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Q&A: Evaluating Wine

25 posts in this topic

Please post your questions about Evaluating Wine here, as well as your comments about the assignments and your results. If you have not completed the daily assignments, please refrain from posting until the end of the week, when the thread will open up to general questions. Thanks.

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Just read through the introduction and before I get started on the tasting I came away with one question.

You say on the one hand that wines should never overly smell of asparagus but on the other hand that this is a flavor one might pick up while tasting the wine. Actually you say "...wines should never have unusually "green" aromas like asparagus,..." Can you explain how one might taste something but not necessarily smell it?


"Always do sober what you said you'd do drunk. That will teach you to keep your mouth shut." -Ernest Hemingway

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Make that TWO questions!! :biggrin:

So we actually need more bottles than the list provided before the class started? Six varietals of whites for Assignment #1?

I'm confused.

:blink:


"Always do sober what you said you'd do drunk. That will teach you to keep your mouth shut." -Ernest Hemingway

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I tried 3 inexpensive whites last night. They may not have been typical, because I was going by (bad) memory when I went by the store, and not one was something you'd recommended. I don't know whether that affected my "results". I do know I came away with questions, and some definite learning. That's always fun.

Rancho Zabaco Dancing Bull Sauvignon Blanc, 2000

Berenger Founders Estate Chardonnay, 2003

Beringer Chenin Blanc 2003

It was an interesting and educational comparison. For the very first time, despite years of drinking wine and testing them with friends, I "got" that nose that's supposed to be unmistakeable and characteristic of the chardonnay: butter, maybe some vanilla, and oak. The more I smelled the three, the more I could detect it and the more distinctive it became. I could taste it, too, when I got around to that part. I GOT IT! :biggrin:

Here's my first question: Step 6 of the Evaluating Wine portion seems to be saying that the buttery aroma noted above comes from the way the wine is fermented. Yet chardonnay is always characterized as having aromas of butter, oak, and sometimes toast or vanilla. Are you saying that characteristic is from the way the grapes are handled, rather than the grapes themselves? Could you make a sauvignon blanc grape taste and smell like that? If you did, would you still call the finished product a sauvignon blanc?

More observation: I started to understand a bit about body and structure, based on the description of both. I'm not sure any of these three wines had much of either, but there must have been some structure because the flavor of each changed somewhat as I rolled it around in my mouth. It seemed to me the chardonnay had more body, if I understand that term correctly. It seemed fuller-feeling. Question: does it sound, from this paragraph, like I understand the terms? Does it make sense that the cardonnay would seem fuller, and would that mean it has more body?

Finish: For my money, the RZ sauvignon blanc ended on a sharp note that may have been alcohol, and the B chardonnay ended with a woody sweet note that I didn't like a bit. The B chenin blanc had the nicest finish. That was surprising since that wine is almost too sweet for my tastes as a stand-alone wine, and I'd have guessed that the sweetness would cloy. It may be that the wine was more consistent from start to finish so there was no surprise sweetness jumping out at me as with the chardonnay. Questions: What am I tasting in the finish, and can someone help me characterize it better? I'd be especially interested if someone who knows these particular wines can describe them better. I'd never had the Dancing Bull Sauvignon Blanc before, and won't bother again. (I don't much like their zinfandel either, despite all the hoopla, so I may be weird.) What IS that finish? If some expert prefers not to discuss this in public (say, for fear of offending a client), feel free to PM me.

How typical are the wines I picked of their type?

Finally: nowhere have I seen chenin blanc listed in your labs. Is that because you just overlooked it, or is it not good for this lab for some reason? My reading suggests that I'd have to put good money into a French chenin blanc to get a good representative of this wine, and I got a cheapo wine that I knew would be sweeter than the others - but still, it was a good comparison. Am I off track for this lab?


Edited by Smithy (log)

Nancy Smith, aka "Smithy"
HosteG Forumsnsmith@egstaff.org

"Every day should be filled with something delicious, because life is too short not to spoil yourself. " -- Ling (with permission)

"There comes a time in every project when you have to shoot the engineer and start production." -- author unknown

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Just read through the introduction and before I get started on the tasting I came away with one question.

You say on the one hand that wines should never overly smell of asparagus but on the other hand that this is a flavor one might pick up while tasting the wine. Actually you say "...wines should never have unusually "green" aromas like asparagus,..." Can you explain how one might taste something but not necessarily smell it?

Ideally, as stated below, a wine's aromas should 'lead' into similar flavors in the wine. The aroma should give you a pretty solid idea of what to expect in terms of flavor, although the flavor experience should be even richer, offering layers of tasting experience. If you smell apples, butter, vanilla and sage in a white wine, you should expect those flavors to also be evident in the wine, along with a few more pleasant surprises.

There are some very evident aromas that do not come through as flavors--the creamy lactic smell of butter, and oak, to name two common aromas. There will be other times when you will smell an herbaceousness in a white wine--this is quite common in the thinner skinned varieties like sauvignon blanc and chenin blanc--but you may not taste it at all. I often detect "pleasant" aromas ranging from wildflowers to freshly mown hay in a sauvignon blanc, but its aroma is also commonly described as "cat's pee on a gooseberry bush." This is a good thing, in a weird kind of way. It's that varietal's signature smell. It's an even better thing that you can't taste it in the wine!

It is always possible for a wine to have a set of aromas that don't match the flavor descriptors at all! These wines are generally considered odd. Something went wrong either in the vineyard or the winery. The wine may still be enjoyable, but it's not ideal.

Finally, as stated below, subtle aromas of herb, sweet pepper, eucalyptus, or even asparagus are fine as long as they are a) subtle, and b) characteristic of the varietal. When the wine smells more like "dinner in a glass" or Gerber Baby Foods creamed peas, you may safely dub it over the top.

