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New World Wine Maker Blog - wine

Beaujolais, Freed From Clichés

Article by Eric Asimov of The New York Times

Wine School, a monthly column, invites you to drink wine with Eric Asimov. In each installment, Mr. Asimov chooses a type of wine for you to try at home. After a month, Mr. Asimov posts his reaction to the wine and addresses readers’ thoughts and questions.  This assignment was Beaujolais; Mr. Asimov shares his thoughts on this wine below.

Because wine can seem so arcane, and because it offers an experience that can be difficult to articulate, it becomes easy to fall back on conventional wisdom.

“What is that odd whiff in the glass of older riesling we’ve just poured?” you may wonder. Chances are, somebody will respond, “Petrol,” a dead giveaway that the assessment came from some secondhand description of the wine. (Most Americans wouldn’t use a British term like “petrol,” unless they were repeating something they had read or heard.)

And so it is with Beaujolais, the subject of this installment of Wine School. It’s a wine trapped too often by clichés, confined by expectations, held back by a checkered past that leaves many hesitant to embrace all that the best bottles have to offer.

The purpose of Wine School is to shed those expectations that can shape our responses and limit the growth of confidence and ease. Together each month we will explore a particular type of wine. The idea is to drink, not taste, with curiosity and attention, then to share thoughts and insights. The hope is that in time this sort of considered wine drinking will lead to an understanding of what you like, what you don’t like and why, and that it will encourage all of us to sharpen our observations and re-examine our assumptions.

Few wines require such a re-examination more than Beaujolais. Here is an example of why:

“The beauty of Beaujolais for me has always been its simplicity and its price point,” said one reader, Al Jiwa of Toronto. “These days, however, the price point is so much higher than it used to be while its quality, as enjoyable as it may be, is straightforward, offering very little complexity not to mention offering no ageability.”


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2014 Bloom Progress

May 15th and we are at the end of a string of near-100° days — a pattern that has set in for the time being here in the North Bay: 3-4 hot days followed by 3-4 cooler, “normal” days. The picture above illustrates the start of bloom in the Syrah at our Estate vineyard. I also noticed a few flowers in the Roussanne and the Cabernet. No flowers yet in the Tannat, while the Mourvèdre and the Counoise look to be weeks away yet.

All the cane-pruned blocks of Pinot are in full bloom, though I don’t see any set and beginning of berry sizing in any of them. I speculate that the heat is holding back development a little. About half of the clusters in the cordon-pruned Pinot are in flower, compared to none five days ago. The big surprise for me was to see that about half of the clusters in the Grenache are flowering:

As my daughter would say, comically and with a full understanding of how silly it sounds when others say it (thankfully!) “that’s totes cray-cray!

John Kelly is the owner and winemaker of Westwood Wines, Sonoma California. This blog was originally published on his blog: “notes from the winemaker” .

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Consumer Perceptions of Sulfites in Wine: How this Perception Influences Purchase Decisions


For many years Sulfur dioxide has been used as an antioxidant and antimicrobial agent in wine. Interestingly enough there is only about 1% of the population that has a true allergy to sulfites despite the wide-spread perception that sulfites cause negative health effects in a large number of people. Science has yet to prove a connection between sulfites and headaches even though some consumers insist their headaches or migraines are a result of drinking red wine.

 This exaggerated misconception has led some wineries to produce and market “low-sulfite” wines, which are essentially wines with little to no extra sulfites added. Organic winemaking is known for producing these types of wine, as added sulfites is not allowed in the production of organic wine.

Recently published articles argue that if consumers are truly concerned over sulfites in wine, then how much would they value a low-sulfite wine, and how many of them would consider this quality important in their purchasing decision process? The researchers have consequently created surveys as well as performed “best-worst” experiments in order to determine consumer preferences and attitudes toward sulfites in wine; their willingness-to-pay for low or no-sulfite wines; and to identify a particular group of which low-sulfite wines could be successfully marketed.


