Like every wine obsessive, there are certain wines I like to pull out for special occasions, and since it's almost my birthday, I thought I'd let you in on what I'll be cheers-ing with this year: Pinot Noir.
I know that now that I'm in Arizona, I should perhaps adapt. and reach for a bottle of our secret, small batch, sparkling Malvasia Bianca... maybe next year. Don't get me wrong-- I love our sparkling Malv, but I'm really in the mood for something simultaneously earthy and ethereal, delicate and powerful. I'm in the mood for a Pinot.
Pinot is probably one of the most ancient grape varieties still in cultivation today, clocking in at something like 2,000 years of age. We can determine this based on the high number of mutations within its genome, and the huge number of parent-offspring relationships it has with other varieties. It has crossed with Gouais Blanc multiple times to create such varieties as Chardonnay, Gamay, and is the grandparent of Teroldego, and even the great-grandparent of Syrah. In addition, it is either the grandparent, or the sibling of Chenin Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc-- which is unknown due to a missing genetic link between it and the grape Savagnin that would tell us which was the parent of which.
Pinot grows across the globe, but tends to do best in cooler climates, thus it can be found from its homeland in Northern France's Burgundy, to Russia, to Tasmania, to Patagonia, to Oregon, to the Verde Valley. It has a tendency to bud out early, and can ripen very quickly in hot climates. Its skin is very thin, making is susceptible to various fungal rots, easy to split if the vine takes up too much water, and an easy target for viruses. In short, Pinot is a pain to grow in most climates, and in those where it's not, it tends to taste boring. But when it tastes great, in my opinion, nothing can beat it. Frash berries, cherry cola, roses, black pepper, porcini mushrooms, cedar... the list goes on and on. Pinot is such a delight to sniff and swish.
Luckily, you don't have to wait long for another Pinot bottling from Aridus. This past year we worked with some folks up in Oregon's Willamette Valley to bring in a little Pinot, and we hope to have it bottled in the next few months for release sometime in 2018.
And without further ado, this is what I'll be drinking for my birthday:
Bubbly! Because for all it's beautiful still expressions, Pinot Noir makes a fantastic Champagne. And nothing says celebration like bubbles. I'll save the Burgundy for the Thanksgiving feast.
Ever since Constellation introduced Black Box, wines of all quality levels and price segments have been gaining traction with consumers, retailers, and producers alike. Let's break them down and understand why!
Boxes as a wine package consist of a polyethylene bag with a spout inside a cardboard box. They are meant for wines that should be drunk relatively quickly, generally within three months of packaging. This is because the plastic is semi-permeable, and can break down to contribute off-flavors to the wine.
The benefit is that the bag is flexible and deflates as wine is dispensed, which means that oxygen doesn't enter through the spout. Winemakers need to think about volume of headspace in the bag, since it is never completely filled, and what type of gas is in that headspace. It's usually just whatever is in the environment. Even though the bags can be purged with nitrogen the same way a bottle can, we're much more likely to damage the bag in the process. Additionally,to make the switch to packaging in boxes, wineries need to purchase a new bottling line or contract out services with a winery that already has one.
One nice aspect of a box for marketers and retailers is that it can be interestingly shaped, and there's a lot of space to make the product look interesting, fun, sophisticated, or attention-grabbing in some other way.
One of the blessings of boxed wine can be its downfall— its easy packability. Because wines packaged in box are square or rectangular, there’s less dead space on a pallet. Without glass, though, the wine lacks structural support, so pallets cannot be stacked more than two high. Damage to the boxes during transit can be a huge deterrent to consumers, resulting in unsalable product. After all, damage to the box may or may not represent damage to the wine inside.
There's nothing inherently wrong about drinking boxed wine. They can sometimes represent incredible values. I recommend the Jack Tone Red Blend if you can find it, and in a pinch, Vin Vault will do the trick. Why not give one a try, even if it's not an Aridus wine? You might surprise yourself and find your everyday drinking wine!
Happy Halloween, everyone! In honor of one of my favorite holidays, I thought it only appropriate that we discuss one of the cheapest and most effective wine ingredients available: GHOSTS.
Okay, they don't look particularly creepy, and what are they? Ghosts, also known as yeast hulls, are the cell walls of dead yeast. And it turns out, that they contain a lot of helpful compounds that can keep your fermentation or even your malolactic conversion from stalling out.
During fermentation, yeast throw off a lot of byproducts. Mostly alcohol, CO2, and heat, but also plenty of other compounds, like the aromatics mentioned earlier this year. Some of these byproducts are toxic to yeast-- alcohol for one, but also octanoic and decanoic acids. Ghosts can help fermentation by adsorbing these acids-- essentially pulling them out of the wine, and making the environment a little more friendly to the yeast that are working there. They also provide some of the nececssary components for living yeast to build healthy cell walls-- sterols and long-chain unsaturated fatty acids. Even after alcoholic fermentation is complete, their presence helps malolactic conversion for a lot of these same reasons-- octanoic and decanoic acids are also toxic to malo bacteria, so less concentration helps the bacteria do their jobs.
