It’s Harvest Time in Wine Country

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Monday morning, I got out of bed at 4am so that I could be at a Saratoga vineyard by 6am to help some friends pick grapes for a wine they intend to make under their new label, Thistle. The wine will be styled after those made in Côte-Rôtie – mostly Syrah co-fermented with a small percentage of Viognier (an aromatic white grape). The idea behind adding 5%-10% of Viognier to your Syrah has a few purposes, but the primary idea is that the Viognier makes the wine more fragrant and floral, while also bringing out the aromatics in the Syrah.

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If you’ve never harvested grapes before, let it be known that it is some of the hardest work I’ve ever done. While the weather was initially cool and foggy, the sun eventually came out and gave us all a relentless beat-down. In addition to the hot sun, some of the vineyard was on a pretty steep hill, making it even more difficult to maintain a foothold and harvest the fruit. There were about 10 of us picking 1.25 acres, and while we worked hard, it still took us until about 3pm to finish the pick. The end result is highly satisfying, seeing the fruits of your labor (har) all neatly piled up in buckets and bins.

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The greatest part about harvest is the group effort and camaraderie – everyone is working as hard as you are, and plugging along towards the same goal. Most people don’t know how much manual labor goes into the production of fine, hand-crafted wine. A lot of grapes are harvested by machines, but the best wines are gently harvested by hand.

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The hard work and heat were punctuated by copious amounts of barbecue, delicious cider from Normandy, a little bit of Champagne, and the company of good friends. The shady knoll we had our picnic on was a welcome oasis.

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Above: Thistle winemaker Aran Healy sabering a bottle of cider from Normandy with a pair of shears.

P9080150At the end of the day, we had harvested just over 2 tons of fruit (that’s over 4,000 lbs). I feel fortunate to know so many hard-working, ambitious, and creative people who make fine wine.

P9080155I’m looking forward to trying the new Thistle 2014 Syrah/Viognier!

Making Wine at Home

A few years ago, as my obsession with wine was picking up steam, I decided that I wanted to make my own wine. Some of my friends thought I was crazy, while others thought it was really cool and wanted to help out. I spent a few months reading winemaking books and home winemaker forums online, preparing myself for the 800 lbs. of Dry Creek Syrah grapes that were destined for my garage.

My first vintage was 2011, a notoriously difficult year for grape growers and winemakers in California. We had a long, cool summer, followed by rain at the end of the growing season. Anyone who picked their fruit before the rains were able to produce age-worthy, complex, structured, and focused wines, while those who waited until after the rain were running into issues such as the grape’s sugar content getting diluted by the rain water and mold. My grapes fell into the latter category, and we had to make a quick decision to harvest before the problems we were encountering in the vineyard progressed. We had to drop about 10% of the fruit before harvest, which had grown moldy from the moisture.

botrytis_grapes_webThe wine that I produced that year was rife with issues, and my inexperience compounded by my generally worrisome demeanor was a recipe for disaster. I cried a lot that year in the corner of my garage, not knowing what to do when I ran into various problems. I did eventually get that wine out of the barrel and into the bottle, as a last-ditch effort to see if it would come around – it smelled like the inside of a brand new garden hose from the moment it was finished with malolactic fermentation. I now have about 10 cases of home-made Syrah that smells like nail polish remover and rubber “aging” in wine storage. What I’ll end up doing with that wine is still TBD.

Fast forward another year, and I decided to give winemaking another shot. 2012’s summer was shaping up to be a short and hot one, and I was able to source some Russian River Valley Zinfandel from a gentleman up in Santa Rosa for just $1/lb. This was also the year I got married, just about a month before harvest – I actually planned my wedding to be early enough where it wouldn’t interfere with my winemaking (I’m a girl with priorities, okay?). Four friends helped me pick those Zinfandel grapes at 24 degrees Brix on the foggy morning of October 6th, 2012.

pickingpartyMy 2012 Zinfandel was a joy to make. I had all of the equipment I needed, better understood what to expect, and had my routine down a little bit better. I actually enjoyed the winemaking process, and didn’t shed a single tear the entire time! I had two 44-gallon fermenters bubbling away, along with a couple of carboys full of saignée that would make a lovely, early-drinking rosé.

