Archive for the ‘Oenology & Viticulture’ Category

Flash Pasteurization is NOT harmful (when done right)

Sunday, November 14th, 2010

Kosher wine has a ton of stigmas attached to it.  It is all sweet, thick, flabby.  It is only made from the Concord grape.  And of course, it is BOILED.

It a very brief nutshell, NO, not all kosher wine is BOILED – actually I don’t think ANY kosher wine is boiled.

So where does this mis-information come from?  It comes from the fact that SOME kosher wines are further classified as “mevushal” – FLASH PASTEURIZED.

Flash pasteurization is a process used by NON-KOSHER wines too, including Louis Latour (“The wine is passed through a heat exchanger that raises the temperature to 72°C for 2-3 seconds”) & Beaucastel (“The skins of the grapes are heated briefly to 80 °C / 176 °F and then cooled to 20 °C /6O °F”) to name two.  This pasteurization is sometimes done to bring out aromatics, and other times to remove potentially harmful bacteria & “stabilize” a wine much like fining or filtering does.

Kosher wine that has gone through flash pasteurization does so to enable all people (regardless of religion & level of observance) to handle a wine.  (According to Orthodox Jews non-“mevushal” kosher wine may only be handled by Jews to maintain its classification as “kosher”.)

I want to break another stigma.

“MEVUSHAL” (flash pasteurized) wines DO NOT AGE.


I had the good fortune of drinking a 1996 Herzog Reserve Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon wine the other day thanks to a new wine friend.

This wine was gorgeous!  At a very mature 14 years old, this mevushal wine was soft & velvety with fresh fruit & berries.  An elegant wine that has aged quite gracefully and had a long luxurious finish.

What can I say…don’t believe everything you hear or read (just because you read it on the internet… ;)…).

Yes, some mevushal wines that go through flash pasteurization prematurely age due to poor pasteurization methods.  But when done right, this process seems to have no negative effects on the wine.  On the contrary, maybe it does in fact rid wine of bad bacteria and make it MORE age worthy…???…I know the mevushal Cab from California’s Herzog Winery sure aged well!!

Happy Mevushal wine tasting!


A healthy vine is a …frozen vine???

Tuesday, January 5th, 2010

Wine people may often be heard saying that wine starts in the vineyard.  While this may seem obvious, what is less obvious is the feeling many wine folks say – that a bad winemaker can still make good wine with good grapes although a good winemaker generally can not make a great wine with bad grapes.

Vines must stay alive from year to year as they only give off fruit once a year, in the late summer & fall – harvest time.  The vines do not give much fruit the first 3 years and many winemakers don’t bother using the fruit from the first 3 years anyway.  And as vines age they tend to produce better grapes for winemaking.  The fruit becomes richer as an aging vine produces less fruit.  And as the roots go deeper the fruit is said to gain complexities.  But how is one to keep a vine alive when the elements take hold and frost sets in?

Well, pre-freeze the vines of course…

…OK, so this was something I had trouble wrapping my head around when I first heard it.  But the theory (or I guess science) is quite interesting.  The vines are sprayed with water just before a frost.  This water then freezes, and encapsulates the vines in a protective ICE shell – keeping it safe and protecting it from the harsh environment.

I bring this up today NOT because I’m looking to play Mr. Wizard, not because it is FREEZING in NYC and not because I have ice-wine on my mind.  But rather because I read an article about a problem Russian River (Sonoma, CA) growers may be facing.  The water used to spray the vines and create that protective ice shell comes from local streams.  These streams are home to salmon.  And there is a concern that the salmon numbers are dropping as a result of lower water levels.  This has led to the possibility that farmers may lose the ability to spray their vines and vineyards may be severely damaged.

Not sure how this is all going to play out, but I do hope that the vines & salmon are all saved.  Hey, can’t we all get along…

Happy Salmon & wine tasting!


“Contains Sulfites”

Tuesday, December 1st, 2009

We’ve all seen it on the back label of a bottle of wine…

…but what does it mean?

Sulfites are a preservative.  They are found in dried fruit & are commonly used in salad bars.  They are added to wine to preserve the wine & prevent it from spoiling.

Some people are allergic to sulfites.  Others believe that the sulfites in wine are what cause them to get headaches from wine.

Wouldn’t it be great if there were no sulfites in wine?  And what of organic wines – isn’t that sulfite free??

Well, ALL wine has sulfites.  Sulfites are naturally occurring on the grape skins.  Since red wine gets its color from the skins red wines have more naturally occurring sulfites than white wines.  But white wines generally have more sulfites added than red wines.  So there is no and will never be any sulfite free wine (as far as I understand) – or at least none that will last more than a few days (hours?).

