The nose knows

January 2nd, 2011

Surely, I have always been able to recall smells that remind me of events from long ago. But after years of dealing with chemicals and sniffing to evaluate wine, I seem to have developed another sense of smell, the one that acutely reacts to what others don’t seem to smell.

Where we live, we are not connected to a municipal water system. Ours is well water, and around here, the well water often provides quite a blast of sulfurous aromas, so much so that we had to have a complete water filtering system installed that not only removes the sulfurous odor but also the iron and other mineral deposits that plague the water supply.

Our water system provides two outlets for us: one is for washing and the other, on a reverse osmosis filter, is for drinking. The water source for washing is cleansed with chlorine and some large particle filters and then passed through salt to ostensibly take out the chlorine. It doesn’t always work so well but I seem to be the only one who thinks so.

Sometimes, as happened recently, I can detect sulfurous odors in the shower or from the faucet. When that happens it means to me that something is wrong with the system. The problem is that when the service guy arrives to fix what’s wrong, he doesn’t smell the sulfurous odor and thinks that I am nuts. It doesn’t help my cause when my wife can’t smell it either. But I detect it and I don’t care what others say.

Last week I had to call the water company to complain once again about detecting sulfurous odors. The fellow who came out to check things asked me what I do for a living. When I told him his eyebrows went up and he began to jump up and down.

When I asked him what was the matter he said that he just knew that my complaint had to do with my profession. He said they have a customer nearby who is a chemist and who seems also to detect odors in his water that none of the service people can detect.

All well and good, but I wanted to know what he was going to do to fix the problem. His solution was to adjust the chlorine level up a little.

I told him that I hope it doesn’t cause me to smell chlorine because I hate the smell of chlorine in water; when not overpowering and at low levels, it smells like mildew to me. He said that he wasn’t beefing it up so much that it would become a problem.

The next morning, as I splashed my face to wake up I smelled chlorine in the water. My wife did not.

Copyright Thomas Pellechia
January 2011. All rights reserved.

Lifting a blog entry without the author’s permission (and without recompense) is a copyright infringement–period.

Doing with less

December 26th, 2010

The first thing one usually does when confronted with news like cancer is to spiral into a confusing array of emotions. Soon enough, however, the sane individual slows down the pace and begins to recognize that this is the verdict that comes for all of us at various times in our lives. With that, a kind of peace comes—except when it comes to my daily wine!

 

Weeks before I found out about my prostate cancer, I had grown tired of my puffy paunch. I know it’s a sign of aging, but I also know that it doesn’t have to be.  I decided to shed some extra weight. The decision was confirmed as a good one on the day in late October that I went to see my GP for a PSA blood test. I weighed in that day at 180 pounds. Even after I subtracted the five pounds my shoes, clothing and pocket change must have registered (for some reason, the medical profession seems to have done away with stripped down weigh-ins) 175 pounds was an all time record for me, and for my frame, it is 20 pounds more than I should be carrying.

 

In November, I embarked on a weight loss campaign, which was quite simple: I calculated the calories I took in each day from wine and decided to cut them in half. At an average bottle a day, that meant about 450 calories daily out of my diet—more than 3000 calories fewer each week. I figured that I had to lose weight.

 

I was right: in eight weeks, I shed nine pounds. Last week at the oncologist’s office, I weighed in at 171 (with boots and clothes, etc. that’s about 166). As a bonus, I’m saving a little money, too, what with buying fewer cases of wine (I always buy by the case; it’s stupid not to, as it is the least expensive way to buy wine).

 

The paunch is retracting and just in time, too. I’m told that along with potential hot flashes, the testosterone-reducing shot I am about to get might cause my muscles to turn to fat and so I must be extra diligent about maintaining weight and tone.

 

My problem now is this: having cut back to a minuscule half bottle of wine a day, that avenue of cutting back is closed to me. I’ll have to come up with one or two new directions—maybe have to cut some foods out or increase exercise.

 

For many years, I’ve walked no fewer than two miles each day—often more. It looks like I shall have to get the bicycle re-conditioned and get back on it and add some miles that way. Of course, I can’t do that right now, as we yet again are in the grip of a global climate change nasty cold winter in the Northeast.

