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Posts Tagged ‘wine aging’

Daily Glass: Humbled By The Wine (Again)

March 14, 2015 11 comments

The inner snob (unsilenceable). The charade of expectation. All together in a conundrum. Yeah, I know I’m not making sense. Please allow me to explain myself.

Just came back after a small party at a friend, who doesn’t drink much, but always makes sure he has an ample wine supply for the guests. He stores wines in the dark, cold room in the basement, so the conditions are good. But the wines sometimes get lost there. Not in any bad sense – they simply might stay there for years.

When he brought up a magnum of 2004 (!) Rosemount Shiraz/Cabernet Sauivignon South Eastern Australia (53% Shiraz, 47% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14% ABV), the inner snob made a quick assessment  – “oh, sh!t”, he said. I just recently had bad experience with 2005 Shiraz, which was supposed to be magnificent, but was not, and with 2012 Shiraz of a [supposedly] high pedigree, so you have to excuse that little snob guy. Rosemount is a well known producer from Australia, but it is a mass-producer, and this Shiraz/Cabernet Sauvignon from a current vintage can be acquired today for a whooping $7 on average, according to the wine-searcher. So $7 wine, aged for 11 years – what would you expect? I would assume you see the conundrum now.

Well, there is only way to find out – the truth is in the glass, right? The wine is poured, and it is … delicious. Inviting nose of the dark fruit, nothing extra. On the palate – plums, blackberries, touch of spices, sweet oak, soft tannins, very present acidity and overall, very balanced wine. The wine was delivering lots of pleasure, and as one glass was finished, the next one was desired almost immediately. Drinkability: 8-

So here is the story, of the humbled snob and exceeded expectations (greatly exceeded). Is there a moral here? I think there is, and it is rather simple: give the wine a chance. You never know what is in the bottle – whether it is $7 or $107 bottle of wine, you still don’t know it. Yes, you have expectations, but the ultimate truth is inside of your glass. Stay humble, my friends, but expect the best. Cheers!

Wednesday’s Meritage – Wine Quiz Answer, Wine Aging, Wine of 50 States, Food Photography and more

April 10, 2013 12 comments

Meritage Time!

Let’s start with the answer for the wine quiz #53, grape trivia: Cabernet Sauvignon. This was the first in the new series of quizzes I hope to continue for a while – for the next few weeks, I plan to run questions around popular grapes. This time the subject was Cabernet Sauvignon, and here are the questions with the answers:

Q1: Which two grapes are the parents of Cabernet Sauvignon? A: For the long time prevailing theory was that Cabernet Sauvignon had some ancient roots – until DNA research showed that Cabernet Sauvignon originated in 17th century in France and it is a cross of Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc.

Q2: The world’s oldest Cabernet Sauvignon vines are located in (name winery and/or vineyard for extra credit):

A. Bordeaux

B. Chile

C. California

D. Australia – correct answer. Kalimna Vineyard Block 42 at Penfolds has 140 years old Cabernet Sauvignon vines.

E. Georgia

Q3: True or False: Since 2000, plantings of Cabernet Sauvignon increased in Bordeaux? A: False. Since 2000, Cabernet Sauvignon plantings had been decreasing and Merlot plantings increasing as Merlot is ripening about 15 days earlier than Cabernet Sauvignon and thus easier to use in the blends.

Q4: The second largest in the world plantings (by area) of Cabernet Sauvignon grapes are located in:

A. Australia

B. California

C. Chile

D. Hungary

E. Moldova – quite unexpectedly (for me, at least), this is the correct answer.

F. South Africa

Q5: Absolute majority of Bordeaux wines are blends. Name four grapes which are traditional blending companions of Cabernet Sauvignon in Bordeaux

A: Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec are four major blending companions of Cabernet Sauvignon in Bordeaux.

There were many good answers this week, and we have three winners – The Drunken Cyclist, Red Wine Diva and Armchairsommelier all correctly answered all five questions, plus the Armchairsommelier also correctly identified the oldest Cabernet Sauvignon Vineyard. They get the traditional prize of unlimited bragging rights. Well done!

And now, to the interesting stuff around the net. Lets start from the subject of wine aging. Few days ago I shared my thoughts on the subject of wine aging – and then I noticed  an article by Steve Heimoff talking about wine critic’s approach to recommending wines for aging (or not). Quite frankly, I don’t think I found any revelations in that article, but it sheds some light on the reason behind “drink after 2056” recommendations.

