January 27, 2008

My 2006 Pinot Noir And A Tasting Note

There's no other way to put it. I've struggled with my 2006 Pinot Noir.

There was some hydrogen sulfide stink during primary fermentation back in October 2006, but it went away with some gentle stirring of the fermenting juice. Aeration helps gets rid of stinky smells. And stinky fermentations aren't usual.

Then last January I racked the wine after it had been in barrel a few months and became stinky again. But I think I made a mistake. I was relying on malolactic fermentation to happen naturally, and when I racked the wine I knew it hadn't finished ML. But I think I left too much of the lees behind, meaning I took away the key ingredient to natural ML fermentation, the fine lees sediment that you get after primary fermentation.

Without the lees, I probably should have innoculated for ML. But I didn't. Instead I waited for spring, and indeed the wine began to fizz as spring arrived and the temperature warmed up a bit. I thought ML was progressing normally, but the fizzing never subsided during the summer.

For whatever reason, I waited until September to see if there was malic acid left in the wine. Turns out there was still 1.4 g/L of malic, not a lot if we were just beginning ML but a huge amount nearly one year after harvest. We need to get ML done and get the wine sulfured to keep it fresh. So I innoculated with freeze dried ML culture and kept the wine relatively warm (mid 60sF) to promote the acid fermentation. Immediately the fizzing increased and I was happy.

But the fizzing didn't stop, and after Christmas I tested the wine again. No malic left. Hmmm, then why is it fizzing? A winemaker friend suggested that maybe the wine isn't dry, and that the ML bacteria might be working on the sugar. But it tastes dry and seemed to ferment dry (-1.5 or -2 on a hydrometer, meaning essentially dry). And if there was even a little sugar, wouldn't the ML bacteria start on that and only get to the malic acid once the sugar was gone? The important thing here is that, when malic acid bacteria feeds on sugar, the result is volatile acidity that can make the wine smell like nail polish remover.

Who knows what was happening, but with malic definitely gone, I hit the wine with 60ppm of sulfur dioxide and the fizzing stopped. So how does the wine taste?

Before the SO2 addition, I feared that the wine lacked freshness. Too much time in relatively warm cellar conditions can take a toll on even sturdy, young wine. SO2 can mitigate the aldehydes that give that stale, not so fresh flavor, and SO2 is one of the key things winemakers use to "clean up" a wine before bottling. Meaning, use sulfur to bind up the compounds in a wine that muddy the aromas and flavors, making the wine appear fresher to our senses.

Happily, my fairly large SO2 addition seems to have helped freshen the wine. But I look back on the evolution of this single barrel of Wahle vineyard pinot noir and think of all the things I'd do differently. Beginning with staying on top of ML much better and intervening sooner.

I'll send a sample out to the lab to see how my ph and free SO2 (sulfur that still is active in the wine, meaning the sulfur I've added that is still available to react with oxygen or other compounds that can threaten a wine). Then I'll add SO2 to make sure I have enough for bottling, then rack into a bottling tank and bottle this stuff. That's probably in April.

A barrel sample yesterday seemed a little funky at first, but I was pretty happy with it as it opened up. This is ripe, typcial 2006 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, not as delicate and lacy as I'd like, but full of stuffing and probably something that will please more people than my ideal wine. I just want to make sure it stays as fresh as possible, so that the ripe fruit flavors don't wade into cooked, raisiny areas. That's not great for something like zinfandel, but it's absolutely horrible for pinot noir.

Which leads me to a tasting note of the 2006 Bruno Pinot Noir Willamette Valley. This simply bottling is made by Evesham Wood for its local distributor, Casa Bruno. Hence the name. I found a couple bottles of this at Storyteller locally for $9. It's usually about $15 locally, and for either price it's a steal.

This isn't big, rich pinot noir. And good for that, especially considering this is a 2006, not a year known for delicate, fragrant wines. And this isn't rich wine made for aging or impressing your friends. Instead, it's indeed delicate and fragrant red fruited pinot noir, perhaps as classic a Willamette Valley Pinot Noir as I've ever tasted. Light, fresh, bright, with alluring fragrance and mouthwatering acidity, this wine simply begs you to drink and eat a bite, and drink and eat another bite, and so on.

If you find this one, do decant as there is a lot of fine sediment at the bottom of the bottle. But if you told me this was Evesham Wood's basic Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, I'd believe it and say it's good. In fact, maybe a bit better to my taste than recent WV bottlings, which seems richer and fatter than in the past.

This Bruno wine is simply delicious. If you like John Thomas' Acme nonvintage Pinot Noir, this will be right up your ally. And for $15, or $9 (!!!), it's a ridiculous bargain. It's good to live in Oregon.

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