Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Strange World of Wine - What is that I'm Smelling???

Why is everyone's nose always stuck in their wine glass? What's the big deal about the smell of wine anyway?  For me, aromas are one of the most fascinating aspects of wine.  Wine is made basically just from grapes, yeast, and a few other additives, yet it can have aromas that have absolutely nothing to do with grapes.  A sniff of red wine can reveal aromas of berries, leather, olives, bacon, roses, forest floor, barnyard (a friendly name for what you find on the floor of a barnyard, and I don't mean hay), pencil shavings, herbs, spices, tobacco, tar and so many more.  White wine will tend to give you more delicate aromas such as peaches, honeysuckle, citrus fruit, tropical fruit, wool sweater, grass, and even cat pee (no friendlier word for that!).


It is certainly not important that you are able to identify wine aromas in order to enjoy a wine, and in fact reading some professional wine critics may be intimidating as they describe in excruciating detail what aromas they detect in a wine.  Don't be too impressed - it's their job to write big flowery reviews, and you can only write "black fruit" so many times before you need something more along the lines of "a hint of damson plum, picked at the peak of ripeness from a dew covered orchard in early summer."  I find it a challenge to try and identify the aromas in a wine, but it takes work and a lot of practice (best homework ever!), but if you prefer not to spend too much time with your nose buried in your wineglass, I will give you two things to think about.  First, be thankful for those aromas!  The human tongue can only taste five things: sweet, salty, bitter, sour, and umami (a savory flavor, think of soy sauce without the saltiness).  It is those aromas that give wine its flavor, which is a combination of the five tastes plus the aroma.  Food and drink don't taste as good when your nose is congested...this is why.  Second, it is important to give your wine at least a single sniff as it is a tool for you to use to determine if there is anything wrong with the wine.  Smell nothing at all, or something like wet cardboard or a musty basement?  The wine may be "corked" and while not dangerous to drink, will not be all that enjoyable. 

If you do accept the challenge to learn to identify wine aromas, my best advice is to keep an open mind about what you may be smelling.  During some of my wine studies years ago I remember a Pinot Noir from Wild Hog that had a familiar smell that I just couldn't identify.  After spending way too much time with my nose in the glass it finally came to me...dill!  Not a smell you'd expect from a wine, but that is why it is important to keep an open mind.  


I had a similar experience more recently, which gave me the idea for this post.  I was drinking a 2014 Caduceus Cellars Primer Paso from Arizona which is a blend of 93% Syrah and 7% of a grape I had not heard of before - Aleatico.  There was an aroma there that I just could not figure out.  Syrah is one of my all time favorite grapes, so I didn't think the aroma was coming from that part of the blend.  Being less patient that I was when I was studying, I cheated and did some research on Aleatico.  It turns out it is grape grown (almost) exclusively in southern  Italy (the heel part of the boot).  As I read on...mystery solved!  One of the aromatic characteristics of this cult grape is...lychee fruit! I love the smell and taste of lychee fruit, and thoroughly enjoy finding a white wine such as Gewurtztraminer that has lychee aromas.  But a red wine that smells like lychee???  I would not have guessed in a million years because my brain would not put the smell together with what I was drinking - a big ole' yummy red wine.  So - sniff those wines, a little or a lot is your choice, but do sniff!

Monday, May 14, 2018

Strange World of Wine - What is Fining?

Wine is just grape juice fermented with some yeast right?  Yes! At least something I consume is vegan (pauses blogging long enough to take one more bite of luscious cheeseburger). Hold on - not so fast.  In fact many if not most wines are not at all vegan.   Most of the winemaking process is animal free - but a crucial step to give you a beautiful glass of crystal clear wine is called fining.  This is where the animal products are used, and the reason I'll need to add some kale to my diet if I want to truly get my vegan on.

Fining is the process where a substance (the fining agent) is added to the wine in order to trap and remove suspended particles left in the wine from the winemaking process.  Fining not only leads to clearer looking wine, but can have beneficial impacts to the color, taste, and aroma of the wine.  It can also be used to lower the tannin level and even remove some unpleasant aromas (such as rotten egg or onion) that may have developed in the wine (ewwwww!!!).

My first up close look at the process of fining came during a tour of the Muga winery in Haro, Spain. Muga is a global brand, but still uses one of the oldest fining agents in the wine world - egg whites.  Muga is a major wine producer, selling wines all across the world.  They use a combination of traditional methods and high technology, and their process of finding definitely falls into the traditional category.


In the winery, they have this gadget -basically two half steel tubes angled in opposite directions. The top tube has a number of holes along its bottom. To capture egg whites for fining, eggs are cracked into the highest part of the top tube.  As the egg slides down the tube, the whites fall into the holes and drips down to the tube below, which then ultimate slides down into the bowl on the left.  The yolk then continues down and falls into the bowl on the right.  Low tech, but very effective!  With their philosophy of wasting nothing, the egg yolks are used to make candy which they sell in their gift shop.  Rich, but super delish! 