Generally, a strong "green" aroma comes from either a very cool vintage in which the grapes perhaps matured in terms of sugar, but were not able to ripen their flavors fully---or conversely, from a hot growing climate where the grapes ripened too quickly in terms of sugar, leaving flavor trailing behind.

Here's some more recommended reading:

Terrible Terms for otherwise fine wines (includes an interesting discussion on cat pee)

Wine 101: Disgusting Things in Wine

A well-crafted wine should give hints of the fruit flavors to come, ranging from melons, peaches, and pineapple in white wines, to plum, cherry and cassis in red wine. Oak is often more evident in a wine's aroma than in its taste, and depending on the type of barrels used, you may also find esters of cedar, vanilla or cinnamon from oak aging

Although aromas of mint and herb are often attractive, wines should never have unusually "green" aromas like asparagus, fermented grass, or pureed baby food.

Cool growing seasons and some vineyards impart slightly vegetal characteristics that may remind you of herbs or asparagus.

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Make that TWO questions!! :biggrin:

So we actually need more bottles than the list provided before the class started? Six varietals of whites for Assignment #1?

I'm confused.

It depends on whether you are tasting alone, or as a group. For an individual or couple, I recommend sticking with just 3 bottles each of white wine, and 3 of red.

A group of four to six friends performing the exercises as a group could taste four to six wines. Although I only mention four standard white varietals, it would be fine to bring another varietal, or another bottle of a wine listed. For instance, there are crisp, tank-fermented Chardonnays, oak-fermented and aged Chardonnays, and many large production Chardonnays are actually somewhat sweet! So you could try out your new skills on a range of styles in one varietal.


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I GOT IT!  :biggrin:

Excellent!

Here's my first question: Step 6 of the Evaluating Wine portion seems to be saying that the buttery aroma noted above comes from the way the wine is fermented.  Yet chardonnay is always characterized as having aromas of butter, oak, and sometimes toast or vanilla.  Are you saying that characteristic is from the way the grapes are handled, rather than the grapes themselves?

Chardonnay has gone through as many fashions as women's shoes. It's a versatile and somewhat masculine white grape. It can be grown in a variety of soils and climates, it's somewhat thick-skinned, with strong apple flavors, and it's very forgiving of mistakes. The reason it's often characterized as having butter and oak is because this has been the most popular style to date. Up until the 1980's it was more common to find a crisp, tank-fermented style. Then, since consumers thought of oak as "sophisticated," US winemakers started playing around with it and competing for the awakening US wine market, making heavily lactic and oak styles. After a while the wines got too unctuous and knowledgeable reviewers and customers started complaining that all they could taste was butter or oak, so now the industry has veered back to a more balanced style. It's my guess that most widely distributed (mass market) chardonnays have partial malolactic.

Could you make a sauvignon blanc grape taste and smell like that?  If you did, would you still call the finished product a sauvignon blanc?

Yes, it's always possible to force a variety to mimic another in terms of style. It has often been done in an effort to make "unfashionable" grapes attractive to the wine-buying market. Decades ago, many US consumers felt a little sophisticated ordering a "chardonnay" with a meal, but they wouldn't order "sauvignon blanc" because they didn't know what it was and they couldn't pronounce it. Mondavi was the first to make a heavily-oaked style and call it "Fume Blanc." It caught on as a pronounceable and sophisticated alternative to chardonnay. Viognier is a varietal that's catching on now, but a lot of producers are still doing it all wrong--trying to vinify it like chardonnay, or they pick it too soon.

In the US, a wine made from a single grape varietal is usually named after the varietal. So a sauvignon blanc would most likely be labeled as a "sauvignon blanc" whether it was good, bad, indifferent, oaked, tanked, or bottled a month after pressing with oak additives in it.

It seemed to me the chardonnay had more body, if I understand that term correctly.  It seemed fuller-feeling.  Question: does it sound, from this paragraph, like I understand the terms?  Does it make sense that the cardonnay would seem fuller, and would that mean it has more body?

Yes, chardonnay is a grape with a naturally heavier mouthfeel. And, because of that, it can often handle a little more winemaker intervention gracefully, and is therefore a recipient of more maloloactic fermentation and oak than other white wines which are more "delicate." Being thicker skinned than some other white varieties, it also requires more heat to ripen, and heat often = higher sugar in the grapes which = more alcohol, which = heavier mouthfeel. Were you able to detect any differences in the "legs" of your white wines?

Finish: For my money, the RZ sauvignon blanc ended on a sharp note that may have been alcohol, and the B chardonnay ended with a woody sweet note that I didn't like a bit.  Questions: What am I tasting in the finish, and can someone help me characterize it better?

I couldn't find reviews on the 2003 Founders Estate Chardonnay, but here are a few professional comments on the 2002:

Wine Enthusiast

Rated 87/Best Buy. "Nice and fruity, with plenty of ripe flavors and pleasantly oaky shadings. Peaches, pineapples and cream, buttered toast, cinnamonny spices and vanilla mingle together, leading to a sweet, honeyed finish." August 2004

San Francisco Chronicle

"…the full-bodied, big boy of the group…loaded with spicy oak notes and ultraripe fruit and has a creamy texture." June 17, 2004.

It looks as though Beringer definitely goes after the super-ripe, honeyed, and heavily oaked style, on the chardonnay, at any rate. I'm guessing you may prefer some oak, but not a total oak bomb. I'm with you in that camp. Although I said earlier that oak is more an aroma than a flavor, that may be my strong personal preference coming through. If I taste oak in a white wine, I'm usually apt to praise it as "liquid gold," but I'm not really referring to the wine!

How typical are the wines I picked of their type?

I haven't tried the Dancing Bull, but Beringer is usually very consistent and true to varietal, although I suspect the whites do have a trace (less than 2%, I'm guessing) of residual sugar. Big productions often leave a little 'RS' in the wine to balance the alcohol and give the wine a fuller mouthfeel. It's barely detectable unless you're experienced, and even then not unpleasant. If the Beringer wines had a trace of RS, and the sauvignon blanc was completely dry and had no malolactic conversion to soften it, it would taste very sharp compared to the other two. Or, it could just be a really acidic wine.