It is no secret that wine is made in all 50 states in US (it’s actually being like that for about ten years by now – I used to ask this question as part of fun trivia during my wine tastings) – but when Jancis Robinson is talking about it, it means that we actually went over the hump – here is her article in Financial Times where she is talking about new reality of wine making and wine consumption in United States.

I don’t know how many of you are familiar with El Bulli – the famous restaurant in Spain by world renowned chef Ferran Adria, a father and mother of molecular gastronomy. Visiting El Bulli was my dream for many many years, which is not going to materialize, as restaurant closed a few years ago. In one of the the Meritage issues last year I mentioned that wine list from El Bulli was available online (140 pages of wine goodness – if you are interested in taking a pick, my post still has a link to it) – now, as Bloomberg reports, El Bulli cellar was auctioned in Hong Kong for the total of $8.8M. The money raised will be used for the purposes of El Bulli foundation.

I was somewhat late writing this post today (ideally, I want Meritage posts to come out in the morning, but – oh well…) – and I’m glad I did, as I came across a wonderful post by Stefano Crosio about Food Photography. A Food Photography Primer is a great and very generous post which gives you step by step details on how to take amazing food pictures. And talking about that subject of food pictures, I need to share with you a healthy dose of the food porn form the blog I always drool over – My French Heaven. Warning – DO NOT click this link if you are hungry – please don’t, as I can’t be responsible for the consequences.

Okay, I’m sure you did click on that link, so my work is done here. The glass is empty. Refill is coming. Until the next time – cheers!

Wednesday’s Meritage – Wine Ingredients, F&W Winemaker of the Year and more

October 10, 2012 11 comments
An extensive French wine inventory to explore.

It’s Meritage Time!

Today’s Meritage issue is somewhat unusual – it doesn’t contain the main element, the answer for the wine quiz. The reason is very simple – nobody even tried to answer that quiz. Come on, my wine loving friends, at least you can give it a try! To remind you, in the Wine Quiz #32 you were supposed to match 6 red wine grapes (out of 7) with 6 wine reviews. Please try it again – hopefully there are some brave wine lovers out there.

As far as interesting wine reading is concerned, I came across a few articles I wanted to bring to your attention.

First, there was an interesting article by New York Times’ wine and food critic Eric Azimov about Bonny Doon winemaker Randall Grahm, who started putting wine ingredients on the back label of his wines. I don’t know about you, but I don’t think I care to know if he added tartaric acid or oak chips to his wines – I mostly care about the taste of the wine, and I trust that winemaker did his or her best to create a good wine. But – that’s me – and I would be interested in your opinion.

Next is an article in Food and Wine magazine about best winemakers of the year 2012 – I personally never heard of them before nor tried their wines – but thanks to the article, I now will be on a lookout for them.

And now a couple of articles on one of my all times favorite subjects – ageability of wines. Not all the wines in general, but mostly the California Cabernets. Both articles are from the Palate Press, an online wine magazine.

First article is written by Evan Dawson, and it is discussing the subject of California cult Cabernet Sauvignon being fit for aging (or not) depending on the source of the fruit (valley floor or mountain) and the ABV level of the wine – with discussion referring to the opinion of Randy Dunn, a winemaker behind eponymous Howell Mountain Cabernet. I don’t think I drunk enough California cult Cabernet to have an opinion one way or the other, but I can tell you that I had 2002 Dunn Cabernet when it was about 9 years of age, and it took that wine 5 days just to start opening up.

The second article is by the W. Blake Gray and it is talking about many wines (again taking California cult Cabernet as an example) are made for instant consumption and not meant to be aged – however, many wine connoisseurs still acquire those wine specifically for aging, and will be disappointed in the long run (and will lose money).

Both articles are excellent and are very interesting to read in my opinion – but let me know what your thoughts are.

That’s all for today, folks. The glass is empty. Happy Wine Wednesday and Cheers!

