Tuesday, November 27, 2007

'06 Pillar Box Red

2006 Pillar Box Red (Padthaway) $13

IN BRIEF: A teeth-staining, palate-coating, spicy "fruit-bomb" that has a peculiar "savory" flavor profile that backs up a fruit-forward, pure nose. Not a flavor profile that really resonates with me. Tannins are too weak for my tastes. A well-made, super-flavorful, undeniably balanced, clean wine. Not aromatically complex.

NOSE: Shiraz ("sulfur") and Cabernet ("chocolate-candied-cherry") tones come through, with black raspberry and a hint of synthetic apple.

PALATE: Only faintly sweet. Just enough acidity that it doesn't grab attention, but frames the fruit well. Tannins are weak. This concentrated, mouth-coating wine attacks the palate with dark, savory, spicy, extracted fruit. The savory-bitter midpalate character carries through to the finish, jousting with the weak tannins long after the fruit has faded. Not viscous in the mouth, but intensely flavorful, weighty.

ASPECT: Brilliant, deep purple-red. ~2mm of clear meniscus. Completely opaque ~1cm from the edge.

COMPOSITION: Shiraz/Cab/Merlot (50/42/8). Alc 15%.


Previous Tasting Notes:
(Tasted at Boston Thanksgiving Dinner 11/23/07) NOSE: a little shiraz, ripe cherries, maybe more. PALATE: low acidity, slight sugar - less than Cousino Macul but more than Barrel Monkeys. Salty/savory, in the direction of rare steak. Smooth finish, low tannins. Good, unflawed finish. Fruit filled mid-palate. OVERALL: This was a good wine, not that interesting to me on the nose, not offensive. I missed the tannins. Didn't do anything exciting with the food.

Discrepancies when tasted with meal: seemed noticeably sweeter, and slightly less tannic.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Peynaud on Wine

With an apt foreward by Michael Broadbent, Peynaud's "The Taste of Wine" (trans. Michael Schuster) is without parallel. Deftly constructed and supported with lucid figures and tables, this is even greater a work of scholarship than Broadbent's guide to tasting. Peynaud goes beyond the scope of Broadbent's work: he attempts to show how an enologist connects tastes with concentrations, imbalances with chemical flaws in the wine.

As my literary exploraton has progressed in reverse-chronological order, I have often seen Peynaud's work cited by others. Now I know the reason. So far, this is the only textbook-quality work I have seen on wine.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Correspondence with Sarah/Sparky Marquis

After a heated debate on the residual sugar content of the Mollydooker '06 Maitre d', I emailed Sarah and Sparky Marquis, the winemakers/CEO's of Mollydooker Wines, asking about the exact value. They were kind enough to clarify some aspects of winemaking:

On 11/14:

Hi Rajiv,

The residual sugar on the 2006 Maitre’D Cab is 2.8g/L. Most of our 2006 reds were bottled with residual sugar levels around 3g/L and this is normal for us. If I can help you with anything else, please don’t hesitate to contact me.


Sarah Marquis
CEO / Winemaker

On 11/15

Hi Rajiv,

Just expanding that one more step. All wines have residual sugar in at least the 2-3.5 g/l range. These are made up on unfermentable 5 Carbon sugars (normal sugar that is ferment able is a 6 carbon sugar) so in all winemaking we call anything under 3.5 g/L as being “dry” (meaning that is doesn’t have any fermentable residual sugar).

In our wines what you are seeing is fruit sweetness and structural balance. We call this “Fruit Weight”. We see Fruit Weight as being the “velvet glove” sensation of fruit on your palate before you see the structure of the wine becoming obvious.

Hope this helps

Sparky Marquis
Sarah's Husband/CEO/Winemaker

I responded on 11/15:

Hi Sparky,

Thanks so much. I had read in Alexis Lichine's Encyclopedia of Wine and Spirits that the threshold for tasting residual sugar was ~.2% (2g/L). We previously tasted Red Heads Studio's '04 "Barrel Monkeys" Shiraz, which seemed only vanishingly sweet to us, and had a residual sugar concentration of 1.1 g/L (listed on Vine St. Imports' website). Does that mean that the grapes were simply picked at a lower brix, so there were less sugars total, leaving less residual pentoses?

