded me of a pear crème brulée I made one Valentine’s day. Actually, now that I think about it, we had rkatsiteli that day too (a different one, Westport Vineyards from Massachusetts)! Isn’t life grand?
Palate: Tangy acidity is singing the melody here. Just a little bit of residual sweetness backs it up like a nice descant, and a great, full {mouthfeel} rounds out the chord. I’m in a musical mood today, probably because I’m in the middle of 7 shows of Bernstein’s MASS, which you should see this weekend if you are in Ithaca. It’s got a long finish, too.

Rating: corkcorkcorkcork

I admit it, I’m a Frankophile. Dr. Frank’s has been in the news as of late, though not for the usual plaudits. The other day, their 3-year-old overflow tasting room burned to the ground. However, nobody was hurt, and the winery was open for tasting the very next day! Talk about unfazed!

Anyway, I love to try grape varieties I’ve never had before, and unless you emigrated from Georgia, chances are you haven’t had a rkatsiteli wine. The grape is Eastern European and apparently grown a lot over there. Dr. Frank appreciated its cold-hardiness and brought it to the Finger Lakes, where I must say it is doing pretty well. I’m sure it’s tough to market, except to people like me who will buy any wine that they’ve never heard of. I mean, if you thought blaufränkisch was a mouthful, then forget this one. By the way, according to Wikipedia it’s “rkah-tsee-tely”. Whatever you call it, it went great with Sarah’s beer/cheese/ham soup, with which we finally demolished the last of the Easter ham. It’s all about the little victories.

*Science!
Many components of pineapple aroma come from a group of compounds called ethyl esters. Wine grapes generally contain only low levels of esters. So why does the wine smell like pineapple? Ethyl esters are generated during fermentation by yeast. In short, fatty acid chains are combined by yeast enzymes (EHT1 and/or EEB1, ethanol O-acyltransferases) with ethanol and form these fruity-smelling compounds. To me, ethyl hexanoate smells particularly pineapple-y, as does ethyl decanoate, but the latter is slightly more metallic. Generally ethyl esters will take less time to hydrolyze and equilibrate than acetate esters (which we’ve talked about before), which explains why pineapple is still hanging about after a few years in the bottle. (Ref: Saerens et al., “The Saccharomyces cerevisiae EHT1 and EEB1 Genes Encode Novel Enzymes with Medium-chain Fatty Acid Ethyl Ester Synthesis and Hydrolysis Capacity”, J. Biol. Chem, 2006)

The reaction in question.  Stolen from G. Sacks, Cornell Univ., again.

The reaction in question. Stolen from G. Sacks, Cornell Univ., again.


The same reaction, in simpler terms.

The same reaction, in simpler terms.

Published in: on 24 April 2009 at 2:55 am  Comments (1)  
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Lemberger time

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Click to visit Damiani's website

Damiani Wine Cellars Lemberger 2006
Appelation: Finger Lakes
Varietal: Lemberger aka Blaufränkisch
ABV: 12%
Price Point: $16
Notes:
Looks:  garnet in the glass
Nose: not too intense on the nose, light earthy, cranberry, slight bit of oak
Palate:  Decent {astringency} on the palate, but a little high in acidity. Sour cherry shows up, in a sour kind of way. See where I’m going with this one? If you can get over the acidity, there’s some black pepper that sneaks in after a while.

Rating: corkcorkcork not a bad effort from a tough vintage.

I’d recommend it with food, the acidity will cut through just about any rich foods. Give it a little aeration* and the nose will improve a bit. I also appreciate the subtle oak, which shows up to the party but, unlike in some wines, doesn’t make a ruckus and dance on the furniture.


I’ve never been to Damiani Wine Cellars, a small producer on Seneca Lake, but I have had some wines from there and they’re not too bad. That’s why I picked this guy up at the annual massive wine tasting at Triphammer last weekend. (70 or so wines and I had to drive myself, so I filled up a Nesquik bottle with expectorated wine…) It’s also not too bad. I’m looking forward to visiting the tasting room some time to get a full sampling. Damiani is also on twitter! You can follow them at, wait for it… @DamianiWine

There seems to be a bit of confusion in the wine world about how to market this grape of many names. Lemberger reminds people of stinky cheese. Blaufränkisch, the oldest name for the grape (some date it back to Charlemagne), has an umlaut, and if you know anything about heavy metal music, you know that umlauts are scary.  My favorite name is the Slovenian modra frankinja, because it looks like it rhymes with “ninja”. I don’t think it does, though. Anyway, lemberger is another one of those “reds that do well in the Finger Lakes”, so I expect I shall be reviewing more. Plus I like it, and that helps.

Lemberger150px-motorheadfull_730712737

Lemberger, blaufränkisch, or morda frankinja?