As to organic wine, it not only has the naturally occurring sulfites, but almost all has added sulfites – otherwise the wine would spoil relatively quickly.  BUT…and here is the difference, organic wine, to maintain their organic classification, can only add a specific (small) amount of sulfites.  YES, it is still there, BUT it is also added in smaller amounts.

SO, now that we have cleared that up I want to tell you about a real cool technology I just read about on  The technology, called SurePure, uses light to purify wine REDUCING (but not eliminating) the need for sulfites.  Something about the technology “deactivates microbes” (whatever that means)  reducing the likelihood of spoilage.   Apparently it is already used in the juice, dairy & beverage industries.  And now it has been approved for use in South Africa.

No idea whether this technology will work for wine, how far its use will spread or whether it will enable those who suffer from red wine headaches to drink wine worry free.  But it does sound like an exciting development…

Happy light purified wine tasting!


organic, biodynamic & sustainable wines

Thursday, November 26th, 2009

Being out on the street talking to people about wine, lots of people are interested in hearing about wines that are made organically, biodynamically or wines (wineries) that are sustainable.  Modern technology has allowed people to “perfect” (depending upon who you ask) winemaking with pesticides in the vineyard & manipulation in the lab.  These 3 buzz words; organic, biodynamic & sustainable are on the other end of the spectrum.

Wine Spectator clears up some of the differences between the 3 winemaking methods/practices…

A: These terms vary in the way they’re defined and regulated, but here are some definitions for the ways in which they’re most typically used.

The U.S. government regulates use of the term “organic,” but “sustainable” and “biodynamic” have no legal definitions. There are two types of organic listings on wine bottles. Wines can be made from certified organically grown grapes, avoiding any synthetic additives, or, to take it a step further, “organic” wines are made from organically grown grapes, and are also made without any added sulfites (though naturally occurring sulfites will still be present).

Biodynamic is similar to organic farming in that both take place without chemicals, but biodynamic farming incorporates ideas about a vineyard as an ecosystem, and also accounting for things such as astrological influences and lunar cycles. A biodynamic wine means that the grapes are farmed biodynamically, and that the winemaker did not make the wine with any common manipulations such as yeast additions or acidity adjustments. A wine “made from biodynamic grapes” means that a vintner used biodynamically grown grapes, but followed a less strict list of rules in winemaking.

Sustainability refers to a range of practices that are not only ecologically sound, but also economically viable and socially responsible. (Sustainable farmers may farm largely organically or biodynamically but have flexibility to choose what works best for their individual property; they may also focus on energy and water conservation, use of renewable resources and other issues.) Some third-party agencies offer sustainability certifications, and many regional industry associations are working on developing clearer standards.

In a world where things come full cycle, these “traditional”, “old fashioned” or “hands-off” wines were “improved upon” (again, depending upon who you ask) by modern technology.  Of late, there has been a movement away from “manipulated” wines instead preferring wines made using one of the aforementioned practices.  I can’t say that all wines made any certain way are either good or bad, but I would say the wines made with additives, chemicals and in a lab, do seem to lack character, personality or a real uniqueness.

Happy organamicainable made wine tasting and HAPPY THANKSGIVING!!!


Sheep in the vineyard

Tuesday, July 14th, 2009

Last week I wrote about a the bizarre drunken badger.  Just when you thought it could not get any more strange, I recently read about a New Zealand vineyard that is introducing “pint sized sheep” to the vineyard.

(the sheep appears to be about half the size as that golden retriever)

The theory behind this strange story is that these sheep will cut energy costs associated with cutting the grass/weeds between rows in this 1000 hectare vineyard.  Claiming that they mow the vineyard 8-12 times a year, the vineyard manager talks about the sheep helping them to cut back on fuel burned and energy consumed by their seven tractors.

Now I have heard of introducing bugs & fowl into the vineyard to reduce the need to use pesticides.  And I think introducing a grass eating mammal is terrific.  But who came up with the idea that a full sized sheep will ALSO eat the grapes, so instead they need MINI-SHEEP?!?!?  Who even knew such things existed??  Bizarre indeed…

Happy mini-sheep aided wine tasting!


Wine’s “COLD SOAK”

Sunday, June 7th, 2009

Winemaking is a complex and varied process.  From the hands off approach of letting the natural yeast in the grapes (or more specifically on the grape skins) perform the fermentation to the highly controlled sorting, inoculation, etc.   Winemaking can be very hands on OR equally hands off.