My Zinfandel spent about 13 months in a neutral French oak barrel, and I was unsure how good it would be once bottled. I bottled it in May, and since then the wine has really come around. It’s absolutely delicious – floral, rich, balanced, fruity without being jammy, and spicy, with elegant structure for a Zinfandel. I still have a few carboys I need to bottle, which I swear I’ll get around to soon!

I am planning to make only rosé from that same vineyard this year, which means I’ll be picking my grapes a little earlier than I did in 2012. I just paid a visit to the vineyard a few weekends ago, to see how the fruit was coming along. They had just started verasion, and the farmer is planning to thin the fruit this week.

2014 ZinIf you are interested in making your own wine, and you have the space/resources to make it happen, I can’t recommend it enough. It’s hard work, and akin to having a newborn baby for the first few months. Should you wish to take it up, I recommend the following books and resources:

The Way to Make Wine by Sherridan Warrick
From Vines to Wines by Jeff Cox
Winepress.us – an online home winemaking forum, moderated by small commercial producers and home winemaking veterans.
MoreWinemaking.com – a website selling affordable home winemaking gear.

Most importantly, make sure you have plenty of friends who will be supportive of your endeavor and eager to consume your finished product.

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What’s In Wine? (Or On It?)

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At Winelandia, we try incredibly hard to bring you wines with as little added – and as little subtracted – as possible. We’re fans of unadulterated wines, which these days are often labeled as “natural wines,” but honestly we just want to drink fermented grape juice. We want as little done to the wines as possible, and we care deeply about responsible stewardship in the vineyard. Does minimal intervention make wines taste better? We think so, but we also simply think it’s the right thing to do. Wine should be an expression of where it’s grown, and it certainly tells you something about who made it too. If there’s variation from vintage to vintage, we think that’s great – it adds character and complexity, and it tells us something about the differences that climate, ripeness, weather, and other factors can make in the taste of a wine overall. But there are a lot of things that are allowed to be added to wine without your knowledge. The only additive that must be identified on the label is sulfur, actually. Here are some of the things that we try to avoid, but that may be in that wine you picked up from another retailer.

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Acidifiers/Deacidifiers – Maybe the winemaker picked the grapes a little too early. Maybe a little too late. What effect will this have on that vintage’s wine? WHO KNOWS! If your grapes need a pick-me-up, it’s completely permitted to add acid to wine, and if they’re a bit too acidic, you can take care of that problem too. The most common acids used to increase the acid in a wine are citric, tartaric, and malic acids. If the wine is tart, chalk can be added to reduce the acid content. These additives are safe, but Tala can often tell if a wine has been acidulated, and it’s yet another way that you can make up for mother earth’s unpredictability or a misstep in the vinification process. This detracts from the story they’re meant to tell and the experience we feel the consumer is meant to have.

Sugar – I know, it’s a bit unfair. The practice of adding sugar to wine, which is called chaptalization, is not allowed everywhere – it’s prohibited in California, for example, but permitted in Oregon. What is universally allowed, however, is the addition of grape concentrate. If a wine is a little low in alcohol, winemakers will sometimes add grape concentrate to the wine to give the yeast more sugar to convert to alcohol, and increase the ABV of the particular wine. While this isn’t inherently bad, it does detract from the varietal and terroir characteristics of the wine, since the juice being added definitely doesn’t come from the block/vineyard/vintage/pick of that particular wine being made. Part of the joy of wine is the temporal nature of it. It’s always changing, and is a representation of the time/place it was picked and fermented.

Water – Pure, crystal, clean water. Just as sugar products are added to wine to increase the alcohol level, water is sometimes added to bring that percentage down. Wine below 14% alcohol is subject to a lower tax rate, but more importantly lowering the alcohol helps wine to taste less “hot” if you picked too late, or your grapes lost their acid, or your wine is generally lacking in complexity. But we’re looking for wines that represent what they are, where they’re from, and who made them – adding water won’t harm you, sure, but it does take away from the wine that those grapes were going to produce that year, in that vineyard.

Roundup – Okay, winemakers are not topping up their barrels with Roundup, but this nasty pesticide, and many others, are completely permitted in vineyards the world over. This is a hot topic, just as it is in the organic food debate. Do pesticides necessarily make your wine (or your food) taste less good? Probably not. Is it irresponsible for the consumer and the planet to use such harsh and toxic chemicals on vineyards and farms? We think so. There are many organic pesticides that can be used, and we generally prefer an approach of pest management rather than blanket pest elimination.

