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.

January 26, 2008

2005 Mastroberardino Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio

Here's another of those bargains I found recently at a local grocery discounter. I recently tried a 1995 Taurasi from Mastroberardino and liked it quite a bit. That red wine from the aglianico grape demonstrated why some people think aglianico is the nebbiolo of southern Italy. Lots of earthy, truffly, and red fruit aromas and flavors. Nice ageing potential.

Then, amid a variety of close outs recently, I saw a stack of 2005 Mastroberardino Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio for super cheap. I've never tried this DOC white wine (there is also red wine of the same name), and generally like trying things I've never tried. Am I glad I did.

Yes, I can now say with authority that Christ's Tears of Mt. Vesuvius makes for delicious drinking, alone or with food.

Actually, this is made from 100% Coda di Volpe, and if I tasted it blind I might have guessed this was a nice Loire chenin blanc. This light yellow colored wine has a gorgeous perfume that opens up nicely after being open for a day. Honeydew melon, some lanolin that I associate with chenin, then lots of minerals. In the mouth, it's not super complex but fresh, rounded but still bright tasting with yellow fruit flavors and a savory quality that makes you salivate. And wonder what's for dinner.

This is simply delicious wine and a steal at its close out price. I wouldn't have a problem buying it at the regular price either. But don't buy too much. This isn't a wine to keep very long. I suspect its charm will fade with time. Save more tightly wound whites for the cellar.

January 23, 2008

Blending Trials

A local winemaker whom I know called me recently with a nice invitation. He was doing blending trials and wondered if I could help him out. I jumped at the chance.

Winemakers it seems will let almost anyone sort fruit at harvest time. But it takes a while before you get the chance to really taste through their wines and give input on blending decisions.

Blending trials are when you taste through every barrel that's ready for bottling, evaluate the qualities of each sample, and make decisions about what wines will go into which bottlings. They are also a physical and mental challenge.


They are the vinuous equivalent of three days of interviewing potential new hires. Add in a mouth that feels like you've eaten a dozen bowls of Capt'n Crunch and you might understand how you can feel at the end. Wine is the last thing you want with dinner, that's for sure.

So three of us took nearly two days to taste many dozens of barrel samples in small groups, sniffing and spitting, of course, again and again. Then we talked about the wines and rated them on a rough scale, and moved on to the next group. Again and again.

It was nerve-wracking to give completely off the cuff comments in this rapid fire tasting environment, especially when I went first, ticking off the wines, what I smelled and tasted, the texture, the balance, what flaws, and what rough quality level the sample seemed to be.

The winemaker of course always spoke last. But I was amazed at how well I felt I did, finding the obvious issues in a few samples and generally feeling like I knew what I was doing. Not that we didn't disagree on things. But I never felt lost, like I shouldn't be there. And I think that the other taster and I had some valuable things to contribute to the winemaker.

We spent the last day coming up with sample blends, which were interesting to blend in cylinders and taste through. One blend of 10 barrels tasted radically different from that same blend with one additional barrel. How could they be so different?

The winemaker mentioned how he finds blending non-linear, so that adding an acidic wine to a blend won't necessarily yield a more acid tasting wine. Or more tannic, or more fruity, or whatever you might want to "add" to a blend to improve it or otherwise affect it in a certain way.

In the end, we didn't make final blending decisions, though we did come up with some blends that might end up pretty close to the final bottlings. But what a tremendous experience for me, seeing how to conduct trials and prepare sample blends. Makes me want to make a bunch of my own wine and do this for myself.

January 22, 2008

2003 Brezza Nebbiolo d'Alba Santa Rosalia

I wrote previously about finding this wine on close out locally for $6. This wine normally sells from $15 to $18, so at such a bargain price I bought six bottles on the spot.

Sadly, the first bottle was oxidized. It just tasted flat and to my mind "papery." Not "wet cardboard," which people often refer to when a wine has TCA cork taint. More like the way brown paper bags smell. Whatever it is, not good.

Of course I thought the remaining five bottles were equally shot. But the next one I tried was a real surprise. At first the aroma seemed a little flat. Then the wine began to open up, with ripe fruit aromas and a real nebbiolo perfume. All the dried flowers, tar, and spice you want in good Piemontese wine.

In the mouth, the wine was finely tannic and brightly acidic as nebbiolo tends to be. The flavors were cherry and spice, with a bit of jammy ripeness from the warm 2003 vintage. If you don't like dry wine, don't try this. And if you think that saying a wine was better with food is damning with faint praise, don't try this.

But I liked it. And more importantly, my wife liked it too. So I'm going to buy a few more. At this price, I'll take another clunker to find good wine this cheap.

If you try it, remember. Food. Very nice.

January 19, 2008

Wine Bargains in Portland

Maybe I should say "bargains," because you always need to be suspicious of deals that look good to be true.

Sometimes they are, and sometimes they aren't, even in the same shop. Or should I say, Grocery Outlet, which lately has had the best deals on interesting wine locally than I've seen in a while.

We know that I can't resist a bargain, so occasionally I check out local Grocery Outlets to see if they have something worthwhile. And no, I'm not talking about 5 year old white zin for $1.99 a bottle that's now turning amber in color.

No, once in a while they have some single digit deals on double digit wines that are pretty decent And for the skeptic, no, these wines usually aren't cooked. Damaged goods do show up at close out prices almost anywhere, but so do perfectly good bottles that, for one reason or another, simply must be priced to go away. And in my experience, the better labels I've found at the Grocery Outlet don't seem any more likely to be compromised than deals you'll find elsewhere.