In any case, we were surprised by how much "sweeter" the '06 Mollydooker Cab tasted, and were curious as to how much of the impression of sweetness was due to the residual sugar, the (incredible!) amount of fruit, or other factors, like perhaps glycerine (would glycerine be higher since the alcohol content is high, and glycerol is a byproduct of fermentation?).


P.S: Please let me know if I'm misusing any terms - I'm a chemical engineer, and I worked in a yeast genomics lab for two summers, but the wine world is relatively new and confusing to me

On 11/18:


That is fantastic that you said that you are a chemical engineer as I will be able to use some of the technical terms that I tend not to use when I am normally talking about our wines.

In terms of the Cabernet, you hit the nail right on the head with your comment about glycerol. Early on in my career as winemaker, I found while studying the glycolytic pathway (the use of sugar by yeast to produce alcohol) that there was a particular side shunt to the pathway that produced glycerol. This site shunt can only be activated by the build up of NAD which is normally produced and then used in the complete glycolytic pathway.

In the latter stages of the glycolytic pathway after the glucose is broken down into 2x glyceraldehyde-3-phosphate the process is then:

1. GA3P to Acetaldehyde
2. Acetaldehyde + NAD (+ alcohol dehydrogenase) produces Alcohol + NADH2 +CO2

The NADH2 is used in the early stage of the split of Glucose to GA3P.

What we found was that if we bound the Acetaldehyde a build up of NAD occurred and that the side shunt to produce glycerol would be activated. We experimented with the use of SO2 (which is a preferential binder onto Acetaldehyde) and found that if we add SO2 to the ferment when the alcohol was being produced, that we could arrest the ferment momentarily and consequently produce glycerol. Our aim then was to produce enough glycerol to eliminate the “hole” typical in the mid palette of Cabernet. After quite some experimentation we found that adding 15ppm SO2 at each of 3%, 4% and 5% alcohol produced the amount of glycerol that we needed so that the glycerol on the palette mimics fruit sweetness. Glycerol per se, is not a natural byproduct of the production of alcohol and so 99% of other winemakers never get this benefit in their Cabernet.

Post fermentation we then work on the structural balance of the Cabernets, so that the underlying acid, alcohol and tannin (both grape and oak) compliment the palette weight produced by both the fruit and the glycerol.

Hope this helps and we look for the catching up with you soon.

Sparky Marquis
Sarah's Husband/CEO/Winemaker

On 11/19, I responded:

Hi Sparky,

Let me see if I understand this:

In the fourth stage of Glycolysis, Fructose-1,6-bisphosphate is split into G3P and dihydroxyacetone-phosphate, which is normally isomerized enzymatically into a second G3P. The next stage (phosphorylation of G3P) yields 2NADH as a by-product. At the end of glycolysis, pyruvate is decarboxylated into acetaldehyde, then fermented, using up NADH which would (if aerobic) go towards oxidative phosphorylation. If acetaldehyde is blocked by SO2, there is a buildup of NADH, which "reaches back" and makes the phosphorylation of G3P unfavorable. As a result, more dihydroxyacetone-phosphate goes down the alternate glycerol-synthesis pathway (which uses up NADH, restoring balance).

From what I could learn, glycerol production can be increased in several ways:

1. Induce a hyper-osmotic environment. - but the glucose concentration is limited by the brix at harvest.
2. Grow yeast at pH 7 or above - but again, doesn't make sense in winemaking.
3. Use special, osmo-tolerant yeast strains (because of (1), they produce more glycerol) - but this would alter many wine characteristics.
4. temporarily retard fermentation by fixing acetaldehyde with SO2 - a good solution because it doesn't mess with anything besides alcohol/sugar/glycerol concentrations.

Since both alcohol and glycerol are produced from a fixed starting glucose concentration, it seems to me at first that by producing more glycerol, you sacrifice alcohol content - a major part of the wine's "body." However a higher glycerol concentration allows the yeast greater osmotic tolerance, so if you harvest really, really high brix grapes, the SO2 will cause more glycerol production, but alcohol production will still be high. In this way you get full-bodied, 16% wines that also have enough glycerol to fill the midpalate.