 

Copper Sulfate  – This additive helps to remedy sulfurous and other unpleasant odors in a wine. It’s completely allowed in very small amounts, and we’re not saying drinking wine with copper sulfate added to it will kill you – it won’t. But copper sulfate is toxic and is used frequently as an anti-fungal and pesticide, with well-documented warnings and required protections. It’s yet another additive that offers a minor benefit at a major risk to the user, the planet, and the consumer, and detracts from the true character of the wine being made.

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We pride ourselves on our rigorous vetting of products that we offer to you, because we drink all of these wines too! Ever in search of wines that tell stories and winemakers that work responsibly and reasonably to produce those wines, we ask a lot of questions and aren’t afraid to get a little annoying and a lot detailed. If you’ve got questions, we’ve got answers. Don’t be afraid to ask, even if it’s not on the label.

Wine 101: Native Yeast Fermentation

An important topic of discussion regarding natural wine is “native”, “spontaneous”, or “indigenous” yeast fermentation. Perhaps you’ve heard these terms mentioned at your local wine shop, or seen them in marketing materials from a winery you like. Like most topics wine-related, it’s subject to lots of opinions and debate.

Yeasts are what ferment the sugar in grape juice into alcohol, transforming it into wine. Yeasts exist everywhere in our environment, and certain strains are indigenous to certain places. This is why San Francisco sourdough is so unique – we have our own strain of wild yeast that lives in the foggy San Francisco air, giving our bread it’s own unique flavor.

Many wineries use commercially-sold yeasts to ferment their wines. These yeasts are selectively bred or genetically altered by laboratories to enhance “favorable” flavor profiles in a wine (such as spiciness or fruit flavor), to tolerate heat extremes (cold and hot), to limit malodor in fermentations, and to produce wines with consistent flavor profiles year after year. These yeasts are also resistant to SO2, the chemical additive used in wine to prevent unfavorable microbal growth and oxidation. There are many labs out there making hundreds of yeast strains available in freeze-dried or liquid form for wineries, and each strain comes with it’s own name and marketing materials explaining it’s virtues. These commercially-sold yeasts are strong and hearty; pitch some into your grape must and they will quickly overpower any wild yeasts living in it.

Commercial yeast strains are a relatively new development in the business of winemaking. People have been making wine for thousands of years, where commercial yeasts have only existed in modern times. Grapes don’t always need help from commercial labs to turn into wine – the vineyard is full of flora that will happily do the job for free.

“Native” or “indigenous” yeast fermentations are started by wild yeasts occurring naturally on the grapes, in the winery, and in the vineyard. Pick the grapes, crush or press them, and the fermentation should just start on it’s own. These wild yeasts are usually capable of fully fermenting the wine, but at times the fermentation may seem to slow down or get “stuck”, requiring the winemaker to wait it out and see if it restarts later in the season, or to pitch a strong commercial yeast to finish the job quickly. The other issues with indigenous yeasts are that the wines may taste different from year to year, and they are more prone to producing malodor during fermentation. It’s a risk for any winemaker to choose a spontaneous fermentation over inoculating with commercial yeasts, but those who know how to do it well create (in my opinion) MUCH more interesting, complex, and soulful wines.

Some winemakers believe that there’s no such thing as a truly “native” or “indigenous” yeast fermentation, since many wineries have been using commercial yeasts for years. Those commercial yeasts get into the air and equipment in the winemaking facility, and can take up permanent residence. It’s possible that any future “spontaneous” yeast fermentation happening in that facility would be because of the commercial yeasts used in the past.

Who’s to say which yeast fermented a wine? You would have to be a scientist to figure it out. My belief is that “less is more”, and I would rather sell a wine fermented spontaneously, even if that means the fermentation started with a commercial yeast that just happens to be part of the landscape. So many new winemakers are making wine in shared “custom crush” facilities and co-ops, it’s hard to say anymore. Unless your wine came from a centuries-old chateau in France that has never seen a commercial yeast, it’s hard to say for sure whether or not your wine is truly “indigenous” or “native” yeast fermented.

It would be naïve for us to be dogmatic about this topic, insisting that we only sell “native yeast” wine, so instead we only offer wines that are fermented “spontaneously”, and never through direct inoculation with commercial yeasts. We simply feel that these wines are better – they are more interesting, delicious, and unique.

