Archive for April, 2015
Mourvedre is a grape variety grown in many parts of the world, most notably in Spain & southern France. Many wine lovers today, however, might know this grape as the “M” found in many of the popular GSM blends coming out of warmer climates such as Australia & California. We put this tasting together to show, while Mourvedre is not a mainstream grape variety, it is capable of producing some VERY interesting, provocative masculine red wines which are truly like no other, especially in certain parts of France. We, then, served several of these French bottlings to help tasters see & hopefully better understand what potential this grape variety has. Just another really good opportunity to learn!
2011 Chateau La Roque Pic St Loup “Les Vieilles Vignes de Mourvedre”–“This is unique terroir. Garrigue, the aromatic scrub brush that dominates the landscapes of the South, asserts its presence among these vines”. Terraced hillsides, clay-limestone soils, 50 to 60 year old vines, organically/biodynamically farmed. Though quite masculine & sultry, the wine is thankfully done in a much more delicious, “country” style.
2010 Domaine du Joncier Lirac “Les Muses”–Here is a wonderful discovery from the village of Lirac of France’s southern Rhone Valley across the river from the more famous Chateauneuf-du-Pape. This unique cuvee is predominately Mourvedre, biodynamically farmed & pounded by the fierce mistral wind. The inky black color will tell you it is Mourvedre, but the surprising refinement & suave-ability, will tell you this is crafted by a female vigneron, which all makes for a very different & unique perspective on what this grape variety can do.
2010 Domaine du Gros Nore Bandol–As importer Kermit Lynch once wrote—“Magnificent Bandols made in the simplest manner, très franc de goût, with a whole lotta soul”. The vineyard is but 16 hectares of clay limestone soils located right down the road from the iconic Domaine Tempier. This is a much more masculine, robust, earthy style of Mourvedre with a dark, more sinister personality. We find this wine to be especially well suited for wild game & aged meats. Furthermore, it gets even more provocative & intriguing with a little bottle age, so we suggest you put a few bottles stashed away to enjoy later.
2008 Domaine Tempier Bandol “Cabassaou”–one of the true iconic wines of southern France! Tempier produces 3 single vineyard Bandol–La Migoua, La Tourtine & Cabassaou. Cabassaou used to be a lower, old vine parcel of LaTourtine, but was produced & bottled (at least commercially) as single vineyard with the 1987 vintage. This cuvee is typically 90-95 % Mourvedre & is therefore very masculine, dense, powerful, highly vinous & soulful.
1997 Domaine de Terrebrune Bandol–this domaine is located in Ollioules, east of Bandol, at a higher elevation than Tempier with terraced hillside vineyards. The soil is still clay limestone with some marl. I find their Bandol wines, eventhough produced from at least 85% Mourvedre, to be more ethereal & more refined than those of Tempier or Gros Nore in its youth. I was very surprised at how wonderfully perfumed & mesmerizing the nose was when we popped the cork. It almost had an apricot/nectarine quality, along with underlying floral nuances amid the earth & rustic character. Even on the palate, this wine also had a deliciousness & a prettiness, which are not qualities I would normally associate with Mourvedre. I only wish I had bought more! This is definitely a Mourvedre in all its glory.
1985 Domaine Tempier Bandol “La Migoua”—typically, this is the Tempier bottling which speaks to me the most. For my palate, La Migoua is the most forward out of the gates, the most masculine, the most rugged, the most stony & the most soulful, if soulfulness could ever be defined. In terms of rusticity, which the Tempier Mourvedre red wines are well renown for, La Migoua has more base notes, deep, bordering brooding, with a musk character underlying the resounding earthy nuances. Interestingly, the vineyard is at the highest elevation of the 3 (270 meters), an almost ampitheater like setting with red, ochre, blue clay & limestone soils. It also typically has the least % of Mourvedre to the blend of the 3. Tasting this 1985 was like tasting a bit of history….when all of the Peyrauds were healthy & working at the winery……when Domaine Tempier was a more country-ish kind of Camelot–full of magic & romantic notions, all done in a very “down to earth ” Provencal way. In its youth, I remember this wine had a VERY rustic character, which many New World wine drinkers might consider too rustic & off-putting. With this kind of bottle age, however, the perfume is truly captivating, as the sun baked rocks, surrounding wild shrub, herbs & pine trees again make an encore appearance in the nose & taste, amongst the cedar, tobacco, smoke, dried cherries, leather & li-hing-mui smells. Tempier magic!