 

Come to think of it, I have more than one problem. The expense of co-pay insurance is already eating into my wine budget. That has meant a dumbing down of my wine selections. But I am lucky in one way. I am more focused on perusing the wine shelves and have been truly surprised by the volume of solid, decent wines from Europe at reasonable prices.

 

I find that wines produced on this side of the pond at low prices often do not measure up to the wines of Europe at comparable prices. I wonder why that is the case.

 

It’s been hard, I admit it, but each evening I savor the no more than three glasses of wine that I allow myself. It makes each sip taste even better!

 

Copyright Thomas Pellechia

December 2010. All rights reserved.

 

Lifting a blog entry without the author’s permission (and without recompense) is a copyright infringement–period.

 

Absence makes the heart grow fonder–we hope.

December 18th, 2010

Not one for lengthy explanations, I find that this explanation concerning why it’s been two weeks or more since my last blog entry will in fact be lengthy, but I’ll start the long version with the short version.

 

Ten days ago, I was diagnosed with prostate cancer.

 

At this point, I’m told my condition is treatable. I’ll know more about that treatment regimen on Wednesday this week after a visit with a radiology oncologist.

 

It is a terrible cliché, but such important information has a way of focusing one’s mind. For the past ten days, while my emotions ran the roller coaster from anger to self-pity to depression to hope to positive thinking to rejecting the news to accepting the news to, to, to, my mind began to create what I call importance departments, where I began to separate what is important and should take up space in there and what is less important to get less space and what should be removed completely for lack of importance. Here’s what I came up with as it relates to wine.

 

The least important thing is to argue a wine point just to prove a point. While I’ve always railed against the massive egos that infiltrate wine conversations, I must admit that the fact that I engage in conversations at all proves evidence of a strong enough ego on my part as well. But here’s the interesting thing about my latest condition: prostate cancer is related to testosterone levels.

 

In two weeks, I will be given a shot to turn off my brain’s ability to produce testosterone. I’ve been imagining that after the shot I’ll become a conciliatory individual with big tits!

 

Seriously, if conciliation or better yet, avoidance becomes the norm for me in the future, I am certain it will be good for my blood pressure to avoid or laugh at the often low-level discussion that ego-based arguments create. In the future, I will not argue with anyone about wine. I will allow everyone to hold whatever opinion he or she has, I will make a stab at telling what I think I know, and then I will gracefully remove myself from the fallout.

 

As to the role wine and food will play in my future, I issue a great big Hmmmmmm.

 

Here’s what I was told to do about my diet: eat omega 3 foods like fish and oils; eat cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale, collards, etc.); in other words, pile on the anti-oxidants. It’s that free radical stuff we’ve read about for decades now.

 

This news pisses me off because the above describes what has been much of my diet for years—with the exception that I likely eat too much animal fat for my own good, and I have remedied that situation. Notwithstanding my relatively healthy diet, cancer cells managed to grow inside this otherwise healthy body. Genetics strikes.

 

Wine is allowed in my diet, but not in the volume that I have been used to: I must limit myself to ten or so ounces each day, certainly no more than twelve ounces. In fact, I’ve been limiting myself for about six weeks, when this process began and when I already assumed what the diagnosis was going to be (I knew the genetics issue). The limiting has made me lose six pounds—one pound per week!

 

When you receive information about your mortality, you have only two choices: heed or ignore. The former hands you a promise while the latter hands you almost devastating certainty. But neither choice hands you your life back, not as you’ve known it before. On the day that you are faced with your mortality, you learn (or should learn) to ease off, to find the moments that matter, to let go, and, most of all, to embrace—life.

 

You also learn who your loved ones really are, and that has been a lesson more overwhelming to my emotions than anything I’ve felt in the past ten days. Real friends have poured love my way; the others, well, I now know who they are, but that’s okay. It is not important. The importance is holding close to the ones that matter, and that most potently includes family.

 

It’s also important to hold close to the things that matter. Wine and food will always matter to me.

