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.

Wine Blogging Wednesday 61: At the source: Fulkerson Winery

This month’s Wine Blogging Wednesday theme, “At the source” is a bit lost on those of us lucky enough to live in a world-class wine region and visit wineries regularly, but here we go anyway. The task here is to visit and taste at a local winery. Well, don’t mind if i do!

A painted barrel in the Fulkerson tasting room, from the winery website

A painted barrel in the Fulkerson tasting room

On Labor Day weekend I took a full day off from lab (I actually do try to go in every day, Dr. Matt) and Sarah and I went down to Watkins Glen. The deal was that we would do Sarah-type outdoors things and then we’d do Tom-type wine things. We hiked through the Rim and Gorge trails at Watkins Glen State Park, then headed up the west side of Seneca Lake at about 4:00. Living in Ithaca, I usually only get a chance to visit Cayuga and East Seneca wineries (barring a special trip), so this was going to be a treat for me. Our goal was to get up to the hallowed Hermann J. Wiemer winery for some riesling flights, but there was a wedding there so they had closed early (Congratulations, Jeff and Melissa!).

As we headed back down to Watkins, we stopped at the much-lauded Shaw Vineyard, a tasting which I will review later, but our final stop of the day was Fulkerson Winery.

Fulkerson Winery is part of a farm that’s been family-operated for 6 generations, and at the winery you can buy a range of produce. In addition, Fulkerson has one of the biggest home-winemaking grape juice operations in the Finger Lakes. There is a ton of winemaking equipment and supplies (including bentonite and Zork closures, among many other things), and their website even has links to their home winemaking instructional videos. But enough about the place, how is the wine?

For a few bucks, we were able to select 5 wines, so Sarah and I shared. Some quick, unofficial highlights (feel free to skip):

  • We started with the 2006 Lemberger, which some would consider the “Great Red Hope” of the Finger Lakes. Nice acidity, some interesting cherry, maybe a bit of VA on the bottle I had. Bought 2 bottles.
  • My note on the 2007 Dornfelder was “interesting, buy and drink again”. It’s a light, fruity, low tannin grape, and the only other place I’ve heard of it grown in NY is at Channing Daughters in Long Island. Bought 1.
  • The 2007 Burntray I also liked. It’s a 50/50 blend of Cabernet Franc and a recently-released Cornell grape called Noiret. Noiret is known for its distinct black pepper aroma and in this case it complements the CF quite well. Bought 1.
  • The next one was one I have been looking forward to trying. The 2007 Vincent is a varietal wine from the Vincent grape, a hybrid originating in Ontario and released in 1967. It’s generally used for color and found in many blends in the Finger Lakes, but this is the only one I’ve seen so far that’s mostly Vincent. I didn’t find much going on in the glass, except for a slight bit of sulfur, so I thought that I should give this one another shot. Bought 1.
  • The 2007 Cabernet Franc is actually blended with 20% Lemberger, a combination that seems unique to the Finger Lakes. It tasted slightly sweet, with a nice oak component. Bought 1.
  • The 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon seemed a bit thin and overoaked (smoky).
  • On the white side, the 2007 Traminette (another Cornell grape, with Gewürztraminer parentage). Normally with Traminettes I get a lot of old lady perfume. That is, a huge bouquet of flowers shoved right up my nose. In this case, the flowers are more subdued and the hint of sweetness balances them out well. Bought 1.
  • The 2007 Riesling is made in a dry style but wasn’t terribly distinctive for me. Well-balanced, just not much to write about.
  • The 2007 Ravat 51 (aka Vignoles) was very nice. Vignoles is generally made in a late-harvest, high-sugar style and this one clocks in around 6.3% RS (that’s 63 g/L). Kiwi was te first thing that came to mind, with some subdued tropical fruit and citrus flavors (think starfruit, which doesn’t really taste like anything in particular, but is somewhat citrusy).
  • Vidal Iced Wine demonstrated some apricot with an interesting richness and smokiness. “Iced” wine is generally made from late harvest grapes brought in and frozen, then pressed. This is distinct from “Ice wine” in which case grapes must be picked frozen on the vine. Nonetheless, bought 1.
  • Finally, the Cabernet Franc Ice wine was a little bit soapy?