Participants were recruited via an email subscriber list at a wine and spirits retailer in northern Colorado. These surveys were completed over a couple of weeks in March 2012, with a total of 223 participants completing the surveys.

It was noted that the participants in this study do not represent the national average, as they tended to have higher incomes and higher education than the average American.

97% of the participants claimed to have purchased at least one bottle of wine during a typical month, while 32% of the participants claimed to have purchased between 4 and 6 bottles every month.

These surveys asked questions about demographics and alcohol purchasing habits. The participants were also asked if they have ever experienced a headache after drinking moderate amounts of certain types of wine. If participants answered yes to this question, they were then presented with further questions aimed at determining what they thought were the cause their headaches.

The participants were then given information with respect to the role of sulfites in wine, as well as the current state of knowledge on the role of sulfites in human health issues. The information stressed than only 1% of consumers actually have a true sulfite allergy, and that there is no scientific evidence to suggest that sulfites cause headaches in more individuals than that.

For the select experiments, the researchers looked at 4 different quality levels, a “no-sulfites” wine label versus an “organic” wine label, and 4 different price levels. Quality levels were determined by scores from the Wine Spectator. Prices of wine were listed anywhere within $1.50 of three different “base prices”; $10.49, $20.49, or $30.49. Each consumer was randomly assigned to either a Chardonnay or a Cabernet Sauvignon.

Basically each participant experienced different price levels, quality, and no-sulfite/organic labeling, while the price range and the type of wine varied across participants and not within a single participant.

Participants were given 12 choice tests with 3 wines each and were asked to select their “most preferred” and “least preferred” in each set. Participants were allowed to select “would not purchase” if none of the options presented appealed to them.

After the preference selection, participants were then asked if they would actually purchase the wine they chose as “most preferred” …


This blog was published in The Academic Wino by Becca Yeamans on 9th September 2013


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A List of Details


I’ve often said “There are only two processes to winemaking. Flavours are created in the vineyard and extracted in the winery. The rest is only details”.

Every time someone speaks of a great new winemaking process such as cold maceration or délestage, it’s time to ask yourself “Is this consistent with the style of wine I want to make?” Will this improve my process or handicap it? Will this create a greater risk of something going wrong? Break the process down into its individual elements and consider the effect of each element on flavour development. For example, a prefermentation cold soak selectively extracts water soluble compounds whereas extended post fermentation contact selectively extracts alcohol soluble components. The influence of aeration is affected by the stage at which it occurs. An early aeration can oxidize tannins and diminish their solubility whereas later stage aeration will diminish tannin astringency but may contribute to bitterness.

In some ways there is less flexibility during white grape extraction, so winemaking is more affected by grape flavours. If you wish to suppress flavour extraction, for example when working with over ripe grapes whose cellular structure has begun to break down, then you may resort to a whole cluster press. This occurs when making the typical big alcoholic Chardonnays that are left to hang until the berry begins to become flaccid. If the typical destemming were used, then tannin extraction would be a problem. This style of winemaking typically occurs at an elevated pH and runs the risk of developing bitterness in the presence of higher tannin extraction. Whole cluster pressing is also used when making a sparkling cuvée. The first, gentle press will have very little tannin extraction and is considered to be the premium part of the cuvée. Each subsequent pressing will have higher tannin content and should be kept separate, and perhaps treated with isinglass or gelatin to precipitate the tannins.

 When working with aromatic grape varieties the strategy is completely different. In this case the objective is usually to maximize flavour extraction. There is a hierarchy of aggressiveness that can be used. The most common technique is to simply run the berries through a destemmer and then press. The aggressiveness of pressing and the thoroughness of crushed berries affect the level of extraction. Flavour extraction is also affected by berry pH and sulfite. A more aggressive extraction can be carried out by using cold maceration prior to pressing. A convenient timing for cold maceration is to destem and crush in the afternoon and press the next morning. Again, the amount of air contact and presence of sulfite affect flavour. If tannin extraction is expected to be a problem, then a small amount of gelatin or isinglass can be dispensed into the crushed berries after destemming. An even more aggressive extraction of white berries can be made by adding pectinase during maceration. In this case it is highly recommended that gelatine or isinglass be added during the maceration. Tannins will tie up pectinase and inactivate it.