Common Wine Faults: A Brief Overview

Imagine you’re out having a date night with your significant other. You order a bottle of wine, and the sommelier returns to your table with the bottle, unopened. She whips out her wine key, opens the bottle with quickness and ease, pours you a small taste, and offers you the cork. What’s the purpose of this ritual?

The sommelier is offering you the chance to examine your wine and the cork for flaws, not to see whether or not you like the wine you ordered.

You pick up the glass and swirl the scanty bit of wine around. You stick your nose all the way into the glass and breathe in deeply. If the wine is perfectly aged and ready to drink, the bouquet should be intense and pleasant, without any “off” aromas. This is the ideal situation.

Sometimes you might experience an aroma that makes you wonder if there’s something wrong with your wine. Maybe the wine doesn’t smell like anything at all. You don’t want to embarrass yourself or insult the somm by suggesting the wine is flawed, so you tell her it’s acceptable. She pours two full glasses. You try to tell yourself the wine is fine, and go on with your dinner. You leave feeling bad because you just paid 3x retail for a bottle of wine that you didn’t enjoy.

My first bit of advice for the person who is questioning the wine he just ordered is to always trust your gut. If it smells bad, there is probably something wrong with it, and you should politely ask the somm to inspect it.

In this article I will go over some potential causes of off aromas in wine – what they are, how they manifest, and how they present themselves.

  1. TCA, or Cork Taint – This is the chemical compound that causes wine to become “corked” or “corky”. No, it has nothing to do with the bits of cork that might be floating around in your wine. How TCA gets into wine is a long, complicated topic, subject to much controversy and many opinions. Instead of boring you with the details, I’ll get right to the meat. TCA can cause a range of aromas in wine, most commonly described as “wet cardboard” or “damp basement”. TCA is believed to occur in 10% or more of commercial wines. If your wine smells like a pile of wet clothes forgotten in the wash for too long, it’s probably infected with TCA. Like most things, there is a range of TCA that can be present in your wine. In small quantities, it may simply rob your wine of fruit aromas and make it taste subdued. Sometimes the wine may seem “closed”, having no aroma at all, and will taste flat and insipid. There is no cure for TCA, so if you believe your wine is corked, politely ask the somm for his or her opinion.
  2. Reduced wine – Some winemakers make their wine utilizing methods that limit the wine’s exposure to oxygen, to preserve freshness and high-toned fruit aromas. They age the wine in steel or other non-air permeable vats instead of wood. They use inert gasses during racking to reduce the wine’s exposure to oxygen. This is called “reductive winemaking”. Reductive winemaking is gaining popularity, especially amongst natural winemakers because they don’t add as much SO2 (a chemical antioxidant) to their wines. Wines made in a reductive manner are called “reduced”.
    Reduced wines sometimes produce off aromas when they are first opened, but it doesn’t always mean the wine is bad. Reduced aromas are usually sulfurous in nature, and are often described as smelling like a struck match, cabbage, eggs, or smoke. If you open a young wine and initially it smells a bit sulfurous, give it a long and vigorous swirl or a light decanting, and it should sort itself out. In extreme cases, the sulfurous aromas don’t go away, and the wine is considered flawed.
  3. Oxidation – Most wine lovers know that high end Burgundy and Bordeaux can age for decades. The aging occurs because tiny amounts of oxygen are let into the wine through the air-permeable cork over time. Bottle aging softens the wine and gives it complexity when done in a slow, controlled manner. If the wine is stored in an environment without temperature or humidity control, the wine can oxidize because too much oxygen gets into the bottle as the wine inside expands and contracts with the temperature fluctuations, or because the cork has dried out.
    Oxidation is more apparent in white wines than red, and red wines are less sensitive to oxygen. If your bottle had seepage around the cork before you opened it, or if the cork was dry and crumbly, chances are the wine is damaged from improper storage and is flawed. You can confirm this by observing and tasting the wine – it will appear brownish in color and taste metallic.
    Some wines are produced in an “oxidative” style, and are not considered flawed or oxidized, such as sherry and vin jaune. This type of oxidation happens in a slow and controlled manner; it’s a stylistic choice. These wines will taste nutty and savory instead of harsh and metallic. They are some of the rarest, most delicious, and food-friendly wines in the world.
  4. Excessive SO2 – SO2/Sulfur Dioxide/Sulfite is a chemical compound that is often added to wine to protect it from microbal growth and oxidation. It may also occur in wine because of elemental sulfur sprayed in the vineyard to prevent the growth of mold on grapes during a particularly damp growing season, and as a byproduct of the yeast converting sugar to alcohol during fermentation. In small amounts, SO2 is undetectable to most people. In higher amounts, it becomes a sensory flaw. It causes the wine to smell of burnt matches or eggs, and can taste harsh or bitter. Well-made wines should not have excessive amounts of SO2. It’s usually the lower-quality commercial wines that suffer from this. We like to avoid wines high in SO2 as a general rule, as it’s implicated as a cause of hangovers and is generally nasty stuff.
  5. Volatile Acidity – Commonly referred to simply as “VA”, it’s caused by acetic acid, the compound that makes vinegar, well, vinegar-y. VA is sometimes a byproduct of fermentation, or caused by spoilage bacteria (such as acetobacter). A small amount of VA is not necessarily considered a flaw in wine, and is sometimes just part of the je ne sais quoi – it usually blows off with a bit of aeration. Too much VA causes a wine to smell irreversibly like vinegar, and is considered a flaw.
  6. Brettanomyces, or Brett – Brett is a genus of yeast that can create a range of aromas in wine. It’s sometimes, but not always, considered a spoilage yeast and creates sensory flaws. Brett can infect entire wineries, which is why some estates have brett in most, if not all, of their wines. It’s notoriously hard to get rid of, and some people think the only way to be sure is by burning the whole place down.
    Some of the aromas created by brettanomyces include cloves, spice, horse blanket, manure, barnyard, band-aids, and rancidity. In small amounts, brett can increase the complexity and character of a wine. Too much, and it’s almost always considered a flaw. Some people are very sensitive to brett and have a negative reaction, regardless of the amount. I have a friend that, at a Loire Valley tasting, thought all of the bretty wines smelled like “corpses”. She is one of those people.