2007 was a pretty good vintage for Pinot Noir up & down California. Even before any wines were actually released, several of the wine media were hyping the vintage as one of the best ever for Pinot. That was 8 years ago. We did this tasting to see how a few are doing today. Yes, just another opportunity to learn.
2007 Roessler Pinot Noir “Alder Springs Vineyard”–the founder, Roger Roessler, had a real fascination for Pinot Noir (& Chardonnay) & sourced fruit from some pretty interesting vineyards in his search for excellence. Alder Springs, for instance, is made up of rolling hills with many different sun exposures in the northern part of the Mendocino county near Laytonville. It is very remote & quite breathtaking in its scope. Owner Stu Bewley is a vineyard fanatic with all kinds of viticultural & farming techniques/experiments going on there. I also recall that Wells Gutherie at one point was helping Roessler produce the wines, all making for a very intriguing wine project, which insiders have kept an eye on for some years…..that is until Roger sold the project. I am not sure what to make of this 2007 today. It might have been in a dumb stage, as it was really dominated by oak nuances, even in the taste with the alcohol really poking out in the finish. We have 1 bottle left & will look to retaste again in the near future.
2007 Cobb Pinot Noir “Rice Spivak Vineyard”–the Cobb family own the highly revered Coastlands Vineyard. Son, Ross Cobb, has his own label & also made the wines at Hirsch Vineyard, after a stint working at Williams & Selyem. The roughly 6 acre Rice Spivak vineyard is a combination of Dijon clones & the Swan heritage selection, all planted in sandy loam/volcanic ash soils. Wild yeast fermented & the juice spent 17 months in French oak, 30% new. This is a very graceful, classy, suave style of Pinot & is showing really nicely right now, with harmony & wonderful balance.
2007 Brewer Clifton Pinot Noir “Ampelos Vineyard”–here was an opportunity to taste a BC Pinot with some age on it. Because they typically use a lot of stem inclusion, the resulting wines need some bottle age to resolve itself some….& this wine has finally started coming out of its shell. Yes, this is a surprisingly big, flambouyant Pinot, with the minerality definitely there in support, which by the way also helps with the wine’s buoyancy as well. Well worth checking out! Ampelos is a hillside vineyard on the eastern side of the Santa Rita Hills. The 2 acre parcel which BC works with is 828, planted in 2004.
2007 Scherrer Pinot Noir “Big Brother”—Fred Scherrer produced his first “Big Brother” Pinot Noir with the 1999 vintage. His next one was the 2006 & here we are with his 3rd. The fruit is mostly Dijon 777 grown near Annapolis out on the true Sonoma Coast. This very cool spot is why there is much structure & hutzpah in the wine. Amazingly, even though this wine is 8 years old, one wouldn’t even notice on first taste. This is a gorgeous, delicious, well balanced beauty with a long way still to go. Save your bottles for another day. You will be glad you did.
On this occasion, we showcased 4 red wines from France’s Loire Valley. The goal was to highlight the Valley’s 2 most prominent red grape varieties–Cabernet Franc & Pinot Noir.
Chateau d’Epire Anjou “Clos de la Cerisaie”– we began with this seemingly charming, fruity, gulpable “country” red wine from the appellation of Anjou. If one were to look a little closer, one can smell the more masculine, gunflint character under the surface, which comes from the rocky schist oriented soils its vines’ roots grow in. Schist is one of the main soil types of the Valley & this wine will give one an inkling of how it shows itself in a finished wine.
Alphonse Mellot Sancerre Rouge “La Moussiere”–we poured this wine next, so tasters could more readily see the difference between Cabernet Franc & Pinot Noir (the grape variety used to produce this wine) Cabernet Franc has an innate masculinity, seemingly firmer structure & is underlyingly more tannic in nature. The other facet we wanted to show, was this wine comes from soils that are lighter & in this specific case more chalky. These kinds of soils help to create minerality & ethereal-ness in the wines, rather than the dark, flinty nuances one gets from schist. It is hard to really pinpoint a classic Sancerre, whether it is white or red wine. Eventhough Sancerre is a small appellation, relatively speaking, it seems to be a special crossing where limestone, marl, clay & sandy soils converge…..& therefore the wines will have many different soil expressions in the finished wine.