So, do you harvest at a higher brix than most wineries because of your increased glycerol production?


On 11/19


Now you are talking my language.

I was going to say in the previous email: of course the usage of GA3P in the conversion to glycerol reduced the alcohol of the wine by the equivalent conversion (dependant on molecular weight ratios), but I thought that if I put this comment that I would have to go back to my chemical engineers handbook to look at the molecular weights to give you the real figures. All I can remember at the moment is that glucose is MW180 and everything else is affected by alcohol (my brain that is). Now what I do is tell our team….this is what we are doing and then we spend the rest of the time drinking rather than discussing (not really, all our team are very scientific, I spend most of my time myth busting).

And yes we pick at a higher Brix so that you get good levels of glycerol and alcohol……and much enjoyment as you drink our wines with high Fruit Weight.

PS if it was oxidative wouldn’t the process then go to the Kreb Cycle??

Sparky Marquis
Sarah's Husband/CEO/Winemaker

Sunday, November 18, 2007

I am encouraged

The great Vayniacs on the WLTV forum came to my rescue. Nothing like sympathetic wine-geek rage to cheer you up on a Saturday night!

I'm reassured that there is a strong community of people out there dedicated to learning about wine while keeping an open mind.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Michael Broadbent's Wine Tasting

Michael Broadbent's Wine Tasting (Mitchell Beazley Wine Guides)

The best-written, best thought-out material on wine tasting I have encountered yet. Next to Broadbent's work, other writers appear imprecise, self-indulgent, undisciplined, and frivolous. Broadbent is concise and precise, objective and eloquent. Highly Recommended.

Dom. Barmès Buecher Riesling '04 (Herrenweg de Turckheim)

Domaine Barmès Buecher (Alsace) 2004 Herrenweg de Turckheim Riesling (Corkscrew 24)

COLOR: Light, watery, not brilliant. NOSE: Very reticent, even after warming in hands. Only the faintest hint of fruit. No lemon characteristic. Mostly dull yeast. Maybe, just maybe, there was a hint of canteloupe rind. PALATE: Watery mouthfeel, thin flavor - poor concentration, hollow on the midpalate, some bitterness, acidity was not balanced by fruit or residual sugar - there was very little residual sugar, so it was fairly dry- much drier than the 06 Riesling Tradition. A lean and watery wine, not in balance, and $7 more expensive than the 06 Riesling! Very bad QPR. Pass.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

On Tasting Blind

Blind tasting holds a fearsome and controversial place in the hearts of wine lovers. Identifying a wine blind is one of the most impressive victories a wine lover can have - and certainly there is a correlation between blind tasting ability and wine experience. Robert Parker is said to have an encyclopedic memory for aroma and flavour profiles, and an uncanny ability to identify the exact wine he is tasting blind. Some wine writers villify blind tasting, arguing that it can be misleading (by which I assume they mean "embarrassing"). Others, like Eric Asimov and Kevin Zraly, have a more conflicted view.

Mike Steinberger, in an article entitled "In Blindness Veritas?: Tasting wine blind isn't all it's cracked up to be." cites an embarrassing incident in which he attended a wine tasting designed to disprove his claim that the best California sparkling wines couldn't stand up to fine Champagnes.

This article made me MAD.

Steinberger went in to the tasting with an agenda: to prove his earlier view right. Every wine he tasted, he was trying to identify as a California or Champagne, and then score it accordingly. This defeats the purpose of a blind tasting, AND represents the kind of twisted, old-world, non-scientific thinking that makes the wine world so screwed up.

Take a hint from Robert Parker and Gary Vaynerchuk: If it's good, it's good. If you weren't expecting it, then you just learned something, so be grateful. All that matters is what's in the glass. Everything else is just to give you a shot at predicting whether that glass will be good.