 

Of course, the cost of what we call in this country a health care insurance system but what seems to me to be a near criminal enterprise may demand that I cut my wine budget considerably. The irony of the situation will be that I’ll probably be forced to consume all those “Vinted by” and “Cellared by” wines that are made somewhere and labeled somewhere else and that I have railed against for years. If only I were the type to ask for free wine to review on a regular basis–hey, any producers reading, I’ll accept them now with joy…

 

When the news of prostate cancer came, I had a conversation with my wife of course, and also with a brother-in-law who is a writer. Each encouraged me to start and maintain a blog to track my journey; it’s not an unusual thing; people do it every day; the wine industry has been graced with the cancer journey blog of an East Coast importer for a couple of years now. But that sort of thing is too self-indulgent for me.

 

Still, as a writer, I cannot resist and so I am keeping a personal account of my journey. That’s because we writers believe that our every thought can in some way be transposed into an article or book for pay, as if what we have to say has value. What was that I said about self-indulgence?

 

My promise to the handful of readers of this blog is that I will try to come up with ideas to make blog entries about wine and/or food. But I’m unsure how well I can keep that promise and at what consistency level. It would help if a few readers were willing to think of subjects they’d like to know my take on and let me know what they are.  

 

For now, it is lunchtime here. I have an omega 3 sandwich waiting for me…

 

Copyright Thomas Pellechia

December 2010. All rights reserved.

 

Lifting a blog entry without the author’s permission (and without recompense) is a copyright infringement–period.

Wine review–of a sort

December 4th, 2010

Recently, Clark Smith had an article published in Wines and Vines Magazine concerning–are you ready–minerality in wine.

 

Before I waded into the muddy terrain of that piece, I had already resigned myself to the position expressed by many who study viticulture, to wit: that minerals themselves are not taken up into the vine and then deposited in the fruit.

 

The consensus that seems to have built is that the so-called minerality of wine is either an illusion or a simulation, put there by the interaction of acids with other components; and generally, the mineral sensation is more forward in white wines.

 

In his article, Mr. Smith starts with the premise that minerals are indeed among the components found in the fruit and then he goes on not to report on how he came to know this fact, but on how he came to speculate its existence. From there, it was all down hill, not so much that his arguments weren’t sound, and they may or may not be, but because I understood almost nothing of what he was talking about.

 

On wine forum sites, a few chemists echoed my sentiment, and some went further to call Smith’s speculations completely wrong.

 

Unknown to me at the time, I was heading for a direct collision with the premise of Smith’s article.

 

Because there are today so many “reviewers” of wine, and because I truly don’t believe that what I like should have any bearing on what someone else should buy, I rarely write wine reviews anymore. At times, however, I am moved by a wine or by a wine and food pairing and I break my rule. At other times, something else happens that makes me break my rule. This is one of those times.

 

At the same time that I came across Smith’s article, I was preparing to sample some Cabernet Franc wines; some that had been sent to me to review, and some that I used my own money to obtain. My aim was to see how cool climate versions of the variety compare with warm climate versions—in the U.S. It was all for my own edification with the possibility that the comparison might give me something about which to write in the future.

 

Two of the wines that came to me were from Diamond Ridge Vineyards. One of them was named “2007 Aspects.”

 

I had no experience with Diamond Ridge wines, and I had no idea who owned the label. I don’t know if an actual winery exists under that name, because the two wines that came to me were not Produced and Bottled by Diamond Ridge; they had been Vinted and Bottled by Diamond Ridge, which means they were produced somewhere in California from grapes grown in the Lake Country Appellation, but no one was saying where. The vineyards, however, appear to belong to Diamond Ridge.

 

Anyway, here was my impression of Aspects: subdued and no identifiable varietal nose, although a hint of pepper underneath; kind of earthy but not in a vinous way, more like the dry dust of a second base steal and slide at the Brooklyn Park Circle baseball diamond of my youth; wish there were some fruit here, although glad that the oak is tame; pH seems rather dangerous territory for a chance at longevity. To me, a $12 retail value masking itself at a $28 retail price.

