Sunday, March 31, 2019

Wine Temperature and Wine Service

Is it important to serve wines at the right temperature? And what is the right temperature?

Ideally all wines should be served at their perfect temperature, so that the wines can express all their goodness (bouquet, aromas, balance, structure) in the glass.

A wine served too hot, will taste flabby, alcoholic, disjointed, all its elements will appear to be separated instead of together/ integrated in a knit as they should be.
A wine served too cold, will be mute, highly acidic and tannic, because acid and tannins increase with low temperature.
So, one must put some effort to keep the balance of the elements that the winemakers worked so hard to get inside the bottle.

Now, you probably heard something like this, “red wines should be served at room temperature”, but what is room temperature? Not the 75ºF (24
ºC) that we can find in most homes, and let’s not start talking about the temperatures of wines served at restaurants, I read an article once by Anthony Giglio, (Food and Wine Magazine) he went to several restaurants and ordered red wines, 8 out of 10 wines served to him were warmer than they should be, and these were places with sommeliers in their payroll and fancy wine cellars and yet…not doing it right.

So here are a few tips to make sure you don’t make the same mistakes:
*Sparkling wines should be served the coldest, in other words between 38-50º F(3-10º Celsius) . The bigger the body of the sparkler the bigger the chance to serve it a bit warmer.
*Whites and Rosés wines should be served between 44-57º F (6-13º Celsius), again the bigger the body of the white (like Chardonnay) the warmer it could be served.
*Light Reds should be served between 53-63º F (11-17º Celsius).
* Big Body Reds should be served between 63-69º F (17-21º Celsius).

Now what about wine storage? I don’t recommend you keep either whites or reds in the refrigerator (it’s too cold in there, with temperatures between 35-37º F (2-3º Celsius). If you are serious about wine and have the $$$, invest on a wine cellar, some of them are not that expensive (usually less than $200) and compact and this way you will know that your wines are always kept in the right temperature and humidity. Always store reds on top and whites at the bottom (where is cooler).

But what happens if you don’t have a wine cellar? well, try to find a cool spot in your house (ideally with temperatures between 55-60ºF (12-16º Celsius), far away from vibration and light, that can seriously affect your wine. A lot of people I know, keep their wines in their basements or if you live in an apartment, inside a closet. Always store your wines on their side, the idea is for the liquid to be in contact with the cork at all times, this keeps the corks moist, otherwise corks may dry up and shrink and then we will be allowing too much oxygen inside the bottle, this will cause the wine to turn into fancy vinegar. The only exception to this rule are sparkling wines, you can keep those standing up, why? Because the bubbles inside will make sure that the cork is moist as it should be.

If you buy wine to keep and plan to drink it a few years from now, invest in a wine cellar. If you usually drink everything right away, a closet will be just fine, but please don’t put your wines underneath the kitchen sink, it’s just too warm in there.

Before I go to my wine recommendations for Easter and Passover (Spring holidays), a note about cooking with wine. When you cook please don’t use the cheapest wine available. You should at least use a wine that costs $10-$20. I normally don’t cook with expensive wines either, I prefer to cook with white wine or Fino sherry (with fish is really incredible) and I keep a bottle around for this purpose.

Regarding the order one should drink wines, if you plan to do a tasting or a fancy five course meal, this should be the ideal order: sparkling first, then light whites, then big body whites, the light reds, then big body reds, then sweet dessert styles. Always drink young first and older vintages last. Remember for big reds, decant them 30 minutes to an hour before drinking them. This will allow the aromas to pop up, when in contact with oxygen. When tasting wines, I always keep them hanging for a while in the glass just to see if more aromas appear with longer contact with oxygen, you will be surprised how they open up and reveal layers of aromas.

Delicate reds should not be decanted, ever. No decanting Pinot Noir please! Because you will lose the delicate aromas of this variety.