Charles Joguet Chinon “Les Varennes du Grand Clos”—in this part of the Valley, the river over the years has done alot of work eroding the soils from the surrounding hills, leave the limestone bare to the surface with not too much topsoil. Closer to the river on the flatlands, sand seems to be more prevalent & the resulting wines much lighter & more quaffing in style. Les Varennes du Grand Clos is a 4.61 hectare vineyard of siliceous chalk & clay at the foot of a gravel terrace with an eroding limestone slope. The vines were planted between 1962 & 1976. I thought jumping back from Pinot Noir to Cabernet Franc would again remind tasters of the difference between the 2 grape varieties. Yes, Cabernet Franc has a very virile acidity in its structure AND the skin tannins are much more evident.
1997 Domaine Chanteleuserie Bourgueil “Vieilles Vignes”–we finished the tasting with a 1997 Bourgueil, a village located across the river from Chinon. The main parcel for this bottling was planted in 1970 (although their site says 40 to 80 year old vines) in sandy-clay-limestone soils. I just wanted to show tasters how these wines taste when the pieces & edges are more resolved from bottle age. Though much more harmonious from beginning to end, the masculinity once again comes through (nothing light & feminine here) with a darker, sinister nuanced core & structure. I would further say, these Cabernet Franc based reds are tasty, rather than delicious.
Here is a tasting we put together recently for a group of young sommeliers.
As I have noted in previous writings, one of my jobs as a restaurant wine buyer is to provide expertise…….enough so that I can sift through the myriad of wine offerings & better & hopefully smartly determine what we will buy for the restaurant.
I therefore think to get better at this skill, it really helps to establish & grow a strong foundation. In the case of sommelier-ing, this includes having a bank of really solid, “good” wine choices. By doing so, you have a base to measure others by.
Several of our chefs are headed for Japan, mainly on a food inspiring trip. When asked what restaurants they should look to eat at, my comment was to find smaller, unique “hole in the walls” who have garnered a niche & respect from true foodies for serving solid foods which come from passion, hands on dedication, culture, heritage & authenticity. I think then one can taste & experience more traditional ingredients & techniques & therefore better understand a sense of purity & of where they came from culinarily.
From this base, we can look to add our touches.
Why would one want to morph already morphed foods?
One can apply a similar thought to wine. I therefore look to establish a base of well made, pure, more traditional styled wines of any given category. From there I can create different sub-categories such as “internationalized”; “superstar”; modern; “country/food friendly” or whatever.
Over the years, there are at least 8 Sauvignon Blancs from France’s Loire Valley, which really standout to me amongst the crowd. Interestingly, I would have thought that at least a few would have been replaced by now. Here are 5 of them–
Domaine du Salvard Cheverny–Sauvignon Blanc (& some Sauvignon Gris with up to 16% Chardonnay permitted) grown in sand-chalk-limestone soils. This cuvee typically showcases exotic fruit nuances, passion fruit & even guava in some vintages (perhaps from the Sauvignon Gris), with a rounder middle & a distinct minerality on the palate, much more so than in the nose. I generally refer to this wine as being more “country”ish in style–meaning delicious, unpretentious, light, food friendly, gulpable & perennially over delivering for the dollar.
Trotereau Quincy “Vieilles Vignes”–sand, silex, pink limestone soils. This vineyard also still has a surprising number of 100 year old vines I am told. As a side note, Quincy was but the 2nd AOC granted back in 1936. The old timers must have known there was something special or unique in the soils here. I poured this wine next, because, it has a more flinty character in the nose & seems more nervier with more bracing acidity.
Regis Minet Pouilly Fume “Vieilles Vignes”–clay, limestone, marl at 750 feet elevation. We adore this wine’s purity & cleaner, fresher, minerally approach. This was one of the first true artisan, “boutique” Loire Valley wines which caught my attention as a young professional. I really find it so incredible that in all of these years I have yet to find another which has at least equally caught my fancy. Deliciousness certainly has something to do with that.
Roger Neveu Sancerre “Clos des Bouffants”–a relatively new star on our radar screen. I am always so amazed at how many diners easily recognize the word Sancerre on the winelist, yet it has been so challenging for me over the years to find really good Sancerre. My “go to” rendition is by Hippolyte Reverdy, because of how ethereal & delicately refined it can be. Now, of course, the Hippolyte Reverdy Sancerre is quite allocated. Leave it to wine importer, Kermit Lynch, to thankfully find yet another jewel. The Bouffants parcel is roughly 700 to 850 feet in elevation, with a steep, southern exposure & a limestone bedrock (40% active limestone). Here is one you can make lots of friends with.