So a couple weeks ago I stopped in at the McMinnville Grocery Outlet on 99W and found some closed out Italian wines from Castello Panaretta, all $10 or less. In fact, they had the same 2004 Paneretta Chianti Classico I saw as cheap as $10 at Portland retailers in the past few months for just $8. This same wine is back to $18 on local shelves now, as a new importer has taken over the line. Looks like the old importer dumped what stock remained. This isn't uncommon, but I found it interesting that the importer switch came mid-vintage, instead of with a new vintage.

The Panaretta wines all tasted undamaged to me, though only the basic Chianti tastes like Italian wine, so I didn't buy the Terrine or Torre e Destra in any quantity. But if you like them, they're just $10 each. That's well below the usual $20-$30 prices.

Then a 2003 Brezza Nebbiolo d'Alba Santa Rosalia for $6 caught my eye. I enjoyed this authentic Piedmont wine last year for $15 locally, so I immediately bought six bottles. Of course, this one tastes a bit tired as if it were poorly stored somewhere along the line. Live and learn.

After my experience at the Mac Grocery Outlet, curiousity got the better of me and I visited other local Outlets to see if different ones had different things to choose from. And did they.

At one, I found the Panaretta and Brezza deals, but also things like '04 Pieropan Soave for $6, '05 Mastroberardino Lacryma d'Christi and Greco di Tufo for $8, a stray bottle of '01 Panaretta Chianti Classico for $9, and some other unexpected things for low prices.

Then came the mother lode. One Grocery Outlet locally had a few cases of the '04 Drouhin Chassagne Montrachet Laguiche for $17, which I wrote about previously. Had, of course. It's gone now, thank you very much. One stray bottle of '03 Jadot Chassagne Montrachet may still be there.

And this same location also has estate wines from HdV, the Hyde/de Villaine project from Carneros down in southern Napa Valley. There's an '03 Estate Chardonnay for $19, an '04 Estate Syrah for the same price, and an '05 En La Guerra Chardonnay, the second label, for $13. That's a far cry from the usual $50-$60 prices on the first two or the $30 tab for the last one.

Even if these wines aren't your style, you have to admit these are amazing discounts. And nothing besides the Brezza Nebbiolo seems damaged, though taste for yourself before buying in quantity. This isn't a fine wine merchant we're talking about, and who knows what goes on in the back (or front, for that matter) of this chain's locations.

And no, I'm going going to give out specific locations. Do some searching, or email me. These deals aren't meant to be advertised, and even if the old practice of the wines business regarding unmentioned close outs isn't going to last in the internet age, I'm sure I've already said too much to keep from getting angry emails from in the business types who don't like their secrets published.

January 07, 2008

Weirdest Wine Gadget Ever

[edited after encouragement on the home front]

...Such as many bottles of the best wine buy I've found in a long time. That's the 2004 Joseph Drouhin Chassagne Montrachet "Marquis de Laguiche" that's really 1er cru white Burgundy from the Morgeots vineyard (according to two authoritative sources that I'd report if I were more academic and less lazy).

This wine retails from $50 to $90. I found some for $16.99 at a local discounter who has this and a few other treasures for a song. More on that soon enough.

Tonight's bottle was my tester to see if this stuff is damaged. Um, no. This is a gorgeous green gold in color with a fragrance of apples, clay, and subtle spices. No assertive, agressive oak, no weird buttery notes. Just pure, luscious white Burg.

Of course, I first tasted this "warm" after the failed [snip] experience. But it was so good, and only better after 30 minutes in the fridge. Which, you know, does a marvelous job chilling wine. Oh, the texture and flavors here. Definitely high thread count stuff, almost lacy if you can use that term for something other than red Burgundy. Just a baby now, I plan to cellar a bunch for the next decade.

That's more than I can say for the [snip, sorry].

January 03, 2008

Storyteller Wine Company

I'm not one for end of year "best of" lists. But I know this. One of the best things to happen in the Portland, OR, wine world this past year was the opening of Storyteller Wine Company.

I first met Head Storyteller Michael Alberty in the summer of 2006 at a wine gathering at the Manning's house. Alberty was the mysterious Christopher Walken-looking guy with a bottle of 2001 Pegau Chateauneuf du Pape Cuvee Laurence in his hand.

I immediately liked him. He's funny with a deep but totally unpretentious wine intellect, a great palate, seriously good taste in wine, and he tells great stories. It turns out he's a really good wine merchant too.

Storyteller is two stores really. One is virtual except for the back office of the John's Landing shop itself. Most of the sales here are internet and phone driven, with email specials, a website, and special orders of just about anything available out there. I'm on the email list but I don't special order much. But if you're looking for local stuff, or great Rhones or whatever, Michael's a really good guy to know.

Then there's the shop itself, open officially only Friday evenings and Saturdays. And when Michael's around (look for the Suburu wagon). Or by appointment. The shop is in a former day spa, with a few separate rooms that are different but work well, especially with events.

The tastings here have been consistently good so far, sometimes exceptional. I won't drop names, but Michael's not afraid to open pretty much anything ('05 Tempier Bandol Cabassou, oops) if the mood strikes him.

And it's just not for me, a sort of friend. I pay full price here by the way. No special favors. And I've been in the shop repeatedly where a lady walking her dog or who knows who else has stopped in only to end up drinking grower Champagne or three vintages of Vieux Telegraphe or whatever the line up was. "Oh, that is good, yes. What is that again?"

This is just a plain and simple good wine shop, and definitely one of the best wine things to happen around here in the past year. I look forward to seeing where Storyteller goes in 2008. Alberty's suggesting that bigger things are on the horizon. I'm usually skeptical of anything like that, but knowing Michael, I'm guessing this store has only just gotten started.