Category Archives: Wine Education

Apr 04 2015

Do you have rocks in your head if you perceive minerality in wine?

Posted on April 04, 2015 | By merrill@cellarit.com

If you read a lot of wine tasting notes, you’ve probably come across the wine descriptors ‘minerally’ or “minerality’. While no strict definition of minerality or minerally exist, generally reviewers use them interchangeably to describe flavours or aromas that remind them of wet stones, slate, flint, or the taste of the crunchy sea salt or oysters.

Typically minerally wines come from grapes grown in limestone, schist and granite soils in cooler climates. They have a marked acidity and are not overly fruity.

Minerality is a fairly recent wine descriptor

You may be surprised to learn that the use of these descriptors is fairly recent. Steven Spurrier, the respected British wine writer, told wine critic Jamie Goode that minerality “didn’t exist as a wine descriptor until the mid 1980s: “I think because most French vineyards were overproducing, chaptalizing, and doing all those things – which means that minerality, which comes from the soil and nothing else, was not looked for and not present.” (Wine Science: Minerality in Wine by Jamie Goode, The Somm Journal, 12 October 2015)

Cayuse VineyardsDoes minerality come from the rocks in the soil?

But whether perceived minerality in wine does indeed come from the soil is a hotly debated subject. As the Wine Spectator’s Harvey Steiman recently explained, “Scientists have demonstrated that these flavours can’t come directly from the rocks in a vineyard. There’s no mechanism for the elements to get through the plant from the soil to the grapes, but vineyards with lots of rocks often produce wines in which we find minerality when we taste them blind.” (What is Minerality, Exactly? by Harvey Steiman, Wine Spectator, 1 April 3015)

Like Steiman, Goode questions the scientific findings, noting that many vignerons believe that minerality in wine is the result of mineral ions in the soil, … Read the rest

Jul 07 2012

5 Reasons to Collect Wine: Collectors Share their Opinions

Posted on July 07, 2012 | By merrill@cellarit.com

Have you ever scanned a restaurant wine list and noticed that a bottle you have in your cellar is on the list for two or three times what you paid for it?

Many collectors I know love BYO restaurants for this very reason. They can share a special bottle with friends over a wonderful meal without breaking the bank.

Here’s a few other reasons why, for some at least, building a bit of a wine collection is a lot of fun!

1. Well Made Wines are Designed to be Aged

I had the privilege recently of enjoying a bottle of Penfolds Grange 1975 and a bottle of Lindemans Limestone Ridge Shiraz Cabernet 1991. In my mind, nothing quite compares with the bouquet and taste of aged wines when imbibed at or close to their peak. In both of these wines the tannins had completely lost their original bitter sensation and were seamlessly integrated into wines that still displayed some primary fruit characteristics and had lots of body, depth and texture.

Bill Daley, former wine critic of the Chicago Tribune, said that “watching and tasting a wine go through its life cycle is one of the joys of wine collecting.” He recommends making notes as you taste the wine during its different stages of development. (How to Collect Wine by Bill Daley, Chicago Tribune, 29 September 2010)

2. Collecting Wine can Encourage Self Exploration 

Making a decision to start a cellar often stirs people into being more proactive about educating themselves about wine. Campbell Mattinson says that “cellaring wine can be a kind of self exploration.”

Many collectors report that over the years, as they experiment with new wines, their tastes change, and their wine collections move in new and often unexpected directions. A willingness to try new things … Read the rest

Jul 07 2012

Decoding the Language of Wine: A Few Terms Explained!

Posted on July 07, 2012 | By merrill@cellarit.com

In my previous post, The 20 Wines with a Perfect 100 Point Robert Parker Score, I suggested that wine scores were useful because, as the Decanter wine critic Andrew Jefford explained, “the language of wine is, of necessity, highly metaphorical and hence puzzling: these are not plain words.”