Denis Jamain Reuilly “Les Pierres Plates”–The village of Reuilly is also located in the Central Vineyards of the Loire Valley. I poured this sauvignon last because I typically find it the most ethereal of the five. I am told the soils is Kimmeridgian limestone, very similar to what one can find in Chablis, complete with fossilized oyster shells & other sea critters. My wife Cheryle, in fact, noted in this blind tasting how much it smelled of seashells in the nose. Plus, on the palate, it is more refined & ethereal with a lime edge & definitely not flinty like those above who have more marl to their soils.
Quite an interesting learning opportunity AND on several different levels. Thank you to all who came.
One of the most tantalizing facets of wine I have appreciated over the years is the synergy created by planting the right vines in the right terroir. Especially in the skillful hands of a masterful winemaker, this can create a much more interesting, intriguing wine.
California has an abundance of vin de fruits & vin de climats. No judgements here, that’s just the way it is.
It is, therefore, quite a thrill to find wines from California which can marry the soil & the grape variety & then create oenological magic.
Such is the case at Neyers.
The Neyers 304 Chardonnay bottling, for instance, is a blend of Shot Wente, a heritage selection, planted in parcels of rocky soils. The resulting wine truly has the unique aromatics of the Shot Wente & just as important……. the stones, which makes for a far more interesting wine than those that just showcase Chardonnay fruitiness, clonal or otherwise.
In addition, the stoniness/minerality really adds to the buoyancy of the wine, making it seem lighter than it really is. We truly love this naturally lower alcohol, mineral driven, crisp, complete Chardonnay & find it ideal to serve by the glass, because of how delicious, light & much more food friendly it is.
Another stellar, interesting Neyers wine to offer by the glass is their Sage Canyon Cuvee. The base is Carignane & Mourvedre from 130 plus year old vines out near Oakley, with some Grenache & Syrah added in. This wine is foot stomped, wild yeast fermented & bottled unfiltered & unfined.
One could say, this is a homage to the wines of Maxime Magnon, a standout winemaking renegade down in southern France, who is really championing the Carignane grape variety AND a very, almost radical, au naturale approach to grape growing & winemaking..
In both cases, the wines are certainly interesting & provocative, but at least equally as important, they are delicious. Now, if we expect the foods we serve to be delicious, shouldn’t the wines we serve by the glass be delicious too? And, tonight…..not 20 to 40 years down the road?
Yes, these are 2 wines I would definitely order at a restaurant who was serving them by the glass.
In addition, as a professional, I also believe it is important to support these kinds of projects—those who believe in heirloom/heritage grape vines, which are farmed sustainably & thereby having a “living” vineyard.
And if the BATF ever required a disclosure back label, the Neyers’ very short list would only include the grapes used & perhaps a tiny bit of sulfur before bottling. How pure is that?
If you have a moment, this is a pretty good read that I feel translates into our current state here in Hawaii.
The last sommelier standing — where are all S.F.’s wine pros?
Here is an article I received from a friend, which I think you might find interesting. Even if it were only partially true, I would still find it quite unsettling.
I believe we should look to applaud & grow the concept of a TRUE sommelier in mid to upper tier restaurants.
In the old days we had sommeliers here is the islands at top echelon restaurants such as Bagwell’s 2424, Michel’s, Third Floor, Kahala Hilton, Kapalua Bay Hotel & later the Halekulani just to name a few. Times have really changed since then. Part of the reason is for many restaurants, food, ambiance & service are the top priorities & wine usually is further down the priority list. The upper echelon of operations, therefore, took the labor dollars (inclusive of commissions) & re-allocated them.
In the late 1980’s, the culinary phenomenon, Roy’s Restaurant, created quite a splash here is Hawaii because of the unique, dynamic & ground breaking cooking genius of visionary chef Roy Yamaguchi & a very thought provoking, well selected wine program spearheaded by Managing Partner Randy Caparoso. They certainly set a new standard with their highly innovative food & wine program, not only locally, but nationally & internationally as well.
Fortunately, since then, we have seen a resurgence of the sommelier position in bigger mainland cities such as New York, Los Angeles & San Francisco.
The article linked above, however, intimates otherwise in San Francisco.
Although quite controversial to say the least, especially after viewing other blogs & comments from sommelier friends on the merit & credibility of his assessments, his article does bring up some pertinant & valid questions.
Here are some of my thoughts on sommelier-ing, for whatever it’s worth.
How many sommeliers, for instance, truly provide expertise rather than just salesmanship?
As an important as a chef is in providing expertise, so is a sommelier (& a mixologist) today, in addition to providing another viable revenue source for the restaurant.