With aromatic varieties much of the aroma is often present as non volatile terpenes. These compounds can only be detected by the nose after they are converted to the volatile form. Many yeast contain a beta glucosidase that can carry out this reaction, but if you’re wanting more aroma, you can buy the pure enzyme preparation from suppliers.

The way in which you extract berries can also affect the stability of the resultant wine and its eventual sulfite requirement. Pre fermentation oxygen contact causes browning, especially noticeable in white wines. This results in wine that has a lower bound sulfite and is more heat stable without treatment. The down side is that you may also diminish varietal character if your oxidation is too aggressive.

I haven’t touched on the ways in which a vineyard can be manipulated to develop flavours nor have I suggested ways of blending different varieties. I’ve heard it said that if an identical batch of grapes were split among a dozen winemakers, they would still produce a dozen different wines. Even winemakers with the same training eventually develop a preferred pattern that results in recognizable differences. The potential process variations are essentially infinite. Every time the winemaker touches the process he leaves his fingerprint.

 Gary Strachan is an expert consultant and planner for the grape and wine industry. He can be reached at

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Lovely whites from Santorini and why Minerality is like “I’m Good”


The New Yorker ran an amusing online parody of a usage guide for “I’m good” – something I’d have expected to see on McSweeney’s more than in the New Yorker – demonstrating how “I’m good” can be used to mean darn well anything you please. “Minerality” might be much the same, though whether everyone has a different but individually consistent definition of minerality, or whether we all tend to use it to describe a whole host of different generally desirable perceptions is still up in the air.

I was recently sent two expressions of Santorini Assyrtiko and a sweet Vinsanto. Two were perfectly delightful, and none were boring. The two dry whites shared a common freshness despite being made in very different styles. The Thalassitis 2011 Santorini dry white blend was very aromatic, light on its feet, bright with acidity and citrus-pear flavors, and with plenty of what I intuitively call minerality. The 2009 Nikteri Nyxtepi from Hatzidakis was badly over-oaked with too much butter and heat for my taste (not surprising at 15% etOH) and little more than oak on the nose, but still managed enough mid-palate salty herbal notes to keep it drinkable. I didn’t realize until after doing a bit more reading that my using “minerality” to describe the first wine and “salty” to describe the second was telling. Am I thinking of minerality as a set of flavors of which salty is one? Or am I drawing a clear distinction between minerality and saltiness? I’m not sure that I’m prepared to answer that question with any conviction.

The Vinsanto was exquisite – not a word I apply lightly to wine – with a different character than other similarly-syrupy dessert wines I’ve had: resinous, in a pleasant way, and without being bitter; raisiny, but without being cloying; oddly sippable for something so sweet. My response to this and the Thalassitis was to curse the combined effects of living in a small town and on a small budget, since I’m unlikely to get any more of these delights any time soon. A shame.

A lot has been written about minerality of late, mostly to the tune of “everything we’ve been led to think is true about minerality is wrong.” Clark Smith probably said it best way back in 2010 – “No topic has wrought more confusion and ruffled more feathers among dedicated enophiles than the incessant bandying about of the lofty sounding “M” word.” – but the debate continues because while some, like Smith, take minerality as a given, others are still concerned by what seems a nebulously ill-defined area of wine description. What to do when wine enthusiasts can’t agree? More research, obviously.