 

My wife, who often tastes with me, and who has a fine palate, agreed with my assessment of Aspects, except for the part about pH, which she never even considers

 

After making my notes, I read the “winemaker’s” notes that came with the samples. I discovered that the wine included 18% Cabernet Franc, that only 89 cases had been produced, and that the 30 months in oak was spent in neutral barrels. The pH was 3.73 (to me, that borders on the high side, but I am not an authority and those stats are not unusual these days).

 

My notes mention nothing about minerality. The closest is that dry dirt comment. That’s because, if there is minerality in the taste or finish of that wine, neither my wife nor I were savvy enough to pick it up.

 

As I ventured into the mud of Smith’s speculations in that article about minerality, he made mention of his winery and of a certain wine of his that he said offers up minerals. The winery and wine he mentioned was Diamond Ridge Aspects.

 

Now, I am completely baffled not only by Mr. Smith’s discussion of minerality but also by my talent (or lack of talent) for assessing wine.

 

Minerality

 

Copyright Thomas Pellechia

December 2010. All rights reserved.

 

Lifting a blog entry without the author’s permission (and without recompense) is a copyright infringement–period.

Duck breast with black raspberry sauce.

November 28th, 2010

My blogging associate, Vinogirl, likes duck. After a comment about duck that she made on her blog, I promised a duck recipe.

This one is duck breast with black raspberry sauce, for two.

Ingredients:

Two duck breasts
Flour
1 Shallot chopped
2 Cloves Garlic minced
Cup of Black Raspberries
Cup of Ruby Port
Crushed black pepper
Olive Oil
Two large potatoes cut into small cubes
1 Onion sliced
½ cup Chicken Stock
Paprika

Pound the duck breast, sprinkle one side with pepper and then flour; do the same for the other side.

I keep some black raspberries from my garden frozen whole through the winter. When I want some, I remove as much as I want, let them warm up and then run them through a sieve to remove as much of the little seeds as possible.

In a skillet with a little olive oil, brown the duck at high heat on both sides and remove.

Deglaze the skillet with ½ cup Port until it cooks down to half; then, bring heat to low, add the shallot, half of the garlic, raspberries, and the rest of the port and let simmer, but don’t let it dry out. If that is about to happen, add wine.

In a pan, add tablespoon oil, onion and cook on medium for a minute; then, the rest of the garlic and cook for another minute; then, add the potatoes, sprinkle as much paprika as you want on them, add stock, mix things up, cover and simmer on low flame until the potatoes are soft—it should take about twenty or so minutes.

Gauge your stovetop and calculate how much time you need to allow the potatoes to cook so that the potatoes and the duck are ready at the same time, based on how rare—or not—you like your duck.

In another pan add a teaspoon olive oil over low heat; then, add the duck breast and cover. Let cook for about three minutes, turn over and let cook for three minutes; then cover for two minutes. Check the duck breast to see if it is as rare as you like it, or not too rare. If you need to cook more, keep watch over the breast so that it doesn’t overcook (I like mine pink to juicy). Always remember that meat cooks a little more after you turn off the flame.

When done, the potatoes should be soft and moist. If they are done slightly before the duck, just turn off the flame and let them sit covered.

When it is done, plate the duck, either pour the sauce over it or beside it, whether you like to cut and dip or sauce and cut.

Before serving the potatoes, sprinkle some pepper over them (salt too if you use it, I never do).

Add your greens of choice or salad.

Which wine would you pair with this meal?

Vinogirl Blog

Copyright Thomas Pellechia
November 2010. All rights reserved.

Lifting a blog entry without the author’s permission (and without recompense) is a copyright infringement–period.

Which wine for Pork chop?

November 20th, 2010

Wine writers, reviewers, critics, and bloggers are in the business of telling readers what to drink. Let me try something new and have readers tell me what to drink.

I’ll write out a meal, with recipes, and you pair it with wine. Tell me which wine you’d have with the meal and most of all, tell me why that wine.

First meal: thick cut pork chop in Madeira sauce, with roasted potatoes and sweetly infused Brussels sprouts.