There's evidence that ghosts may also help prevent certain white wines, such as Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc from turning slightly pink in bottle, and that the addition of ghosts during fermentation can help promote tartrate stability. They can even help wines that have high levels of cork taint [a compound called TCA]. Adding ghosts can help remove some of this compound from the wine.
So there you have it-- one little ingredient with a myriad of uses. I hope the ghosts that surround you today are just as helpful!
Hi everyone! Now that we've finished pressing, and we're putting the wines to bed for the season, it seemed like a great opportunity to talk a bit about the tools that are most helpful to us when working with barrels.
First up is the stirring wand, pictured below. It's a curved metal rod with a rotating metal oval at one end and a handle at the other. It's a great tool for doing ingredient additions to barrel, and lees stirring. You simply pull the bung out of the barrel, and slip the oval end in. You use the handle to rotate the wand around in the barrel and you can pretty effectively mix up all the contents.
What do you do if you're fermenting in a barrel, or if a wine is still going through malolactic conversion, and you want to keep the outside world out? Use a fermentation bung! We have two types on hand here-- one with a flexible silicone cap that fits down the middle of a 5-holed bung (on the left below), and one that has just one hole with a smaller silicone plug that fits through the hole and has a foot holding it in place (on the right below). These move just enough to allow the gas produced during fermentation to escape, and come back into place to prevent anything from getting in the barrel. I tend to prefer the option on the left because it's a little bit more flexible and in my experience has less chance of blowing out.
Lastly, the workhorse of the barrel room, we've got the barrel rinser. Are we prepping a barrel that's been empty for a few months to receive wine? Are we cleaning out a barrel after a racking? Are we doing just about anything with a barrel? Yes? Then we're going to rinse it! This nifty little number easily slides into the downward facing bunghole of a barrel, and allows us to give the barrel a thorough spraying of water or ozonated water. In the photo below, you can see on the left where the rinser connects to the water supply, a valve to open or close the water supply, a small foot below to hold the rinser in place, and on the right the spinning head. It works by pressure, so it uses the pressure of the water itself to turn. Simple, elegant, and effective.
These are just a few of the tools that we use when working with barrels, but they're some of my favorites. Check back in periodically, and I'll show off some more of the tools of the trade.
Do you ever wonder why most wines come in glass bottles, as opposed to boxes, cartons, or mini barrels? We do, too! That's why we're starting a new blog series looking at the different packaging options available, how they're made, how they came to be used for wine packaging, and what the pros and cons are of using them. And with that, let's start with the obvious...
Glass remains by far the most popular packaging format for wine, with 85% of the market. The highest consumer acceptance is for glass with cork closure.
Glass was first used as a packaging option in the first century BC, but the technology was tightly guarded. It first came to be used as a popular wine packaging material in the mid-1800s once the process of blowing a bottle was automated-- until then, there was too much bottle variation for it to be effective as a packaging option for most wineries.
The raw materials of glass are: silica sand, sodium oxide (soda ash), calcium oxide (limestone), dolomite and feldspar, which are blended according to a precise recipe. Other metal oxides, which confer different colors to the final product, may be incorporated into the recipe in minute amounts. These raw materials are mixed together with about 25-30% cullet (broken glass), to lower the melting point of the entire mixture before it is fed into a furnace, blow molded, and annealed. The 750-mL bottle is the most typical size.
Glass is an impermeable and inert container— important for holding a product that relies entirely on its sensory profile. From a producer’s standpoint, there are two major decisions to be made with regard to wine quality when wine is packaged in glass. The first is the color of the glass; many wines will undergo chemical changes from exposure to UV rays. Certain whites (such as Pinot Grigio) can smell and taste “skunky,” and red wines can experience bleaching of their anthocyanins. For these wines, darker glass affords more protection.
Unfortunately, glass is a somewhat fragile package, and improper handling can lead to breakage. This is a downside for producers, retailers, and customers alike. A breakage event can impact more than just the bottles that have broken—seepage may destroy labels on undamaged bottles, diminishing salability. Additionally, broken glass is a safety hazard.
Bottles are also weighty, which limits the volume that can be transported at one time. Trucks are limited on load weight, and can only carry around 1,200 cases, even accounting for variations in bottle weight. Rail containers can hold three to four times that. Add to this that a case is not a particularly compact package, with about half the box comprising empty space, and the efficiency of moving glass-packaged wine is greatly diminished. From an environmental standpoint, the weight of the glass, plus the fuel required to move it can more than double the carbon footprint of the product— something that matters to many consumers in an age of increasing attention to climate change.
Most of you may be familiar with tannin as a structural and mouthfeel component of wine, but did you know it's also a fairly common wine ingredient?
