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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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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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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Give me some skin

Channing Daughters Meditazione 2006

Click to go to the Channing Daughters website

Click to go to the Channing Daughters website

Appellation: Long Island
Varieties: Tocai Friulano 36%, Pinot Grigio 25%, Sauvignon Blanc 17%, Chardonnay 10.3%, Muscat Ottonel 9.5%, Viognier 1.2%, Malvasia Bianca 1%. Yeah, a bunch of grapes, so to speak.
ABV: 13%
Price Point: $40
Looks: Bold, deep golden color with a tinge of orange, somewhat like Sauternes.
Nose: Floral, orangey Muscat-like nose, with lemon peel and pineapple, LOTS going on.
Palate: Unlike any white wine I’ve had. There is some {astringency} to it! Unripe honeydew shows up on the perfumey palate, which also reminds me of peach iced tea. Great {mouthfeel}. Full-bodied, complex, and beautifully balanced, this white drinks like a red. It’s really unique.
Rating: corkcorkcorkhalfcork for an interesting aromatic white with panache.

Not everyone will like this wine, at least not at first. The muscat can be a bit overly perfumey for me. I’d also recommend having it at room temperature (cold can increase perception of bitterness and astringency, Ross and Weller, “Effect of serving temperature on the sensory attributes of red and white wines”, Journal of Sensory Studies, 2008, and if you don’t believe that, make some tea and try it hot, then put it in the refrigerator and try it cold). Basically, if you treat it like a red, this wine will do nicely. Its price and overall qualities make this more of a special occasion wine to me, but I believe it can function as more than just a curiosity in a wine sideshow. (Barker: Step right up! See the white wine fermented… on its own skins! Crowd: *gasp* Victorian ladies: *swoon*)

Channing Daughters is based on Long Island and uses grapes from both the North Fork and Hamptons. Perusal of the wine list on the website will quickly let you know that this winery is not about producing ordinary wines. This wine is no exception.

Check out the color!

Check out the color!

Unlike most white wines, which are pressed before fermentation, separating the juice from the skins, this wine is fermented ON the skins*, providing the somewhat rare experience of a white wine with noticeable tannin. I’m sure it also contributes to the fantastic color. (NB: Channing Daughters makes a few other whites with varying degrees of skin contact which I have not tried but would like to.)

For many readers, there are some unfamiliar grape varieties packed into this wine, likely because tocai fruilano and malvasia bianca are typically varietals grown in northern Italy. Lots of peoples’ wine varietal education starts with France: Bordeaux (merlot, cabernet, sauvignon blanc), Burgundy (pinot noir, chardonnay), Alsace (riesling, gewürztraminer, pinot gris). They then move on to California (all of the above, plus zinfandel), then the rest of the New World (Aussie shiraz, Argentine malbec, NZ sauvignon blanc, etc.) and sometimes never really make it to the “Italy” chapter of the book. At least this is the case with me. (NB: I’ve recently decided to add some Italian flair to my cellar, picking up a case including barbera, sangiovese, malvasia bianca, freisa, and others. Working on it…) I suppose one exception to this unfamiliarity is the ubiquity of pinot grigio, which may stem from consumers’ delight in saying “pinot grigio” out loud. Many FL producers will bottle a pinot gris/grigio.
It turns out that lots of great wines come out of Italy, along with lots of different grape varietals. Northeast Italy is a slightly cooler climate. It makes me wonder if there is a reason (beyond name recognition and marketing) that more Italian varietals aren’t grown in quantity in the Finger Lakes. Ventosa Vineyards does produce a tocai fruilano, which I have yet to try. They also have plantings of sangiovese, and of course, pinot grigio.

This wine was fermented on the skins, allowing extraction of phenolic groups (e.g., tannin) that would normally stay behind in a typical white wine fermentation. White wines fermented on skins have been shown to have an antioxidant capacity similar to that of red wine (Ref: Furman et al., “White Wine with Red Wine-like Properties: Increased Extraction of Grape Skin Polyphenols Improves the Antioxidant Capacity of the Derived White Wine”, J. Ag. and Food Chem., 2001). So if you drink wine strictly for health reasons, you’ve got that going for you. Interestingly, while {tannin} extraction is somewhat dependent on the alcohol content of the fermentation, color will start showing up much sooner. This is why rosé wines (reds pressed off of skins, perhaps with brief skin contact) have some color, but not much noticeable astringency. (Cf. Monday’s entry, the Chateau Frank Blanc de Noirs, made from black grapes [pinot noir and pinot meunier], pressed gently such that little to no color escaped from the skins). Finally, (possibly just so this site gets more hits on google) skin contact can even increase levels of the wine media darling resveratrol, a molecule which in itself merits its own discussion at a later time (Ref: Darias-Martín et al., “Effect of skin contact on the antioxidant phenolics in white wine”, Food Chemistry, 2000).

Published in: on 9 April 2009 at 4:24 am  Comments (2)  
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Megapost: “Ices of March” vertical Finger Lakes ice wine tasting at Sheldrake Point

I actually found out about Sheldrake Point’s “Ices of March” event from facebook, which is interesting from a marketing perspective.  Anyway, I thought this was a unique opportunity to taste several ice wines, a specialty of cooler climates like the Finger Lakes, and one benefit to our cold temperatures.  The {vertical tasting} ($20, including a fancyman glass) featured four ice wines, with accompanying blue cheese, walnuts, paté, and orange-flavored cookies.