The potatoes:

If you can find small new potatoes use them; if not, use the larger ones. The difference will be in how you cut them for the roasting. I like to thinly slice off the top and bottom of a small potato so that it stands flat and it has a plateau surface on which to add the ingredients. If the potatoes are large, I cut each in half and then slice the rounded edges to create the same flattened bottom and plateau on top, but to make the large potatoes small enough for quicker roasting.

While a small toaster oven (or similar unit) heats to 350 degrees F, dribble olive oil over each cut potato then sprinkle winter sage leaves and crushed white pepper over the potatoes so that they stick to the oil. Place in the oven and set for 50 minutes.

After 20 minutes into the potatoes roasting, turn main oven to 350 (I use a convection) and then drop a tablespoon olive oil into a cast iron pan and turn heat to high.

Place pork chop(s) on a meat-cutting surface, sprinkle crushed black pepper on one side and then lightly flour it; turn the chop over and do the same. Then, roll the chop in the rest of the flour that has fallen to the surface.

In the hot iron pan, brown the chop on each side and around its edges and then remove from heat. Immediately deglaze the pan with a ½ cup sweet Madeira and then reduce flame to low.

Place chops into the oven and turn timer to 20 minutes.

Add chopped shallot and garlic clove to the Madeira, plus ½ cup more Madeira and a few dashes of soy sauce. Separately, mix an ounce of Madeira with two teaspoons of flour until it is a thick gooey substance and add to the pan, turn flame to simmer and stir constantly.

Rinse and then cut a cross hatch into each Brussels sprout. Slice a garlic clove and thin carrots. In a sauté pan, over very low heat, add a teaspoon of olive oil, the sprouts, garlic and carrots, plus ¼ cup Madeira and cover to steam.

When the potatoes and chops are done, turn flame up under the Madeira/shallot sauce and stir vigorously until it is less liquid-like and more solid-like.

Check to see that the sprouts and carrots are firm but cooked.

Plate everything and pour the sauce over the chops—garnish with parsley.

Eat with the wine you prefer, but do tell me which one you have chosen.

Copyright Thomas Pellechia
November 2010. All rights reserved.

Lifting a blog entry without the author’s permission (and without recompense) is a copyright infringement–period.

Ten best–no, not again!

November 13th, 2010

Each year, columnists, bloggers and sundry writers complain about the commercial aspect tied to Christmas and how much they hate it that earlier and earlier store windows are decorated, we are subjected to insipid “holiday” music loops, and magazines (and now Web sites) bombard us with “sales.”

Another of the holiday traditions is the end-of-year best of this and that lists, something I railed about here last year. When it comes to what to say as another year bites the dust, bloggers prove as uncreative as regular old print writers—instead of saying anything, they make a list!

The only good thing about those lists is that the assault is held off until late December or early January, after the insipid music stops—until this year.

In what appears like an attempt to get the jump on the annual listing crowd, two of my favorite wine bloggers have hit us with lists in early November.

Luckily, neither Tom Wark nor Jeff Lefevere chose to attach to their lists the undercurrent of some insipid music (the number of times that I mention the music indicates how much I despise having to be subjected to holiday music wherever I go).

Tom did a simple list of ten.

On the other hand, Jeff is not the kind of guy who will say something in five words when he knows that he has at least 50 words sitting around somewhere—his list came in four parts, in four separate blog entries.

Me, I don’t do end of year lists. But I’m also a realist. I know that the list crowd isn’t going to stop on my request. So, in the spirit of the early season, and since I am not as much of a curmudgeon as I want everyone to believe, I will join the fray, the early list fray.

Here are the Best Ten Excuses of 2010 to which this writer has been subjected:

1. I get so much email I must have missed yours.

All fifteen of them?

2. I didn’t see that invoice.

It was copied in all fifteen of those emails.

3. I was traveling.

By now, doesn’t everyone know what a laptop and wireless are.

4. We are a start up online magazine so we can’t pay you for your work, but we can offer you exposure.

Exposure can cause cancer.

5. We aren’t publishing any books this year.

…and why do you call yourself a publisher?