So even though Muga produces a lot of wine, this contraption is sufficient for them to gather egg whites for fining since each egg can clarify a little over 6 gallons (23 liters) of wine.  Check out the bottom of this post for a video showing more about the fining process at Muga.

Historically, other animal based products have been used for fining, including bone marrow, mild protein, gelatin (including some made from the swim bladders of fish), and fiber from crustacean shells.  True, these sound like strange ingredients for wine, but keep in mind they are not really ingredients, but tools to help make a clearer and better tasting wine.  You will run across some wines that are truly vegan, as there are carbon and clay based fining agents as well.  Why not experiment a little and try a "regular" wine and a similar vegan wine and see if you can tell any difference from the different fining agents used?



Muga Winery Fining Process

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Strange World of Wine - Movia Lunar 8, Orange Wine or Greenish Gray Wine?


In my strange world of wine series, I'm going to explore some of the more unusual aspects of wine, wine making, and whatever other wine related gems I come across.  This first post is about a wine I had at a recent wine pairing dinner that gave me the idea for this series. 

The wine was a 2008 Movia Lunar. This wine is from Slovenia and made with 100% Rebula, a white wine grape which is also found in the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region of northeast Italy, only there it is called Ribolla. This was my first wine from Slovenia, and first from this grape - which was very cool but definitely didn't fall into the "strange" category.

Then the wine was poured. My mind was already reviewing some common descriptors of white wine color... would it be a lighter straw color, a bolder lemon color, or even a darker golden color?  Would the wine be crystal clear, or would it be cloudy from a bit of sediment? 

Well, all the choices of descriptors I was contemplating were wrong, wrong, and really really wrong! Out of the bottle poured a clouded, greenish gray substance unlike anything I've ever seen poured into a wine glass.

Both my wife and I had looks of shock and amazement on our faces, but our server's expression didn't change, so we understood this was what the wine was supposed to look like! So we bravely swirled, sniffed and took a sip.  Very much characteristics of a white wine, some stone fruit, honey and spice aromas.  I admit to being a bit afraid of what this sludge would taste like, but it turned out to be very crisp, and had a hint of yeast from the sediment, but not that different than wines that have been aged on their "lees" or dead yeast cells from fermentation.  What an amazing and STRANGE surprise... and thus this series of posts was born.

After doing some research I discovered that the wine is made as an "orange" wine, which means although it is a white wine, it is made more like a red by having the wine ferment with the skins of the grapes (typically for white wine, the grapes are pressed immediately and only the juice is fermented).  For those not comfortable with the greenish grey cloudy glass of wine, before opening the wine bottle just needs to be rested for a few days to a week in an upright position so the sediment settles to the bottom.  Then, carefully open the bottle without disturbing the sediment, and pour into a decanter until you start to see sediment in the neck of the bottle - then stop.  Some accounts I've read say you may have to leave a quarter or more of the bottle behind in order to pour a clear wine.

I highly recommend you seek out this wine to try something truly unique...orange wine is kind of unique, Slovenian wine is kind of unique for some... the tasting experience... truly unique.  Also, try the wine both ways, decant off some clear wine but make sure to at least try the wine with all of its components.  Once you get past the look of it... you won't be sorry!

Here is a video from the winery talking about the wine and how to properly decant. He is opening another vintage of Lunar that is made from Chardonnay, but the same decanting approach will work for any versions of the Lunar:




Stay tuned for more from the Strange World of Wine!  Have any ideas or suggestions for topics?  Please share them in the comments below.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Weekly Wine Review - Paso Robles Red Blend - 2014 ONX Level 22

I have been a big fan of ONX wines in Paso Robles since I first tried them.  Their wine blends don't worry too much about sticking to the classic blends, they just take their grapes and put them into intriguing and delicious combinations.  This Level 22 wine was one I have not tried, and it does actually utilize grapes that you would find in a Southern Rhone blend.  Still taking an intriguing approach, Level 22 highlights Petite Sirah as the main grape where in Southern Rhone wines, Grenache typically takes the starring role.



Wine: 2014 ONX Level 22

Region: Paso Robles, California
Grape Varieties: Petite Sirah, Syrah, Mourvedre, Grenache

Obtained from: Purchased at winery
Price: $54

Wino4Life Category: Weekend Wine

Aeration before tasting: Just a swirl or two, no special aeration.

Cork Condition: Natural cork - no defects or issues.

Appearance: Beautiful dark purple.
Aroma: Stewed fruit, cranberry, mushroom, and cola
Taste: Big and fruity, smooth tannins, nicely balanced and a nice amount of acidity.

The Grade: I give this one an A. For my palate, ONX continues to deliver fantastic blends. Without the constraints of tradition, all their wines show such great blending skill. Over $50 is a lot to invest in a bottle of wine, but when you get delicious quality, the investment is worth it!  Cheers!