Finally: nowhere have I seen chenin blanc listed in your labs.  Is that because you just overlooked it, or is it not good for this lab for some reason?  My reading suggests that I'd have to put good money into a French chenin blanc to get a good representative of this wine, and I got a cheapo wine that I knew would be sweeter than the others - but still, it was a good comparison.  Am I off track for this lab?

No, you're fine. I didn't include chenin blanc for two reasons, and one is the one you just stated--I think it's hard to find an affordable yet well made chenin blanc that's widely available. Also, it's a delicate, thin-skinned variety as is sauvignon blanc, so I figured the sauvignon blanc would cover that part of the white wine spectrum.

We'll use the suggested varietals as the basic course "assignments" but if anyone chooses another varietal and can share their impressions here, it will be like "alternate studies."

I also enjoy a well made pinot blanc, which is similar to chardonnay but more pear-focused. I didn't include it, however, because I feel that the largest producer (who shall remain unnamed) doesn't do it justice. The Wild Horse pinot blanc was wonderful. I once took some to share with girlfriends in Newport Beach, California. They all drink chardonnay, and I wanted to expand their horizons. They loved it. "This is the best chardonnay we've ever had!" I pointed out that it's a pinot blanc. "Yes," they agreed, "and it's the best chardonnay we've every had!" I finally just shook my head and gave up. I'm glad they liked it, though.


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It seemed to me the chardonnay had more body, if I understand that term correctly.  It seemed fuller-feeling.  Question: does it sound, from this paragraph, like I understand the terms?  Does it make sense that the cardonnay would seem fuller, and would that mean it has more body?

Yes, chardonnay is a grape with a naturally heavier mouthfeel. And, because of that, it can often handle a little more winemaker intervention gracefully, and is therefore a recipient of more maloloactic fermentation and oak than other white wines which are more "delicate." Being thicker skinned than some other white varieties, it also requires more heat to ripen, and heat often = higher sugar in the grapes which = more alcohol, which = heavier mouthfeel. Were you able to detect any differences in the "legs" of your white wines?

It's strange, but I didn't see any legs at all. I couldn't see them on the merlot presently featured as the WOW, either. I confess I'm using my "everyday" wine glasses, that are routinely run through the dishwasher. (I know, I'm a heathen.) Do you suppose the glasses have some coating that's interfering with the legs? I know what wine legs look like from past experience.

Edited to add: I may have been too impatient. It took longer than I expected to see the "legs" on the red wines I tried after posting this.

Finish: For my money, the RZ sauvignon blanc ended on a sharp note that may have been alcohol, and the B chardonnay ended with a woody sweet note that I didn't like a bit.  Questions: What am I tasting in the finish, and can someone help me characterize it better?

<snip>

It looks as though Beringer definitely goes after the super-ripe, honeyed, and heavily oaked style, on the chardonnay, at any rate. I'm guessing you may prefer some oak, but not a total oak bomb. I'm with you in that camp. Although I said earlier that oak is more an aroma than a flavor, that may be my strong personal preference coming through. If I taste oak in a white wine, I'm usually apt to praise it as "liquid gold," but I'm not really referring to the wine!

Until this lab, I thought I didn't like oak at all. This lab suggests I may like it in very small doses. I'm relieved that the style may be swinging back toward a more balanced style, but the present oaky fashion has put me right off most California chardonnays. We call that oak flavor "pine tar" around our house.

"Honeyed" isn't a word I thought of to describe that sweetness, but I think you may have hit it.

How typical are the wines I picked of their type?

I haven't tried the Dancing Bull, but Beringer is usually very consistent and true to varietal, although I suspect the whites do have a trace (less than 2%, I'm guessing) of residual sugar. Big productions often leave a little 'RS' in the wine to balance the alcohol and give the wine a fuller mouthfeel. It's barely detectable unless you're experienced, and even then not unpleasant. If the Beringer wines had a trace of RS, and the sauvignon blanc was completely dry and had no malolactic conversion to soften it, it would taste very sharp compared to the other two. Or, it could just be a really acidic wine.

I may try it again tonight, after I've done the red wine lab...or maybe some other time so the two types don't interfere. That reminds me, is it too late to do the red wine lab and post about it if I do it tonight? I couldn't get to it last night.

I also enjoy a well made pinot blanc, which is similar to chardonnay but more pear-focused.  I didn't include it, however, because I feel that the largest producer (who shall remain unnamed) doesn't do it justice.  The Wild Horse pinot blanc was wonderful.  I once took some to share with girlfriends in Newport Beach, California.  They all drink chardonnay, and I wanted to expand their horizons.  They loved it.  "This is the best chardonnay we've ever had!" I pointed out  that it's a pinot blanc.  "Yes," they agreed, "and it's the best chardonnay we've every had!"  I finally just shook my head and gave up.  I'm glad they liked it, though.

:laugh::laugh::laugh:

Edited as noted above.


Edited by Smithy (log)

Nancy Smith, aka "Smithy"
HosteG Forumsnsmith@egstaff.org

"Every day should be filled with something delicious, because life is too short not to spoil yourself. " -- Ling (with permission)

"There comes a time in every project when you have to shoot the engineer and start production." -- author unknown

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Riesling

Bonny Doon Pacific Rim (California)

Chehalem (Oregon)

Erath Vineyard (Oregon)

Hugel (Alsace)

Trimbach (Alsace)

dont you think you forgot the german producers from mosel, ahr or rhein which when it comes to riesling are easily the best in the world !

cheers from cologne :wink:

t.


toertchen toertchen

patissier chocolatier cafe

cologne, germany

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For Lab 2, I assessed the following:

* Solaris Special Release Pinot Noir, 2003, 13.6% alcohol

* Cline Ancient Vines Mourvedre, 2002, 14.5% alcohol

* Alderbrook OVOC Dry Creek Zinfandel, 2000 (% alcohol not listed)

The Solaris and Alderbrook weren't among those you recommended, but these are all wines we keep on hand because we like them. Well, the Solaris is new and on probation, so to speak; the quality seems spotty. But it's inexpensive, and has generally been good. This bottle didn't seem to be as good as some.