There are many other flaws that one can find in a wine, but these are the most common and, in my opinion, the most offensive. Reading about these flaws is not necessarily going to teach you how to detect them; the only way to really learn is by drinking a lot of wine and paying close attention. I once thought a corked wine smelled like apple peels, and figured it was the way the wine was supposed to be – we drank the whole bottle. I had the same wine later on and realized that it was totally different. It took me years to recognize that what I experienced was TCA, and only after I’d smelled it about a dozen times.

Do you have any tips or tricks for detecting flawed wine? Let us know in the comments.

Winery Visit: Two Shepherds

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Remember when Winelandia first got started? One of the first wines we offered was an interesting little Grenache Blanc made by wine blogger & garagiste-turned-pro winemaker William Allen under his label Two Shepherds. William makes a number of wines from Rhone varieties in very small batches – he only makes a half barrel of some of his wines. Many of these wines are classic in style, but William doesn’t shy away from experimentation – he makes a number of skin-fermented white wines and fringe varietal wines. I was fortunate enough to be invited to taste in his winery just this last Friday, and boy did he open a lot of new and exciting wines for me!

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We started with the 2012 Santa Ynez Valley Grenache Blanc – the original wine Winelandia offered from Two Shepherds. It has come along quite a bit since the last time we tasted it – more secondary aromas and mineral notes are emerging, which is a sign of quality in a white wine. One of the key factors in what makes this wine great is that it’s aged on the lees in a combination of neutral oak and stainless steel – giving body to and softening the wine while also preserving it’s freshness. A very rich and complex example of a varietal wine that is typically a simple porch-pounder.

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Next we tasted his 2012 Russian River Valley Pastoral Blanc, a blend of Marsanne, Roussanne, Viognier, and Grenache Blanc from Saralee’s Vineyard – the only vineyard in the Russian River Valley AVA growing Marsanne and Roussanne. It was rich and velvety with notes of stonefruit, white flowers, mineral, and spice, with present and balanced acidity. While it’s showing beautifully now, I’m certain it will continue to increase in complexity for years to come. I loved this wine so much, I picked some up for the shop.