*Science!
Wait, are you saying that aerating wine “softens tannins”? NO! Decanting/aerating wine does NOT aid in the polymerization of tannins, at least not significantly on the time scale of 3-4 hours like you may have been told. (Ref: Salas et al., “Reactions of Anthocyanins and Tannins in Model Solutions”, J. Ag and Food Chem., 2003). I know, this is wine canon that I’m talking about here, but listen! The kinetics of tannin co-polymerization, even in the presence of oxygen (mediated by acetaldehyde), are on the order of months to years, and definitely not hours.

I can think of three purposes for decanting wine:

  1. Blowing off hydrogen sulfide (sulfur off-aromas) which can suppress perception of fruit. (Ref: Sweigers et al., “Yeast and bacterial modulation of wine aroma and flavour”, Aus. J. Grape Wine Res., 2008)
  2. Removing sediment from older wines
  3. Aesthetics. Some decanters allow for long reach or just look really nice. There is a lot psychological about drinking wine from a beautiful hand-blown crystal decanter as opposed to a dusty old bottle with the label peeling off.

Please, prove me wrong. Find me some scientific evidence (blinded sensory studies, a chemical mechanism maybe) that explains the “tannin softening” phenomenon associated with decanting. Until then, I have to say it’s BS. Are there benefits to decanting? Sometimes. Just don’t let me catch you saying it softens the tannins. Decanting helps the wine to get rid of off-aromas, so it’s less about allowing the wine to breathe. It’s more like allowing it to burp.

Published in: on 14 April 2009 at 1:15 am  Comments (3)  
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Smoke on the wine

photo-9

A "meh" picture for a "meh" wine.

Americana Vineyards Cabernet Franc (N/V)
Varietal:Cabernet Franc, Baco Noir??
ABV: not labeled, (“table wine”) is it that hard to get your alcohol measured?!
Price Point: $18
Notes:
Looks: reddish-violet, pretty intense
Nose: Smoky*, vanilla oak on the nose. Toasty, chocolatey, I am smelling a lot of oak and not much wine. Kind of smells like a roasted marshmallow. Other than that, not much to offer.
Palate: I get smoky, oaky flavors on the palate, followed by straight up, somewhat harsh acidity and a short, bitter finish. You know, I wouldn’t be surprised (just guessing here) if this were blended with a bit of Baco Noir, a red {hybrid} which to me has an unmistakable smoky aroma, to add some color. Baco is found in a lot of other Americana wines as well…

Rating: 1.5 corks corkhalfcork for a thin, acidic, smoky wine.


Americana Vineyards has its benefits. It’s one of the closest wineries on the Cayuga Wine Trail to Ithaca. Their tasting room is a big barn with a nice bar and ambience and live music on Sunday nights. Also, it’s usually open until 6 so when you get kicked out of your last winery at 5 or 5:30, you can always stop there on the way home. Also, one of their wines, Sweet Rosie, a dessert wine, comes with a piece of fudge. Um, and they have big wine dogs. I think that’s about it for me.

Cabernet franc is one of those varietals that is supposed to do well in the Finger Lakes, so I like to pick one up whenever I visit a winery. Now, 2006 wasn’t the best vintage (I bought this bottle in January or so, so the bottle made with 2007 grapes is probably not out yet) in the Finger Lakes. I’m also not sure that they used all 2006 grapes, since it’s non-vintage, there’s no way to know. This wine, though, is really going out of its way to hide it. Baco for color, oak for “flavor”. Not that I mind oak, but there’s just not too much cabernet franc expression here, or really any expression. And at $18, no way would I get this again.

*Science!

Guaiacol and its derivatives are usually smoky, like bacon, but sometimes not in a good way.

Guaiacol and its derivatives are usually smoky, like bacon, but sometimes not in a good way.

Smoky aromas could have several sources (e.g., the grape varietal), but the most likely culprit is toasted oak. The insides of oak barrels are charred, or “toasted”, before being sold as wine barrels. Winemakers can usually choose light, medium, or heavy toast. Toasting extracts some flavor compounds from the wood, specifically lignin degradation products. Lignin, simply, is a molecule that holds the cellulose fibers in wood together. (For this reason, it’s a real pain in the biofuel industry, but we digress…). Compounds that result from the breakdown of lignin include eugenol (clove aroma), vanillin (vanilla), and guaiacol (smoke). (Ref: Galletti et al., “Chemical composition of wood casks for wine ageing as determined by pyrolysis/gc/ms”, Rapid Communications in Mass Spectrometry, 1995). In this case the smokiness could derive from the oak (guaiacol) or the smoky component in Baco noir which has yet to be elucidated (it could very well be similar to guaiacol.) Guaiacol taint (“smoke taint”) is sometimes found in wines made from berries that are near wildfires (e.g., recently in Australia) and therefore exposed to smoke. The guaiacol in the smoke will accumulate in the waxy outer coating of the berry and make its way into the wine.

Published in: on 2 April 2009 at 3:01 am  Comments (4)  
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