Appearance: all a pleasant deep red, of course. The zinfandel had a tinge of orange; the mourvedre and pinot noir were more on the purple side.

Legs: well formed for all three. The pinot noir was slowest to form legs. The zinfandel had the least distinct legs. The mourvedre had viscous legs that were spaced farther apart than in the other two. Interesting. What does it mean?

Nose: here, it really was most useful to compare and contrast the three. At first sniff, all smelled pleasantly like wine :rolleyes: but without any distinctive odors - no strong alcohol, for instance. None had detectable oaks or butter notes. As I sniffed back and forth, I could start to tell differences.

Pinot noir: lightest aroma of the three. Smelled vaguely floral.

Mourvedre: reminded me more of unfermented grape juice than of wine

Zinfandel: fruit and alcohol. After sniffing the others and coming back, there was a detectable spice note.

Then the sipping began.

Pinot Noir: mouthfeel was thin, astringent. The wine was pleasant but rather nondescript; I really couldn't come up with anything to say about it beyond "nice finish". It didn't change much as I rolled and tasted the mouthful. To be fair, this bottle had been open a night already and may have suffered.

Mourvedre: mouthfeel fuller, still astringent. I think it had noticeable tannins. It definitely had structure, changing as I held it, and...ahhh, a smoky finish. I got cigar tobacco! THAT's what people are talking about!

Zinfandel: fullest mouthfeel. I didn't write any notes at this stage; I love this zin but tonight couldn't come up with anything to describe here either: brambles, blackberries, whatever. By this time I was getting hungy and it was time for food.

Food compatability: a real eye-opener. For reasons related more to cooking what needed to be cooked than compatability, dinner was some "Tunisian" sausage of lamb and beef with harissa, garlic, and other spices, braised in beer, and potatoes dauphinois. (Each dish was good, but I don't recommend pairing them.)

The zinfandel really sang with the sausage. The wine seemed to gain spice and complexity with the sausage, although I still didn't try to characterize the flavors. The mourvedre stood up to the sausage and had plenty of flavor, but the flavor seemed bitter. The pinot noir went totally, absolutely flat against the sausage. Whatever floral notes or fruity flavors I'd detected before were gone. Yecho.

The results were exactly the opposite with the potatoes dauphinois. The zinfandel fought with it (PDQ Bach's "Symphony for Bagpipes and Lute" comes to mind). The mourvedre was somewhere in the middle. The pinot noir - now, the pinot noir and the gratin sang together, mellow notes beautifully blended. Was that really the same wine? Didn't the potatoes seem creamier than before?

These results were repeatable. I went back and forth between dishes and wines, trying various combinations and trying things in different orders. Most interesting.

How typical are these wines of their type? Comments on my notes, questions from interested readers (if there are any), and "try this next time" suggestions from more educated palates would be welcome.


Edited by Smithy (log)

Nancy Smith, aka "Smithy"
HosteG Forumsnsmith@egstaff.org

"Every day should be filled with something delicious, because life is too short not to spoil yourself. " -- Ling (with permission)

"There comes a time in every project when you have to shoot the engineer and start production." -- author unknown

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dont you think you forgot the german producers from mosel, ahr or rhein which when it comes to riesling are easily the best in the world !

cheers from cologne  :wink:

Guten tag, schneich! I'll admit it's a basic list, and we tried to include just a few names that are in wide distribution in the US and Canada. I agree that German rieslings are wonderful. A few years ago I had a conversation with a young German winemaker who was very charming, but his entire production is sold to the Queen of England.


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Legs: well formed for all three.  The pinot noir was slowest to form legs.  The zinfandel had the least distinct legs.  The mourvedre had viscous legs that were spaced farther apart than in the other two.  Interesting.  What does it mean?

Ah hah. Very observant, Smithy! Legs are mainly an indicator of alcohol in wine, which is related to a wine's surface tension. A good scientific explanation of wine tears, or legs.

Which means that by observing the legs you can discern if the alcohol listed on the label is reasonably accurate. Since wines are often blended right before bottling, the governmental department that approves labels gives wineries a +/- leeway of 1.5% in either direction. (But sometimes wineries just fib.)

However, there is also the issue of glycerol in the wine. Glycerol (sweet minor alcohols) vs. ethanol (happy buzz) can be affected by a winery's choice of yeast.

From Applied and Environmental Microbiology:

The usual glycerol concentration in wine ranges from 4 to 9 g/liter (30, 33, 34, 36). Although it has no direct impact on aromatic characteristics, glycerol has a favorable effect on wine quality. Sweetness is the main contribution of glycerol to sensory characteristics at levels commonly found in wines (16, 27, 36). Saccharomyces cerevisiae yeast strains producing large amounts of glycerol would therefore be of considerable value in improving wine quality. Moreover, the overproduction of glycerol at the expense of ethanol might represent an advantageous alternative for the development of beverages with low ethanol contents versus physical processes which alter the organoleptic properties of the final product.

There's a popular misconception that "glycerine" in a wine contributes to the thickness of its legs. However, glycerols are not sugars, but sweet-tasting minor alcohols and a by-product of the fermentation process. The taste threshold is about 5 g/liter. Glycerol levels need to be at 28 g/liter before they are visible, which is generally the range for dessert wines, but I believe it can sometimes be reached in dry wines. Wineries can shoot for a sweeter and thicker mouthfeel by choosing certain yeasts, but truthfully I think most producers would prefer yeasts that emphasize floral, spice, or berry components. There are also yeasts that stabilize color, and yeasts that can survive higher alcohols, which are generally good for zinfandel.

