Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Dry Riesling?

We all know Riesling, don't we?  It's that sweet stuff that has a pretty good flavor but it's really the sweetness we remember.  Wines that aren't sweet are remembered for other qualities usually having to do with their flavor profiles and therein lies the rub for Riesling.  With its peach and melon flavors, Riesling wines with minimal residual sugar may still give an illusion of being sweeter than they are.

Sweet Rieslings are great wines, by the way.  Some of the finest in the world.  But lets put our cards on the table: If you like sweet wines, you like sugar.  Sugar dominates in Riesling the same way oak does in a really oaky California Chardonnay.  Now if you remove the oak or sugar you then appreciate what the wine grape, itself, brings to the table.

Before we move on to dry Rieslings though there is a balance in oaky/sweet wines that shouldn't be minimized.  That balance is achieved by the acidity of the wine.  If the oak influence in a wine is moderate then it takes on an earthy dimension that doesn't clobber you with that one heavy flavor.  It's kind of like feeling the rhythm section of a band instead of having that dimension dominating the music.  With wines with moderate sweetness (or oakiness), if that sweetness (or oakiness) is in balance with the wine's acidity, then it's kind of like honey and lemon in tea.  They sort of cancel each other out and the result is rather nice.

Anyway, back to dry Riesling...  What makes this wine so desirable is its aromatics and food-friendly acidity.  Think light meats, seafood, and salads of all types.  After going through the torrid summer just past, wouldn't a glass of this stuff have been a nice afternoon cocktail!

Wines comparable to dry Riesling include Albarino, Chenin Blanc, Torrontes and Loureiro but in all honesty they don't measure up to the complexity of good Riesling.  Riesling may very well be the great white wine grape of the world.  The finest Riesling comes from Germany where the grape originated but exceptional Riesling also can be found in New York and Canada, Austria and Alsace, and in South Australia.  Wines from these locales may deliver more exotic flavors like jasmine, beeswax, apricot, lime, or petrol.

Two sources for this posting: Wine Folly and Lettie Teague (WSJ).

Please join us this Thursday the 26th when Dominique Chambon leads us in a tasting from his fine French wine portfolio.  We go from 5 to 7pm.  Dominique is both teacher and entertainer in our humble setting.


Monday, September 16, 2019

Whole Cluster Fermentation

We've all heard the term, haven't we?  Willamette Valley Vineyards even markets a Whole Cluster Pinot Noir and that name has probably worked quite well for them.  It sounds, well, wholistic.  The most popular whole cluster wine historically has probably been the the one we'll be vending here in a couple months, Nouveau Beaujolais.  That one has been popular for a very long time.

So what is whole cluster fermentation?  Well, it's just what it sounds like.  Whole clusters of grapes are fermented as a unit.  The fermentation tank is filled with these grape clusters before carbon dioxide is pumped into it.  There is no pressing of the grapes.  The weight of the grapes does that on its own.

No oxygen exists in the tank and no yeasts are added.  This anaerobic environment provides for an intracellular metabolic reaction converting sugar into alcohol.  Fermentation of this type breaks down malic acid leaving more fresh fruit and residual sugar in the wine.

Make no mistake - whole cluster fermentation includes stems in the winemaking process and anyone who has tasted green vegetation in wine should be shuttering about now at the thought.  But this brings up an entirely different issue - does a wine really have to be all about fruit (and maybe a little earthiness) or can steminess be an asset?

Methoxypyrazine is the fifty cent word for the greenness in flavors and aromas brought on by the inclusion of unripe stems into fermenting wine.  When it predominates it's a flaw.  Machine harvesting grapes is responsible for much of that.  So the hand harvesting of grapes done by smaller estates shouldn't be minimized.

What also counts is having a long growing season and a cooler climate environment that will turn green stems brown.  Then those ripe stems add tannins and other hearty flavors.  Some green stems are alright according to David Ramey of Ramey Wine Cellars.  Maybe as much as 50% in a cool climate environment.  They bring out the Syrahness of a wine adding peppercorn, bacon fat and green olive flavors to a wine.

Please join us this Thursday after 5pm for our weekly wine tasting and check out all of the new foods here!

Sunday, September 8, 2019

2017 Stoller Chardonnay

I'm not good at describing wine.  I just know what I like and I r-e-a-l-l-y liked this wine.  But why?

Just a short read of Eric Asimov's New York Times wine article from a year ago clarifies things quite well.  The name of the article was "Chardonnay, the Oregon Way" and in it Asimov determines the key to good Chardonnay starts in the vineyard, specifically, at harvest time.

Until relatively recently Oregon had a troubled history with the grape.  One that was complicated by winemakers wanting to copy what California was doing.  That's never a good idea.  David Harris, who made the best Georgia wines at Blackstock Vineyards, used to say wine is made in the vineyard.  Trust that vineyard to produce the quality necessary for winemaking and then allow the process to unfold with minimal interventions.

Trying to make California-styled Chardonnay disregarded an important element - acidity.  Too many California Chardonnays are flabby and lack a structural continuity from start to finish.  Asimov says an over-correction occurred when some Oregon winemakers opted for a more French style.  That didn't work either.  Now grapes are being harvested at the correct acidity for what appears to be a uniquely Oregon Chardonnay style.

Acidity enlivens a wine.  It gives it a tension, a thrust, energy and momentum.  All of those terms depict movement and if that movement is constant then that churning, that vibrancy, becomes a backdrop for the herbs, flowers and discernible minerality the 2017 Stoller displays.

Please join us this Thursday, September 12th after 5pm when we'll taste the Stoller and others here at the store.