Wines for Easter:

Most people eat either Ham or Lamb.
For Ham, you should do a light red like a Barbera,Pinot Noir, Tempranillo or Sangiovese. My recommendations: Castello di Ama Chianti Classico 2016 $30, Cune Viña Real Crianza 2015 $15. Avignonesi Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2014 $25. Domaine Drouhin Pinot Noir (Oregon) 2016 $40.
For Lamb, something big like Syrah, Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon or blends. 
My recommendations: Clos Marsalette Pessac Léognan 2015 $25 (Bordeaux Blend), Delas Crozes Hermitage Les Launes 2016, $22, Famille Perrin Côtes du Rhône Villages 2016 $17. Domaine Le Colombier Vacqueyras Tradition 2016 $20.

Wines for Passover:

Most people eat either Brisket, Lamb or Turkey.
For Brisket or Lamb: Flam Noble 2012 $95, Baron Herzog Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 $35, Alfasi Carménère 2017 $12.
For Turkey: Baron Herzog Chenin Blanc 2018 $9, Bartenura Prosecco NV $18, Yatir Viognier 2015 $35

Cheers! Silvina

Friday, March 15, 2019

Global Warming and Its effect on Wine Production

During the latest edition of Vinexpo NY, I had the pleasure of attending Dr John Holdren’s presentation “Global Climate Change and the Wine Industry: challenges and options”.

So, I must confess that I don’t do enough for mother Earth….unfortunately I’m in the group that Dr Holdren’s mentioned during his conference, climate change is not in most people’s minds, actually it is currently ranked at #17 of all the things we worry about, and that has to change. If we don’t, the consequences will be catastrophic, but I will only dedicate this post to how wine production is and will be affected. Starting with Dr. Holdren forecasting that if no action is taken, by 2040, temperatures will be too hot/ high to grow grapes in countries such as Spain, Italy and France. Do we want that? Certainly not.

As I always say, a good wine is born in the vineyard, and good climate and water access are vital to get optimal fruit.  Good climate (between 60-70 F) is needed during budding, flowering, veraison (when grapes change their colors from green to yellow a purple getting closer to maturation) and ripening. Frost during budding or flowering can seriously affect yields, and hail can destroy delicate buds. Heavy rains closer to harvest can dilute fruit, acid and tannins, throwing away the work of months and create humidity that will allow fungus to wreak havoc.

Producers are very concerned about this, since most part from the fact that each vine will be productive for at least 40 years. If you plan to plant vines now, you need to consider global warming forecasts very seriously. Specially since projections for 2100 predict an increase of 2 to 2.5 ºF in the best case scenario and 8ºF, in the worst case scenario .

Of course viticultors are seeing changes right now, and you as a consumer can taste them too, there is an abundance of overripe wines in the market, those that know me and my love for acidity, know how much I hate this!

However, global warming is not a problem for everybody, there are some producers that are actually happy about it (they come from appellations with cool climates and marginal climates that in previous years strived to get grapes ripe). But now thanks to global warming, they get better fruit and with the addition of getting more sugar, they get extra alcohol that they couldn’t get before, at least naturally. Some producers also saw an increase in yields and that is something they need to keep an eye on, to keep quality.

Since 2003 we have seen/ felt extra hot summers, and that have given great vintages in several appellations (including Champagne, Bordeaux, Burgundy, the Mosel, etc), so ripening grapes is no longer a problem like it was in the past. However there are few things that producers are complaining about:

*Sugar levels are higher and acidity levels lower. Some of these however can be fixed at the winery.

*Shorter ripening seasons, with harvests dates coming earlier than ever and at least 2 weeks before previous vintages. Indeed, higher temperatures mean more sugar, but vines need time for phenolic development, if these two don’t go together, we could have high alcohol wines with green flavors. Mostly because seeds and skins ripen slower and need a long ripening season of 110 days instead of the 90 days, that they are getting right now.

Extreme temperatures both in winter and summer, with long periods of rain or drought. Hail, the size of golf balls, floods, torrential rains, strong winds and fire, as seen in California and Chile.

*Decline in diurnal and nocturnal temperature variations. This is vital to hold acidity, which disappears as temperatures go up and stay up during the day.

*Increase of fungal diseases such as mildew and peronospora, seriously affecting yields, due to high humidity.

*Botrytis arrives earlier in the season instead of late, when it is most favorable to produce botrytis affected wines (sweet styles). So, instead of concentrating sugars as botrytis should do, they concentrate high acidity and green flavors, also known as “sour rot”.