Glycerol is often relative to alcohol (ethanol to purists, since glycerol is part of your alcohol experience), so it's interesting that the mourvedre was the highest in alcohol, and it appears to have a high glycerol content.

Bottom line: Observing the legs will give you an idea of what to expect when you smell and taste the wine.

The zinfandel really sang with the sausage.  The wine seemed to gain spice and complexity with the sausage, although I still didn't try to characterize the flavors.  The mourvedre stood up to the sausage and had plenty of flavor, but the flavor seemed bitter.  The pinot noir went totally, absolutely flat against the sausage.  Whatever floral notes or fruity flavors I'd detected before were gone.  Yecho.

The results were exactly the opposite with the potatoes dauphinois.  The zinfandel fought with it (PDQ Bach's "Symphony for Bagpipes and Lute" comes to mind). The mourvedre was somewhere in the middle.  The pinot noir - now, the pinot noir and the gratin sang together, mellow notes beautifully blended.  Was that really the same wine?  Didn't the potatoes seem creamier than before?

Exactly! I'm hoping that next fall we will have a semester on food and wine pairing, where we will taste a range of wines, then retaste them after certain "palate experiences" like a squeeze of lemon, or a bite of broccoli, tomato, oil, cheese, or chocolate. It's interesting to retaste a wine after these palate experiences and learn how these sensory changes affect the taste of wine. Lemon, for instance, represents the family of acids, which would include vinaigrettes or acids used in dishes, while oils represent the effect of sauces and meat fats. Learning to anticipate how these foods affect our sensory perception of wine makes it easier (and more fun) to select wines for a particular menu. You can even learn to build a menu that will enhance the enjoyment of a special bottle of wine.

You are observing that a strong food can overwhelm delicate and nuanced flavors (or an insipid wine). There's also the phenomenon that tasting a food with a strong flavor that is echoed in the wine "neutralizes" your perception of that flavor. For instance, although I never met Andre Tchelicheff, a friend of his, Bruce Shomler, taught me this exercise which Andre had introduced him to. Bruce poured me a glass of a very young, tannic cabernet franc. I tasted it and the tannins were overpowering. Spicy and astringent. Then he handed me a cigar. (I'm not a cigar smoker, so I had trouble keeping it lit and I felt a little silly, but it was fun.) When I returned to the wine after several puffs on the cigar, the astringency had fallen away. I tasted deep cherry fruit and floral overtones, and the wine seemed rich and elegant. This is an extreme example of competing sensory experiences while sampling wine, but I think you'll find as you experiment with this that you will often choose an entirely different set of descriptors for a wine when tasting it before, then after, food.

Generally, an acid will make a wine seem fatter, rounder, sweeter. Oils and fats will emphasize the fruit acids in a wine. Mild spices and peppercorns will make a wine seem fruitier. Of course, it also depends on whether these elements are mild or heavy. Thai food, for instance, can be a tough match with wine!

How typical are these wines of their type?  Comments on my notes, questions from interested readers (if there are any), and "try this next time" suggestions from more educated palates would be welcome.

I think you're ready to ask that question in the wine forum!


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Wow, thank you for all that! For the moment I just have one question (I'm still absorbing): What do you mean by the statement I highlighted in bold text below?

<many snips>

 

...

There's a popular misconception that "glycerine" in a wine contributes to the thickness of its legs.  However, glycerols are not sugars, but sweet-tasting minor alcohols and a by-product of the fermentation process.  The taste threshold is about 5 g/liter.  Glycerol levels need to be at 28 g/liter before they are visible, which is generally the range for dessert wines, but I believe it can sometimes be reached in dry wines. Wineries can shoot for a sweeter and thicker mouthfeel by choosing certain yeasts, but truthfully I think most producers would prefer yeasts that emphasize floral, spice, or berry components.  There are also yeasts that stabilize color, and yeasts that can survive higher alcohols, which are generally good for zinfandel. 

Glycerol is often relative to alcohol (ethanol to purists, since glycerol is part of your alcohol experience), so it's interesting that the mourvedre was the highest in alcohol, and it appears to have a high glycerol content.

Bottom line:  Observing the legs will give you an idea of what to expect when you smell and taste the wine.

I'm not quite sure I'm following this part. Are you saying that the "legs" won't be visible unless the glycerol reaches 28 g/l, or that the sum of all the alcohol has to reach that point? Do my mourvedre legs tell me there's more glycerol, hence a more perceived sweetness, or that there's a higher overall alcohol content?

Sorry to seem thick on that part. The rest is clear, very helpful, and gives me a lot to ponder.


Nancy Smith, aka "Smithy"
HosteG Forumsnsmith@egstaff.org

"Every day should be filled with something delicious, because life is too short not to spoil yourself. " -- Ling (with permission)

"There comes a time in every project when you have to shoot the engineer and start production." -- author unknown

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I'm referring strictly to glycerol content in my comment, but it's all relative, I'm afraid. The mourvedre is high in alcohol, which would be the primary cause of thicker legs.

Use of a glycerol enhancing yeast by the winemaker might also contribute to that, or to the differences between the other two wines, but it would be anyone's guess. However, here is a link to Vinquiry's Fermentation Products page. (Click on "Yeast Strains Carried by Vinquiry" for the Adobe Acrobat file.)

If you really want to blow your friends away, you can learn to say something like, "Ah, I see this syrah is very dark and has wonderfully thick legs. Perhaps it was fermented with a Rhone-isolate yeast designed to emphasize raspberries, pepper, cassis and violets while contributing to production of thick, sweet glycerol and polysaccharides, yet stabilizing its royal depth of color and fulfilling its organoleptic development."


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Can I smell lactic acid?