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One of the wines I was most excited to taste was up next, William’s 2012 Fanucchi-Wood Vyd. skin-fermented Trousseau Gris. Perhaps you’ve heard me shout from the rooftop, proclaiming my love for Trousseau Gris. It’s a special and rare variety, originating from the Jura region in France. Trousseau Gris is gray grape, a mutation of the red Trousseau variety, and there’s only 10 or so acres of it planted in California, most of which is owned by the Fanucchi family in the Russian River Valley. That’s the vineyard William got the fruit for this wine from (Wind Gap & Jolie-Laide also make delicious wines from this vineyard) and it was a treat to experience his interpretation of it. The color is a rich coppery-pink, and on the palate it’s full of texture and lovely, juicy fruit and spice. The wine spent a full 10 days fermenting on the skins, where it extracted truckloads of character – this is a geeky wine for sure.

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Next up was the 2013 Mendocino County Grenache Gris Rosé. A very special wine made from a rare grape, Grenache Gris, a mutation of the well-known Grenache Noir. The vineyard is a unique site, where the vines are dry-farmed, head trained, and over 100 years old. This brand-new 2013 rosé was simply beautiful – rich and herbal, with loads of texture from 7 days of skin contact. Although it’s a fuller-bodied rosé, it retains tons of brightness and energy – it’s absolutely lively and juicy on the palate. It’s showing beautifully now, and will only get better by Thanksgiving. Just 33 cases were made, and I picked up just a few bottles for the shop, which you can buy here.

All of these lovely white, pink, and orange wines aside, William also makes extraordinary red wines from Rhone varietals. There’s a cool-climate 2012 Grenache Noir from the Russian River Valley; a 2011 Syrah/Mourvedre from the Russian River Valley & El Dorado AVA; and his flagship red blend, the 2011 Pastoral Rouge – a blend of Grenache, Mourvedre, and Syrah. All of the red wines are rich and textural, without being heavy or over-extracted, while showing grace, finesse, and restraint. Two Shepherds is a winery to keep an eye on – it hasn’t been around for long but William is already making wines that rival those of the rockstars of the region.

Big thanks to William for hosting me at his winery and opening so many of his treasures to share – I am very excited to see how these wines age and what he’s up to next.

 

 

Wine 101: Rosé Wine

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Nothing marks the onset of spring like the release of the latest vintage’s delicate pink wines. These flamingo-hued libations are extremely popular with wine novices and experts alike – they are fresh, easy-drinking, packed with aromatics, inexpensive, low in alcohol, and utterly delicious. In Portugal, pink wines are called rosado. In Spain, they’re rosato. In France and the US, it’s called rosé.

Rosé wines are made in many countries around the world, but some of the most famous rosé wines are from Provence and Bandol. These wines exhibit great finesse and elegance, and are usually totally dry (no residual sugar). Rosé wines can be made with any red grape, such as mourvèdre, grenache, pinot noir, and syrah. Many mass-produced, cheap rosé wines are packed with sugar and taste like candy. These are the wines that give rosé a bad name. In general, you could expect to spend $15-$30 for a good or great rosé wine. I’ve seen them cost as much as $60, and those are typically very special. Domaine Tempier is well-known for their expensive and cult-status rosé from Bandol.

One interesting thing about rosé wine is that it’s seasonal, fragrant, pretty, and short-lived, much like a wildflower. It’s usually bottled in late winter or early spring following harvest, and makes it to market by April or May.  It provides the winery with a product they can get to the market much more quickly than a red wine, since rosé is ready to drink as little as 4 months after the grapes are picked. Red wines typically require at least a little age, and can take a year or longer to make it to market. Rosé generally doesn’t age very well, if at all, and should be consumed within the first year following it’s release. For example, you wouldn’t want to purchase a 2011 or 2012 rosé in 2014. You’d want to wait to see the 2013 rosé wines. There will, of course, always be exceptions to this rule – but it’s a good guideline to follow when purchasing rosé wine.

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Do you know how rosé is made? Sometimes it’s a byproduct of red winemaking, and other times the grapes are picked early and pressed specifically for rosé wine. There are a couple of methods, detailed below.