Overall I appreciated the variety. We only tasted a fraction of the wines available, including their huge seller Airship white (made with Niagara) and a wine made with a local table grape called Himrod. Fulkerson has actually created a huge jump in price for Himrod in the area because of its demand for this grape. Our tasting room staffer was very knowledgeable and friendly, giving lots of information about a wide variety of grapes. For me, tasting room staff can make or break the experience, and our staffer did very well, especially considering it was near closing time. The tasting room’s high ceilings and new atmosphere (recently built in 2004) make it a very pleasurable experience. I highly recommend stopping by if you’re on the west side of Seneca. Look for more detailed (and controlled) reviews of these wines on this site in the coming weeks.

Thanks to Lenn (aka my new boss) for hosting WBW this month. Check out the New York Cork Report in a few days for a wrapup of other wine bloggers’ tasting room experiences.


Science!
I buy a lot of my wine from tasting rooms. Again, I have that luxury because I live within a little over an hour of most of the wineries in the Finger Lakes. The tasting room influences my choices greatly, since I can taste a wine right there and decide whether or not I like it, then buy accordingly. Sometimes, I find, though, that something that tasted great in the tasting room is pretty meh when I get home and taste it in a more controlled environment. Wine tasting is very psychological and I suspect that that environment has an effect on your perception of the wine you taste.

A bunch of respectable wine bloggers and some dude in a Cornell jersey listen to winemaker Roman Roth in the palatial tasting room at Wölffer Estates, in the Hamptons, Long Island (photo credit: Lenn Thompson)

A bunch of respectable wine bloggers and some dude in a Cornell jersey in the palatial private tasting room at Wölffer Estates, in the Hamptons, Long Island (photo credit: Lenn Thompson)

While I couldn’t find any studies to this effect, a recent paper does show that a person’s expectations about a wine can influence his or her perception of the wine (Siegrist and Cousin, “Expectations influence sensory experience in a wine tasting”, Appetite, 2009). In this study, researchers served participants a glass of wine. In some cases they said “Parker gave this wine 92 points” and in some, “Parker gave this wine 72 points”. Some had no information at all. Those with positive information beforehand gave the wine a higher score than the ones who received negative information beforehand. So if your tasting room attendant is telling you about the double gold medal this wine received or the good rating it got from Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast, or even Wine and Spirits, there’s a chance that that will influence how you perceive the wine.

Allow me to give some more evidence to support the “wine tastes different in the tasting room” theory:

  1. The tasting room is aesthetically pleasing. It is nicely decorated, and you’re surrounded by, say, old wine barrels. You pet the winery dog. You’ve got a lovely view of the vineyards outside and it’s a gorgeous day (or a crappy day!)
  2. The tasting room is fraught with distractions, from the treat-begging wine dog to the bachelorette party that just rolled up, to the weird guy next to you who keeps asking questions about the wine and spitting into the dump bucket (not that I know anyone like that…)
  3. The actual environmental conditions (temperature and humidity for example) are likely different from your home.
  4. Arthur from the winesooth.com suggests that over the course of the day, tasting room bottles are poured from (tipped over) many times, resulting in lots of aeration of the wine. I’ll buy that.
  5. Along the same lines, tasting room bottles may have been open for more than a day, especially those “reserve” flights that you may have to pay extra for.
  6. The glasses you use in the tasting room are different from the glasses you use at home. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to say that the shape of a glass can bring out certain aromas or flavors (I have whole other rant about that issue!). The size and shape of a glass does, however, influence the intensity of aromas, and tasting room glasses tend to be stout and durable, rather than bulky with huge headspace.
  7. Bottle variation can be huge. I’ve talked with some tasting room managers, who pour bottle after bottle of the same wines every day, and they have said that the variation between bottles can be tremendous. This is not only a function of the amount of cork taint present in the bottle but likely a symptom of storage conditions and the variation in closure integrity.
  8. The amount that you sample in the tasting room is very small. Come on, a 1 oz. pour? When I review a wine for this site, I generally enjoy the bottle over the course of an evening and comment about things that show up as conditions change. With this small pour, you’re probably spending a minute, 2 tops. Sometimes your pourer is rushing you along as well.
  9. Usually, when you visit a tasting room, it’s in the context of several other tasting room visits. And if you’re like 99.9% of wine tasting room customers, you’re not spitting. Suffice it to say that your physical and mental state may be altered during your tasting room experience.