6. I’m sorry I didn’t get back to you sooner, but…

No, I can’t stop everything to write 500 words in fifteen minutes.

7. I’m too busy right now to meet with you.

Yet, each time I call to try for a meeting you spend 50 minutes on the telephone with me complaining about the publishing business.

8. He’s at a meeting.

How come he takes phone calls when he’s meeting with me?

9. That wasn’t my fault.

It never is.

10. Oh, I forgot.

Your honesty will come back to haunt you.

Tom Wark

Jeff LeFevere

If you are reading this entry anywhere other than on the vinofictions blog, be aware that it has been lifted without my permission (and without recompense), and that’s a copyright infringement, no matter that the copyright information appears with it.

Copyright Thomas Pellechia
November 2010. All rights reserved.

Book Review

October 31st, 2010

When I operated my winery tasting room one of my wines provided me with a valuable lesson about pricing.

The wine was named Proprietor’s Blend. Essentially, it was concocted from the leftover lots of Chardonnay, Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Seyval, and Vignoles that I produced as single variety wines.

This was the late 1980s and so wine prices were quite different than today—I sold Riesling for $10 a bottle and Gewurztraminer for $12. The price of the Proprietor’s Blend was $5.

After a number of weeks, I noticed that many tasters who said that they liked the Proprietor’s Blend didn’t buy it. They bought other wines, everyone of which cost more per bottle than the blend. As I wondered over this situation, thinking maybe I should put the wine on sale, get rid of it and never produce it again, my wife made a suggestion.

She had been watching the tasting room people too. Her sense was that they didn’t buy the wine because it was too cheap. Instead of running a sale, my wife said that I should raise the price of the wine to $8.

I did what she suggested. The wine sold out every year thereafter, even when the price rose to $9.

This is why I agree almost completely with the thesis behind the Fearless Critic Media (FCM) concept that fuels that organization’s book The Wine Trials 2011.

This is not FCM’s first book—last year the organization published The Wine Trials 2010, an event that saw me dining with Robin Goldstein and Alexis Herschkowitsch, the two major forces behind FCM. I wasn’t dining with them exclusively, that would be against their agenda. I was just one member of a group of invites in the wine industry to taste some of the wines that had come out on top in their first Wine Trials blind tasting—wines that they claim prove that most people prefer wines at lower prices than the wines that generally receive high critic ratings.

I agree with most of the reasoning that FCM uses to support the claim. I fully support the quality of many of the 175 wines under $15 that made the top preference list in the latest “Trials.”

The fact that FCM uses Champagne to prove that price does not automatically signal either better quality or equal acceptance is critical; next to Bordeaux futures, Champagne is the most ludicrous end of the wine market. The big names that FCM exposes don’t even produce Champagne in the true method. How could they? Moet alone produces about 25% of the whole region’s wines; the company can’t engage in the painstaking, labor-intensive step-by-step method that used to be the excuse for high prices.

There’s no doubt in my mind, and never has been, that the general wine consuming public has bought into a variety of hucksterisms, not the least of which is that the ratings of critics have meaning. As FCM points out by citing many studies, consumers are receiving messages that lead them to buy wines that they probably don’t even prefer. That’s because marketers know all about aspiration.

FCM rails against the rating and award system as if it was designed to sell wine. It wasn’t—not at first.

Awarding wines once was akin to the big and beautiful pig contest at the county fair. The awards that were handed out to wineries at agricultural fairs were to recognize their achievement, not to recommend their wines to us. It wasn’t until the 100-point rating system gained traction in the 1980s when the focus of awards and ratings was turned away from the winemakers and toward us.

Mr. Robert Parker named his newsletter The Wine Advocate because he viewed himself as a Ralph Nader-like crusader to protect the consumer from bad wine. It was a self-anointment as the arbiter of taste, and those who followed him followed his system both of self-anointment and of rating wines.

The result these many years later is that ratings not only inflate the value of wine, they inflate the value of the critics. Even the best wine palates have a tendency toward inconsistency. If critics were to taste wines blind, and as FCM points out, most do not, many would have a hard time picking out a duplicate sample of one wine among a flight of six wines tasted; most of us would have a hard time doing it and that means that critics would be just like most of us; to protect themselves, they don’t taste wines blind.