Wine and Time

January 10, 2012 3 comments

Of course time had being here forever, always moving, and always in one direction (someone, please prove me wrong!). Wine had being around for about 8,000 years, first appearing in the ancient Georgia (no, not the one down south, but the one from the Caucus region, on another continent). Wine is one of the few products literally not changed for such a long time in its form and its production methods – sans reverse osmosis machines, electrical presses and micro-oxygenation boxes. Considering such a long history, you can imagine that relationship between wine and time is very complex, and you would be right.

First, time is a necessary part and an attribute of the wine making process. For the vast majority of wines, if you read winery’s description of the wine, you will see something like “aged for so many month in …”. Sometimes the wine is aged in stainless steel tanks. Sometimes the wine is aged in clay vessels (very popular in Georgia now, the vessels are called Kvevri and produce very distinct wines). Lots of red wines are aged in oak barrels – American oak, French oak, Hungarian Oak, new oak, old oak – variations are endless. For many wines, duration and the type of the aging is a sole decision of winemaker (no pressure, but this decision will greatly affect quality and the taste of wine, and will define success and failure for it). For some of the wines, aging in a specific type of barrels is mandatory before the wine can be released – Rioja Gran Reserva should be aged for a minimum of 2 years in oak barrel and 3 years in the bottle to be officially designated as Rioja Gran Reserva. Barolo must be aged for 3 years, at least two of them in the oak barrel, and Barolo Riserva should be aged at least for 5 years. During the aging process, the wine is changing. Oak imparts very specific flavor, which we, humans, tend to like. Oak aging also acts as a preservative and helps wines to live long life.

Once all the aging is complete (in the tanks, barrels and bottles – whatever the aging was), wine is released – and this is when the second phase of the wine and time relationship kicks in.

This second phase is as tricky, if not trickier, as the first. Have you heard the phrase “needs time” in relation to the particular bottle of wine? If you will look at the wine reviews in Wine Spectator or any other publication which provides wine reviews, you would often see one of the phrases “Drink now”, “Best 2014-2020”, “Best after 2013” – these are the suggestions for how long the wine should be kept in the cellar before it should be consumed.

Why is that? What with all this aging? Why not open the bottle right away and just drink the wine? What was discovered at some point (don’t ask me when, but it was long time ago) is that wine actually changes its taste as it spends time in the bottle (the aging). And it doesn’t just change the taste arbitrarily, it tastes better. Young wines are often sharp, or somewhat single-toned in their taste – you might get pronounced acidity, or only sweetness, or lots of white apples – but only white apples. During aging, trace amounts of air are making its way into he bottle, and they lead to the wine changing its taste, improving to the better in majority of the cases – it becomes complex, bite softens up, bright and diverse fruit tones compensate for the pronounced acidity and the wine brings a lot more pleasure compare to the young wines. Mature wines deliver more pleasure – this is the whole philosophy behind wine aging.

Simple and easy, right? Well, this is were everything becomes complicated and confusing – as not all the wines should be aged (do not try to age Beaujolais Noveau, please) and also it is very tricky to make sure you would drink the wine at its peak – as whatever comes up, goes down in mother nature. This is where time transforms from the friend to the foe – and as a foe, it is merciless. After reaching maturity and staying there for a while, the wines are typically starting their decline in the taste (wine loses fruit, become very acidic, may be oxidized – and it stops delivering pleasure). Different wines made in the different styles will have different peak times and different lifespans. Some of the Jerez, Madeira and similar wines can go on literally for the hundreds of years. Good Rioja, Barolo or Bordeaux can be perfectly aged for 50 years or longer. Simple Cote du Rhone might only last for 3-5 years, same would be true for many of the Chardonnay wines. There is not crystal ball telling you precisely how long the wine will last and when will it taste the best – human trial and error is the best way to find that out. Of course there are many factors which might help you to decide whether to age the wine and if yes, for how long – the winery, the winemaker, the region’s wine style, success of the vintage and many others – but in the end of the day you would need to do the work (err, I meant the wine drinking) as the wine ages to find out when it tastes best to you.

So, does it worth to age wines if you don’t know what will happen to them in the end? For anyone who is into wines, and who had an opportunity to try a mature wine, the wine which reached its optimum taste, I’m sure this is a no-brainer question – yes, of course, and please, please give me more.