Left to right: 2007, 2002, 2004 December Harvest, 2004 January Harvest

From youngest to oldest:

Sleek, stylish bottle on the 2007

Sleek, stylish bottle on the 2007

Sheldrake Point 2007 Riesling Ice Wine
Varietal: Riesling
ABV: 12.6%
Residual Sugar: 16.5% (165 g/L)
Appelation: Finger Lakes
Price point: $65 for 375 mL (half-bottle)
The 2007 looks pretty much like any normal riesling would, pale yellow in color, though noticeably thicker in the glass on swirling. It also smells like a Finger Lakes riesling, with characteristic light floral and citrus notes. Also, it’s got a little stonefruit (I wrote “peach”) and pineapple thrown in there. On the palate, lively acidity stands up to the considerable sweetness very well, for a very fresh, zingy feeling. Lemon and lime join the party on the palate, kind of like Sprite. (Interestingly, all of these wines have quite a bit more sugar than Sprite [~110 g/L]). Really great, and not just for dessert. This {well-balanced} wine plays nicely with blue cheese and walnuts, and would likely compliment spicy foods (e.g., Thai or Indian) pretty well.
Rating: 3.5 corks corkcorkcorkhalfcork

Sheldrake Point 2004 December Harvest Riesling Ice Wine
Varietal: Riesling
ABV: 12.8%
Residual Sugar:15.5%
Appelation: Finger Lakes
Price point: $90 for 375 mL
This wine was bit more golden in color. Muted fruit aromas compared to the 2007 give way to more honeyed character in this one. I imagine the honey character also comes psychologically as a result of the increased viscosity of the wine. It’s also got a long finish.
Rating: 2.5 corks corkcorkhalfcork

Sheldrake Point 2004 January Harvest Riesling Ice Wine
Varietal: Riesling (grapes from 2003 season harvested in January 2004)
ABV: 12.2%
Residual Sugar: 19.5%
Appelation: Finger Lakes
Price point: $100 for 375 mL
The apparent crown jewel of the tasting, this wine was served at a Governor’s Ball at the White House in 2006.


Kerosene? In my Riesling? It's more likely than you think.

The label says 2004 but the grapes were from the 2003 vintage and harvested in January 2004, so for all intents and purposes, this is a 2003.  It’s starting to show its age. It’s just beginning to develop the aroma of “petrol” (a nice way of saying “kerosene”).*  This aroma is common in older rieslings and found especially in German rieslings (probably because many German rieslings will not be released for years after bottling, while FL wines usually come out ASAP.)  I have to say that the petrol is not a bad thing in this wine, and in fact it adds an interesting layer of complexity. I also noted some citrus peel in addition to peach aromas.
Rating: 2.5 corks corkcorkhalfcork

Sheldrake Point 2002 Riesling Ice Wine
Varietal: Riesling
ABV: 11.5%
Residual Sugar: 20%
Appelation: Finger Lakes
Price point: $70 for 375 mL
The oldest and darkest of the bunch, with its deep gold color, is on the verge of browning. I noticed two things right away on the nose. First, a whole lot more of the petrol character than the 2003. Secondly, and unfortunately, this wine is a bit {oxidized}. In all fairness, it’s possible that I got a bad bottle. However, I actually got a re-pour (for an errant fuzz in the glass), and the wine remained the same. If the whole lot of wine tastes like this, they really shouldn’t be selling it for $70, or maybe even at all.
Rating: 1 cork cork

Overall, I enjoyed the tasting. The wines were served to small groups (in this case, me and 5 friends) so it was like a private tasting. The host was informative but a bit blabby. At a certain point I just wanted some quiet so I could taste the wine. Others, though, got a lot out of it. I still find ice wine in general a bit pricey for me. And though they went out of their way to pair with some non-dessert foods, I’m not sure I would crack a $65 half bottle to down with dinner. For me, I’ll leave it as an appetizer or dessert, both of which it’s perfectly suited for.

Ice wine is usually made by leaving the grapes on the vine until winter.  When cold temperatures come around (~15-18 F, according to the tasting room manager), the frozen grapes (the ones that haven’t {rotted} or been eaten by deer or just fallen off the vine) are picked and immediately pressed. 128816664704197436Out in the cold, most of the water inside the grapes will freeze, but a more concentrated solution of sugars and acids will not, producing {must} with very high sugar and high acidity.  The resulting juice is fermented (though usually not without difficulty), leaving a wine with a normal amount of alcohol for a wine (~12% abv) and high residual sugar. The labor-intensive process justifies the high price, as it is a pain in the butt to pick in sub-freezing temperatures, crush solid grapes, and ferment juice that is so high in sugar that yeast have a hard time surviving due to osmotic stress (Ref: Erasmus et al., “Genome-wide expression analyses: Metabolic adaptation of Saccharomyces cerevisiae to high sugar stress”, FEMS Yeast Res., 2003.)

Published in: on 16 March 2009 at 3:47 am  Comments (3)  
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