Sunday, December 18, 2011

Hey, Maury! VdN, flor and more

We like to believe that winemakers are a naturally curious, inquisitive bunch. To that end, we have an experiment going that delights and amazes us. We are working on an admittedly bizarre dessert wine, inspired by the wines of Maury, in Southwest France. These wines are made from Grenache (mostly), but the fermentation is stopped by the addition of brandy (as is the case with Port) to leave some unfermented sugar in the wine. Then they are left outside in small glass containers, experiencing wild swings in temperature, and a great deal of ultraviolet exposure, along with some oxygen.

We decided to try this a bit late, when all of our Grenache had long since finished fermentation. So we combined fermented Grenache, unfermented Syrah juice, and grape alcohol to achieve about 20% alcohol (as in Maury). Two minuscule gallon jugs now sit exposed to the elements, as they will for at least a couple of years.

The odd thing is that one of the jugs has developed a flor, or yeast film (most commonly seen in Sherry). How are these yeasts able to survive such high alcohol, not to mention near-freezing temperatures? We'd like to know. Perhaps we'll manage to take a sample for analysis, to see what's in there.

Sadly, this is not a commercial-scale project, though of course we'll be "analyzing" the wine when it is finished. Inform of us of your analytical bona fides if you would like to help, when the time comes.

Pictures will follow.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Forlorn Hope Wines

What were we thinking? We weren't. Should've brought the camera. Should've taken notes. Shoulda shoulda shoulda.

Matthew Rorick of Forlorn Hope Wines just hosted us and allowed us to taste the wines he will soon bottle. Readers, they are astonishing.

Matthew's wines are Rare Creatures. That is, he produces wines from varieties not seen everyday. When was the last time you had a Verdelho? Okay, how about Alvarelhao? Really? Then what about St-Laurent? We thought so.

Matthew's not using these grapes because they are obscure but because he believes they can make wonderful wines. And in his hands, they certainly do.

Matthew is passionate about his winemaking, and we really mean it. His eyes are bright and he is lively and animated as he talks about his wines. He is full of ideas for the next vintage and always trying to learn more from past vintages with each taste. He follows some admirable rules--no added water or acid, for instance (not to mention insisting upon printing the true alcohol level on his labels*)--but is always willing to experiment. We got to taste a 2010 Gewurztraminer fermented to dryness on its skins (this is extremely unusual). It was proudly, truly and beautifully Gewurz, but it had extra layers of complexity and interest thanks to the maceration on the skins.

We also got to try a Charbono that was done 100% whole cluster. It had the pure, rich dark fruit of Charbono supported by a firm foundation of tannin from the stems.

Prices for his wines are beyond reasonable. Please seek them out and support Matthew's project. And next time I'll bring a camera.

*TTB rules allow as much as 1.5% error in either direction. And that's just what's allowed.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Another video!

The last movie was such a hit (see post below) that we could not help ourselves. Here's our latest video post:

We hope you like it. Comments and suggestions are most certainly welcome!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Karma--more innovative packaging

The latest in our ongoing series on innovative wine packaging is Karma California Brut. We discovered it on a Virgin America flight and given the cool bottle and our naive belief that Virgin would have wine worth drinking  we ordered it up.

Well, at least the bottle was cool. Not much really innovative--it's still glass, and it has a screwcap--but it sure is not traditional sparkling wine packaging. We appreciate that much, at least. Read on if you care to learn more about the wine.
The wine was close to bland, and that is probably good. It does have a slight sweetness (so why call it Brut?) that builds over time, annoyingly. Our overall rating: better than Sofia. Which is not saying much.

The website is surprisingly cool, aside from the autoplay, horrible music. What is up with that?

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Odds and Ends

Item: Organic? Biodynamic? Sustainable? What do these terms mean and what's the best way to farm? The answer, of course, is outrageously complex. Slate did a fine job tackling the question, given the size of the piece. They gave sustainable farming short shrift, however, as we point out in the comments. The big knock on "sustainable" is that it is ill-defined. True, but that's not as big a problem as it seems. Bigger, we feel, is that the threshold for calling yourself sustainable under the certification systems is pretty low. If you'd like to learn more about sustainable grape growing, take a look at the Lodi Rules program, and the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance.

For the record, PWR Syrah comes from the CCOF Organic Massa Ranch, in Yountville, Napa Valley, while our 2010 Grenache comes from the Hunters Oak Vineyard, farmed sustainably in accordance with the Lodi Rules.