How one can experience aged wines? You got a few options. First, you can age it in your own cellar. Second, you can buy aged wines, either in a good wine store, such as Cost Less Wines in Stamford or Benchmark Wine Company. Note that you have to buy aged wines only from the trusted source – not aging the wines in the right conditions will simply ruin them, so you have to trust your source. Third option is to attend a wine tasting, such as PJ Wine Grand Tasting, where you can taste really amazing wines. However, you don’t have to wait of the Grand tasting, which takes place only once a year. If you live in a close proximity to Stamford, CT, you can attend a wine tasting at the Franklin Street Works gallery on Thursday, January 19th at 5:30 pm (here is the link for RSVP). The event is free and open to all. Here are the wines which will be presented in the tasting (the list might change at any time):

2003 Riesling, Mosel Saar River, Germany

1998 Merlot, Italy

2009 Stag’s Leap Hands of Time, Napa Valley

2009 Stag’s Leap Hands of Time, hyper-decanted using Nathan Myhrvold’s methodology.

So you should come and experience the relationship between time and wine for yourself – there is a good chance that you will even enjoy it! Cheers!

Will This Wine Age?

September 12, 2011 2 comments

Yes, it is no secret that I prefer to drink wines which have some age on them – we even discussed this in one of the recent posts. What happens when the wine ages? In one simple word, it evolves. Its taste changes – for the better. It gets to the different level of complexity – and delivers more pleasure. Sometimes, it even brings an element of awe with it – when you are drinking wine which is 30, 50 or may be even hundred years old, and it still tastes great (try to keep some food to taste good for a couple of decades – let me know if you will succeed), it is an amazing experience.

Now, if you want to drink aged wines, you got two choices. You can buy wines which are already aged (Benchmark Wine Company is one of the great sources of aged wines). It is not easy to find what you want, and aged wines are usually expensive. Another option is to buy the wine, and keep it in your cellar until it reaches the optimum drinking age. When using second option, the trick is to know when the perfect age is, right? There are few ways to go about it. The classic “collectors” way is to buy a case ( at least), and then open a bottle from time to time and see (err, taste) what is going on. This is a good way to go, but it requires storage space and money.

Then you can rely on the advice of the wine critics – when you look at wine review in Wine Spectator or Wine Advocate, very often you will see a recommended time range when the wine will be at its best. This should work, but might be a bit boring. What else? You can play with your wine. What I mean is that you can conduct a little experiment and learn with a good probability how well your wine will age. In order to do this, you will need only a minimal set of tools (one tool, to be precise), a little air, a bottle of wine and a few days of time.

As far as tool is concerned, I don’t mean any of those fancy $200 silver, magnetic and whatever else concoctions which promise to magically manipulate characteristics of wine and make it age in no time. So the tool which you will need is called a vacuum pump, like the one you can see below (this one is made by the company called VacuVin):

One of the most important components in the wine aging is oxygen. Oxygen, which makes its way in a miniscule quantity through the cork into the wine bottle, makes wine to change, to age. As soon as the bottle of wine is opened, the process of aging is started. This is why when you open a bottle of a young wine, you need to give it a little time to “breathe”, to open up, to absorb the air and subsequently, to evolve. Now, the idea is simple. You open the bottle, pour a glass, then you close a bottle with the rubber stopper and pump the air out, and put the bottle aside (no need for special storage conditions). You repeat this process the next day, then the next day and may be even the next day again! There is no science here (or may be there is one, but at least I don’t know the formula), but I think every additional day the wine drinks well means about 5 -8 years of the normal aging. Therefore, if the wine will be improving for the 4 days in the row, you can expect that it will reach its peak in 20-30 years.

Want an example? The bottle of 2007 Chappellet Pritchard Hill Napa Valley Cabernet Franc made it into my house. On the first day, the wine was not showing much except tremendous density and the color, which was more black than red. The second day didn’t show much change. On the day 3, some of the black fruit started coming out, with some spices and tiniest hint of green peppers (can be my imagination too). And then finally, on the day four, the fruit became easily noticeable, together with good acidity and nice balanced tannins. The wine was almost drinkable… but too late, as the bottle was gone at that point. I think one more day would make it amazing – but I can only hope to find out that at some point in the future.

Don’t be afraid to play with your wine – after all, it is only another kind of food, right? Ooops, this might not sound too well. Anyway, experiment – and uncover new amazing taste. And remember that little age is always good (you just need to define “little” ). Cheers!

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