Expertise is the key word .
Let’s first consider the wine list.
I try to always remember that as a wine buyer for our restaurants, my job isn’t to find & select wines that I like. I can do that for my personal home use. The goal would be to create a list which offers a smartly selected matrix of wines which can appeal to as wide a spectrum of potential buyers as possible…..another words try to have something for everybody.
The foundation would be selecting good, interesting wines. In this day & age of how important marketing & branding is, the art of a restaurant or retail store selecting “good” wines is getting lost to the concept of large, totally recognizable brands. I suggest we as an industry should therefore spend more time understanding and sharing the concept of what a “good” wine is.
From there, I would want to make sure I spend my budgeted dollars wisely & smartly. That for every dollar that I spend the restaurant is getting as much quality as possible. This is especially important in the value oriented categories, so that one can offer a better balanced list, in terms of price to quality, as opposed to one which is stacked mostly with high priced wines or the hottest, new labels.
Since we have 8 different restaurants in our group, hopefully we can create a list which fits in with the schtick & targeted clientele of each restaurant AND, at the same time we also include & look to grow the number of wine selections which are better suited for our foods.
I also believe a sommelier should really work to be more effective in training the staff and looking to nurture & grow a following of both staff & potential & existing clientele.
There really is an art to nurturing customers into better understanding & appreciating what is good wine, and/or what goes well with the foods they are eating.
Sommelier-ing is therefore a craft, a skill, just like a plumber or carpenter is & therefore this skill should shine on the job site, which in this case in the restaurant floor.
Part of that skill set is the ability to make a connection with the customer, which includes creating a comfort zone/trust with each guest. This to me is even more important than being an encyclopedia of knowledge.
Sommeliers are, after all, part of a service industry. How many sommeliers think of themselves as experts on wine & often act more like professors, rather than servers?
Can you imagine a caddy telling Tiger Woods, “no you shouldn’t use the 9 iron”? Or a butler telling their host, “no you shouldn’t have coffee after 10pm?” The caddy’s job is to serve Tiger. He should know when to talk, when not to; when to walk 5 feet behind or right next to him; when to wipe the ball, etc, so that all Tiger really needs to concentrate on is striking the ball with the right swing & tempo. That takes experience, astute observation & much preparation.
I am hoping those working in a restaurant understand a similar thought.
The wine list then can be as creative as your food menu is. And, therefore, if a server can sell a highly innovative sushi or fish dish, then they (or a sommelier) should have the ability to make some interesting recommendations so that at least some of those who ordered the dish, will try a wine with it & therefore enjoy a more complete dining experience.
How does serving a brand X Chardonnay, which sells like crazy at Costco or Safeway, work equally with a fish dish done with a tomato sauce, teriyaki sauce or a butter sauce?
I suggest & hope we as a professional community here in the Islands, will look to band together & help nurture wine (& food) to more & more people, just for pure enjoyment, not only the latest hottest wine or the most recognizable label, but more along looking to have a glass with the next meal.
I grew up in this industry working with & around more classical fare. With the advent, however, of fusing Asian & European cooking styles, it was a time to think out of the box in order to better understand what worked & what didn’t with this dynamic new culinary frontier.
What became more evident over time & much experimentation, was what Asian foods clashed with most was alcohol, heat & saltiness. Essentially, alcohol became much more glaring; oak seemed bitter & bitterness seemed somehow even way more bitter.
We found that wines lighter, fresher, more fruity, less extracted & lower alcohol levels worked much better with a wider gamut of Asian influenced foods.
More recently, we have also been quite fascinated how aromatic grape varieties can add a whole ‘nother dimension to the pairings. The challenge, of course, is finding really good ones.
Here are some examples of pairings we have recently done in Hiroshi Eurasion Tapas, which hopefully help you better understand what we mean.
WINE: Domaine Skouras “Zoe”–to make this dish more wine friendly, Hiroshi Eurasion Tapas’ Chef John Iha added a potato puree for richness. Furthermore, the infused lemongrass, not only heightened the dish itself, but also really connected with the wonderful, innate aromatics of this wine, which is a blend of Roditis & Moscholfilero (both indigenous grape varieties to Greece). The Mediterranean minerality also worked well with the squid ink. Another insight is how Chef John toned down the needed heat by making the chili pepper water into an “air” & therefore far less confrontational.
