Archive for March, 2017

Where is the World’s Most Northerly Vineyard???

March 18th, 2017

Olkiluoto power plant wine vineyard

By Joseph Temple

Over the years, this blog has profiled several winemakers applying their craft in some of the most unfriendly weather conditions possible. Let’s face it—when we think of wine, most of us conjure up images of Bordeaux, Burgundy, or Napa Valley—not places like Quebec and Minnesota. At the same time, you can’t help but tip your hat to those vintners who are defiantly standing up to Mother Nature and successfully harvesting grapes in some of the chilliest areas of North America. It also makes you wonder how far (or how north) winemaking can go?

It turns out that Canadians and Americans aren’t the only ones pushing the envelope. Germans have been making wine on the island of Sylt for years while countries such as Denmark, Latvia, and Norway all have vineyards. But the award for the world’s most northerly vineyard goes to Finland; just north of the 61st parallel is a place that makes a little under 2,000 pounds of Zilga grapes annually.

In the Gulf of Bothnia, on Olkiluoto Island is a vineyard in one of the most unlikely places you would expect to see viticulture: right next to a nuclear power plant. “Flanked by a dense forest, the deep green plants protrude into a clear blue sky,” writes one journalist. “There is a soft breeze. It could almost be France. But the vines are shadowed by two imposing concrete structures and several tall red cranes.” Of course, given the arctic-like conditions (temperatures can drop to -5.6 C during the winter), the vines on this quarter acre of land greatly benefit from their atomic neighbor. Because of the heat generated by Olkiluoto, the vineyard is warmed by the waste coolant water, which is non-radioactive and flows through a series of underground pipes.

With 150 vines first planted in 2001, the Zilga is a fast-maturing grape which comes from Latvia and is known to produce abundant harvests while being resistant to harsh winter weather. However, getting your hands on a bottle might be tough. “Of course we don’t sell it,” said one plant employee. “It’s for our staff parties.”

 


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Ask Sid: IW&FS Vintage Card & Chart

March 15th, 2017
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Ask Sid: IW&FS Vintage Card & Chart

Question: I like the IW&FS Vintage Chart and find it useful as an overall wine guide. Your thoughts?

Answer: As a long time past member of the IWFS Wines Committee I like your question! The Vintage Card was started by Andre Simon as a one sided guide to the Old World wine regions. Produced annually since then it has grown to include most of the world wine regions now in a laminated foldable 8 sided version. The original ratings of using a 7/7 for best vintages has been retained in spite of pressures over the years to move to a 100 point scale. Usually covers the vintages over the past 20 years with some older classic vintages also noted. The International Secretariat (sec@iwfs.org) gathers lots of useful background information each year from the wine regions and valuable input from appointed regional wine consultants to help the Wines Committee make their final decisions. It remains a highly respected unique valuable general guide to the overall quality level of vintages in so many wine regions. Glad you use it.


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10 Tips for Facing That Daunting Wine List

March 13th, 2017

10 Tips for Facing That Daunting Wine List

I enjoyed the challenge this month of studying in detail the wine tomes at several top restaurants in Paris. Though it is always so stimulating for me to discover what wines are available in which vintages and at what price I appreciate this is not everyone’s cup of tea. In fact many find the whole experience rather intimidating. Therefore I hope it might be helpful to provide 10 tips for you when approaching these wine lists not only in Paris but most larger cities.

1. Ask the Sommelier – This is usually a smart decision because often the sommelier has had input on the wine selections and possibly had the opportunity to try recently a specific wine on their list. Moreover they are likely to be interested in discussing their list and providing you with guidance in your choice. Just make sure you let the sommelier know the style of wine you generally prefer drinking and a comfortable price range.

2. Aperitif – Most restaurants will first thing ask you if you desire an aperitif (a drink to stimulate your appetite) or cocktail. This is the spot to enquire whether there is Champagne (or other sparkling) by the glass. On this trip many exciting alternatives were offered and tried including: delicious 2005 Jacquesson Avize at Epicure Le Bristol, classy Egly-Ouriet “Les Vignes De Vrigny” Premier Cru for Le Gabriel at La Reserve, and rich Philipponat Cuvee 1552 Grand Cru in magnum at Apicius.

3. Champagne Throughout the Meal – This can often be a wise choice. I particularly follow this guideline when the menu is going to be a number of surprise courses. Worked well at Pierre Gagnaire for a lunch of many different tastes with a bottle of dependable NV Gosset Grand Reserve Brut. Dining recently in San Sebastian I found Champagne (or Cava) paired superbly with the many flavourful pinchos, pintxox, and tapas – particularly when you have had enough sherry.

4. Wines Already Chosen for you All-Inclusive with the Menu – This is an easy often successful wine choice solution. It is one I seldom take as I prefer to try something specific off their list. Last time I did this at Noma in Copenhagen was served mostly natural wines and was disappointed with their pairings. Make sure to check carefully the choices suggested and make sure you want to drink those wines.

5. Choosing the Cheapest or Second Cheapest Bottle on the List: Popular idea by many diners but not a wise one. These wines usually have high mark-ups and aren’t really giving you the good value the price suggests.

6. Wines by the Glass or Half Bottles: Sometimes find this useful. Depending on the restaurant and how wide the wine choices by the glass are there may be something you would like to try. Half bottles are usually listed separately and can be just the right amount for a lighter lunch or dinner. On this trip at Apicius found a half bottle left of 2011 Savigny-les-Beaune Dominode Domaine Pavelot to pair with our order of a full bottle of the same wine from 2012 for an interesting vintage comparison (both young high quality showing excellent potential but 2012 has more fruit).