Steinberg showed that stodgy old-school prejudices can come into play (with some effort) even in a blind tasting. The converse is also true: An increasing number of new wine-drinkers are able to taste impartially, even when not blind. I have read so much bullshit on vintage charts and general principles that hold "almost all the time" that at this point, I'm fed up. I accept that there are many factors that can indicate a good wine, but I take it for granted that for every wine following a rule, there are two exceptions. Thanks to RP and GV, more and more young tasters are tasting without prejudice, and enjoying wine more

Barrel Monkeys: Take 3

2004 "Barrel Monkeys" Shiraz (Red Heads Studio)(McLaren Vale)(Wine Library: $16)

The bouquet attacks with deep, beautiful, and dark aromas of smoky blackberries, strawberry jam, black cherries, and a hint of nuts and wood. On the palate the viscosity is low, but nevertheless the feel is weighty, concentrated, and mouth-filling. Low acidity. Faint background sweetness. Fruit blooms on the midpalate, leading into a strong, persistent finish of sweet tannins. While I have had wines with more gripping tannins, and wines with more viscous bodies, no wine so far has matched up to this as a complete, seamless beauty. I have a deep affection for Barrel Monkeys (RP90).

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Gary Vaynerchuk's Advice

I emailed Gary Vaynerchuk of WLTV and he was kind enough to respond with some helpful advice:

On reading this blog, he remarked:

I recommend less reading and more tasting my friend. That is the key. Build the palate - that is the key to wine tasting and learning, and make sure you try different wines each time!

On Aussie Shiraz's with high residual sugar, he explained:

Lots of peeps lately are being turned off by this, but 5 yrs ago it was all the rage. Things change, flavors change, trends change - it's the way the world works! There is no code [tasting descriptor] for this but I would say start looking for wines that are not Cab and Shiraz based, there are so many wines you can try and taste that are awesome that Aren't that way, I would suggest spending some serious time in ITALY!

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Gary Vaynerchuk on: How to Taste Wine

Gary's attitude is simple: Taste in a way that allows you most fully understand the wine. Can't smell the bouquet? Stick your nose all the way in and sniff harder. The most practical, non-flowery or aesthetic-driven description of tasting I've encountered. Also, Gary is doing these shows off-the-cuff. He's not sure beforehand of his reaction, and it shows in the sincerity of his conclusions.

How to taste wine: overview

The shape of the glass makes a difference

Decanting makes a difference

Temperature makes a difference

Wine ratings are subjective

How to train your palate - The Vayniac Way

Vintage year matters

Sunday, November 4, 2007

'06 Mollydooker The Maitre D', '05 Cousiño Macul Antiguas Reservas Cab

2006 Mollydooker "The Maitre D'" Cabernet Sauvignon (McLaren Vale) (Wegmans $20)

Sickeningly sweet. Hot with alcohol. Low acidity and weak, fine-textured tannins.

2005 Cousiño Macul Antiguas Reservas Cabernet Sauvignon (Chile) (Community $13)

Nose: Interesting, if not appetizing: dominated by burnt rubber, with vegetal/earth tones, and a hint of olive. Less sweet than The Maitre D', but has noticeable residual sugar. Medium acidity and tannins balance out the palate. Better than the Maitre D', but not great.

Tasting Notes:

The '06 Mollydooker The Maitre D' was given "the Mollydooker shake," which certainly opened up the bouquet, revealing a straightforward, fruity, and delicious bouquet of cherries and raisins, though the alcohol was rather heavy in the nose. It was served a bit on the warm side, but then again, with 16% alcohol, perhaps it would have tasted hot and biting at any temperature. On the palate it was sickly sweet and alcoholic. The low acidity, and faint, fine tannins did nothing to support this wine. In sweetness it was a little less sweet than the Marquis Philips, which in turn was less sweet than the Kiss Chasey. However it was like Kiss Chasey because of the low acidity and tannins. To my palate, undrinkable.

The '05 Cousiño Macul Antiguas Reservas took some time to open up, even after triple-decanting. The fruit in the nose was there, but very subdued. At first there was a vegetal, earthy smell, perhaps sodden wood or mushrooms. Eventually the predominant smell of burning rubber appeared, with a hint of olive. The nose was quite interesting, if not delicious or appetizing. The palate displayed subdued sweetness, well balanced by medium acidity and tannins.

Robert Parker's The Wine Advocate says:

"The deeply colored 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon Antiguas Reservas offers toast, spice box, cedar, and black currant scents." - Jay Miller

Either both Jo ad I have messed-up noses, or Mr. Miller tasted a completely different wine.