One of numerous fascinating seminars I attended at TEXSOM was “Tasting Focus: Distinguishing Winemaking Choices” led by Master Sommeliers (MS) Matthew Citriglia and Geoff Kruth. Wines were compared in contrasting sets of two. First up? Lees.
Lees are the dead, spent yeast cells and other leftover solids that, when in contact with a wine prior to bottling, add extra creaminess. Which, our esteemed MSs pointed out, can be confused with what oak barrels can do to a wine. Their #ProTip was to look for yogurt or cream cheese notes on the wine’s nose. (Seriously.) The wines:
No lees: 2014 Bodegas del Palacio de Fefiñanes Albariño de Fefinane (Rías Baixas, Spain)
27 months on lees, stirred for 6 months of that time: 2009 Bodegas del Palacio de Fefiñanes Albariño de Fefinane III Año
Next up? Skin contact. As in grape skin contact. Giving juice extra time to hang out with the skins adds mouthfeel, aromatics, and flavor. But there can be too much of a good thing which, in the case of skin contact, can lead to excessive oxidation. Wave goodbye to the character of the grape.
The wines chosen were really cool. I had a chance to have the Ryme “Hers” and “His” Vermentino thanks to my pal Elaine of Hawk Wakawaka Wine Reviews. She brought these bottle to dinner the last time I was in Napa. The origin of the Ryme “Hers” and “His” bottlings had to do with a disagreement between partners in wine and life (Ryan & Megan Glaab…the “RY” and “ME”) about how their Vermentino should be made. Thus, two separate bottlings. Also, #relationshiplesson.
No skin contact, whole-bunch pressed, 50% tank/50% neutral barrel: 2014 Ryme Wine Cellars Vermentino Las Brisas Vineyard “Hers” (Carneros, CA)
Two weeks of skin contact then pressed and aged in barrel for 10 months: 2013 Ryme Wine Cellars Vermentino Las Brisas Vineyard “His” (Carneros, CA)
(Note: Grapes for both “Hers” and “His” were picked at the same time.)
We moved on to malolactic fermentation, which softens and rounds the acids in a wine. “Malo” (or “ML”) also lends buttery, nutty, and creamy notes. Chardonnay is the textbook wine to demonstrate this winemaking process:
Low malo (25% of the wine goes through ML in barrel): 2012 Hanzell Vineyards Chardonnay (Sonoma, CA)
100% malo: 2013 Morgan Winery Chardonnay Double L Vineyard (Santa Lucia Highlands, CA)
Also interesting to note the Hanzell is 25% barrel fermented while the Morgan is 100% barrel fermented. Surprisingly, they have very similar pH, total acidity, and alcohol levels.
Now let’s talk Brix. Not Bricks. Brix. Which refers to sugar levels in grapes. Many winemakers are looking for a certain number to hit to determine picking. Others go based on taste. Some, a little bit from Column A, a little bit from Column B.
Kruth made his feelings known on the matter:
— Jameson Fink (@jamesonfink) August 10, 2015
Two quotes were put up on the screen to illustrate how some winemakers make their picking decisions:
On picking by flavor: “My whole goal is to let the fruit speak. I let the grapes ripen until they taste good. When they taste good, the wine will taste good, too.” —Shauna Rosenblum
On picking early (grapes with lower Brix measurement) to preserve acidity: “You want a tart apple for that pie, because when you bake it, damn that’s a good pie.” —Ted Lemon
OK, so what wines were selected?
Lower Brix (22-22.5): 2011 Copain Wines Pinot Noir Wentzel Vineyard (Anderson Valley, CA) 13.2% ABV
Higher Brix (24.5-25): 2012 Patz & Hall Pinot Noir Chenoweth Ranch Vineyard (Russian River Valley, CA) 14.8% ABV
All old barrels (some large American): 2009 Mayacamas Cabernet Sauvignon (Mt. Veeder, CA)
100% new French barrels: 2011 Paul Hobbs Cabernet Sauvignon Beckstoffer Dr. Crane Vineyard (St. Helena, CA)
We finished up the reds comparing whole cluster grape fermentation versus destemming:
80% whole cluster: 2012 Gramercy Cellars Syrah Lagniappe Vineyard (Columbia Valley, WA)
100% destemmed: 2012 Owen Roe Syrah “Ex Umbris” (Columbia Valley, WA)
Whole cluster fermentation gives you higher tannin, lower alcohol, and aromatic complexity. You get a cleaner fermentation, softer tannins, and a more fruit-forward wine by destemming the grapes.
Finally, some sweetness. A look at residual sugar:
2013 Maximin Grünhäuser Riesling Qualitätswein Trocken (Mosel, Germany) [7 g/L residual sugar]
2013 Weingut Schloss Lieser “SL” Kabinett Prädikatswein (Mosel Germany) [35 g/L residual sugar]
I preferred the second Riesling as the extra sugar balanced out the acidity. But by no means was this a cloying wine. A fine breakfast beverage as a matter of fact. As far as the dry (trocken) Riesling, 7 g/L is something normally I’d be able to detect on a wine. But the acidity of the Maximin Grünhäuser was so powerful the reveal was a surprise.
The challenge with all this geekery is how to decribe differences in flavor and aroma without jargon-dumping all over your guests (or readers). As Citriglia put it:
It’s also important to clarify that Citriglia and Kruth were not undertaking this seminar to trumpet one way of doing things as “better” than the other. Purely an exercise in nerding out.
I highly encourage you to repeat this kind of exercise with your wine-loving pals. If you can’t find the exact same wines, ask your local wine pro (or me) for some suggestions.
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I was comped registration and accommodations for this event.