Unfiltered critique

Damiani Wine Cellars Pinot Noir Reserve 2007

Enjoying some Damiani at my desk after going over the final draft of a paper I recently submitted.  Can you see any typos?

Enjoying some Damiani at my desk after going over the final draft of a paper I recently submitted. Can you see any typos?

Appellation: Finger Lakes
Grape: Pinot Noir
ABV: 13%
Price Point: $32
Closure: Natural cork

Technical Notes: from the website, “Our favorite 4 barrels of 2007 Pinot, this unfiltered, unfined wine is sourced all from the Davis vineyard, Dijon clone 115.” Emphasis mine.

Hedonic Notes:

It’s got an intense nose, oak up front, coffee/cocoa, bit of a floral component, a bit {hot}. After a little while of adapting to the aroma, there is some very interesting sort of blueberry fruit, but it flits away quickly. On the palate comes some strawberry/cherry, with tartness reminiscent of cranberry. There is a woodiness that makes me think they may have overdone it with the oak. Acid is the support structure and it is here in spades, but it lacks the body and overall {mouthfeel} to take this wine from good to great for me. Any {astringency} present seems to be oak-driven. Cherry vanilla on the interesting but short finish, and what’s this? Not to go all Gary V. on you, but do you remember Bottle Caps candy? They were like giant Smarties that came in soda flavors. Here I get some of those Cola-flavored bottle caps.


Overall, the wine is pretty good and I can see the potential for it to have been great. It just disappoints in the mid-palate, where I crave some body that I’m afraid can’t be delivered by oak alone.

Rating: corkcorkcorknocorknocork 3 out of 5 corks

A common story among winemakers is that when Robert Parker shows up to tour your winery, you hide the filter. The biggest name in wine has come out strongly against filtered wines, arguing that filtering “strips the character” from wine. It’s a controversial topic in wine (an example of a long debate about filtering and NY wine can be found here). So where is the science behind this debate? After all, you’re entitled to your own opinion, but not your own facts (a quote often attributed to the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynahan).

Filtering is often done to make wine more microbiologically stable. By running wine through a sterile 0.45 micron filter, large things like yeast and bacteria are kept out of the wine finished product. This not only protects against re-fermentation, but also against spoilage, particularly by {Brettanomyces}. Filtration can also speed up the time from fermentation to bottling, by collecting sediment like yeast hulls, skin bits, etc., that would settle out by gravity over longer periods of time. I have been told (though I can’t find a source at the moment) that consumers, especially in whites, prefer clear wines (although they exist, you don’t see too many unfiltered Chardonnays on the market).

But is other, good stuff being stripped out by the filter? It turns out there is very little scientific study about the sensory differences between filtered and unfiltered wines. From a theoretical standpoint, aroma and flavor compounds are far too small to be trapped, even by a sterile 0.45-micron filter. (For comparison with the other day’s post about reverse osmosis, those filters are on the order of 0.005 microns, about 100x smaller pores). So theoretically all the flavor and aroma compounds should flow right through the filter. It’s possible that the idea that color and flavor are stripped out of wine by filtration has to do with the fact that filter pads generally turn purple after filtering red wine. Sure, some of the color can get stuck to the filter pad at first, but the pads quickly become saturated, and the amount left on the filter is insignificant compared to the amount in the wine. Still, some winemakers swear that the wine is “stripped” by filtration. I might buy the argument that micron- and larger-sized particles left over from fermentation might change the mouthfeel of a wine, but I don’t believe, for example, that fruit aroma could disappear. Unfortunately, until we have some sensory data, it’s difficult to gauge the sensory impact of filtration.

Like most things in life, though, there’s no place for absolutes here. Not all unfiltered wines are {Brett} bombs, and not all filtered wines are bereft of flavor and aroma.