  1. The saignée method. In French, it means “bleed”. It starts with grapes picked with the intent of making red wine. The grapes are crushed and/or de-stemmed; all the sweet juice and grape skins hang out together in big vats in preparation of fermentation. The winemaker will bleed off some of the pink juice after it’s been briefly in contact with the skins. The amount of time this juice sits on the skins dictates how saturated in color the finished wine will be. This saignée is typically performed to make the red wine more concentrated, since the process increases the skin-to-juice ratio of the red wine by removing some of the juice. The saignée ends up being a byproduct of the red wine-making process – the pink juice that has been bled off is fermented separately and bottled as rosé.
  2. Vin gris. French for “grey wine”, which is a little misleading since the wine is not grey. In this method, the red grapes are picked specifically for making rosé, and they go directly to the press just like a white wine. The juice spends no time on the skins at all, which results in a wine that is a very pale pink or in rare cases even white in color. You will see French and sometimes American rosé labeled Vin Gris if it’s made with this method. These rosé wines tend to be lower in alcohol, since the grapes are usually picked at earlier ripeness levels. This is a stylistic choice, but seems to be the norm for vin gris.

There are other wines that qualify as rosé, but are made in various experimental methods. For example, Antica Terra of Oregon makes a rosé of pinot noir (shown below) that spends 6-8 days on the skins during fermentation. It’s then siphoned off the skins when some (but not all) of the sugar has been converted to alcohol, and is then racked into a neutral oak barrel. The wine finishes fermentation in the barrel, and stays there on the lees for several months while it ages (generally I avoid rosé wines fermented or aged in wood, but this is one exception – it’s unreal). Because it’s pinot noir, which doesn’t have a lot of color to begin with, and because it’s pressed early, the wine is not really red, but more of a rosé. Technically, it’s a red wine, but the TTB (the government agency that regulates wine label contents) requires the producer to label it as a rosé.

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During the vinification process, rosé wines are typically fermented in neutral vessels such as stainless steel or cement (as opposed to oak, which could impart flavor into the wine). Some rosé wines are fermented or aged in oak, and this is a stylistic choice – however, most of them (in my experience) are awful. The Antica Terra rosé of pinot noir, discussed above, is one exception I’ve come across.

You can also boost the aromatics in a rosé wine by fermenting it at cool temperatures (for example, below 60F). The cooler fermentation helps preserve fresh, high-toned fruit aromas. I’m not sure why – I’m sure someone out there knows the answer – but this is common practice with white and rosé winemaking to ensure a bright and luscious bouquet.

Rosé wine is frequently associated with aromas of watermelon, strawberries, and herbs. It’s not usually very complex, and the prices reflect that, but the lack of complexity does not take away from the joy you experience while enjoying a glass. Rosé is the ultimate food wine, pairing wonderfully with spicy foods such as Thai, Mexican, chili, and barbecue. It also pairs great with salads, salmon, charcuterie, winter squash, root vegetables, roasted peppers, and pretty much anything pink.

When you shop for rosé, look for fresh and young bottles from producers you trust – Arnot-Roberts, Matthiasson, Domaine Tempier, and Porter Creek all make rosé that we feel is exceptional. Don’t worry too much about it – if it’s well made and dry, chances are it’s going to be great. Is there a producer making rosé that you love? Let us know in the comments!

Sulfites in Wine, Explained

contains_sulfites

“Contains Sulfites”. What’s the deal? Most people have heard of sulfites in wine, but not many know what this actually means. This article will give you my point of view, a basic understanding of the term, and why sulfites are added to wine (or not).

First off, “sulfites” are commonly referred to as “SO2” or “sulfur dioxide”. SO2 is a chemical compound composed of sulfur and oxygen. It was first used by the Romans in winemaking, when they discovered that burning sulfur candles inside of winemaking vessels (while not in use) kept them fresh and free of vinegar smells.

The basic principle is that SO2 acts as an antioxidant (a safeguard against premature oxidation), as well as an antiseptic and anti-microbal agent. It basically keeps the wine fresh and free of spoilage organisms, although it doesn’t completely prevent these things. It also has a different effect on wine based on the wine’s pH level. The more acidic (lower pH) a wine is, the less SO2 is required to keep the wine fresh. When the wine is lower in acid and higher in pH, more SO2 is required to have the same effect. White wines tend to need higher levels of SO2 because they oxidize easily, while red wines require less as the tannins and other compounds that occur naturally on the skins of grapes act as an antioxidant and antiseptic. The graph below gives you a very basic explanation of the amount of SO2 commonly recommended for amateur winemakers based on the type of wine they are making.

