Wine Words Demystified; Vin de Garde

You know the deal; the more some folks learn about a topic, the more shortcuts/slang/acronyms/initials/technical jargon can be tossed around.  I’m here to help you understand those sometimes mysterious words and phrases, thus - Wine Words Demystified!  This week’s term is Vin de garde...

According to Oxford Dictionary Vin de garde is…

Wine which will significantly improve in quality if left to mature.

It’s a term of French origin, which literally means “wine for keeping”

Contrary to popular belief (see 12Most Prevalent Myths About Wine) most wine, will not get better with age.

2010 Ridge Monte Bello - image courtesy of Ridge Vineyards

2010 Ridge Monte Bello – image courtesy of Ridge Vineyards

Upwards of 90% of wines should be consumed within 3-5 years of purchase, and will not get better with aging. Wines that age well are tannic, acidic, complex, and well-balanced.

The 2010 Ridge Vineyard Monte Bello pictured above is a great example of a vin de garde.  The 2010 vintage was released this year in 2013, and while the wine is approachable now, it’s recommended that the wine be held for 10 years before consuming for maximum enjoyment.   It’ll easily continue to mature for another 10 years after that.

How is a wine like Monte Bello built to age?  It’s everything really from the how the grapes are harvested, which lots are picked, the barrel program, how long the wine is aged in barrel to how long it’s aged in bottle.

My rule of thumb? If a bottle of wine costs less than $25, drink it within 3-5 years. If it costs $40 or more, it’ll probably age 5 or more years.

In vino veritas!

Wine Words Demystified: What Does “Veraison” Mean?

You know the deal; the more some folks learn about a topic, the more shortcuts/slang/acronyms/initials/technical jargon can be tossed around.  I’m here to help you understand those sometimes mysterious words and phrases, thus - Wine Words Demystified!  This week’s word is Veraison..

According to Wikipedia:

Véraison is a viticulture (grape-growing) term meaning “the onset of ripening”. It is originally French, but has been adopted into English use. The official definition of veraison is “change of color of the grape berries.” Veraison represents the transition from berry growth to berry ripening, and many changes in berry development occurs at veraison.

In other words, veraison is the period when the grape berries become progressively soft and take on the colors characteristic of their specific varieties.

veraison in syrah lagier meredith

Veraison in Syrah- Image courtesy of Lagier Meredith

Veraison typically occurs 40-50 days after fruit set. In the Northern hemisphere that’s typically in late July/early August.  However here in Northern California, many wineries have already reported the onset of veraison. In fact, some are reporting it’s the earliest veraison in a decade or so.

As you can see from the photo above, the onset of veraison does not occur uniformly among all berries.

So what does this mean in terms of actual production of wine? With the onset of veraison, acidity begins to decrease, and sugar levels increase.  When sugar levels rise to the appropriate level (typically measured in brix) as deemed by the winemaker/grower then it is harvested, and the winemaking process begins.

And for wineries, it’s an exciting times because it means it’s time to start gearing up for harvest!

 

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Wine Words Demystified: Orange Wine

You know the deal; the more some folks learn about a topic, the more shortcuts/slang/acronyms/initials/technical jargon can be tossed around.  I’m here to help you understand those sometimes mysterious words and phrases, thus - Wine Words Demystified!  This week’s term is Orange Wine...

According to Ray Isle of Food & Wine magazine…

Orange wines“—a current favorite of hipster sommeliers—are white wines that are kept at length on the grape skins as they are made. One result: their resistance to oxygen is increased, so they stay fresh longer when opened.

In other words, an “orange wine” is a white wine made applying red wine techniques.  Rather than the typical white wine process of pressing the juice off the skins, the juice is allowed to macerate, like you would when you make a red wine.  And instead of keeping the process sealed from oxygen, you allow the fermenting fluid to breathe.

Because the skins remain in contact with the juice during the fermentation process, the wine takes on qualities you’d normally associate with a red wine: tannins, structure and fuller body that doesn’t come from aging in oak, or high alcohol content.

“Orange” wine – Image courtesy of SFGate Photo: Craig Lee, Special To The Chronicle / SF

The practice of making wines using this process dates back thousands of years to  Eurasian wine producing countries of Armenia & Georgia.  In more recent years, the epicenter for orange wine is Friuli, Italy.  However, there is a nascent insurgency against the traditional method of making white wines afoot in Oregon, and California.  

From what I’ve been able to discern, the most common grape used to make orange wine has been Pinot Gris, but it also being made from white Rhone varietals such as Marsanne and Roussanne.  And while the wines are commonly an orange hue, they may be other colors such as a salmon.  So the name orange wine has more to do with the process than the color per se.

Right now, orange wines are a niche category; mostly the province of sommeliers, and wine geeks.  It will be interesting to see how far the orange wine movement will go.

I’m looking forward to trying my first orange wine soon.  I won a bottle of wine from my cousin on a bet when my Forty-Niners crushed the Monsters of the Midway (Da Bears).  I went with a bottle of 2011 Donkey & Goat Stone Crusher Roussanne.

Have you tried an “orange” wine?  If so, what did you think?

 

Wine Words Demystified; Barrel Fermented

You know the deal; the more some folks learn about a topic, the more shortcuts/slang/acronyms/initials/technical jargon can be tossed around.  I’m here to help you understand those sometimes mysterious words and phrases, thus - Wine Words Demystified!  This week’s phrase is Barrel Fermented..

