Lemberger time

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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.

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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.

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

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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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Monday matchup: Bold statements

I follow a lot of wine people on Twitter. This post is a response to a tweet from the winemaker at Silver Springs Winery on Seneca Lake. In addition to an eponymous label, Silver Springs also makes Don Giovanni wines, their premium label. The tweet in question was as such:

DonGiovanniWine: my 2005 Bold Merlot in a blind taste test will beat all other merlots …yes I just said that…

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Today's competitors on "Drink the Wine"

I happened to have a bottle of the 2005 Bold Merlot at home, and I was actually planning on writing tasting notes for it soon. When I saw this tweet, I couldn’t resist having the winemaker put his money where his mouth is. For the opponent, I chose another wine that I had around the house, Ty Caton 2006 Upper Bench Merlot, which I purchased from wine.woot about a year ago and have been “cellaring” in the closet.

This test was done as blindly as possible, 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 the bottles are shaped considerably differently.
 
 
Stats:

Wine Don Giovanni Bold Merlot 2005 Ty Caton 2006 Upper Bench Merlot
ABV 13.7% 15.7% (!!!)
Appelation New York State (fruit from Long Island and Finger Lakes) Sonoma Valley, CA
Price Point $27 $37

Here we go:
Wine 1
Looks: dark red, getting to be brick-red.
Nose: Vanilla and oak, not too much fruit. I do get some cherry, and a spicy potpourri aroma. There’s a bit of an herbal tint in there too, with a bit of tobacco/cigar box. It may be running a little {hot}
Palate: Firm but not overpowering {tannin}. Medium-short finish, and I really like the tannin structure. It’s slightly on the acidic side and oaky on the palate. There’s something really nice that comes through on the finish about 10 seconds after swallowing/spitting. It’s subtle and I can’t quite pinpoint it, but it is satisying.
Overall, not too bad. I like its {balance}, but the phenolic (“spicy potpourri”) element is the loudest singer in the bunch, and it’s a little out of tune.
Rating: 3 corks corkcorkcork

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The contestants, as judged. Post-it notes are so I wouldn't get them mixed up while tasting.

Wine 2
Looks: Darker red, with hints of purple.
nose A bit of hydrogen sulfide at first whiff (dissipated after a bit), jammy, grape soda, huckleberry pie, with a little chocolate in there.
palate Sweet, very fruity. Cheek-puckering tannin, almost a smokiness on the back end, a lingering bitterness that’s not really that pleasant. Pretty alcoholic, too, finishing with some black licorice.

This is a big wine, but maybe not in the right ways. At times it reminds me of a fruity-smelling magic marker. You know the ones I mean.
Rating: 2.5 corks corkcorkhalfcork

Results: Don Giovanni was wine 1, and Ty Caton was wine 2. In a way, this probably wasn’t a fair comparison. These wines are completely different styles, and since this wasn’t DOUBLE blind (i.e. I would have no idea which wines I was tasting at all), I had my suspicions about which wine was which right from the get-go. The DG had an aroma that I pick up in many, many FL reds, which I describe as “potpourri” only because I’m not really sure what to call it. My hypothesis is that it comes from extended maceration and/or long extraction periods, which can add a lot of color to a wine from a wet vintage, but also extract some undesirables from the skins. I’ll keep you posted. Meanwhile, the TC can come off like a typical California WAY overripe, jammy, syrupy, alcoholic mess. 15.7% alcohol? It may as well be madeira! This may be a style that some critics really go for, but for me, I prefer the Don Giovanni. That being said, it’s not without its flaws, and I definitely wouldn’t say that it could beat ANY merlot out there.


A note about blind tastings: It’s important to point out that nobody buys wine blind. Nobody goes to the store and says to the clerk, “I’ve got $20, surprise me!” (though I might do that someday, sounds like fun). With so many wines out there (on the order of 10,000 labels authorized for sale in the US in 2007), there’s no way one can try them all and buy based on experience. The more adventurous consumers will reach for varietals and regions they haven’t had before, but it seems that in general, people buy wine based on lots of psychological factors that have little to do with the quality of the wine in question. This could explain why the results of truly blind tastings can often be rather surprising, especially to the tasters. However, human psychology is rather out of my jurisdiction and I’m content to just say that people do weird things sometimes.

