The soul of Witte

Brewery Ommegang Witte

ommegang witte

Style: Belgian-style Wheat Ale with Traditional Spices
Color (light, amber, or dark): Light
ABV: 5.1%
Price Point: $7.50/750 mL bottle
Closure: Cork with cage. The yeast sediment in the bottom is a clue that this bottle’s carbonation comes from a fermentation in the bottle, thus the need for the extra pressure protection of the champagne-style cork and cage.

Technical notes: From the website: “Witte is brewed with malted and unmalted wheat, barley malt, a light hops addition and spiced with sweet orange peel and coriander. Though adding a slice of citrus fruit is common while enjoying a wheat or Wiess [sic] beer, we feel that Witte’s gentle spicing and slight tartness renders the fruit superfluous.”

Hedonic notes: Pours with a lot of long-lasting foam. (Some people think that the foaminess of a beer is indicative of its quality. I’m not so sure, but that’s fodder for another post.) Smells of a little orange at first, giving way to some spicy, phenolic, medicinal tones and finally some plain old grain/malt. On the palate, tart, with lemon peel and tongue-numbing clove*. Very refreshing and light. After a long while, some curry appears on the finish. Likely a great summer beer (whoops, it’s definitely fall. Maybe this should have been on sale!) I agree with the brewery’s assessment that a slice of orange or lemon would be a bit much.

Rating: corkcorkhalfcorknocorknocork 2.5 out of 5 corks . It’s OK.

Ithacork breaks into the world of beer (finally!). I don’t know how it took this long! The Ommegang Brewery in Cooperstown makes some quality Belgian-style beers. I’m not sure of their nationwide distribution, but around here, beers like Hennepin, Rare Vos, and Three Philosophers are ubiquitous. Cooperstown is a little over 2 hours east-northeast of Ithaca (and on the way to Boston). Maybe I will stop by the brewery on my next trip with Sarah out to Plymouth.

One way that beer brewing is different from winemaking is that brewers have a seeming ability to throw all kinds of fruit, spices, or other stuff (coffee, pumpkin, jalapeño, etc.) into their product and still have it be called beer. However, spice aromas and flavors in beer don’t always come from the spice rack, the mysterious East, or the sandworms from Dune. In the case of most Belgian brews, the yeast can add a spicy character as well. The molecule I’m talking about here is 4-vinylguaiacol (4-VG). It’s one aroma component of cloves, (the major one is eugenol, found as a lignin degradation product in oaked wines, but not common in beer) and if you are old, you may have smelled it at the dentist’s office (clove oil has a slight analgesic effect, so it’s used as a numbing agent).


4-vinylguaiacol. Descriptors: clove-like, smoky, curry

Brewers are generally very protective of their yeast strains, and many breweries propagate their yeasts from previous batches. In this case, only certain strains of yeast (called Pof+, or “phenolic off-flavor” positive) have the ability (activity of the enzyme Pad1) to synthesize 4-VG and its counterpart 4-vinylphenol (medicinal/Band-aid) from hydroxycinnamic acid precursors. 4-VP and 4-VG are also the aroma precursors of {Brettanomyces} aroma compounds 4-ethylphenol and 4-ethylguaiacol in wines. (Van Beneden et al., “Formation of 4-vinyl and 4-ethyl derivatives from hydroxycinnamic acids: Occurrence of volatile phenolic flavour compounds in beer and distribution of Pad1-activity among brewing yeasts”, Food Chemistry, 2007).

Basically, Belgian witbiers and German hefeweizens have this clove aroma because of the strains of yeast that are traditionally used to ferment them. PS: The difference between a witbier and a weizen? Witbiers are often made with unmalted wheat, while weizens are made with malted wheat.

Published in: on 4 November 2009 at 5:07 am  Comments (1)  
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Far above Cayuga wine

Lucas Vineyards Cayuga White 2008


Appellation: Finger Lakes
Grape: Cayuga White
ABV: 11%
RS: 2.4% (wow, it’s been a while since I reviewed a non-dry wine, eh?)
Price Point: $9
Closure: Extruded synthetic (boo! If you’re going synthetic, then I much prefer molded to extruded, aesthetically speaking)

Technical Notes: Machine-harvested, crushed and destemmed. 19 {Brix} and {chaptalized} to 20, and fermented dry. Total acidity 10.1 g/L, pH 3.0. Filtered and cold-stabilized. Back-sweetened before bottling. (Thanks to winemaker Jeff Houck for the info. Follow him on twitter @LucasWineTalk)

Hedonic Notes: A tutti-frutti nose comes up, with grapefruit, apple, and canteloupe. On the palate, electric acidity is balanced by considerable residual sugar (aside: I always write tasting notes before I receive the technical info), with a loooong finish of mashed banana and a slight metallic note that may just be the tingling of the acidity on my tounge. Like licking the lid of a jar of baby food, or maybe a battery. A hint, just a hint, of labrusca creeps in on the finish, but it’s certainly not a dominant characteristic.

Rating: corkcorkcorknocorknocork 3 out of 5 corks for a pretty good easy drinker.