Pastrami Cured Ahi “Nicoise” Salad with buttered fingerling potatoes, Mari Garden mini greens, Ho Farms tomatoes, long beans, marinated onions, sunnyside quail egg & adobo vinaigrette
WINE: Hans Wirsching Scheurebe Dry–normally we would have looked to a PINK wine for this pairing, but on this occasion decided we needed more aromatics because of the adobo vinaigrette. Yes, we marvel again & again how these aromatic style wines really can a whole ‘nother dimension to a pairing. The challenge is finding the good ones.
WINE: Strub Riesling “Soil to Soul”–yet another aromatic wine, because of the fragrant, uplifting galanghal-scallion pesto. We chose the Strub (from Germany’s Rheinhessen) because it is rounder, deeper yet still remarkably light & refreshing.
WINE: Hofstatter Weissburgunder–yes, another aromatic, minerally white wine, this one from the hills of northeast Italy. The wine’s minerality helped keep the palate fresh & alive while navigating the dish’s unusual (at least for wine pairing) components such as seaweed & daikon.
WINE: Birichino Malvasia Bianca–currently one of our absolute favorite “go to” wines when pairing with Asian inspired foods. We seemingly use this wonderfully perfumed, lime edged white wine in so many of our pairings & am therefore continually re-amazed on every occasion at how wide of spectrum of foods this wine can readily work with. By itself, I think the perfume may be too strong for most wine drinkers. But then, I watch how it remarkably synergizes with aromatic sauces or uplifting herbs. It really is an amazing food wine to say the least. Pure genius. Who would have thunk it?
WINE: CF “Euro-Asian” Riesling Medium Dry–Riesling works well with the oiliness of salmon. Yes, there is lushness to its fruit & the rounder acidity when physiologically ripe. We also love how minerality livens things up in the pairing too. The CF Euro-Asian is produced for us by Weingut Gunderloch. A special thanks to Fritz, Agnes & Johannes Hasselbach for making this dream come true. The grapes come from hillside vines grown in red slate soils, which creates that stoniness/minerality, which is VERY different from the black/gray/blue soils of the Mosel, Saar, Ruwer river regions. And, because this wine is medium dry, it has just enough sweetness to buttress the fruitiness for the pairing. FYI–there is a marked difference in this cuvee, beginning with the 2012 vintage. Thankfully, the extract, bitterness & alcohol levels seem more moderate, despite the growing frequency of real sun drenched vintages.
WINE: Maxime Magnon “La Demarrante”–this is a fabulous dish from Chef John Iha, as he thinly sliced the pork & then reconstructed the many layers before panko-ing & deep frying. To, however, make sure this dish was red wine friendly, Chef Iha, created a peppercorn-brandy sauce, instead of the VERY oriental slanted one he originally planned. La Demarrante is a wonderfully delicious, refined Carignane & Cinsault blend from southern France around Corbieres. Owner/winemaker Maxime Magnon studied with Jean Foillard, a true master/game changer in the Beaujolais Cru village of Morgon. That influence can be seen by the carbonic maceration used in the making of this wine, making it more fruity, fresh without the typically rustic, often hard edges of many “country” red wines of the area.
WINE: DR F Weins Prum Riesling Feinherb “Graacher Domprobst”–we chose a Feinherb for this pairing because of tiny bits of refreshing ginger & shiso used to accent the unagi, as well as the kabayaki drizzle which ties everything in the dish together. Owner/winemaker Bert Selbach has such a fine touch & his resulting Riesling has such a magical, spellbinding purity, ethereal & aristocratic perfume & taste. Furthermore, its precision & finely tuned sweet-sour teeter totter is exactly what this dish needed.
I recently sent out an email. which stated the following, & here are some of the responses I got back. I purposefully did not include names, as who said what is not the point. It really is about sharing insights & learning from each other. I have found there is never just one answer.
I am writing a piece on Syrah and am hoping to get your thoughts on the subject. I recently read somewhere the Syrah has a propensity to go “reductive” in bottle.
What does that mean? How? Why?
Is there other grapes with this tendency?
Reductive, anaerobic, as opposed to oxidative.
Reduction can show as shut down with muted aromatics and palate to an extreme of stinky, sulfitey aromas and off flavors.
Syrah is notorious for being reductive in the cellar, as well. Wines are made using non-oxidadative techniques more and more, resulting in wines with a tendency towards reduction. Syrah is oftentimes aged on lees. This helps protect the wine, keeping CO2 in solution and oxygen away. This can drive the wine further into reduction.