Is the aroma strong or faint? Do I suspect a full or partial ML conversion?

Hi!

How do I detect the lactic acid smell? Where can I compare it to?

Thanks.


"A bottle of wine is actually alive. It's constantly evolving and gaining complexity. That is, until it peaks - like your '61 - and begins its steady, inevitable decline."

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I'm doing Assignment #2 tonight with friends (T.G.I.F.!). I really would like to start with #1 but the people tonight prefers red. I'm bringing the tasting sheet.

Anyway, I also would like to add a bottle of red Tuscan wine. What do you suggest for a good & affordable Tuscan wine? Do they have a certain varietal for that area? Or is it appellation?

Thanks.


Edited by cfusion (log)

"A bottle of wine is actually alive. It's constantly evolving and gaining complexity. That is, until it peaks - like your '61 - and begins its steady, inevitable decline."

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The best way I have found to really pin down the aroma of lactic is to take 2 to 3 tablespoons of real, unsalted butter and melt it in a small, glass condiment dish (or whatever you have that's similar) in the microwave. Let the butter cool until it begins to harden again near the bottom of the dish, and develops a half-melted, half-grainy texture. Smell the butter and take note of the sharp, milky smell.

It's easiest to smell the lactic acid when the butter is warm and half-melted, as opposed to cold or hot.

Then return to the white wines and see if you can detect a trace of lactic.


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The best way I have found to really pin down the aroma of lactic is to take 2 to 3 tablespoons of real, unsalted butter and melt it in a small, glass condiment dish (or whatever you have that's similar) in the microwave.  Let the butter cool until it begins to harden again near the bottom of the dish, and develops a half-melted, half-grainy texture.  Smell the butter and take note of the sharp, milky smell. 

It's easiest to smell the lactic acid when the butter is warm and half-melted, as opposed to cold or hot. 

Then return to the white wines and see if you can detect a trace of lactic.

Thanks, RRose! I will try your procedure and let you know.


"A bottle of wine is actually alive. It's constantly evolving and gaining complexity. That is, until it peaks - like your '61 - and begins its steady, inevitable decline."

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If you really want to blow your friends away, you can learn to say something like, "Ah, I see this syrah is very dark and has wonderfully thick legs.  Perhaps it was fermented with a Rhone-isolate yeast designed to emphasize raspberries, pepper, cassis and violets while contributing to production of thick, sweet glycerol and polysaccharides, yet stabilizing its royal depth of color and fulfilling its organoleptic development."

Ah, I hope to be able to evaluate wine like that - - - hopefully, by the time I retire. :rolleyes:


Edited by cfusion (log)

"A bottle of wine is actually alive. It's constantly evolving and gaining complexity. That is, until it peaks - like your '61 - and begins its steady, inevitable decline."

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Last night I set out to do Assignment 3. I looked at the 6 wine bottles I've already opened this week - and flying solo on this class - and decided I'd better revisit them rather than open yet another bottle. This wasn't entirely a fair test, considering that the white wine bottles were by then on their 4th night open (although corked and in the refrigerator) and the reds had been open 1 night (corked and on the counter). Still, I thought I'd get something out of re-evaluating them.

Beringer Chenic Blanc 2003: Maybe that's an under-ripe smell and flavor I'm getting. It seemed short, somehow (as in not full). I'll go with under-ripe. Still, it has an unctuous mouthfeel and seems honeyed. Those are two very useful words to add to my wine vocabulary. The semi-sweet character seems like honey rather than sugar. For my tastes it was overdone and tended to override the fruit flavor. In trying to decide just what fruit flavor I was getting, I broke out the aroma kit although that wasn't in the instructions. My best guess was apple, but it wasn't very distinct. I didn't get a hint of butter on the nose, so I'm guessing there was no malolactic conversion for this. By the way, this didn't make any legs, even on my good glassware. Does that mean this is a relatively low-alcohol (including glycerol) wine? Final question about this one: is that honey flavor from residual sugar?

Rancho Zabaco Dancing Bull Sauvignon Blanc, 2000: I didn't like this on Monday night, and the few redeeming qualities it may have had were gone by last night. I couldn't taste a bit of fruit. The nose may have had a hint of lemon, but I'd call it the standard Eureka lemon rather than a Meyer. (I hasten to add that this wine had not turned detectably toward vinegar; it wasn't that far gone.) That high thin hot note I noted on the first night was worse. Does this indicate little to no residual sugar? Again, remembering that this had been opened several days before, my assessment might not be representative of the freshly opened bottle, but I wouldn't buy this wine again since I didn't like it the first night either. I like sauvignon blancs in general, and there are better ones available for the money.

Beringer Founders Estate Chardonnay, 2003: Absolutely, positively butter on the nose. So this has had a malolactic conversion? How would I know whether it's full or partial? There was also a smell of honey and apples. The apples were unmistakeable once I compared to the aroma kit. Fuller mouthfeel than the others, a distinct oak, almost too much for my tastes. Then the surprise: as I tasted that wine, tasted the other whites, smelled against the aroma kits, and came back, I suddenly was tasting POPCORN with the oak! Once I tasted the popcorn, it was there, and I couldn't shake it. I liked it. This wine had more depth than I'd noticed the first night. I take that to be an indication of what I'm learning rather than the wine itself getting that much better. Overall I'm still not crazy about this particular wine - the honey starts to cloy - but it's better and more interesting than I thought at first.

I still had tastebuds and energy left to try the two reds I'd opened the night before. I didn't bother with the Solaris, since it hadn't had much to say for itself the previous night without food, and because I was running out of steam.

Alderbrook OVOC Dry Creek Zinfandel, 2000: No butter on the nose. None. So that means no malolactic conversion? How hard and fast is this correlation? The smell was fruity and the flavor was ripe. The wine wasn't as unctuous as the chardonnay had been. This wine has definite structure, but seemed less complex than the mourvedre. The aromas and flavors were all fruit, as near as I could make out. The closest thing in my aroma kit seemed to be peaches (not what I'd have expected). It didn't match the raspberries at all. I couldn't make out any pepper, any other spices, and herbs. There was no detectable oak.

