Monthly Archives: August 2012

What Are Those Shiny Crytals on the Cork?


Question from Steve: I opened a bottle of white wine and it had these shiny crystals, kind of like sugar on the cork. Is that wine okay?

Reply: Hi, Steve. Thanks for writing! Yup, it should be just fine.

A great thing about wine is that even if it’s spoiled it’s not harmful – unless you drink too much, of course! The worst thing that happens is you’re offended by the smell or taste, in which case you should take it back or dump it.

MAJOR DIGRESSION: Please don’t use bad wine for cooking. That weird flavor is what you’re adding to the dish, just like any other ingredient, and cooking it down will just concentrate the weird flavor.

So, what’s with the crystals? It’s really quite common to come across them, especially in white wine. They’re not sugar – they’re mainly composed of tartaric acid, which is a very strong acid, and the main acid found in white wine. As you see, they can also be suspended in the wine.  Continue reading

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When Will the 2012 Vintage be For Sale?



Question from Maureen: If it’s harvest time now, when will the wine be for sale? 

Reply: Hi, Maureen. Thanks for writing! The short answer is anywhere from this November through up to as many as five years from now, depending upon the style.

The thing is that making wine doesn’t take much time at all. Excluding some very small categories of wine, reds usually ferment dry within a week, or so, and whites may take up to a month.

So, it’s a matter of whether or not the wine needs to age. 

The fastest wine to hit the market is Beaujolais Nouveau. This is a light red wine that’s made from Gamay grapes in the Beaujolais region of France, in the southern part of Burgundy. They harvest the grapes in September and go into high gear getting it fermented, cleaned up and ready for bottling before the traditional release date of the third Thursday in November. That takes an incredible amount of organization, getting it out the door that fast.

Incidentally, the release date dovetails nicely with Thanksgiving. Because the wine isn’t heavy or tannic it’s quite versatile at the table. Plus, it’s fun to drink something that was fruit on the vine just weeks ago. Beaujolais Nouveau is also one of the few reds that tastes good chilled, so it’s great with summertime barbecue – if you can find it by then – they usually make just enough to sell out within a few months of release. 

Wineries that produce wine that doesn’t need to be aged (whites, rosés, popular price reds – most of the world’s wine, really) but aren’t under such pressure to get the wine to market will release their wine the following winter or spring, most likely, unless they have a warehouse full of the previous vintage.  

Fine reds, some high-end whites and dessert wines are the ones that usually need the most age. They spend months or even years in the barrel or cask, followed by some bottle age. Recently, I interviewed Maria Helm Sinskey and the current vintage of their Meritage-style blend was 2006. They hold it until they decide it’s ready for you. 

Leave it to the Europeans to have regulations on how long to age the wine. Chianti wine may be released on March 1st of the year following harvest. Chianti Classico (the heart of Chianti) must be aged at least seven months and Chianti Classico Riserva requires   minimum of 27 months. 

So, it seems that even the simplest question isn’t simple. But, I hope that helps! Cheers! 

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Today’s Wine Word: Crush Widow

 Have you ever heard of a crush widow? This time of year in wine country there are lots of them: 

Next time you’re in wine country for harvest, take a lonely crush widow to lunch! Cheers!

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Today’s Wine Word: Berry Sampling


Photo courtesy of Carosaurus on Flickr

In the last post we cleaned up our virtual vineyard by doing a “green harvest.” We culled out the slow to ripen clusters and berries from the rest of the crop. So, now we’re ready to begin berry-sampling, or “field sampling.”  

This is literally gathering a The vast majority of vineyards are only harvested once, so we need to gather representative samples from each section, or block, of the vineyard. We’ll crush the samples for analysis and tasting back home at our virtual winery so we know how far along we are and when we might harvest the section. 

So, we grab a zip-loc bag or a bucket and head out to the vineyard to start walking the rows. Walk and grab some berries, walk and grab, walk and grab… The main influences on maturation are light, heat and soil moisture and these things are variable in any block, no matter how small. So, first up, we visually approximate the percentage of the clusters that are shaded and gather accordingly. We take grapes from either side of the vine (morning vs. afternoon sun exposure). We make sure to grab some grapes from different parts of the vine – those near the center of the vine (the head) and those that are literally out on a limb. Do the stems look green (less ripe) or brown (ripe, but not brittle we hope)? We should also take grapes from different parts of the cluster – the top, bottom and middle and also from either side of the cluster. A vit professor will teach you to sample the vines by quadrants but when I’ve talked to winemakers and others, who do this annually, it becomes almost instinctive. 

Once we’ve got 100+ berries in the bag it’s time to head back to the winery to crush ’em up and check ’em. 

Most dark varieties look nearly black at maturity, so there’s one indicator. White varieties go from opaque green to luminous shades of green, yellow and even amber, depending upon the variety.

Take a look at the seeds. If they look green they’re not mature and will impart nasty, harsh green tannins to the wine (alcohol is like a solvent.) When they’re mature they’re brown and crunch up in your mouth like grape-nuts cereal. 

Taste the juice. Vegetal character means less ripe, fruity flavors, more ripe. Dried fruit flavor: oops!

Then we use the refractometer to check the sugar, we titrate to measure acidity and use a pH meter for the pH. Flavor trumps all in  fine-wine production. Cheers!

Soon: Why sugar, acid and pH matter. 

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Today’s Wine Word: Green Harvest


I remember a story about Gil Nickel, the owner of Far Niente winery (sadly, now deceased) walking the vineyard with his vineyard manager, commenting “Pardon me while I step over my profits.”

There are all kinds of reasons to thin out clusters: For the sake of flavor intensity, to assure the grapes will get sweet enough or to prevent crowding… That’s why you see dried clusters on the ground along with the fresh ones that were just thinned. 
But the green harvest is thinning that’s focused on uniformity of ripening. The clusters don’t all ripen at precisely the same rate, so as veraison, the color change, progresses it’s important to get into the vineyard a few times to see if there are clusters lagging behind – not coloring up the way they should – and thin them out. Sometimes the clusters have small “wings” jutting out at the top and they may not ripen as quickly as the main part of the cluster. So, off they come. Continue reading

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Napa Valley Harvest has Begun!

And so it begins! Actually, it began last Friday with sparkling wine grapes taking the lead, as usual. Here’s more info: 

Have you ever visited wine country during harvest? There’s nothing like it – you can see, smell and taste things that just don’t exist the rest of the year.

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Five Key Wine Components and How to Detect Them


I’m very excited because I’ve just had this article published on Snooth – the world’s largest online wine destination!

If you haven’t checked out Snooth before, you really should. They’ve got tons of great wine education, plus ratings, plus a very active forum and more. I’ve been following since they got started in 2007 and it just gets better and better. Cheers!

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