When I’ve had the opportunity to taste at Clape and Faury they pour young Syrah’s from foudre or barrel, they are often reduced. They often then follow with the previous vintage out of barrel and bottle and the reduction has disappeared.
Syrah made by Cabernet Sauvignon makers where they rack and return the wine often tends to be less reductive. However, the wine tastes less like Syrah, in my opinion.
I like having some reduction in our Syrahs, and most of our wines for that matter, during the aging process. Keeping our wines on lees in barrels enables us to use less SO2 during the barrel aging process. The wines tend to be a little closed, especially during the winter. I like that. The wines evolve slower and are a little tight when bottled. A little time in bottle or decanting will help.
If a vineyard has been sprayed with sulpher too close to harvest, there will often be some residue on the grapes and will result in stinky, reductive, sulfite-like aromas and off flavors in the wine.
Chardonnay comes to mind as a variety that also tends to be reductive. We always have several barrels that show those reductive characteristics. These barrels tend to be barrels that were the last filled from that particular lot and tank. So these barrels likely have more lees and heavier solids in them.
I’ve read recently regarding the style of Chardonnay winemaking, Burgundy in particular, and the inclination winemakers have towards the reductive, matchstick quality. Think about winemakers whose style and trademark go hand in hand with the matchstick quality: Coche-Dury, Roulot, Pierre Yves Colin.
We like some of that character in our Chardonnays, for sure.
It’s a fascinating topic always worth chewing on. I’d love to hear your impressions and thoughts on it and your experiences with wines in bottle and in winery cellars.
I did forget to some notes regarding nutrients during fermentation.
If a vineyard is low or deficient in nitrogen, the grapes or juice in the fermenter will be low in nitrogen. We know this by a juice sample we send to the laboratory to measure sugar concentration, acidity, potassium, and nitrogen and ammonia for fermentation.
Yeast, native or lab, can stress during fermentation if there aren’t enough nutrients in the must. A too warm fermentation and not enough oxygen will also stress yeast. When yeast are stressed, not only is there a risk of a stuck fermentation but the wine can also end up with the hydrogen sulfide spectrum of odors and flavors – extreme reductive smells and flavors.
We don’t add nutrients to our Chardonnay. We taste and smell our red fermentations along fermentation observations. If there’s an off smell or flavor we’ll pump it over longer to introduce some oxygen to the fermentation. Usually, that helps a lot. If that doesn’t do the trick we will add small doses of yeast nutrients to rid the wine of those attributes. These nutrients include nitrogen, ammonia, yeast hulls.
It’s much harder to rid the wine of any of those characters once the wine is dry and in barrel.
Without getting into gains and losses of electrons, “reductive” is a loosey-goosey term used by wine tasters to refer to a wine that show sulfur-based aromas, things like rotten egg, burnt rubber, burnt match, rotten cabbage, etc. With oxygen, these sulfur-based aromas can dissipate to reveal the true character of the wine but occasionally they can develop into something more permanent. Copper sulfate is used to remove excess sulfur based aromas but it does not remove mercaptans (more the rotting cabbage/onion smell). Why is Syrah more prone to reduction? I don’t know exactly why but it may have to do with with the lack of nutrients available for yeast and/or the chemical makeup of Syrah. Other varieties with which we work that are prone to reduction during elevage are Mourvèdre and Petite Sirah. Interestingly, I have never had a reductive Zinfandel. Sulfur-based compounds play a significant role in the aromas of many whites such as Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Colombard, Sauvingon Blanc, and Petit Manseng.
For a nice overview of reduction in wine see (http://nanaimowinemakers.org/Steps/H2S_Issues.htm) Syrah and other varietals ( Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc and certain Pinot noirs for us) have a biochemical propensity to resist oxidation and therefore being reductive. It is positive as it gives them a greater ability to age but will also present challenges as it goes through phases where it generates sulfur compounds that change the fragrance and mouth feel of a wine (usually for the worst or at least masking other features). It is complicated to explain as Oxidation and reduction happen at the same time and has to do with layers of chemical reactions I am not that comfortable with and are actually not that well understood. We learn how to link it with, the farming, the fermentation, nutrients, temperatures etc. One becomes familiar with it through sensory analysis and empirical observations.
You know I’m not a chemist so I’m sure you will find the chemistry answer from someone else. What I can tell you is the practical side, and that is Syrah is opposite of Pinot Noir in this regard. I take a completely different approach in protection of the two varietals.
Pinot needs to be protected from oxygen, it breaks down easily, the color, the aromas the textures all seem to be unstable.