Science! Grape Profile: Cayuga White

Listen up. Cayuga White is THE MOST IMPORTANT HYBRID in the Finger Lakes.
Cayuga White was released by Cornell in 1972 and has been the most successful hybrid wine grape Cornell has released (The others are Noiret, Corot Noir, Valvin Muscat, Melody, Horizon, Chardonel, GR7 (Geneva Red 7), and Traminette, along with a host of table grapes.) It is a cross between Seyval blanc (a French-American hybrid) and Schuyler (Zinfandel x Ontario). Many wineries sell it as a varietal wine, and it performs pretty well around here. It ripens reliably and provides interesting, fruity aromas with very little labrusca foxy aroma. You’ll find it all over the Finger Lakes, on its own and blended with other aromatic whites like Riesling, and in dry or semi-dry styles. Sometimes “cotton candy” is used as an aroma descriptor. Anecdotally, Cayuga White’s labrusca overtones increase with increasing ripeness. Perhaps the enzyme that synthesizes the foxy aroma compound methyl anthranilate increases with ripening time. That enzyme only been recently discovered, and looking at the expression vs. time data (Wang and DeLuca, “The biosynthesis and regulation of biosynthesis of Concord grape fruit esters, including ‘foxy’ methylanthranilate”, The Plant Journal, 2005, linked above), it seems that expression of this enzyme increases with ripening as well, so that makes sense.

Published in: on 29 October 2009 at 6:54 pm  Comments (3)  
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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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Megapost: Wine Blogging Wednesday #56: “Fine” Kosher Wines

I am new to the internet wine community, but if you start searching out wine blogs, something that comes up consistently is “Wine Blogging Wednesday.” The phenomenon was dreamed up by the king of New York State wine bloggers, Lenn Thompson of LENNDEVOURS and the monthly endeavor is now managed by Lenn and many other prominent online wine personalities. The idea is a monthly wine tasting revolving around a loose theme. Drink the wine, then blog about it. Previous themes have included Piedmont, Maderized wines, and Wine for Breakfast. This month, in honor of Passover, the theme is “Fine Kosher Wines”.

Though I’ve never sought them out, I’m sure that there are probably lots of great kosher wines out there, mevushal or not (more on that later). Israel is becoming a name of note in the wine world, especially the Golan Heights. I reckon that this theme was brought about to eradicate a sort of stigma that has developed about kosher wines. To be specific, it’s commonly thought that they are disgusting, sickly sweet, and only to be drunk once a year, 4 cups at a time, during the Passover seder, and that gentiles (like yours truly) should avoid them altogether. So I expect that many bloggers will be picking up selections from newer high-quality producers such as Covenant, Noah, and to a lesser extent, Baron Herzog.

Me, pleading with Laube, Jancis, and Parker to have mercy on bad kosher wines

Me, pleading with Laube, Jancis, and Parker to have mercy on bad kosher wines

But hey, everybody deserves a second chance, right? I mean, when’s the last time you actually had Manischewitz? The rest of the wine blogosphere will enjoy some high-end kosher wines that might rate 90+ from wine critics. I, like Abraham, will beg the wine gods to recant their punishment on the Sodom and Gomorrah of kosher wines. We’ll see if any righteous wines are found amongst the wickedness. Four righteous people were found in Sodom, so here are four classic wines, pretty much the only kosher wines to be found at Collegetown Liquors. Hey, times are tough, okay?

Manischewitz Concord Grape
Appelation: American (these grapes could be from anywhere in the USA, but chances are the Concords are from New York)
Varietal: from the bottle: “Not less than 51% Concord”
ABV: 11%
RS: “Specially sweetened”
Price Point: $6

The kosher bunch

The kosher bunch

Looks: uniform red with hints of purple, pretty translucent
Nose: The most apparent aroma is the characteristic aroma of native American grapes, e.g., Concord. Some would call this “foxy”. Never having smelled a fox personally, I’d say it smells like Welch’s grape juice. Next it made me think of Push pops. Remember them? A solid purple cylinder of grapey flavor that you could put a cap on and save for later.
Palate: Straightforward, decent bodied mouthfeel. A slight amount of bitterness on the finish. Very, very sweet in the mouth, with little acidity or alcohol to back it up. It drinks like soda, and it probably has more sugar than soda. That being said, people like to drink soda. I can see people actually liking this.

The mother of all kosher wines is Manischewitz. With its Concord pedigree and extreme sweetness, not many in the mood for wine should pick this one. However, just because it’s not a great wine doesn’t mean it’s a bad beverage. It goes down smooth and tastes like grape syrup. Ugh, now the outside of my glass is all sticky.