I just finished reading a very interesting article by Tim Patterson in Wines & Vines about the “cold soak”.  The cold soak is performed on just harvested grapes (“must”) before fermentation.  Basically, one takes the MUST, and allows it to soak together with dry ice for as little as several hours, as many as several days or I have even heard weeks.

(great pic of a cold soak from my friends over at stomping girl wines)

By maintaining a cold temperature, fermentation is supposed to be delayed.  And the soaking process supposedly does several things.  The cold soak is supposed to extract; better color, better aromatics, better flavors, and apparently even softer tannins.

Tim Patterson of Wines & Vines really investigates whether or not cold soaking actually accomplishes what it is said to accomplish.  And his finding seems to be inconclusive; without more studies we really don’t know.  There are those that swear by it and others who think it is a crock.  The article is a worthwhile read for those interested in the art of winemaking.

Though I am not one for scientifically produced wines, there must be some merit to mimicking a process done elsewhere that produced results one might be seeking.  So if the fermentation of Pinot Noir in Bungundy was done in cool temperatures, stalling fermentation and allowing a natural cold soak, then maybe attempting to scientifically recreate this atmosphere has something to it.  Either way…

Happy soaked or unsoaked wine tasting.


“Map-It ™ Because Place Matters”

Monday, May 18th, 2009

“Place Matters”.  This is what is telling us with their latest marketing tool.

Terroir, or the “sense of place” as it is often described, is said to be what distinguishes ordinary, or what I suppose could theoretically be laboratory wines (those manufactured anywhere, and tasting of nowhere), from extraordinary wines; those wines that truly bring you to a specific geographical location through its aromas and flavors.

The idea of terroir-driven wines makes sense to me in that these wines possess a unique quality.   They might possess that unique smell of saltwater from the parallel ocean, or they might possess a flinty aroma from the flint stones scattered throughout their vineyard.  Or, as is the case with some of the better Israeli wines, they might possess an herbaceous or even green olive quality from all the wild sage, rosemary, thyme and olive groves that grow throughout the country and often surround the vineyard itself.

Getting back to the new Map-It feature, I wonder how important it is for people to SEE (on a radar image) the location where the wine was made, or better yet (when available) where the grapes were grown.  If it opens up one’s imagination to a story and helps to paint the picture behind the wine for the wine-curious consumer then I guess it is important.

As is generally the case when it comes to my bizarre mind, this all led me to think about Israeli wine.   In this case as it pertains to Israeli wine in retail stores.   Outside of Israel I would venture to say that NYC has the greatest selection of Israeli wines in the world.  But if you are to enter a retail store seeking an Israeli wine do you know where the clerk would take you?  To the KOSHER section.  WHERE in the world is kosher???

There is a section for France.  Italy.  Spain.  US wines are generally grouped together, yet they usually are separated between states.  German wines.  Australian wines…I can go on and on.  Heck, even organic wines are USUALLY found in a section pertaining to their country of origin (though some stores ALSO have a special organic section).  So why does just about every store in the region with the 2nd largest concentration of Israeli wines group these wines together with other wines from all over the world??

What of those wines made in Israel that do not have kosher certification??

Why not create a section for Israeli wines (they should be contained within an Eastern Mediterranean section near wines from Greece, Cyprus & Lebanon) AS WELL AS a kosher section just as is done with organic wines???

Clearly I am a very biased observer here.  But the more I read about how trendy terroir is and how important a “sense of place” is when it comes to wine the more I wonder, why not for Israel????

Happy terroir driven wine tasting!


Weekend wine work & “WHERE” wine starts

Monday, May 4th, 2009

Lets begin with “where wine starts” – well, it starts in the vineyard naturally.  Without good grapes it is said that not even the best winemakers can make a good wine.

Which leads to my escapades as a member of CLK Winery.  Together with 2 friends, beginning in 2007, we decided to make our own wine.  We took whatever grapes we were able to get our hands on in 2007 and made a Merlot/Zinfandel blend.  Believe it or not it seemed to come out OK.   Sure enough several months after we bottled (without any lab testing) the wine went through a secondary fermentation in the bottle.  Yikes.   Fear not, no exploding bottles.  We dumped whatever we had not yet drunk (or given away) back into the tank so that it could complete malolactic.

As to 2008, we really wanted a Cabernet.  Unfortunately, our schedules are pretty tight and we were forced to do our crush on a set specific day.  So we went to go by the grapes and sure enough there were Cab grapes – and we bought them.  Sadly though as soon as we brought them back to the (very psuedo) winery I knew we messed up.  Our grapes we not fully ripe and they we going to lead to a thin & green wine.