“Expert” wine tasters (winemakers, researchers, and teachers) recruited by a recent French study tended to characterize minerality as something perceived by both nose and palate, though with no great consensus: about 20% defined minerality as strictly an aroma characteristic and about 20% as strictly an in-the-mouth sensation. The same experts, when asked to define wine minerality, called on a bewildering array of aromas, flavors, and textural sensations from “algae” and “honey” to “tension,” “flavorless,” “dynamic,” and “optimal terroir.” Some associated minerality with saltiness, some with bitterness, some with acidity, some with lack of aroma, some with gunflint aromas…the list goes on.

I don’t feel comfortable taking these findings too far – ideas about minerality could be and probably are very different amongst, say, Oregon winemakers or Chinese sommeliers compared with these French experts specifically acclimated to Burgundy – but I think that it’s still fair to put this study in the pile of evidence weighing against a clear-cut definition of minerality. Asking whether minerality is well-defined is a very different question than asking whether it exists, and there are some cross-language and cross-culture issues to be examined here. Still, defining what we mean by minerality is an obvious and key step toward answering the much more interesting question of where minerality comes from. After all, without defining her starting terms, how’s a scientist to proceed?

And here I’m forced to return to my initial thoughts about minerality being like “I’m good.” How’s a scientist to proceed? Maybe by acting like a linguist, listing all of the different situations in which “minerality” is found, and focusing our search for meaning on context instead of the word itself. But I’m still not convinced that that strategy will help us figure out what viticultural or enological practices contribute to “minerality” in any of its forms.

**Samples courtesy of the North American Greek Wine Bureau**


Erika Szymanski is an independent contributor to this blog. She is in no way affiliated with the sponsoring company. This blog was originally posted on her blog: The Wine-o-Scope.

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The Trouble with Blind Tasting


If you’re an American in the wine industry and are within my age range (mid-twenties to early thirties, not to put too fine a point on it), you have, or are somewhere on the path toward, a Master Sommelier diploma. That is barely an exaggeration. (Some folks pursue a Wine & Spirits Education Trust diploma, or go on to a Master of Wine, instead.) For a generation that purports to care little about what the so-called experts have to say about wine, it seems we all want to become one anyway.

“It definitely helps to have it on the résumé when it comes to scoring a great job in the wine world,” said Dustin Wilson, wine director at Wine Spectator Grand Award–winning Eleven Madison Park and MS class of ’11. “It’s a title that earns you some automatic respect.”

The numbers speak for themselves: 63 and 70 people have sat for each Master Sommelier exam this year, compared to 38 and 37 in the two 2009/2010 sessions. (Some people were returning; you can repeat a failed segment of the test twice more, then you have to retake the whole thing.) In 2012, a total of 95 people took the Advanced Sommelier test for the degree a step below, with 39 more this past April. Of the 133 total North American Master Sommeliers, 71 have earned their letters since 2005, and the first test was held stateside in 1987.

By most accounts of people in the program, the series of seminars and degrees leading up to one’s MS is a fantastic immersion in wine knowledge. At $2,870 for the four course levels required to get your MS—and thousands more often spent on tasting practice—it’s also a pricey test to fail, and around 90 percent do in the final stage of each session (this month’s sitting of 70 hopefuls only minted one new MS). There are three segments, two of them perfectly unobjectionable. Deep knowledge of wine and spirits, along with grace under fire on the restaurant floor, should absolutely be required of, well, ideally any sommelier, but certainly one who claims mastery.

But here’s the rub: You also have to blind-taste six wines in 25 minutes and “identify grape varieties, country of origin, district and appellation of origin, and vintages of the wines tasted” at a minimum of 75 percent accuracy. Even if you’re a wine ace, you’ve played this game and lost, perhaps embarrassingly. So as you might expect, the tasting sinks plenty of sad somms. The new film Somm includes scenes when the four documentary subjects/MS candidates (Wilson is one) guess off by a mile, both in their thousands of practice hours and on the big day.

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Mixed case: opinion and advicewith Ben O’Donnell of the Wine Spectator

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