7. Something Difficult to Find at Retail wine shops – Often use this factor as my overriding one. Even on this latest trip was frequently ordering Vincent Dauvissat or Francois Raveneau Chablis because I love Chablis and find it difficult to acquire bottles from these producers. 2008 La Forest Premier Cru by Vincent Dauvissat (105 euros) was a complex first white to match the outstanding fish course at lunch Le Grand Restaurant of Jean-Francois Piege.

8. Highly Respected Producers: I often am prepared to pay more for highly respected producers that I admire and that consistently deliver the goods. Domaine Roulot in Meursault is such an example for me. I seek them out and order them as they always show so well. At Michel Rostang had a fabulous bottle of their classic 2010 Les Tessons – Clos de Mon Plaisir (155 euros) and it was so outstanding that we ordered another bottle. At Epicure Le Bristol ordered the Domaine Roulot 2002 Les Luchets village Meursault that was brilliant showing fresh hazelnut minerals with complex maturity. A WOW wine! However this time rather than ordering a second bottle we changed to compare another 2002 Meursault Clos de La Barre Domaine Lafon and were disappointed because the bottle was cloudy (unfiltered unfined) and showed too much age with caramel maderization.

9. Riesling – Don’t forget about Riesling! This can be a very good value and comes in such versatile styles from so many regions ranging from very dry to very sweet and everything in between. Especially good and refreshing on warmer summer days – as can be Rose!.

10. Gamay –  This usually is a good buy especially from the current ripe vintages of Cru Beaujolais. Slightly chilled it too is quite versatile going with almost everything including vegetables, seafood, and meats.


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4 ways Émile Peynaud changed the way we drink wine

March 11th, 2017

Émile Peynaud wine influence

By Joseph Temple

As perhaps the most influential enologist of the twentieth century, the legacy of Dr. Émile Peynaud is with us every time we take a sip of wine. Writing shortly after his death in 2004, Eric Asimov of The New York Times states, “More than any other individual, Dr. Peynaud helped to bring winemakers into the modern world. As a researcher and consultant, he applied rigorous scientific methods to a field bound more often by haphazard custom, guesswork and superstition.”

Born in Bordeaux in 1912, Peynaud’s revolutionary approach to winemaking, exemplified in his two best known books, Knowing and Making Wine and The Taste of Wine, made him highly sought after as a consultant in both his native France and across the world. By changing winemaking from an art to a science, here are just four ways that Peynaud ushered in the modern era that we all enjoy today.


Emile Peynaud grape picking

In 2017, it is assumed that estates only pick their grapes when ripe. But before Peynaud arrived, in a good year, it was customary to start picking long before the autumn harvest in order to ensure a sizable crop, no matter how ripe the grapes were. The only time they were left on the vines for a fall picking was during the bad years, explains Oz Clarke in describing the impact of Peynaud. “In the vineyard he [Peynaud] insisted that rotten grapes be discarded—they hadn’t been before—and that growers should relentlessly assess the ripening of the grapes, and only pick when ripe.”

 

Emile Peynaud cleanliess

If oenophiles could travel back in a time machine, they would be appalled to see the condition of many wineries throughout France, who usually made their product in vats and barrels immersed in bacteria. The idea of working in a sanitary environment was clearly a foreign concept as Peynaud shockingly discovered while visiting the numerous estates. “Cleanliness is a basic condition for quality. The whole of enological science would be to no avail if the work itself were done in places that were dirty,” wrote Peynaud who strongly advocated for stainless steel vats and new oak barrels as replacements. Given the price tag, it was a change that many fought against, but in the end accepted as a necessary cost in making a superior vintage.

 

wine cellar and vat tempreature Emile Peynaud

In addition to being spotless, Peynaud also lobbied for temperature controlled tanks to be complimented by cool cellars. Influenced by France’s dairy farmers who could vary the temperature in a stainless steel tank, he demanded that winemakers do the same. Before these two elements became industry staples, unmanageable fermentation and spoilage was commonplace, causing many vintages to turn into vinegar. And since bacteria multiplies faster in warmer conditions, the need for cool cellars with a consistent temperature became a must.

 

Emile Peynaud malolactic fermentation

Arguably the greatest contribution of “Peynaudism” is an exact science he perfected known as malolactic fermentation—a secondary fermentation which turns malic acid into soft lactic acid. In layman’s terms, what this does is that it softens the wine, giving red Bordeaux a much smoother taste. In the pre-Peynaud era, winemakers suspected that an additional fermentation was taking place in the vats and bottles, but had no idea how to control it. It was only after Peynaud identified this crucial step (along with all of his other recommendations) that Bordeaux was brought to a whole new level!


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Ask Sid: Cloying?

March 8th, 2017
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What is cloying wine tasting
By Craig Hatfield [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Question: During a recent wine tasting one of our group commented that a Vidal Icewine was quite “cloying”. What does that word actually mean?

Answer: Generally it means that the wine is excessively sweet. How high residual sugar will show on the palate in sweet wines is influenced so much by the level of acidity that is present. Where the acidity is lower the wines will taste much sweeter and where it is higher the same residual sugar can seem less sweet. A firm backbone of acidity will give sweet wine more lift, vibrancy and structure so that it is balanced and does not appear to be cloying.


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