On the subject of blind tasting, I register one small disagreement with FCM.

The FCM claim that a blind tasting is the only way to remove bias and to discover your real wine preferences is spot on, but there’s blind and then there’s blind. In my opinion, bottles should never be in the same room as the tasting; wrapped in brown bags or not, the astute could find ways to gain clues from the bottles. A truly blind tasting includes glasses filled with wine in another room and then delivered to the tasters to make their evaluations. The only information available is the color of the wine (even that could be masked with black glasses, but that would be overkill). The wines should be selected so that they don’t jar the tasters palates; in other words, similar wines within each flight.

This is a small disagreement, but I do have a bigger concern with The Wine Trials.

FCM waxes well regarding its thesis, sometimes so well that it betrays a bias against a certain style of wine referred to as New World or international. Not that I disagree with the assessment—I am not a fan of bombastic wines that some critics believe to be Nirvana—but isn’t that a preference matter?

Gratuitous shots at oak chips or extended aging or other so-called interventions are neither graceful nor necessary. Present the science, present the results of your experiments, and let others make up their own minds, which is what FCM claims that it wants consumers to do.

Also, except a vague reference to wine that is “created by nature,” the book offers no scientific proof that there’s anything qualitatively wrong with “interventions” of the sort that are excoriated.  Since its discovery, wine has not  been created by nature but by humans. To follow FCM’s seemingly intended logic would mean that wine should be allowed to ferment in a hole in the ground and it should be stored in the earth as well plus, it should receive pounds of additives like salt and sugar to try to preserve it but it should be consumed right away anyway, because most early non-interventionist wine turned to vinegar quickly. But, admittedly, this is a nit pick.

Finally, even though the title The Wine Trials at first led me to think of a Mr. Koch and the wines he bought at auction that turned out to be fraudulent, I really do agree with the thesis behind FCM.

In fact, I rate the book 98 out of 100.

If you are reading this entry anywhere other than on the vinofictions blog, be aware that it has been lifted without my permission (and without recompense), and that’s a copyright infringement, no matter that the copyright information appears with it.

Copyright Thomas Pellechia
October 2010. All rights reserved.

One Romance (30)

October 11th, 2010

“Wake up,” Nick told himself, “you are going to meet the queen.”

Even back then, in the late 80s, everyone in the Finger Lakes wine business knew who the queen was. Too bad it took so long for the rest of the world to catch up; if it had found out sooner, Nick might have been able to hold out a little longer and make a great success of his little winery.

Of course, on that first morning of his first juice run for his first Riesling, Nick was still full of hope and optimism. There was no other description for what he felt. He had serpentined the alcohol rules and regulations, he had been schooled in the conservative ways of banking that proved only the stingy stay wealthy, he had been awakened to the cruelty of large wineries and the cruelty of the weather, he had been subjected to the interrogations of clueless tourists, he had been tried by financial deprivation, and he had been made to change plans through no fault of his own. This morning he was going to meet the reason for it all.

The grapes came in at approximate total acidity of .9 %, pH at 3.1-3.2, and sugar between 21-22 Brix (generally the % by volume). The juice he picked up was the most tasty of all the juices thus far—the only one that had less of a grape juice quality to it and more of the profile of what the wine might be like: austere, yet giving; aromatic, yet subtle; full, yet delicate; and filled with the promise of a future.

Waiting in the winery was a batch of Steinberger yeast (DGI 228). Known for its ability to ferment under cool conditions, slowly, to draw out the aromatics and fruit, as well as for its ability to tolerate at least 13% alcohol, sulfur dioxide, plus low pH. He used the yeast on Gewurztraminer for similar reasons, but the yeast seems to have been developed specifically for all that Riesling has to offer.

