Showing posts with label Grenache. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Grenache. Show all posts

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.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Why good California wine is so darn expensive

We read a piece on the Tablas Creek blog* today that is too good not to share. The piece explains in thorough detail why Tablas Creek elected not to buy a potential vineyard site to expand production of their $25/bottle Cotes de Tablas line. The short answer is that the land was too expensive. In getting to that conclusion Jason Haas delineates financing costs, farming costs, winemaking costs, and the cost of just about everything that goes into that bottle of wine. It's difficult to see how anyone could produce a good wine from a coastal vineyard for less than $25.

Haas allows "that as long as winemakers can find older vineyards of less-fashionable varietals, we'll see growth" in the $10-$20 range, but scavenging thus is hardly sustainable. Such scavenging is pretty much PWR's business plan, and given our size and the economic malaise in the wine industry, we expect to have no trouble sourcing good grapes over the next few years, but we certainly won't be planting a vineyard any time soon.

What's the solution? We are not sure there is one. As Haas eloquently states, there are too many demands on land suitable for planting coastal vineyards to expect land prices to fall significantly. The California coast simply is not suited to produce great wines at low prices, at least not on a large scale.

The solution may lie inward, however. California's Great Central Valley, which runs from Redding in the north to Bakersfield in the south, produces much of the nation's produce and is no stranger to the grapevine. Most of the viticulture is focused in the Souther San Joaquin Valley--roughly from Fresno to the South--where the winegrapes planted among the Thompson seedless raisin grapes are hardly renowned for their quality.

The Southern San Joaquin (SSJ) is hot and nearly water-less, with sandy and somewhat saline soils. This is no region for Chardonnay or Cabernet, let alone Pinot Noir (although acres of each variety are planted there, with disastrous results). But we believe the region could be just fine for varieties suited to such a climate. Varieties from regions such as Greece (Xinomavro, anyone?), Sicily (Nero D'Avola) or Spain (Garnacha/Grenache), for instance.

Housing pressures are great even in the SSJ, but land is still much cheaper than in coastal regions. It's also less expensive to farm. Now we just need to find a grower willing to take the plunge!**

* The Tablas Creek blog is well worth reading for many reasons. Today's piece illustrates the best of them--Jason Haas is open and honest in his discussions. The blog does not read like PR fluff. We love Tablas Creek wines. While not exactly inexpensive, they represent excellent quality at their prices, and are easily the match of wines costing many times as much.

** One reason growers are reluctant to plant varieties that may be better suited to their climate is the perception that consumers won't buy a wine that does not bear a familiar varietal name on it. Given the difficulties *everyone* is facing selling Syrah these days, the growers are probably correct. But would you rather have an eye-poppingly good Mavrodaphne or a dreary, flabby raisin-y Cabernet? Good. Now go tell 100 of your friends.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Wine in CANS!

Yes, we love alternative packaging. The bottle was an amazing invention 400 years ago, but it's time to move on. Cork has made tremendous progress in recent years, but a corked bottle this weekend reminded us that cork's time has come and gone as well. If any of you buy the argument that cork stoppers are ecologically important, we ask why you don't demand them in all of your beverage containers. Why should wine alone bear the burden of maintaining an artificial, if rich, ecosystem? Yes, we can continue this rant with anyone interested. But on to the real point...

We have had wine in cans, and it is good. Wine in cans is hardly new, as this article from the San Francisco Chronicle demonstrates. But the article hardly gives the impression that earlier canned wines were associated with quality.

The wines from Wild Pelican should turn that around. These wines are simply fabulous. Not "fabulous for wine in a can," but fabulous. And it comes in cans.

We read about the Wild Pelican wines in Mutineer magazine, and requested samples that were very generously provided by Tim Jacobi, of Gima International, the US distributor for the wines. Mr. Jacobi provided a great deal of information along with the wine, most of which is also on the Wild Pelican website.

But we get ahead of ourselves. How about the wine? Mr. Jacobi sent samples of two of the three Wild Pelican products (and we will be eagerly seeking out the third). The red is a Tempranillo from the D.O. Cariňena region of Spain. It is redolent of bing cherries and cherry pie, with hints of baking spices. Smooth and silky, this is very pleasant even if it does not scream "Tempranillo."

The white blew us away. It is a Chenin Blanc from South Africa's Western Cape. Chenin Blanc's home may be France's Loire Valley, but the South Africans have grown it for hundreds of years and made it their own. This instance is absolutely classic, and very aromatic with scents of green apple and gooseberry. There is some slight carbonation (it's not fizzy) that lifts the fruitiness, and mouth-watering acidity. This wine demands food, and would be perfect for a picnic.

The third wine, which we have yet to try, is a Grenache-Shiraz rosé from the Languedoc-Rousillon (France). We love rosé, as well as Grenache and Shiraz, so we have high hopes for this wine.

Mr. Jacobi advises that the roll-out of the product will be measured. The plan is to build a loyal following in key areas in the eastern and central US before releasing the wines in California. You readers on the eastern seaboard are lucky.

Prices will vary based on state taxes etc., but Mr. Jacobi expects individual cans to sell for $2.09-$2.49, with 3-packs and 6-packs costing slightly less per can. Note that the cans are 187-mL (1/4 of standard wine bottle), so at these prices a bottle equivalent would cost up to $10. It makes sense to have a small package given that there is no way to re-close the can once opened, though it might be nice to have some larger options available, too. The wines are well worth $10/bottle--the convenience, weight and environmental benefits are all bonus.

Okay, so the wine is good, now what about the packaging? The can weighs a mere 8 grams, compared to almost 200 grams for a glass bottle of the same volume. The wine is not exposed to light, which can be quite damaging, even through green glass bottles. Cans are allowed where glass containers are forbidden, and while Wild Pelican won't say it, the cans are easy to smuggle into places where wine might not be allowed at all. Finally, while we are not overly concerned with packaging aesthetics, this package looks and even feels good. No one, we hope, will feel sheepish bringing this wine to a party or opening it for friends.

Keep your eyes open for Wild Pelican, and let us know what you think when you find it.

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