Friday, November 5, 2010

Wines I'm Making: A Busy Time of Year (2010)

This is a busy time of year because of all the winemaking going on--a winery in miniature is in operation here. Yesterday I bottled the 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon/Cabernet Franc to make room for the Sangiovese rosé in the only six-gallon containers I have. The rosé appeared to be mostly finished fermenting--on day 18, the longest fermentation I've done so far. But I 'm only the shepherd; the time it takes is the time it takes. Next chore (although a pleasant one) will be to design labels for the 2009 wines--and, before too long, for the 2010 rosé; the rosé should be ready to sample by around Christmas.

The turbid, fermenting rosé was beginning to clear as the action of the yeast slowed, and the wine tasted dry, so I thought it best to limit oxygen exposure by racking the wines into a single big container. I sulfited lightly (four Campden tablets in six gallons plus three fifths, or about 40ppm). Sulfite is supposed to kill any yeast still alive, but I suspect it wasn't enough because the wine continues to send up streams of fine bubbles, and the airlock is still percolating. That's just as well. The new rosé is now protected from oxidation at least to some extent by the sulfites and the lack of air space in the new container, and any ongoing fermentation will make the wine completely dry, the way I like it.

I put the 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon/Franc into 30 bottles but left one uncorked. We tasted it last night for the first time. It was in shock from the bottling and the sulfiting, so not at its best, but it was enough to get a first impression. I'm very pleased. I reserved some overnight in a decanter, helping to blow off sulfites and giving the wine air--it had developed some lovely leathery scents, rose-like scents, and cocoa scents. The palate was broader and more generous too, again marked by leather and cocoa. An excellent effort, if I say so myself. The photo shows toasted oak staves that were in the resting wine for a full year and the siphon filling bottles.

The 2010 Cab is still in the front room undergoing malolactic fermentation. Soon that will be done. It's been 11 days since the wine was inoculated. Activity appears to have slowed, but malolactic fermentations can be hard to judge. I will have to test it. I have every reason to hope the 2010 wine will be better even than the wine just bottled--the vines are a year older, I know what I'm doing now, the vines didn't suffer from mold or critter attacks (raccoons) because I've got the sulfur spraying, netting, summer trimming, and electric fence down to a routine now. As long as the weather cooperates. This year, we made good wine despite difficult weather. Should be ready for anything now--except the unexpected.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Miscellaneous: Bird Brains

I have 32 vines in my backyard, about a third Sangiovese, the rest Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. What has that got to do with birds you ask? Read on.

Yesterday, while lazing around the house, on a day free of work, I was stretched out on the sofa, reading The New York Review of Books. I began to hear a metallic scratching noise, but it stopped and I went back to reading. Until I heard it again. I didn't really feel like moving so I tried to ignore the sound, but after about ten minutes of distraction I followed the noise to its source. A California Towhee was valiantly battling its own reflection in the stainless steel sides of the grape crusher I'd washed and left out to dry by the front door (the 2010 grape harvest at my house has recently finished).

Nearly everyone has a story about something amazing crows do. Around here, they're known for cracking the walnuts they forage from the walnut groves by either dropping them from lampposts or leaving them in the street to let cars run over them. I've heard that certain crows in Sweden have learned to cover solar cells that control outdoor lights with their wings in the winter so that the lights come on and provide warmth. At the other end of the scale, I've read that a tom turkey will happily attempt to copulate with empty space if a lightbulb is suspended for it at the right height to suggest the head of a female turkey. Clearly some birds are smarter than others.

Last year for a few weeks a Spotted Towhee perched every morning on one of the side mirrors of my car and attacked its own image, believing the reflection to be an intruder. Is this a towhee thing? They are territorial birds. Where do towhees rank on the scale of bird intelligence? Is it smart to recognize your own image as another bird but not as yourself? I don't know, but I was impressed by the persistence of the California Towhee yesterday. He was at it off and on almost the entire day. I tried to explain the illusion to him. He didn't want to listen. Today I'll put the crusher away, ready for next season. Don't want to tire him out.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Wines I'm Drinking: Pinot Egregio?