Published in: on 24 September 2009 at 4:22 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Frankly, my dear, I give it a “damn good”

Chateau Frank Blanc de Noirs 2002

A cool spring afternoon with some bubbly. Click to visit the Dr. Frank website

A cool spring afternoon with some bubbly. Click to visit the Dr. Frank website

Appelation: Finger Lakes Champagne (now, before you get all grumpy, let me assure you that this sparkling wine is legally allowed to be called “champagne” in the U.S., see this article for more details.)
Varietal: Pinot Noir 95% Pinot Meunier 5%
ABV: 11.1% (marked 12% on the bottle, but this data is from winemaker’s notes on the Dr. Frank website)
RS: 1%
Price Point: $30
Looks: Faint yellow with lots of bubbles
Nose: Subtle fruit around. Later it gets mushroomy, earthy. What I thought of was our middle school pool. Not necessarily the chlorine smell, but the mix of locker room and warm humidity. Don’t misinterpret that, it’s a good thing, because swimming for gym class was the best gym class.
Palate: Wow. Rich {mouthfeel}, very full-bodied. A little bit of yeasty, bready aroma sneaking in on the palate. Acidity balances this wine nicely, and the touch of residual sugar smooths everything out. Very balanced, full-bodied, and complex. I really, really like this wine.
Rating: 4 corks corkcorkcorkcork

Lots of bottles.  The crude cell phone pic does not begin to capture the number of bottles.  Click to enlarge

Lots of bottles. The crude cell phone pic does not really capture the sheer number of bottles. Click to enlarge

Keuka Lake makes its debut on Ithacork and comes out swinging! Dr. Konstantin Frank Vinifera Wine Cellars has become one of the most well-known wine producers in the Finger Lakes. This is likely due in part to the fact that they were the first to successfully make wine with {vinifera} grapes in the region. Also, they are darn good at it. In fact, when I arrived in Ithaca, one of the first names I heard in reference to wine in the Finger Lakes was Dr. Frank. I had the opportunity to tour the winery as part of a winemaking class at Cornell. On the tour, we were afforded a rare opportunity to see the cellars of Chateau Frank, the sparkling wine production house. A lovely elderly (but quite spry) woman, the wife of the late Willy Frank (Dr. Konstantin’s son) gave us the cellar tour and we were able to see bottles and bottles and bottles of sparkling wine at various stages of the famous Champagne process. You can read about it in the wikipedia link, but briefly, base wine is bottled with a dose of sugar and yeast and a secondary fermentation occurs in the bottle. The bottles are left on the yeast for a long time, usually on the order of years before the yeast is disgorged and the champagne is bottled. It was awesome. If you like this wine, or you like your bubbly a little sweeter, may I suggest the Célèbre crémant, made with riesling grapes! It is also fantastic.

This wine is a great example of sparkling wine in the Finger Lakes. To make sparkling wine, winemakers usually start with base wines that are high in acid and relatively low in sugar, something that cool climates can produce without even trying. Even though sparkling wine is labor- and equipment-intensive, many of the sparkling wines I have had from the Finger Lakes (Lamoreaux Landing is another good bet) have been excellent. I think that sparkling wine has the potential to be huge in this region. One last note: to many people, sparkling wine is something only drunk on special occasions, celebrations, or hungover mornings with orange juice. I had this wine with a sub from Wegman’s, and I’ve previously been known to pair sparkling wine with Southern fried chicken. There is lots of great sparkling wine out there, and sometimes opening a bottle is cause enough to celebrate!

Some of the rich mouthfeel that shows up in sparkling wines can be attributed to extended contact (aka tirage) with yeast lees (i.e., yeast cells). Over time, yeast cells will die and undergo cell lysis, or autolysis. Products of yeast autolysis include mannoproteins, which have been shown to increase perceived body and mouthfeel in wines (Ref: Alexandre and Guilloux-Benatier, “Yeast autolysis in sparkling wine – a review”, Australian Journal of Grape and Wine Research, 2006). Basically, long periods of aging (in this case several years) will cause the dead yeast cells to break up, releasing nucleotides, enzymes, cell wall bits, and other insides into the wine. How long to age the wine on the lees and when to bottle is a winemaking decision, and according to winemaker Paul Brock (Lamoreaux), sparkling wine that is on the shelf is generally ready to drink, as all the aging has been done in the cellar.