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

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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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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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