Rating: 2 corks corkcork

Herzog Selection Chardonnay 2006 (Mevushal)
Appelation: Vin de Pays de Jardin de la France (Jardin de la France is the now discontinued name for grapes from the all over the Loire valley)
Varietal: Chardonnay
ABV: 13%
Price Point: $10
Looks: light gold, darker than I expected
Nose: As soon as I smelled this wine, I wanted to smell it again. If you know me and my love of smells, you may know that this is not necessarily a compliment. It’s not in this case. It smells like a mix of straw and rotten banana peel. There are some cereal notes mixed in there. It reminds me of a barnyard, but not in a {brettanomyces} kind of way. I don’t know what to say.
Palate: Wow. I have never tasted a wine like this. The more I taste it (and spit it) the more it reminds me of beer. Ever taken a brewery tour? Think of the smell of the brewery, then think of licking the floor next to a wort tank. Also, pretty acidic. After a bit in the mouth it does start tasting like chardonnay, but it’s too little, too late. Medium length of finish, but I kind of want it to go away. A nice way to describe this wine would be “rustic.” A better way would be “awful.”

Normally, to remain kosher, kosher wines must be handled by Sabbath-observant Jews (a full list of things that render wine kosher can be found here.) However, if wine is heated, the holy beverage is considered changed from sacramental wine and therefore is still kosher even if handled by a non-Jew. Today, mevushal is the process of flash-pasteurizing wine to render it kosher. My first guess is that this heating process has affected the aromas and flavors in this wine. Oh and PS, plastic cork?

Rating: half a cork halfcork for providing a unique experience, but not one I’m keen to repeat.

Baron Herzog White Zinfandel 2007 (Mevushal)
(Oy, vey! First Manischewitz and now a white zinfandel? I’ll probably get LOLed off the internets!)
Appelation: California
Varietal: Zinfandel ({rosé} style)
ABV: 11%
Price Point: $9
Looks: Interesting color: between rosy pink and copper.
Nose: Here, I don’t get much of anything on the nose at first, a welcome surprise given the last two wines. Some generic, wine-like aromas, light floral and and apricot, but nothing too earth-shattering.
Palate: Fresh acidity, not too much sweetness. Strawberry. Not too complex, but hey, for $9 it’s not bad. Dry for the most part. I’m not sure I could pick this out as mevushal compared with similarly priced white zinfandels.
Rating: 2.5 corks corkcorkcork for a light, refreshing offering.

And now, the wild card. Originally produced by the Mogen David (shield of David aka Star of David) winery in New York state, this sweet fortified wine quickly became the darling of college students and down-on-their-luck city dwellers. Technically, it’s not kosher, but let’s give it a shot.

A challenger appears...

A challenger appears...

MD 20/20 Red Grape Wine
Appelation: none, in fact there is practically nothing but the name, government warning, alcohol %age, and “Serve cold” on the label.
Varietal: none listed
ABV: 13%
Price Point: $5 (probably collegetown price gouging)
Looks: Translucent dark red, very similar to Manischewitz
Nose: Well, it’s not on the label, but concord has got to be in here too. Solventy, somewhat medicinal I don’t get alcohol on the nose, per se, but I’m reminded of port. Not {oxidative} character, but the brandy that’s added.
Palate: Sweet, but not quite as obnoxious about it as Manischewitz. The balancing factor for the sweetness here is not acidity but alcohol. I can only imagine what the original 18% is like. Bit of bitteress and alcohol burn on the finish. Again, they’re not going for complexity here. They’re looking for that abstract quality known to Bud Light consumers as “drinkability”. And hey, if you like concord grapes/wines, this stuff is not complete rotgut. This wine used to be fortified to 18%, and you can still find it at that high level in some places. Again, not a good wine, but not the world’s worst beverage. I can see lots of potential for getting creative with this and/or Manischewitz in the sangria area.

Rating: 1.5 corks corkcork for a cheap buzz.

Overall my kosher wine experience was surprising.  The cheapos fared pretty nicely, though admittedly I had low expectations.  From the more expensive bottles, a decent one and a terrible one.  Again, maybe that was a bad bottle, but I have tasted and observed many different wine faults in classes and real life, and I don’t think that aroma would vary bottle to bottle.  I guess the lesson here is not to give in to wine snobbery.   If people tell you a particular wine is no good, you don’t have to believe them!  And hey, if you buy some Manischewitz and you don’t like it, you’re only out $6, and you can make jelly out of it.  To kosher wines, L’chaim! As for the Sodom and Gomorrah analogy, I’d say that while one of these deserves smiting, it’s not worth pouring fire and brimstone over an entire category of wines.


Foxy wine, I'm cominna GITCHA!

Foxy wine, I'm cominna GITCHA!

The “foxy” aroma I referred to, characteristic of concord, Niagara, and other labrusca-type ad {hybrid} varietals, is the smell of methyl anthranilate. {Vinifera} grapes generally lack the enzyme alcohol acyltransferase, which synthesizes this molecule. It is thought to attract animals to eat berries and (some time later) spread the seeds around. Why is it called foxy? This is the subject of much debate, covered in detail in “A History of Wine in America”, which you can peruse here.

Ref: Wang and De Luca, “The biosynthesis and regulation of biosynthesis of Concord grape fruit esters, including ‘foxy’ methylanthranilate”, The Plant Journal, 2005.

Published in: on 15 April 2009 at 5:16 pm  Comments (9)  
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