Last night I tasted all seven of the Pinot Grigio wines currently available at my Trader Joe's (Santa Rosa, CA). I don't normally drink Pinot Grigio much, but I was interested to see the wines were priced between $3.99 and $6.99 a bottle (mostly $3.99) except one--which was $19.99. I wanted to know if the expensive wine, the 2009 Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio, was worth the money. I'm the curious sort. As usual, I tasted the wines blind. All seven were from Italy, mostly from the area around Venice. All were from the 2009 vintage. The wines I tasted were:
  • 2009 Gaetano D'Aquino Pinot Grigio delle Venezie
  • 2009 Santa Margherita Valdadige Pinot Grigio 
  • 2009 Contadino "Vivace" Pinot Grigio delle Venezie
  • 2009 Mezzacorona Vigneti delle Dolomiti Pinot Grigio 
  • 2009 Contadino Pinot Grigio delle Venezie
  • 2009 Villa Borghetti "Grigio Luna" Pinot Grigio delle Venezie
  • 2009 Villa Sonia Pinot Grigio Piave
Tasting notes follow:

2009 Gaetano D'Aquino Pinot Grigio delle Venezie ($3.99 at Trader Joe's)
In ripe years, this producer is responsible for some decent, very inexpensive Chianti Classico wines, also available at Trader Joe's. The Gaetano D'Aquino Pinot Grigio was a very pale straw color. The nose offered very little. There was a hint of pears at first but not a lot else. Later the nose seemed simply grapey with nothing distinctive about it. The wine was clean and tart and rather thin. Not a lot of flavor. Although it was a trifle sweeter on the mid-palate, it mostly tasted like water with a few lemon slices thrown in. Perhaps a suggestion of almonds? Not unpleasant, but of no special interest. 

2009 Santa Margherita Valdadige Pinot Grigio ($19.99 at Trader Joe's)
Very pale gold. Distant caramel scents but little else at first. A hint of almonds and some musky scents later. A little more complex than the first wine, but generally similar. Somewhat drier but mostly tastes like lemon water. Only moderate body and flavor. Why does this wine cost so much more than the others? 

2009 Contadino "Vivace" Pinot Grigio delle Venezie ($4.99 at Trader Joe's)
It was obvious from the outset which wine this was because it's made with a little fizz in it and the bubbles were apparent. None of the other wines had any fizz.Very pale gold. Tiny bubbles. Has the scent of grain or toasted grain. Apricots perhaps? A little sweet, so more body than the first two wines, but no more flavor. Somewhat heavy and quickly tires the palate. Otherwise a rather dull wine with little to recommend it. Might be attractive very well chilled on a hot summer day, but there are better wines for that purpose.

2009 Mezzacorona Vigneti delle Dolomiti Pinot Grigio ($6.99 at Trader Joe's)
This was one of the better wines of the bunch. Again, a pale gold. Slightly toasted scent. More fruit than most of the other wines. Citrus flavors. Lemony, but still not very much on the nose or on the palate. Perfectly drinkable and probably my favorite of the group, but probably not sufficiently interesting to make me want to go back for more--although I might. 

2009 Contadino Pinot Grigio delle Venezie ($3.99 at Trader Joe's)
Pale gold. Again suggestive of apricots and roasted grain. Distant suggestion of hazelnuts perhaps? Flat compared with some of the other wines (less acidity). A tad sweeter than the first two wines, but less sweetness than the second pair (above), but all seven of the wines were quite dry, with the Vivace wine  and perhaps the Villa Sonia wine most noticeably with a little residual sugar. Ultimately, just plain, uninspiring wine. Little scent, little flavor.

2009 Villa Borghetti "Grigio Luna" Pinot Grigio delle Venezie ($4.99 at Trader Joe's)
Palest in color of the seven wines. Distant lemon scents. very closed. Almost no scent at all. Seemed more alcoholic than most of the others (but that was an illusion: they were all 12% or 12.5% alcohol). Seemed the driest of the bunch as well. Mineral hints on the palate. Good, peppy acidity. This was one of the better wines, I thought, but still thin and rather bland.

2009 Villa Sonia Pinot Grigio Piave ($5.99 at Trader Joe's)
Pale gold. The only wine in the group that had any sort of a nose to it. Really stood out by comparison. Strong floral scents. Nectarines. Roses? Suggestive of a Viognier wine. Similar on the palate. Some peachy, nectarine, apricot flavors. A bit longer than some of the others. Actually has a little body to it. Slight interesting bitterness on the finish. At least it has a finish. While this stood out, it was mostly by comparison. The wine was a bit sweet, fairly one-dimensional, and thin. This has some immediate appeal but it's the sort of wine that's easy to quickly tire of. If you like an easy, slightly sweet ,very light white wine for sipping, however, it's likely to appeal.

In conclusion, I wouldn't write off Pinot Grigio entirely, as it's sometimes tempting to do. Collio in Italy makes some of the best--notably the wines of Livio Felluga (I noticed recently that the new Santa Rosa Whole Foods has the Livio Felluga Collio Pinot Grigio). There are good examples coming out of Oregon and Washington State. Having said that, none of the wines reviewed here is much of a recommendation for the grape. Not only was the Santa Margherita wine little better than the others, none of the wines was especially interesting. The best I've had recently is probably the 2008 Villa Teresa Pinot Grigio they've been pouring at Café Della Stelle, in San Francisco. Pinot Grigio can, in fact, be excellent.

For more wine reviews, use the Wines I'm Drinking label above. 

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