Cline Ancient Vines Mourvedre, 2002: It smells RIPE. Ripest of the bunch. The overwhelming smell was of grapes, good ripe grapes, and based on the writeup I'm guessing they were picked at exactly the right time, and came from a good season. There wasn't a trace of butter on the nose or oak on the tongue. There were some hints of something I couldn't quite identify, some herbs or spices; the closest match from the aroma kit were tarragon and cloves, but it wasn't dead certain. The tomacco and smoke notes were unmistakeable. Maybe there was chocolate, too? I tried some dark chocolate (anything for an excuse) and found that the wine and chocolate matched well - no surprise there - and that the chocolate smoothed out the rough edges of the wine. Back to the subtlety and manipulation point: again, I'd guess this didn't have a ML conversion. Based on the writeup, I'm guessing this does have some residual sugar, but it doesn't taste sweet. It does taste full.

As always, comments and insights are welcome. Boy, this is fun!


Nancy Smith, aka "Smithy"
HosteG Forumsnsmith@egstaff.org

"Every day should be filled with something delicious, because life is too short not to spoil yourself. " -- Ling (with permission)

"There comes a time in every project when you have to shoot the engineer and start production." -- author unknown

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Beringer Chenic Blanc 2003: Maybe that's an under-ripe smell and flavor I'm getting.  It seemed short, somehow (as in not full).  I'll go with under-ripe.  Still, it has an unctuous mouthfeel and seems honeyed. The semi-sweet character seems like honey rather than sugar.  For my tastes it was overdone and tended to override the fruit flavor.  In trying to decide just what fruit flavor I was getting, I broke out the aroma kit although that wasn't in the instructions. 

It's perfectly all right to break out the aroma kit now. I'm glad it was helpful!

A chenin blanc is normally a crisp wine, but it does sound from your description as though this particular release is overly caramelized for its style. This could be the result of the yeasts chosen, too much oak, too much aging, awkward use of oak alternatives (chips and planks placed in barrels or tanks to simulate oak barrel aging), or overexposure to air. Well, that narrows it down, doesn't it? The important thing is that you have determined on your own that the honey character is out of place in this wine and overwhelms its natural fruit character.

The thin legs would indicate a lower alcohol content, and/or a lower glycerol content, but that's usually desirable in a delicate white. High alcohols would give a wine like chenin blanc a "hot," unbalanced mouthfeel.

Rancho Zabaco Dancing Bull Sauvignon Blanc, 2000: I didn't like this on Monday night, and the few redeeming qualities it may have had were gone by last night.  I couldn't taste a bit of fruit.  The nose may have had a hint of lemon, but I'd call it the standard Eureka lemon rather than a Meyer.  That high thin hot note I noted on the first night was worse.

The website describes both the '02 and '03 as having grapefruit and tropical flavors, with 'notes' of green pepper. Perhaps the tart acidity is more grapefruit than lemon? In addition, by 2005 a 2000-vintage wine of this style might be getting a little tired and flat. It sounds like a disappointment and not a wine you're likely to buy again, but you might take note of others' comments if you come across them, just in case the wine was too old. A fresher vintage might be more appealing.

Beringer Founders Estate Chardonnay, 2003: Absolutely, positively butter on the nose.  So this has had a malolactic conversion?  How would I know whether it's full or partial?

There's no way to know for sure by tasting, but with practice, you'll begin to guess. A full ML white is very buttery, very distinct in that regard, with a soft mouthfeel and less of that zingy, crisp, fruity acidity that makes a white wine refreshing. A zero ML wine would lack the butter aromas and have a crisp, acidic mouthfeel. A white wine with traces or evident aromas of lactic acid and a crisp yet silky mouthfeel probably contains partial malolactic.

Alderbrook OVOC Dry Creek Zinfandel, 2000: No butter on the nose.  None.  So that means no malolactic conversion?

Actually, all red wines go through malolactic conversion, because red wines are fermented with their skins and seeds, which produce the hefty tannins and pigments in red wine. Reds would be really, really astringent without a full ML conversion. However, you won't detect the lactic aromas in reds because of the much heavier organoleptic properties in reds. (Organoleptic=involving use of the sense organs=cool addition to your wine vocabulary).

The closest thing in my aroma kit seemed to be peaches (not what I'd have expected).  It didn't match the raspberries at all.  I couldn't make out any pepper, any other spices, and herbs.  There was no detectable oak.

A few winemakers claim that an excellent zinfandel will have overtones of apricot, so that's very interesting.

I would expect that in a large, affordable production like Alderbrook there may also be additions of cabernet or merlot. Many of these productions are "cut" with a gentler, more familiar varietal to make the wine more "cabalicious," to help it appeal to a broader market base.

Cline Ancient Vines Mourvedre, 2002: It smells RIPE.  Ripest of the bunch.  The overwhelming smell was of grapes, good ripe grapes, and based on the writeup I'm guessing they were picked at exactly the right time, and came from a good season.  There were some hints of something I couldn't quite identify, some herbs or spices; the closest match from the aroma kit were tarragon and cloves . . .The tobacco and smoke notes were unmistakeable.

Excellent review. I haven't tried their mourvedre yet, but after this writeup, I think I'd better!


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Rancho Zabaco Dancing Bull Sauvignon Blanc, 2000: I didn't like this on Monday night, and the few redeeming qualities it may have had were gone by last night.  I couldn't taste a bit of fruit.  The nose may have had a hint of lemon, but I'd call it the standard Eureka lemon rather than a Meyer.  That high thin hot note I noted on the first night was worse.