According to Karen MacNeil‘s The Wine Bible:

Used to describe a wine – usually a white – that has undergone fermentation  in small oak barrels as opposed  to in a more neutral large casks, cement vats, or stainless steel tanks.  Fermentation in a small barrel can impart a richer flavor and creamier texture to some wines, though these characteristics may be acquired at the expense of the wines’ FRUIT.  To mitigate against too intense a barrel-fermented character, winemakers can use older barrels, larger barrels, and/or ferment only a portion of the wine in barrels and then BLEND this portion with the wine that has not been barrel-fermented

In other words, a barrel fermented wine is one where grape juice along with yeast, is put into small (50 gallon) oak barrels.

Red wine fermenting in barrel

Red wine fermenting in barrel (Image courtesy of howtomakegreatwine.com)

The advantage of barrel fermenting wine is that the wines are richer and more complex (there is an assortment of appealing aromas and flavors such as vanilla, spice, and toast) than those fermented in other vessels.

On the other hand, barrel fermentation is a very labor intensive and expensive process because of the number of barrels needed (as opposed to fermenting the wine in much larger stainless steel tanks for instance).  Not only do all the barrels need tending to, it’s expensive to purchase the barrels.  And if new oak is used each year, it’s expensive to replace the barrels. As a consequence, barrel fermented wines are typically more expensive than wines fermented in other vessels.

White wines that are barrel fermented are lighter in color, but typically have a silkier texture than white wine fermented in stainless steel then aged in oak.  White wines fermented in stainless steel, then aged in oak tend to have a darker color because of the phenolic compounds remaining in the wine.

Top Burgundy producers barrel ferment their wines, as do many high-end California wineries.

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Wine Words Demystified: Racking

You know the deal; the more some folks learn about a topic, the more shortcuts/slang/acronyms/initials/technical jargon can be tossed around.  I’m here to help you understand those sometimes mysterious words and phrases, thus - Wine Words Demystified!  Harvest is pretty much done here in Northern California! This will be the last of my harvest focused Wine Words Demystified posts 

This week’s word is Racking..

According to Karen MacNeil‘s The Wine Bible:

A method of clarifying a wine that has SETTLED by siphoning or pumping off solids and particulate matter, such as yeast cells and bits of grape skins, and pouring it into a different clean barrel.  Racking also aerates a wine. 

Not only is the purpose of the process of racking wine to separate solids adn particulate matter such as lees from wine, it also enables clarification and aids in stabilization.

Racking Wine

Image courtesy of wineormous.com

A racking hose or tubing is used to remove the wine from one vessel to another. The racking process is repeated several times during the aging of wine.

Here’s a video of that shows the racking process - How To Make Wine-Step 2-Racking.

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Wine Words Demystified: Must

You know the deal; the more some folks learn about a topic, the more shortcuts/slang/acronyms/initials/technical jargon can be tossed around.  I’m here to help you understand those sometimes mysterious words and phrases, thus - Wine Words Demystified!  Since harvest is in full effect here in Northern California, I’ll be featuring harvest related terms the next several weeks!

This week’s word is Must...

According to Karen MacNeil‘s The Wine Bible:

The juice and liquidy pulp produced by crushing or pressing grapes before fermentation. 

The solid portion of the must, composed of skins, seeds, and sometimes stems, is called pomace.  Making must is the first step in the winemaking process.

Must

Crushed or pressed grapes create must – Image courtesy of Wikipedia

After the must is created, it is transferred to tanks or fermenting bins to cold soak for a period of time.  The length of time that the pomace stays in the juice is a crucial determinant in the final character of the wine.  It’s a key factor in determining a wine’s color, flavors and aromas. Once the winemaker determines the time is right, the juice is drained off the pomace and fermentation is started. It’s fermentation that turns the juice into wine!

The leftover pomace is typically returned to the vineyard for fertilizer.

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Wine Words Demystified: Destemmer

You know the deal; the more some folks learn about a topic, the more shortcuts/slang/acronyms/initials/technical jargon can be tossed around.  I’m here to help you understand those sometimes mysterious words and phrases, thus - Wine Words Demystified!  Since harvest is in full effect here in Northern California, I’ll be featuring harvest related terms the next several weeks!

This week’s word is Destemmer..

According to Karen MacNeil‘s The Wine Bible:

A machine that separates the stems from the grapes. When combined with a crusher, it is called a crusher-destemmer. juice that runs – freely – simply as the result of the weight  of the grapes, before any mechanical pressure is applied in a PRESS

Essentially, when grapes are placed in a destemmer, there are paddles that gently beat the grape making it jump off the stem. The stems are ejected from the machine. The used stems may be used for fertilizer in high pH soils.

With crusher-destemmer, the grapes are then dropped into a vessel where the crusher gently breaks the berry, but not the seed.

Here’s a cool video that shows a small scale crusher-destemmer in action:

A machine like the one above will set you back about $1,500.  A manual crusher-destemmer that operates via manual hand-cranking and can process up to 2,200 lbs of grapes an hour would set you back around $600.
The proper destemming and crushing of grapes is crucial to the winemaking process If the grapes are over-crushed the wine could end up excessively laced with bitter tannins because it will included crushed seeds which are very bitter.  The other potential downside of destemming and crushing grapes for making white wine is that the grapes can be bruised and exposed to oxygen, making oxidation (not a good thing) a risk.
On the other hand, some winemakers utilize whole cluster fermentation, whereby the whole grape cluster is fermented intact.  Whole cluster fermentation affects both aromatics and flavors in wine.

 

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