Its its not cellared at the right temp, if the lees are not perfectly clean, if the ph is too high, if the free so2 is below molecular threshold, pinot can fall apart. I only go 6-9 months before the lees have consumed all the extra o2 thats available, and needs to be racked then sulfured.
Syrah on the other hand is very forgiving. Although I cellar everything at the same temp, (55 degrees year round) syrah eats up oxygen at any opportunity. I typically go an entire 24 months in barrel on the gross lees before its racked for the first time and receives its very first addition of so2. Pretty crazy huh? Obviously I only work with cold climate syrah (low ph, high acid) and this allows me to take this approach with much more confidence, because the chemistry of the wine is stable.
Reduction is lack of oxygen. Syrah eats up oxygen and when its tapped out the wine goes into a reductive state. Once the wine hits more oxygen, the reduction aroma lifts off the wine like a protective blanket. Chardonnay (Roulot is a great example) is another grape always flirting with reduction.
Syrah does have an odd perpensity to become reductive or form H2S, Hydrogen Sulfide or rotten egg aroma.
So does Gamay. People think it is due to the thick skin on a big grape. Serine which is smaller doesn’t do it as much. It is tougher to aerate after it forms because it oxidizes easily. It probably has something to do with the nature of the chemicals in the larger skins.
This is a complicated issue.
‘Reduction’ is not a term used consistently in even the most technically savvy wine communities. It can be a term for a ‘not very splashy racking strategy’ vs reduced sulfur compound formation at some point in the wines development. The t wo do not have to be connected by anything other than Sulfur being part of the chemistry.
Sensory wise, it’s about how volatile thiols pose themselves according to the reduction-oxidation potentials of their parallel equilibria. If they are not there in large numbers or in highly stinky form, nobody senses them. If conditions vary to Chang amounts or forms, even low levels are distracting. It’s not a nutshell subject.
Makes sense now. Right?
The two usages of the term are not joined at the hip. It drives me crazy. Once you have Carbon and Sulfur joined, the options become…complicated.
Think more about HOW you get there vs WHERE you happen to be.
There’s way more to say on the subject, but I’m tapped out right now keeping things at home happening. Plus, I’m no expert chemist. I only have a BS with at-home graduate studies and decades of experimentation.
Thank you for digging into that mud hole. It is a fertile subject.
Keep asking those questions.
Never if one’s systems are in place.
“Reductive” is an excuse.
I find that Syrah likes a traditional approach to fermentation, and using native yeast, moderate amounts of nutrients, low SO2 at the destemmer, some whole cluster inclusion, all help to bring the level of sulfide development in the must to about the same level as any other grape. Basically, sometimes a little happens, but if it is a small amount I don’t worry about it too much.
Regarding elevage, I find it all starts in fermentation, so if the lees are clean and your fermentation went well, no further problems occur. I keep Syrah on the lees for about 8-10 months usually, sometimes longer, with no problems.
If Syrah goes reductive in bottle, it was already reductive in barrel. period. The same thing goes with screwcaps. It was a problem that the winemaker thought was addressed, which reared its ugly head again in bottle.
But, as others have noted, some “reductive” compounds bring typicity in small amounts. I don’t mind it in small amounts, but I don’t want to smell vinyl or perm or diapers. 🙂
I also am not a fan of many Roulot wines that too me are deeply flawed. Coche on the other hand I think is well judged.
The Managing Partner of both DK Steakhouse & Sansei Waikiki, Ivy Nagayama, loves creating interesting & thought provoking wine & food pairings. Her latest craze is with the wines from the Pacific Northwest. On this night, she & Sansei Exec Chef Jason Miyasaki created a menu & pairing for visionary wine mogul, Mark Tarlov of Chapter 24 out of Oregon & a few select local customers.
Intermezzo: Opakapaka Carpaccio—Maui onions, Nalo basil relish, red jalapenos, kalamansi essence
2nd Taste: Red Wine Marinated Grilled Duck Breast—with Nalo Farms mixed greens & roasted fingerling potatoes, Maui onions, hard boiled quail egg, & a pomegranate balsamic vinaigrette (wines: 2012 Chapter 24 Pinot Noir “Flood” & 2012 Chapter 24 Pinot Noir “Fire”)
Entree: Red Wine Vinegar Braised Kurobuta Pork Belly—with Kaneshiro Farm’s bok choy, Hamakua Ali’i mushrooms, roasted peanuts, saffron rice pilaf & star anis jus (wine: 2012 Chapter 24 “Last Chapter”)