The website describes both the '02 and '03 as having grapefruit and tropical flavors, with 'notes' of green pepper. Perhaps the tart acidity is more grapefruit than lemon? In addition, by 2005 a 2000-vintage wine of this style might be getting a little tired and flat. It sounds like a disappointment and not a wine you're likely to buy again, but you might take note of others' comments if you come across them, just in case the wine was too old. A fresher vintage might be more appealing.

Oops, my bad. I checked the Rancho Zabaco bottle again. It's a 2002 vintage, not 2000 as I reported. My wine shop didn't sell me something as old as I'd implied. That raises the next question of whether I missed some nuances (highly likely) or just have different preferences than the tasters quoted on the web site. Maybe I'll try this one again alongside some of my preferred s-b's in the same price range.

Now that you mention it, grapefruit may be a better descriptor than lemon for what I remember. I can see the advantage to having several people in the same room trying these at the same time, to spark ideas and refine descriptions. It appears that I'll be needing to add to my aroma kit: grapefruit, apricot (see below) and plum. How long do these kits last? Do they develop "off" notes, or do I just have to worry about their taking over my refrigerator? :laugh:

Actually, all red wines go through malolactic conversion, because red wines are fermented with their skins and seeds, which produce the hefty tannins and pigments in red wine.  Reds would be really, really astringent without a full ML conversion.  However, you won't detect the lactic aromas in reds because of the much heavier organoleptic properties in reds.  (Organoleptic=involving use of the sense organs=cool addition to your wine vocabulary).

The closest thing in my aroma kit seemed to be peaches (not what I'd have expected).  It didn't match the raspberries at all.  I couldn't make out any pepper, any other spices, and herbs.  There was no detectable oak.

A few winemakers claim that an excellent zinfandel will have overtones of apricot, so that's very interesting.

I would expect that in a large, affordable production like Alderbrook there may also be additions of cabernet or merlot. Many of these productions are "cut" with a gentler, more familiar varietal to make the wine more "cabalicious," to help it appeal to a broader market base.

Cline Ancient Vines Mourvedre, 2002: It smells RIPE.  Ripest of the bunch.  The overwhelming smell was of grapes, good ripe grapes, and based on the writeup I'm guessing they were picked at exactly the right time, and came from a good season.  There were some hints of something I couldn't quite identify, some herbs or spices; the closest match from the aroma kit were tarragon and cloves . . .The tobacco and smoke notes were unmistakeable.

Excellent review. I haven't tried their mourvedre yet, but after this writeup, I think I'd better!

Organoleptic - now there's a nice word to work into a conversation!

I'll be interested to try that zinfandel again and see whether apricots are a closer match than peaches. Maybe. This will be an easy one to test again, since it's a family favorite. But, uhm, "cabalicious"? Cabernet-like? The label doesn't mention any other wines blended, but maybe it wouldn't. I do note, however, that in very fine print it says "14.2% alcohol". Yet another correction to make!

I really, really like the Cline Mourvedre, and have liked it for several years. I'm still trying to work out what foods are most complimentary to it, but at least I'm beginning to learn which foods aren't.


Nancy Smith, aka "Smithy"
HosteG Forumsnsmith@egstaff.org

"Every day should be filled with something delicious, because life is too short not to spoil yourself. " -- Ling (with permission)

"There comes a time in every project when you have to shoot the engineer and start production." -- author unknown

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"Cabalicious" is indeed my own term for wines that are made from varietals that I feel are interesting on their own--or blended in a way that highlights their strengths--but have instead been blended with cabernet or merlot to make a red wine that is more familiar to a large market. Sangiovese, for instance, is an excellent food wine and I love its distinctive character, but in the US, it is often produced in what I call a "cabalicious" style, to our loss.

In the US, a producer can legally blend 25% of any other grape into a wine and still label it as a single varietal. So, you could buy a pinot noir that has 25% zinfandel in it, or 25% cabernet, or 10% zinfandel and 15% cabernet, and you would not know unless the producer chose to reveal those notes on the label or on their website.

I'm very happy to see US consumers becoming more adventurous, trying new varietals and blends, and appreciating each for their unique charm and for what they bring to a meal.


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Howdy,

I am looking for some info about matching food with wine when you have different items.

2 scenarios come to mind:

one wine for multiple courses

or one wine for everyone at the table, but we have different entrees, like duck and fish or steak and chicken.

How can I use my wine evaluation skills to help select a good wine for these scenarios?


Lauren

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Hi, Lauren. You will soon be able to use your wine evaluation skills to recognize medium-weight wines--those with enough grip to stand up to heavy meats, yet mellow and layered enough to be intriguing with lighter meats, seafood and pasta.

By learning to evaluate aromas, mouthfeel and flavors in particular, you will soon be able to separate wines into your own personal categories. My personal categories are: food-friendly, cooking inspiration, fireside murder mysteries and chess by candlelight, barbecue, girlfriends, and 'online after 9 pm.'

In learning to recognize wines that go well with a range of foods, I recommend trying and evaluating wine on its own first, as completely as you can. Then try the same wine, or wines, with small bites of food that represent a range of flavors including sour, sweet, oily, salty, and green.

This would be a good theme for a tasting group. Rather than studying a particular varietal, each participant could bring a wine that they have experienced as being a versatile food wine, and the group could search out and compare the characteristics that make a wine "food friendly."

In my opinion, the lighter red wines like pinot noirs, sangiovese, some old vine zinfandels, and classic table wine blends are a good choice. If your friends are not sure about trying a red, a dry rose' can also be very pleasing with a range of foods from salads, seafoods, and antipasto to veal, lamb, pork and pasta. And if, like me, most of your wine-drinking family members prefer white wine, a buttery chardonnay has the weight to go with many foods, and the tropical aromas and often powerful mouthfeel of a viognier pair well with spicy sauces, salmon and seafood.

Do you have particular dishes in mind, or perhaps a holiday gathering?


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