Tannins can be used at just about any point in the winemaking process. They come from a few sources-- grapes themselves, oak, chestnut, nut galls, and other, rarer woods. You can find them in liquid or powdered forms. Their uses in wine are varied, and can be different dependent on their source. Regardless, they all protect against oxidation, which helps boost the longevity of the wine.
To this end, they can be added to white juice or wines. They may also be added to bind up with off aroma compounds. In the case of grapes that are somewhat moldy, tannin can be useful in binding with certain fungal enzymes that can speed up oxidation and browning.
For red wines, tannin added early in the fermentation process is considered "sacrificial." You add some to protect the color of the wine, giving proteins and other particles in the fermenting must something to bind to, rather than those already present in the grapes, thus leaving more of the grapes' naturally occuring tannin for the aging process. There's debate as to whether this strategy truly works. To be sure, though, a tannin cannot add color to a wine that is already weak in it.
Tannins can also be added prior to barreling down, while aging, or just prior to bottling. These tannins can be incorporated to help refresh the aromas of tired wines, add a subtle aroma or mouthfeel component (such as chocolate or caramel), or to give a bit more structure to the wine. They should never be used in a way that substantially alters a wine. They're a tool for refining, not for changing the character entirely. And before any addition, there's no substitute for a bench trial-- setting up a specific volume, dosing in the tannin, and tasting to see what works best for the wine.
And when in doubt, you can always ask a technical sales representative what they might recommend. These folks are usually former winemakers themselves, and want you to come away with a better understanding of the tools, as well as a nice wine.
I feel so bad for Merlot sometimes. Ever since a certain film came out, scores of people were duped into believing that Merlot was an inferior grape. Sales of Merlot tanked, and acres upon acres of established merlot vines were grafted over for more popular varieties.
Merlot didn't deserve this.
The first historical mention of the variety was at the end of the 18th century in the Bordeaux area. This makes sense, since it is likely here that Merlot originated, growing on an island in the Garonne River. Other origin hypothesis place it broadly in the region-- somewhere from southwestern France or the Pais Vasco in Spain. It was named after the blackbirds who liked to eat the grape-- in French, merle means blackbird, and in Occitan, a language of southern France and Spain, the word for blackbird is actually merlau, even closer to the grape's name itself.
DNA analysis tells us that Merlot is the offspring of Cabernet Franc and a very obscure grape called "Magdeleine Noire des Charentes." Thanks to the Cabernet Franc, that makes Merlot the often overshadowed half-sibling of Cabernet Sauvignon.
It's growing habits are to bud early, ripen midway through the season, and to throw out moderate to vigorous vegetative growth. It does well in clay-limestone soils, so in places like Bordeaux where the soils range from gravel to clay, you will often see Merlot planted on the heavier clay. But more than that, it tends to be grown along with Cabernet Sauvignon so often because it is a perfect blending companion, giving blends a rich fruitiness and roundness to hang on Cabernet Sauvignon's more robust tannin structure. It can also often reach higher sugar levels than Cabs, especially when grown in marginal climates, which results in a higher alcohol percentage in the finished wine.
Geographically speaking, Merlot can be found just about anywhere wine is grown-- from Turkey to Slovenia to New Zealand to New Mexico. Our 2015 Merlot came in on August 18th from the Cadeuceus Vineyards on the Willcox bench. We brought in just under three tons, fermented it in stainless, and then transferred it to barrels for aging -- 43% new French oak, and 57% neutral oak. We let it rest for 18 months before bottling. It's at its peak with delicate rose and cedar aromas backed by red fruit. Plum jam and fresh fig wash over your palate, which then transitions to vanilla, toasted hazelnut and caramel on the finish. It's a pretty tasty wine. We definitely take our Merlot seriously around here.
So if you're ready to release yourself from the tyranny of the opinions of movie personalities, why doen't you stop by our tasting room and give the Merlot a shot? We're releasing it this Friday!
What is the difference between new and neutral oak? The short answer is: extractable flavor.
After wine is placed in a barrel for the first time, it absorbs a huge amount of the flavor and aroma compounds that were generated during the barrel's toasting-- vanillin (vanilla), syringaldehyde (spicy, smoky), other aromatic aldehydes (resinous), lactones (oaky, coconut), and aromatic phenolics (clove, smoky). As these are extracted into the wine, the concentration available for further extraction is diminished. It varies from winery to winery, but most folks consider a barrel to be effectively neutral somewhere between the 4th and 6th fill. Neutrality in this case means that no discernable oak compounds are extracted into the wine held in barrel.
This doesn't mean that the barrel itself is useless, though. Despite not contributing to the wine's aromatic or flavor profile via extractables, the oak provides a semi-permeable vessel that can allow a wine the space it needs to soften through slow oxidation, and allows the polymerization reactions necessary for tannins to smooth out to take place.
Not everyone loves the flavors of big oak, and a mix of new and neutral oak can help a winemaker strike the correct balance between the oak complexity and allowing the fruit's varietal flavors to shine.