Nick picked up the juice without incident: no lost tank, no state policeman on the road to look unfavorably at his low tire pressure, no spills, no mistaken ripening stats, no dead pump in the winery, no problems with the yeast, no problems with getting fermentation started, a perfectly cool yet clear autumn weather pattern so that he didn’t have to cool the fermentation by watering the tank, and a perfectly quiet few weekdays in the tasting room, giving him time to do the necessary fermentation work on the Riesling and racking work on other wines in the cellar.

Riesling was the promise and now that promise was in Nick’s hands to mold, certainly not to mess up.

When Theresa called that night she could hear in his “hello” that something good happened that day, and she became so excited that she could feel the promise, too, even though she was beginning to wonder whether or not Nick had what he needed to get this winery off the ground. She believed in him—no problem there—but she also saw how much of an uphill trek he had before him. She wanted to be there to help, but financially could not drop the commute and the income that it provided, the income that Nick quickly made to evaporate into the promise of a future.

The future was Riesling, for the region and for Nick. For now, the future was slowly bubbling away, almost foamless, which is another benefit of DGI 228.

His ideal was to craft a finished Riesling between 11-12% alcohol, a 3.2-3.3 pH and .75-.80 total acidity, and no more than .75 residual sugar. He could then decide if it needed some of that Gewurztraminer to give it a push or if it could stand on its own. He rambled on about all the stats while Theresa listened, happy to hear in his voice, well, happiness for a change.

NOTE: there may be longer lag time between posts of Nick’s story. I have a project on which a great deal of time must be spent. Hope all four of my readers will bear with me.

If you are reading this entry anywhere other than on the vinofictions blog, be aware that it has been lifted without my permission (and without recompense), and that’s a copyright infringement, no matter that the copyright information appears with it.

Copyright Thomas Pellechia
October 2010. All rights reserved.

One Romance (29)

September 30th, 2010

The Vignoles was truly interesting. The juice was so acidic it almost tasted as if there was no sugar, but the hydrometer reading showed about 23 Brix (23% sugar by weight).

Each morning, Nick drank a large glass of grapefruit juice. The smell of Vignoles reminded him of his breakfast drink.

Vignoles is an extremely fruity variety with aromatics that take your nose in many directions, from funk to fruit salad. He was advised to use a slow-fermenting yeast, one that could be stopped easily enough before completion. This was because Vignoles is not a candidate for dry table wine—it’s ok as a sparkling wine, but even then, a dry sparkler can mask as much as 2% residual sugar.

Nick selected the Epernay II yeast. His only worry was that daytime temperatures might not cooperate, and for a few days after he got fermentation started, they didn’t. He spent a great deal of time cooling the tanks with water—a great deal of time. Every evening for about four straight days, he ended the day almost entirely soaked with water, despite the protective high rubber boots and rain jacket that he wore.

It took a few weeks for the fermentation to get the Vignoles down to 2% residual sugar, which was where he wanted to stop it. That gave the wine about 11.5% alcohol, and with all that fruit, plus acidity in the finished wine well above .8% by volume, with a finished pH of 3.2, this was indeed like grapefruit, or pineapple juice with a kick!

To stop the fermentation Nick opened the doors and let the cold air in which luckily by mid October had settled into the region. Then, he racked the wine and dosed it with sulfur dioxide. The cold air didn’t hurt the other wines, as they had long ago finished fermenting and were resting.

He was pleased with himself that night at home, sitting with a glass of wine, a chunk of cheese and some bread for a late dinner after work, and then the phone rang at about 9:30—Riesling tomorrow!

This is what he was waiting for. The locals knew as far back as the 1980s that Riesling was the future for the Finger Lakes wine industry. Nick certainly knew it. He couldn’t wait to get into his first production of Riesling. He had decided to produce a version that would be drier than most in the region. In fact, he had decided to do a few trial blends with small amounts of Gewurztraminer in Riesling to add a touch of the Old World Alsatian taste to the Finger Lakes product.

Nick slept restlessly that night.

If you are reading this entry anywhere other than on the vinofictions blog, be aware that it has been lifted without my permission (and without recompense), and that’s a copyright infringement, no matter that the copyright information appears with it.

Copyright Thomas Pellechia
September 2010. All rights reserved.