I’d like to see some studies done about this, but I have no idea who would fund such a thing. Plus, hey, it might take a little bit of the fun out of the tasting room experience if you’re cynical about it from the get-go. There’s nothing wrong with wine tasting different in the tasting room. For me, it’s the best place to talk to someone who understands something about the wine they are serving (I really love talking to the winemakers themselves so I can ask the really technical questions, but that’s not possible in all circumstances). At the end of the day, wine tastes better when you’re having fun, so why not visit your local winery tasting room with some friends?

Wine Blogging Wednesday 59: Osake desu!

Konnichi-wa, readers. Let’s take a break from the strawberry story for another edition of Wine Blogging Wednesday, this time a staggering 8 days late. Having taken five weeks of Japanese classes back in 1999, I was excited about this month’s WBW. Richard, Boston’s Passionate Foodie and unrepentant sake enthusiast, chose the theme of homage to Kushi no Kami (the god of sake. By the way, kami in Japanese relates to gods or divinity, as in kamikaze: “divine wind”). So I chose two different styles of sake to compare, having only a small amount of experience with the drink. I picked them up at the local liquor store (the one closest to Cornell), and taking a look at the shelf, I get the feeling that these sakes are pretty high production, Gekkeikan being the Godzilla of American sake distribution.

Please observe the members of this <em>kikishu</em> or sake tasting.

Please observe the members of this kikishu or sake tasting.

Before we start, some sake vocabulary:
Junmai: Some sakes have alcohol added near the end of fermentation. Only rice, yeast, koji (more on that later), and water are allowed in sake that is classified as junmai. Junmai is like the Rheinheitsgebot of Japan.
Honjozo/Ginjo/Daiginjo: these have to do with the amount of milling the rice goes through before fermentation. You can think of rice as a hard protein/gluten shell with a starchy center. The more milling, the more starch is available for fermentation, and (according to many) the higher quality the sake. In order, the rice grains of the aforementioned are milled to 70%, 60%, and 50% of their original size.
Genshu: Cask-strength sake. Sake finishes fermentation around 18-20% alcohol. Most is diluted with water, but genshu is the real stuff, straight out of fermentation.
Nigori: unfiltered sake. I guess unfiltered is misleading, since there aren’t actual chunks of rice in the drink, but only coarse filtration is applied after fermentation, resulting in a milky, cloudy beverage with lots of sediment floating around.
SMV: Sake Meter Value. Ranging from -15 (really sweet) to +15 (dryyyy), this indicator appears on most bottles.

For more sake terms, and there are many more, you can refer to this website, the sake glossary.

(NB: I follow the New York Times style for grape varieties [i.e., riesling is not capitalized], so I will go with the NYT here and not put an accent on the word “sake”. Japanese is a context-centered language, so use your context clues.)

Horin Gekkeikan Sake (Ultra premium) Junmai Daiginjo

The first contender

The first contender

ABV: 15.5%
SMV: +2 (on the dry side)
Milling: 50%
Price Point: $13, 300 mL bottle
Looks: Pours clear with an ever so slight yellow tinge
Nose: black licorice and melon. I get the alcohol after a while. Bit of a brewery smell coming on.
Palate: Alcohol pronounced but nice, not a very complex matrix. Somewhat creamy mouthfeel, yeasty/bready, very clean and crisp. I’d like some more acidity, personally.