*Eiswein (dessert wine made from frozen grapes) requires low temperatures, and can’t be produced every year.

*Lack of low temperatures don’t allow vines their deserved rest during the winter, and it also doesn’t kill pests and diseases.

*Too low temperatures may cause vines to freeze and die, and this is something to keep eye on if they are planning to move vineyards in altitude.

Some producers (Torres, Catena, etc) are paying close attention to the matter and already acquiring land at high altitude. As Professor Holdren recommended during his lecture “you either move up in altitude or in latitude”. Moving up in latitude means vines are now planted in places where grapes couldn’t ripen in the past; Sweden, Northern Poland, England (where good quality sparkling wines are now produced), etc. So, in the future vine regions will eventually move out of the current latitudes 30-50º north and south respectively.

Other solutions that were reviewed at the conference:

*In an effort to delay ripening and stretch the growing season is recommended the use of special roostocks and clones. The planting at different densities, canopy management and high training of  vines can be used to delay ripening. Late pruning, which causes late budding, is also used to delay ripening.

*Used of nets to protect against sunburn caused by UV-B Radiation. Taking into account that some grapes are more delicate than others, red varieties with thick skins, tolerate warm weather better, for example Grenache and Syrah won’t be affected, but Pinot Noir is very sensitive to warm temperatures.  Canopy management and changing of vine orientations can also be used to protect fruit from excessive sunlight exposure by providing extra shade.

*Drip irrigation is recommended to counteract drought and also the use of vine clones resistant to drought. Remember, photosynthesis shuts down completely when the weather is too hot, at the same time, hot weather causes the vine to sweat in excess. Water stress though welcome in some cases, also shuts down photosynthesis, this is bad for vines that don’t have access to water basins. The use of soil cover crops may help manage drought and periods of heavy rainfall.

*Better selection of clones and grape varieties, In the past clones were chosen to produce high yields and sugar, this can be reverted, by selecting clones prone to produce lower sugar levels and higher acidity, to adapt better to warm climates.

*Uprooting of  sensitive to warm weather varieties and their replacement with warm/ hot climate varieties.

So, though there might be some clouds in the horizon, it looks the wine industry will survive after all. However our responsibility as citizens is to think in the long term and to make sure governments understand this.

Right after the conference, I had the chance to visit a group of biodynamic wineries present at the conference and would like to recommend their wines. 
The practice of biodynamics is not only good for the soils, and therefore mother earth, but also good for us, since eliminates the use of chemicals in the vineyards, unfortunately it has proven to be successful only in dry climate appellations.

My recommendations are two wines from Seresin winery in New Zealand.

Seresin Sauvignon Blanc 2017,  this wine tastes closer to a white Bordeaux, since it has a bit of Semillon in the blend and part of the blend is aged in oak, this sauvignon blanc is not very fruit forward as most coming from NZ, but more mineral. $20

Seresin Pinot Noir Leah 2016, a very elegant red featuring red fruits (cherry and strawberry) and fine tannins. $30



Sources used to write this post:
Besides Dr Holdren's
Presentation. I consulted the following papers:
"The Impact of Climate Change on Viticulture and Wine Quality" by paper by Cornelis van Leeuwen and Phillippe Darriet. Journal of Wine Economics, Volume 11, Number 1, 2016.
"Climate Change: Field Reports from Leading Winemakers". Journal of Wine Economics, Volume 11, Number 1, 2016
"Global change, sustainability and challenges from grape and wine production" by Hans R Schultz, 2014.


Friday, March 1, 2019

Aromatics in Wine

How many of you have read a tasting note such as this one: “Intense and focused, with vibrant Meyer lemon, pineapple and dried apricot notes and a smooth, juicy finish”. Or “Elegant red, with vibrant structure featuring cherry, raspberry and currant notes, balanced and focused.”

So, what is the deal about aromas and flavors in wines? And why when I smell my wine, I don’t find any of these? 

Wine aromatics is a very important lesson that I will try to make as simple as possible. First, let me start by saying that wine producers don’t put any of these fruits inside your wine, or spices for that matter. What happens is that many of the aromatics elements/ compounds present in fruits, flowers, spices, etc can be found in wine as the result of several chemical processes.