Item: Our quest to discover new ways to package wine continues. Today we learned about Indulge Wine in pouches, which is basically bag-in-box without the box. 2 wines are available in 1.5L pouches (equivalent to 2 standard wine bottles). Retail price is $20 each for 2009 Sauvignon Blanc (North Coast) and 2009 Pinot Noir (Central Coast). Available only in California at present. We hope to find the wines soon to report on their quality.

We also learned about Boisset's new twist on bag-in-box....bag-in-barrel. We're not sure we see the point, as the barrel will take up more space than a box and counteract some of the environmental benefits of BiB (less packaging, lighter weight), but as this article states, it would make a good conversation piece. And Boisset points out that the barrel is re-fillable, so it would only be transported once.

Item: We can't resist sharing this picture with you. We are so proud. We held back a tiny amount of the 2009 Bea's Knees and bottled it in January in magnums. Here they are.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

FLASQ Wines in Aluminum Bottles

We are pleased to take a break from reporting on PWR's Progress to tell you about a new discovery, FLASQ wines in aluminum cans bottles. We love alternatives to glass bottles for ever-so-many reasons, and we thrill to learn of any new wines so packaged. Some such products reviewed in the past have disappointed, while we have raved about others.

To repeat ourselves, the glass bottle with cork stopper was a great idea 400 years ago, but we can surely do better. There is nothing inherently wrong with any of the alternatives we know of--aluminum cans/bottles, bag-in-box, tetrapak, screwcaps--except that none of these technologies so far seems up to long term wine storage. But most wine is consumed within hours of purchase, and most wine intended for aging will be put in a glass bottle, anyway.

Quality is the key. Sadly, most wine buyers are afraid. Afraid of buying the "wrong" wine, or of buying a wine that will make them look foolish. If such a consumer musters up the courage to buy a wine that is not even in a glass bottle, that courage must be rewarded with good tasting wine. So how about the FLASQ wines?

FLASQ's inaugural release consists of a 2009 Chardonnay (Monterey County) and a 2009 Merlot (San Luis Obispo County). FLASQ kindly provided a sample of each, and we are happy to report that we like both wines. The Merlot has a great, fruity nose and is quite pretty to behold. It is a light wine, showing little tannin or oak. This easy-drinking character allows the wine to go well with many foods, and it will not be too heavy to consume on its own. We enjoyed the wine at home with homemade chicken shawarma, a dish that would have clashed with a heavier wine.

The Chardonnay, too, is in a lighter style, with intense and compelling tropical fruit aromas. The wine suggests pineapple and pears and has a subtle creaminess that keeps it from being too tart. This wine, too, will work with a wide range of food. We happily paired it with a dish of soba noodles with asparagus and pine nuts topped with a fried egg. Yum! Our brave consumer will not be disappointed in either wine.

The package is great, too. The image above shows the Merlot bottle sandwiched between a 375mL wine bottle (same volume as the FLASQ) and a 12-ounce beer bottle (just a little less volume). The FLASQ is easy to grip, very lightweight (not to mention shatterproof), and that wide mouth is terrific. This product is all about portability, right? And surely there are places you will end up where a glass is either unwelcome or forgotten. Yep, we tried the wine straight from the FLASQ and it was just fine. We were tickled to see that the FLASQ fact sheet boasts about this trait.

The manufacturers also claim that the bottle chills much more rapidly than glass. We did not test this but it is quite easy to believe given the thinness and conductivity of aluminum versus glass.

FLASQ warns that the wines should be consumed within 6 months of purchase. That's not a problem for these wines, which were not meant for aging, but we would love to see a new wine container that will allow the wine to age.

At present, the FLASQ wines are available in only 20 states, although they hope to find distribution in all 50. If you live in AL, AR, AZ, CT, FL, GA, IL, IN, LA, MA, MI, MS, NC, RI, SC, TN, TX or VA, take a look here to find your distributor if you don't yet see the wine in stores.

The wines will be available for $5.99-$7.99 per 375mL bottle (the pricing is ultimately up to the distributor and retailer; hence the range). That is the equivalent of $12-$16 per bottle (750mL). Given that a 1L TetraPak of Bandit wine, holding more than 2.5 times as much wine as the FLASQ bottle, is on sale at our local grocery store for $6, this might be a problem for FLASQ, despite the fact that, based on our tastings,  FLASQ wines are far more enjoyable than Bandit's.

We wish FLASQ success and recommend the wines, especially for taking places where a glass bottle would be awkward. We look forward to more offerings and to California distribution.
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