I have had many sakes that smell like melon. I mean the unripest part of a honeydew. I wonder what’s up with that. Studies suggest that phenylethanol shows up in both melons and sake, but to me, phenylethanol smells like rose/honey (most like Dundee’s Honey Brown beer, actually, if you’ve had it). (Hayata et al., Analysis of Aromatic Volatile Compounds in ‘Miyabi’ Melon (Cucumis melo L.) using the Porapak Q Column., J. Japan. Soc. Hort. Sci., 2002) I suspect there is not as much research on sake aroma compounds as wine aroma compounds. Perhaps we’ll tackle this in a later entry. After a few days in an open bottle (I actually tasted these last Thursday and am just now revisiting them…) the licorice is overwhelming.

Momokawa Pearl Junmai Ginjo Nigori Genshu Sake

Pearl, one of a series of sakes who share names with Pokémon games (Silver, Ruby, Diamond, Pearl)

Pearl, one of a series of sakes who share names with Pokémon games (Silver, Ruby, Diamond, Pearl)

ABV: 18.5%
SMV: -12 (pretty sweet)
Milling: 60%
Price Point: $14, 750 mL
Looks: cloudy white and opaque with slight yellow, like buttermilk
Nose: big, banana, coconut, piña colada
Palate: love the texture that the sediment gives, long finish

I had a small sake tasting with friends a few months ago and the nigori was definitely my favorite. The same applies here. I am a very big fan of this beverage. A++ would buy again!! If you buy nigori, make sure to shake it before you pour, as the sediment will separate in the bottle.

Overall, most of the sake you’ll find in the liquor store will be cheap (I don’t think I’ve seen anything over $25), light, and very flavorful. I’m just getting into it, but I really do like it, especially nigori-style. Perhaps next time I will ask for a sake flight with some raw fish at Ithaca’s local sushi haunt, called, aptly, Sushi Osake.

Science!

Koji mold growing on steamed rice.  Image from Sakayanyc.com

Koji mold growing on steamed rice. Image from Sakayanyc.com

Sake seems as diverse a field as wine, so it’s tough to sum up sake in one Science! segment. As a biology guy, the most interesting part of sake-making for me is the addition of koji to the rice. Koji is better known to the scientific world as Aspergillus oryzae. It is a mold added to rice before fermentation to break down the starch into fermentable sugars for yeast. Just as beer brewing requires barley to be malted (where enzymes in the barley [amylases] break down the starch in the grain), sake brewing requires koji. It’s possible that koji also contains enzymes that contribute to the final flavor and aroma of the finished fermented product. For example, glutaminase converts glutamine to glutamate, the primary component of umami taste (Kitamoto, , “The Molecular Biology of Koji Molds”, in Advances in Applied Microbiology,Vol. 51, ed. Laskin et al., Academic Press, 1997) Interestingly, koji is also used to ferment soy sauce and miso.

Published in: on 16 July 2009 at 3:40 am  Comments (3)  
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Wine Blogging Wednesday 58: Pairing wine with music

I know, it’s Sunday and this is an entry for Wine Blogging Wednesday. I obviously do not get the point of this exercise. Anyway, this wine blogging wednesday I decided to go along with the theme, hosted by Katie of Gonzo Gastronomy.

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Thin-sliced ribeye, steamed broccoli raab, homemade cheese sauce, all on a toasted roll. Awesome sandwich, Sarah.

The theme resonates a bit with some things that I’ve been saying before on the blog. Mostly, I believe that your wine experience is largely influenced by your environment and psychology at the time. I put iTunes on random, tucked into a delicious homemade cheesesteak with broccoli raab made by Sarah (see picture), and popped a wine unlike any I’d had in quite a while. This should give you an idea of how I normally taste a wine. I like to go through the bottle, at least two glasses, taking time to observe nuances that may show up over time. I usually devote a whole evening to tasting a wine. Please, don’t judge my playlist.

Mollydooker “The Scooter” Merlot 2007
Appelation: South Australia
ABV: 16.0% (WHAT?!)
Price Point: $22
Notes:
Red Hot Chili Peppers: Warlocks This wine is big. Flea’s funky bass slaps along as I pick up some massively dark, black fruit on the nose, with vanilla and lots of heat.