Basically, aromas are divided in three groups: a) those that come from the grapes (or grape juice). Let’s face it some varieties are more aromatic than others (Riesling), and some are naturally neutral (Garganega, the grape in Soave wines). Winemakers do everything in their power to keep the natural aromas from grapes, in other words to keep the freshness of the fruit. These are known as primary aromas, for example: plum and blueberries in Merlot,  passion fruit in Sauvignon Blanc, cassis and green pepper in Cabernet Sauvignon, etc.

b) Then, we have aromas that come from fermentation, also known as secondary aromas, once the grape juice, thanks to the action of yeasts, becomes wine certain aromas are produced. For example banana or bubble gum flavors in Beaujolais, or brioche, yeasty notes in Champagne, butter or cream notes in Chardonnay, etc.

c) Finally we have the tertiary aromas and these come from aging in oak barrels and in bottle. I always say that wine is a living thing that continues to evolve, even inside a bottle with a tight cork, tiny amounts of oxygen pass through that cork and this changes the wine, same thing happen when the wine is in the barrels, depending on the porosity of the wood, oxygen also will pass through and affect the wine, plus in order to make barrels round, the wood in them has to be toasted, according to the toast (light, medium, dark) different flavors will be imparted in the wine. Aging in oak will render aromas of spices, caramel, vanilla, coconut, etc. Also the origin of oak is key, French oak usually provides silker notes, mostly of vanilla, caramel, etc,  while American oak will provide creamier notes, mostly of cola, coconut.
Aging in the bottle will render aromas of bacon, meat, ink,etc. For example a young Pinot Noir will smell of red cherry, strawberry, raspberry vs an old Pinot Noir that will smell of mushrooms, white truffle, dry leaves, farmyard.

Climate (weather patterns that repeat every year) and vintages (the weather of a specific year) are important. Remember grapes like every other fruits, need sun to mature/ripen. A green peach will not smell or taste as a ripe peach, so it’s the same with grapes which are the base/foundation of wines. See below a table about climate and its influence on wine aromas and flavors.

Cool Climates will give these aromas:

Whites:citrus (lemon, lime, orange, grapefruit). Pears, yellow apples. herbs,vegetal notes: asparagus, green pepper and mineral notes.
Reds:cranberries, red cherries and raspberries.

Moderate Climates will give these aromas:
Whites:stone fruits: peaches, apricots and melons.
Reds:black fruits: black cherries,plums and blackberries.

Hot Climates will give these aromas: 
Whites:tropical fruits: mango, passion fruit, pineapple, papaya
Reds: dried fruits: figs, prunes, raisins. 

Many of the aromatic compounds in the grapes need plenty of sun to develop and is best if this happens in a long ripening season. The riper the grapes, the more aromatic compounds they will have, but sometimes, this can also be too much, and you will find wines that smell overripe, cooked, raisined (like made from raisins instead of fresh grapes), California Zinfandels are a clear example of this.
Most times, the biggest and most important decision is when to harvest, that is why some producers spread things and pick some in 3 times: before the grapes are ripe ( to guarantee some acidity), when they are ripe (optimum ripeness) and then a bit later for extra ripeness.

Now, regarding your ability to smell/detect these aromas, all of us are equipped to distinguish them, the thing is we need training, like everything else in life, so the more you smell, the better you will do. Remember smell is the most important sense in wine tasting, since your nose can perceive up to 10,000 aromas, while the palate only 5: salty, sour, sweet, bitter and umami/savory.

Here my March recommendations, hoping you will be able to detect some of these!

Trimbach Gewurztraminer 2015, Alsace $20 (featuring ginger, lychees, baked peach)
Christian Moreau Chablis 1er Cru Vaillon 2016, $55 (featuring apple, green plum and lemon notes)
Conde de Valdemar Crianza 2015, Rioja $15 (featuring: black cherry, dried plum and chocolate).
Charles Smith Syrah Boom Boom 2015, Washington $18 (featuring: blackberry, black pepper, licorice)
Chateau Côte de Baleau 2015, St Emilion $22 (featuring: raspberry, red currant, boysenberry and tobacco notes).