SO2_Chart

SO2 is commonly added to wine in various stages of the vinification (winemaking) process, in the form of potassium metabisulfite powder or liquid. A dose is sometimes added when the grapes are initially crushed (usually when a lab-created yeast is going to be used for fermentation – to stun any unwanted, wild yeasts or bacteria on the grapes), when malolactic fermentation is complete (malolactic bacteria are very sensitive to SO2), when the wine is being racked (transferred from one vessel to another, to prevent oxidation and spoilage organism growth), while it’s aging in a barrel (to maintain “proper” levels, since over time the “free” SO2 becomes “bound” and ineffective), and when it’s bottled (to prevent oxidation and microbal growth during the transfer to bottle). Not all winemakers add SO2 at all of these stages, and some don’t add any at all. The amount and frequency of SO2 additions is up to the winemaker and there is a lot of controversy regarding the “right” amount to add to a wine.

Some natural winemakers will avoid adding any SO2 at all to their wines, in the name of natural winemaking. These wines tend to oxidize more quickly and have a shorter shelf life (and although I’m sure someone out there disagrees, this is the general consensus). Wines with no SO2 added are also more prone to spoilage during shipping, and when temperatures rise above 60F (warmer temperatures are favorable to spoilage organisms).

Natural winemakers will argue that adding large doses of SO2 to wine strips it of its natural complexity and character. In fact, when you add a dose of SO2 to a light red or rosé wine, it temporarily bleaches some of the color out. As a new winemaker, I found this to be very alarming. It was even more interesting to see the color bounce back over the course of a few days. I agree, wines that are sans soufre can be more soulful and interesting. I prefer wines that are honest, real, and natural, but I also like wines that are clean and orderly. What I’ve noticed most often in the wines that I drink is that the winemakers add SO2 selectively and in low levels to keep the wine fresh and clean without tainting it with high levels of SO2. For example, a winemaker may add no SO2 at all to their wine until it’s being bottled, and then they will add a very low amount (say, 10-20ppm) to prevent oxidation and microbal growth during the transfer to bottle.

There is also controversy about allergies to SO2. There are people out there with severe allergies to this compound, usually in the form of an asthmatic reaction to high levels of SO2. In fact, when I am adding potassium metabisulfite powder to wine, getting a whiff of it feels like it sucks the air right out of my lungs. This doesn’t mean I am allergic to it, because it occurs in much lower levels in the wine than it does in the powder form. It’s just nasty, toxic stuff (the EPA has classified it as an air pollutant). The truth is, most people are NOT allergic to it, and most people who experience wine headaches are actually having a reaction to the histamines that occur naturally in red wine as a byproduct of the fermentation process, and not the SO2.

My own opinion on the topic differs, though. If I drink a wine high in SO2, I get a raging headache that just won’t quit. I usually get this from white and rosé wines, and not red wines (although red wines make me feel a little congested sometimes). I am convinced that high levels of SO2 can, in fact, cause headaches in some people. I don’t think ALL wine headaches are caused by SO2, but if you notice that commercial white wines give you a bad headache and red wines don’t, perhaps it could be the culprit…

What many people don’t know is that SO2 occurs naturally in all fermented wine, since it’s a natural byproduct of the fermentation process. The active yeasts actually create SO2 in minuscule quantities during fermentation, and any sulfur sprayed in the vineyard during the growing season can also add to the total amount of SO2 in a finished wine. That’s why most (but not all) commercial wine bears “contains sulfites” on the label. If a wine contains less than 10ppm SO2, technically they do not need to put it on the label, however most producers do – even if their wine is within the threshold – to avoid any red tape with regulatory agencies.

Wine isn’t the only food product that contain sulfites. Dried fruits, processed foods such as bread and tortillas, and many other things (mostly processed) contain sulfites to keep them fresh and palatable. In small doses, sulfites are relatively harmless (except to those with an allergy) and you’d probably never know that you were eating or drinking them. I wouldn’t worry too much about it if you aren’t experiencing any discomfort, but in general we like to avoid food products and wine with preservatives and additives. Winelandia strives to curate wines with little or no added SO2 or other chemical additives.

In conclusion, sulfur dioxide is a complicated topic prone to controversy and it’s up to the consumer to ultimately decide their point of view on the topic. This is mine, and while I’m sure not everyone will agree with me, I hope that this blog post has helped you gain a better understanding of what this chemical compound is and what it does to your wine.

A special shoutout to Chris for helping me work out some of the finer details on this topic.