I’ve been to Silver Springs a few times and whenever I go, the winemaker, John Zuccarino, is pouring behind the bar. The guy is nothing if not extremely enthusiastic about wine and the wines that he makes. Many times my friends have remarked that it was their favorite stop along the way on Seneca, even if the winemaker’s presence is a bit overwhelming for some. He makes some pretty good reds, and I highly recommend stopping by there if you’re traveling up the east side of Seneca.

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This is only a small portion of the detritus floating in my spit cup after tasting these two wines.

Science!
Hey gang! Here’s an experiment that you can do at home! Make sure you get your parents’ permission, though. In the winespeak dictionary, I explain how it’s thought that the mechanism of astringency is the precipitation of proteins in saliva by tannins. Additionally, perception of astringency correlates well with protein precipitation assays (Ref: Kennedy et al.,, “Analysis of Tannins in Red Wine Using Multiple Methods: Correlation with Perceived Astringency “, AJEV, 2006) Well, if you’ve got a spit bucket, you can observe this phenomenon for yourself!  All that chunky stuff floating around when you spit out a red wine is precipitated protein, mostly PRPs (proline-rich proteins).  It’s thought that PRPs evolved as a defense mechanism against polyphenolic compounds, like tannins (Ref: Baxter et al., “Multiple interactions between polyphenols and a salivary proline-rich protein repeat result in complexation and precipitation.”, Biochemistry, 1997).

Published in: on 30 March 2009 at 3:14 am  Comments (3)  
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Cab Suave

Sheldrake Point Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 (PRE-RELEASE!)
sp_cs
Varietal: Cabernet Sauvignon 96% Cabernet Franc 4%
ABV: 12.5%
RS: 0.3% (Dry)
Price Point $N/A (yet!) will update on release.
Notes:
Looks: Great color. Deep red hinting towards purple.
Nose: Ripe blackberry & raspberry with a bit of an herbal note (mint-ish), and how about this one? pretzels! Like the buttery, toasty outside of a pretzel stick.
Palate: Juicy, lovely {mouthfeel}.  It rolls around on the tongue well. {Tannins} are not so big.  If you really concentrate, though, the {astringency} is detectable but definitely not the biggest player in this wine.  With soft, subtle tannin, it’s up to the acidity to balance this wine, which it does quite nicely.  There is a touch of quinine-like bitterness on the finish, but it doesn’t last that long.
Rating: 3 corks corkcorkcork

If you’re expecting mouth-puckering tannin, this is not the cabernet for you.  However, it is really drinkable.  It goes down smooth, and will do great with food.


I realize I’ve been pretty Sheldrake/Cayuga heavy recently, but this one’s on a time limit. See, being the well-respected *ahem* and important *cough* wine journalist *cough cough* that I am, I have connections *snerk* that allowed me to get a sneak peek at Sheldrake’s estate reds, to be released April 4. Actually, I just joined Sheldrake’s wine club, and I had to buy these like everyone else.  But I do have a VIP card, so there! Anyway, there will be a big foofaraw at the winery next Saturday with chocolate and cheese, etc., so that might be fun to check out.

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β-ionone. It smells unmistakeably like raspberries.

Science!
The molecule of the day is β-ionone. Its descriptors include violet, raspberry, and “woody”. Yes, Beavis and Butt-head, I said “woody”. This molecule has a low detection threshold in wine (90 ppt). To give you some perspective on parts per trillion, a ppt is a nanogram per liter, or 10-9 grams per liter. Basically, if you poured a few drops (~300 mg) of this stuff into an olympic-sized swimming pool (2.5 million litres) full of wine, you’d probably be able to smell raspberries while you swam.

Just imagine it!

Just imagine it!

Molecules like β-ionone are thought to be formed by degradation of carotenoids, e.g., β-carotene. Other norisoprenoids formed in this way include β-damascenone (baked apples) and TDN, the “petrol” aroma descriptor mentioned in my post about riesling ice wines. (Ref: Mendes-Pinto, “Carotenoid breakdown products the—norisoprenoids—in wine aroma”, Archives of Biochemistry and Biophysics, 2009.) Now to find an olympic-sized swimming pool full of wine….

