January 31, 2007

Homebrew update

It’s clear this isn’t a frequently updated site, but that’s not for lack of things to write about. First on the list is a homebrew update.

So two weeks ago, I racked my 2006 pinot noir by gravity into a series of tubs. Then I cleaned out the barrel, reset it in the makeshift barrel room, and returned the wine.

The wine seems no worse for the process, and it seems less stinky if not completely clean. I’m now thinking that malolactic fermentation, which will finish up in the spring, might help areate the wine without excess oxidation. We’ll see.

In the meantime, I’ve been thinking a lot about reduction. Some winemakers don’t mind it, but most do and every book on winemaking seems to treat it as the enemy.

I’m of mixed mind about reduction. A visit to Cameron winery last weekend got me thinking that I need to worry less about it. Read more about that visit here from local guy Michael Alberty. I’ll write up something about it next time with more on reduction.

January 06, 2007

Stinky barrel

Upon returning from Los Angeles, I found my barrel of 2006 Wahle Vineyard Pinot Noir notably stinky.

It smelled ok before I left, but I did notice some reduction in the wine. Reduction in this case sulfides, the smell of rotten eggs or “passing wind” or stinky things like that. A little is fine, and it keeps the wine from oxydizing or browning, something you definitely don’t want in your new wine. But mor ethan a little can turn into worse problems later on, so it’s time to act.

What do you do with stinky wine? Rack the wine off its lees, the sediments that usually are the source of sulfides.

If you recall, I pressed this wine and put it in the barrel “dirty,” meaning I didn’t let the gross lees settle out of the new wine for a day or two before moving it into the barrel.

Why go to barrel “dirty”? Doesn’t the conventional wisdom suggest that lees are the source of more bad things than good?

Yes, but lees encourage the malolactic fermentation that I haven’t innoculated for. Lees aging adds textural richness to the wine. And lees appear to have antioxident properities that I don’t think are fully understood yet. Happily, though much of the lees have settled out already, there will still be fine lees that accumulate going forward that should only benefit the wine’s progress.

Perhaps my sulfide issue is due to going to barrel dirty. I wouldn’t be surprised now that I think about it, given the minor sulfide issue I had during fermentation. But it’s not a bad problem, and if nothing else I will end up with clearer wine come bottling time for having eliminated so much sediment. Many wineries would be racking wine soon anyway, though artisinal Pinot Noir producers commonly don’t rack their wine until bottling time next summer or fall.

Racking, or moving the wine out of the barrel through a gravity siphon, will allow the highly volatile sulfides to “blow off” or dissipate as the wine moves. Other winemakers have suggest “splash racking” the wine to increase oxygen expose.

With particularly stinky wines, one winemaker told me he splashes the wine over a copper sheet, the sulfides bonding to the copper to “clean up” the wine. Another suspends a copper pipe piece in the wine barrel before racking. In wineries, you might treat the wine with more precise amounts of copper sulfate, a highly toxic chemical that I don’t believe is legal (or safe) for home use.

This wine won’t need that, especially because I’ll rack twice. Once out of the barrel, then I’ll clean the barrel and return the wine. Wineries call it a “rack and return,” which you might also do with juice during a stinky fermentation. It’s a nice, low impact way to mitigate a problem without much downside at this point.

January 04, 2007

Wine in Los Angeles

Over the holidays in southern California, I had the chance to savor some fine wines and taste some real oddities. We didn’t have wine at every meal, clearly. And wine wasn’t the focus. But you always end up with something to report.

I greatly enjoyed the 2002 Produtorri di Barbaresco Barbaresco normale bottling from the rainy, much maligned vintage. This wine is terrific, with a typcially ruby color, floral and tar perfume, and a tannic but ripe flavor. Unlike most ‘02s I’ve had, you could hold this for a few years. It’s not overly soft or even dilute, though I wouldn’t keep it too long and I’d watch it closely. But for $20 it’s a deal.

A half bottle of 1999 Quinta do Crasto Late Bottled Vintage Port was better than I even expected. Softer as an LBV tends to be, traditionally bottled at four years, this is classic fragrant with peppery flavors, nice texture and length. Terrific value at $10

A 2004 Donnhoff Riesling QBA was good enough but not as precise as I was looking for, more spatlese sweet without the higher acid quality of that pradikat. Still a nice drink, with light earthy petrol notes and fat lemony mineral flavors.

At Christmas we had some NV Korbel sparkling wine, still labelled “Champagne” which seems hard to understand at this point. But the wine is not horrible, actually just not memorable. I did enjoy the oft-maligned NV Moet et Chandon Champagne White Star, more yeasty and firm, not bad at all. A 2005 Zaca Mesa Viognier Santa Ynez Valley was too soft and fruity to make much of an impression, but it was ok. More soda pop like.

For reds, the 2005 Evesham Wood Pinot Noir Willamette Valley was good and fruity, more gushing then past vintages but nice for a crowd. The 1994 Leoville Barton St. Julien was nicely fragrant maturing Bordeaux but less yielding in the mouth. That’s code for tannic. Hold forever. Of course everyone preferred the 2004 Rombauer Zindanfel from various California counties. It’s hugely ripe, oaky, alcoholic, and sweet. I struggled to understand it. I also tried the 2003 Merryvale Cabernet Sauvignon “Starmont” Napa Valley that was a pretty good value at $20, even if the same money would buy you more wine in another category.

Later on in the trip I happened upon two different Screw Kappa Napa wines, both the wine equivalent of Velveeta. They seem to have jammy sheen to them, with “dialed in” oak flavors, yet momentarily they have some appeal. The 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon was perfectly inoffensive, though it didn’t taste much like cabernet. The 2003 (I think) Merlot was more merlot-like, with typcial herbal scents and flavors that tasted manufactured..

Finally, in a restaurant with old friends, a bottle of 2004 Stag’s Leap Wine Cellar Cabernet Sauvignon “Artemis” Napa Valley. This was ripe and richly fruity like Napa cabs tend to be, but not overly so. Finely tannic but built for drinking younger, perfect nice restaurant cabernet.