Well, yesterday was back to work at the winery.  Tasting, racking and overall seeing what we’ve got.



The 2007 blend seems to be doing well.  Some minor issues, but not a huge deal.  And the 2008 is shaping up to look like a sub-par batch.  Not that we expected otherwise, just disappointing.

I am writing about this less than positive experience as we all agreed that our first two vintages have taught us a good lesson.  Some bad decisions and no real winemaker could have been overcome had we started off with good quality grapes.  But beginning with fruit that was not the best, and combining that with poor winemaking – a recipe for disaster & something we will hopefully avoid.  As to our “special reserve couvee”… well, time to wake up from that dream.  Hey, at least we have lots of cooking wine!



Racking – CLK winery

Monday, November 24th, 2008

CLK winery is the name my friends gave to the house/garage “winery” we have.  It is really more of a place for three wine loving hobbyists to make a home made wine.  And yesterday was “racking” day # 1.

Racking is a process whereby the wine is siphoned away from its lees (lees are the dead yeast cells that SLOWLY fall to the bottom of the wine and form a bit of a sludge.  This is a process that must be done several times throughout the wine making process.  It is often done with pumps, and sometimes done using gravity – as we did (pictured above).  Just one of the many manual activities necessary for wine making – all activities that contribute to the cost of wine.

After many rackings and before bottling many “professional” wineries will put the wines through one or both of two other processes to remove any solids from the wines.

The first is known as “fining”.  Fining is a process whereby an additive is put into the wine that bonds with the solids and makes them heavier so that they sink rather than float around.  This minimizes the number of necessary rackings by getting these minuscule solids to drop (where they can then be racked) whereby they might otherwise be floating around in the wine.

The second process is called filtering.  This is generally done immediately before bottling.  Basically, a thin pad is inserted into a mechanism while the wine is being pumped towards the bottling machine.  This pad is supposed to catch the minuscule solids before the wine is pumped into the bottles.

Many wines these days advertise “unfiltered”.  There are those who believe that this filtration process strips wines of some of its flavors.  However, skipping this process may also lead tro a wine dropping sediment at a young age.  This sediment is not a flaw – but it is generally undesirable.

OK, been a bit all over the place in this post.  I guess all I’m trying to say is I was racking wines yesterday.  It was not too much fun, especially considering the COOOOLD temperatures.  But it was necessary, and I’m glad racking # 1is done.

Happy NO MANUAL LABOR FOR YOU wine tasting!


Lab wine

Monday, November 3rd, 2008

This jet lag thing really has been a kick in the butt.  And it has prevented me from my usual 3AM blog posting.  My sincerest apologies o loyal readers.  You have my word, I will do my best to resume my sleep deprived ways and be better about posting on a regular basis.

That said, I was forwarded an article from a friend this morning.  The article, written for Bloomberg called “All That’s Wrong With Global Wine Is in This Bottle” and written by John Mariani,  touches on an issue that has come up a lot lately – that of generic, non-descript wines.  We have mentioned the term “terroir” before, well this is the exact opposite.  A wine that is made SO technically correct, that it no longer possesses any UNIQUE charachteristics.  Hence, a “lab wine”.

lab wine

It is no coincidence that the Argentinian wine being reviewed by Mariani is made at a newer winery that apparently uses the consulting services of Michel Rolland.  Roland is said to be a brilliant winemaker (consultant) but there are also those that say he is so brilliant in his precise methodology for making wine, that all the wines he consults for taste the same, regardless of their country of origin.  And THAT many people say, is a problem.

But is it?

On the one hand I COMPLETELY understand the desire of wine purists to taste the “terroir”, or the sense of place.  A wine made in France should taste of France (or the specific region within France where it was made).  A wine from Argentina should taste like Argentina.  A wine from Israel should taste like an Israeli wine.  When you are buying a product, and often paying a premium for said product, you don’t want to think that the same product could have been made (and purchased) from another place and possibly for a cheaper price.

But at the same time, when you eat a burger do you think about where the cow was grazing before he went to burger heaven and became your dinner (sorry if the visual is a bit too graphic)?  Do you wonder if the lemon wedge on your plate came from Florida or California?  What if it came from Central America?  Or the far east?  Does origin really matter outside of wine?  And does it matter for wine because some wine snobs told us it should??

I’m not sure what the answer is.  But I do know that if someone is making a wine and charging $50 for it and I am told I can get virtually THE SAME wine (made in another place or even country) for $25, I’d buy the $25 one…

Happy unique wine tasting and have a great week!