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The Scooter

Meat Loaf: Out of the Frying Pan (and Into the Fire): Taking a taste, it’s bitter and sweet. I wouldn’t be surprised if there is a good bit of residual sugar in this wine. I find this wine overwhelming and Wagnerian, much like the epic nature of pretty much every Meat Loaf song.

Grand Dérangement: Dieux de l’Univers: An Acadian group that sings in French. Made me think of Rémy Charest. I wonder if he did WBW this time. It also made me think, as the hugeness of this wine loomed, about French winemakers who complain about the “Parkerization” of wine. In case you don’t know, Robert M. Parker Jr. is widely considered the most powerful wine critic in the world. 90+ points from his publication, The Wine Advocate can sell out a wine practically overnight. A bad rating from him can be devastating. Thing about him is he tends to like wines like this. Big wines that are hugely oaked and overly extracted. I don’t deny anyone his own palate, and he has certainly built a great reputation. What is unfortunate is when winemakers make wines that Parker would like in order to gain “Parker points,” crafting wines to the palate of one man in Maryland. But we digress…

Simon & Garfunkel: Sounds of Silence (live) The wine is mellowing out, man. Or maybe I am just getting drunk on this ridiculous wine.

Phish: Scent of a Mule reminds me of {brettanomyces}. There is certainly nothing stinky or funky about this wine.

Man of La Mancha: What Do You Want of Me? Do you want me to like you, wine? I assume you do. So far, not really winning me over.

South Park: Merry Fucking Christmas A little non sequitur, but I do love the South Park “Mr. Hankey’s Christmas Classics” album. In a way, this song reminds me of the wine. Harsh and offensive to some, obnoxious, yet endearing to others. The wine’s beginning to grow on me.

The Beatles: A Day in the Life: This is the first song that has given me some time to actually concentrate on the wine. There is this bitterness* that resounds even through the big, almost {jammy} fruit. The orchestral ending to this song belies the initial cacophony of fruit and alcohol that resolves and ends on a slightly discordant note.

Songs for a New World: King of the World At this point, I’m about halfway through the bottle, and yeah, I feel like I’m king of the world, probably because I’m getting hammered.

Phish: The Squirming Coil another more contemplative song. This wine burns my mouth, kind of like Listerine. The ABV on Listerine is 21%, by the way.

Jewel: You Were Meant For Me Sorry baby, we had some good times, but I think you’re just too much for me.

Béla Fleck & the Flecktones: Lochs of Dread During this song I discovered the part of the label that is a stamp that you can rip off and conceivably place in a wine journal or something. Pretty cool.

Miles Davis: ‘Round Midnight This is great “bottom of the bottle” music. Pencil lead, celery seed, the wine is starting to reveal some complexity under its initially powerful and bulky first impression.  However, after a little break (smelling some fresh air and coming back) the wine is as obnoxious as ever coming back.

Overall, I found that the music was a more distracting than anything to my overall tasting experience.  Perhaps I was putting too much thought into the process, trying actively to pair the music up with the wine.  At any rate, I think that while my impression of the wine did sort of change over time, it didn’t really have anything to do with the music.  The music was more of a conversation starter, inspiring ideas for tasting notes rather than influencing my mood or perception.  Then again, that’s just me.  I really enjoyed the WBW theme, so kudos to Katie for hosting!

*Science!
Continuing our discussion on balance, a report from 1994 by Fischer and Noble (“The Effect of Ethanol, Catechin Concentration, and pH on Sourness and Bitterness of Wine”, AJEV) found that ethanol concentration increases the perception of bitterness in wine.  The researchers took de-alcoholized wine (alcohol removed by reverse osmosis), and evaluated bitterness with tasting panels for 8%, 11%, and 14% alcohol by volume.  With increasing ethanol concentration, the bitterness in the wine increased.  This could explain why a recurrent tasting note in the process of tasting this wine was a lingering bitterness.  Sixteen percent? Yikes.

Published in: on 14 June 2009 at 10:04 am  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

Notes:
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%
RS: N/A
Price Point: $10
Notes:
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%
RS: N/A
Price Point: $9
Notes:
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%
RS: N/A
Price Point: $5 (probably collegetown price gouging)
Notes:
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.

*Science!

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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