Published in: on 26 March 2009 at 1:56 am  Leave a Comment  
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Rogue’s gallery

JanKris Picaro 2004
Varietal: 50% Zinfandel 25% Merlot 25% Cabernet
ABV: 13.8%
Appelation: Paso Robles, CA
Price point: $8 (bought a 5-pack from wine.woot for $40 plus $5 shipping)

The 5-pack.  image from wine.woot

The 5-pack. image from wine.woot

Notes:
Looks: The label. It is so purple!  And gold!  Plus, it looks like the Girl Scouts logo.  It probably doesn’t go too well with Thin Mints though.  Actually, maybe.  That might be interesting to try.

Copyright infringement?  Encouraging girl scouts to drink wine?

Copyright infringement? Encouraging girl scouts to drink wine?

As for the wine, a tinge of reddish orange is peeking through the normal deep purple of a young wine; it’s starting to show its age, but just slightly*.
Nose: Honestly, at my first sniff i got an interesting aroma: shellfish. like shrimp shells. Further down, i got sawdust, like a freshly cut 2×4. Eventually this led into some dark fruit, blueberryish characteristic cooked fruit zinfandel notes.
Palate: At first sip, I felt this in my cheeks. The {astringency} puckered them right up, an experience that I’ve rarely had in a non-experimental wine before. That being said, it wasn’t altogether unpleasant. I like a wine that firmly announces its presence in one’s mouth, like a medieval herald’s trumpet (you know, with the big banner on it). Dun da da DAH! WINE! It’s a bit woody, maybe owing to time spent in barrels, likely American oak.
It also had a hint of sweetness, which called me back to the fruit*. I wouldn’t be surprised if this has a bit of residual sugar. On the palate I was reminded of a wine I had a little while ago, Viña Borgia (garnacha). It had a tinge of bitterness to go along with the astringency, what one might call “oaky tannin“.
Rating: 2 corks corkcork


This wine was actually free. After purchasing this 5-pack on wine.woot I was asked to “lab rat” the wine. These things happen when you’re a well-respected wine journalist like myself *snort*. In short, I got a free bottle of Picaro in exchange for a timely tasting note (shared above). I’m not sure if my note encouraged anyone, as I really wasn’t too big of a fan. However, I believe that woot sold out of their holdings of the wine, so apparently price was more of a factor than the lab rat tasting notes.

In contrast to the Long Point Zinfandel (grown somewhere in CA), this Zinfandel had a lot of acidity. The high acidity intensified the effect of the astringency, which was probably brought in by the Cabernet Sauvignon portion of this somewhat unusual red blend. All in all, it wasn’t that great. In fact, even for $8, you could probably do much better (think Chile).

Color changes in 1, 5, and 25 year-old wines.  This is the only adequate picture of this phenomenon I could find.  img from G. Sacks, Cornell Univ.

Color changes in 1, 5, and 25 year-old wines. This is the only adequate picture of this phenomenon I could find, since all the wine journals seem to be printed in black and white. img adapted (read: stolen) from G. Sacks, Cornell Univ.

*Science! As red wines age, their color drifts from bluish-purple to brick-red to brown. Color in red wines come from contact of the juice with the grape skins. In the skins live compounds called anthocyanins. These polyphenolic compounds (or if you want to market a bit better, ANTIOXIDANTS) can be found in several different colors depending on the state of the wine (pH, oxidation, etc.) (Ref: Mirabel et al., “Copigmentation in model wine solutions: occurrence and relation to wine aging”, AJEV, 1999) As the wine ages, the reddish types begin to dominate over the purples. The rate at which this occurs can depend on the fermentation and storage conditions.

Once the wine starts turning brown, it’s oxidizing (more on oxidizing in a future post). For more info on color and wine, check out this page. While I kind of disagree with their statements about quality and age, it’s interesting to see a color spectrum for wines.

Published in: on 12 March 2009 at 11:03 am  Leave a Comment  
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