So going forward, I thought every week I’d have a look at the meaning of key words that are used to describe wine, so both you and I have a better idea of what the critics are talking about when we see words like ‘bouquet’, ‘body’ or ‘big wine’ bandied about!

Aroma or Bouquet

I’m guessing you’ll look pretty smart if you can tell your friends you know the difference between ‘aroma’ and ‘bouquet’ –  key words used in discussions about the ‘nose’ or smell of wine!

Not surprisingly, aroma and bouquet are often used interchangeably, but according to the Wall Street Journal’s wine critic Lettie Teague, only a young wine has an aroma – that is, scents of primary fruit and oak. In contrast, a bouquet is a smell that develops over time as the wine ages. During this period a wine will develop secondary aromas such as truffles, mushrooms and earth, for example. (Educating Peter: How Anybody Can Become an (Almost) Instant Wine Expert by Lettie Teague, New York: Scribner 2007)

Interestingly, according to the Oxford Companion to Wine, Australia has its own take on when and how to use ‘aroma’ to describe how a wine smells. Australian wine critics use the word to refer specifically to varietal characteristics rather than those associated with wine-making! In other words, aroma refers to the fresh and fruity smells that are reminiscent of the grapes used to make the wine.

Body

The Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia describes ‘body’ as “the impression of … Read the rest

Jun 06 2012

Yes, that’s really ‘black pepper’ in Aussie shiraz!

Posted on June 06, 2012 | By merrill@cellarit.com

When I was researching Wednesday’s blog on the BVE E & E Black Pepper Shiraz, I came across some really interesting research about the reason for that prized peppery aroma in some of Australia’s best shiraz.

Not too long ago the Australian Wine Research Institute (AWRI) made a break-through discovery. They identified the compound responsible for the peppery character in Australian shiraz, and it turns out to be the same molecule found in much larger concentrations in black peppercorns themselves.

The compound is called rotundone and it has been identified in minute quantities in the grapes used to make the wine. Lots of herbs and vegetables also contain rotundone, but it’s not easy to identify because it’s so potent that even the tiniest concentration can create a peppery aroma. Fortunately, because the compound is relatively stable, it doesn’t fade away as the wine ages.

Scientists are still trying to figure out what causes the grapes to naturally produce the peppery character. They believe climate plays a role, because the peppery aroma is more common in cool-climate shiraz wines.

Don’t worry about winemakers using rotundone as an additive. AWRI holds the patent for the compound, and it is only interested in helping wineries discover different ways to moderate the peppery character in their grapes. Studies are looking at pruning methods, soil types and trellising systems, for example, to see if they can influence the concentration of the compound.

Interestingly, the AWRI’s research also noted that about 20 percent of their sensory panelists couldn’t detect rotundone even at the highest concentrations tested. Apparently, almost everyone can detect and distinguish over 1,000 smells, but our sensitivity to different aromas can vary quite a lot. The observation certainly helps to explain why somes wines can spark quite divergent assessments even among the most … Read the rest

Jun 06 2012

Don’t Overlook the ‘Wow Factor’ and Value of Magnums!

Posted on June 06, 2012 | By merrill@cellarit.com

Here’s a few interesting facts about magnum size bottles of wines:

1. They are perfect for dinner parties. They contain about 12 glasses of wine and come with that wow factor, as in, ‘you must really know your wine to have the confidence to splash out on a magnum’, or ‘you obviously have enough room in your cellar to accommodate magnum size bottles or, better still, you obviously store your wine in a professional wine storage facility!’ (Yes, I know, a shameless plug!)

2. Experts agree that they are the best format for ageing wines. This has do with the fact that the proportion of wine to air in a magnum is greater than in a regular 750 ml bottle and consequently the wine develops more slowly. Jamie Goode of the Wine Anorak goes so far as to say: “From many discussions with collectors and experts, I’m convinced that the optimal ageing trajectory for top wines is achieved with a combination of a sound cork, a magnum bottle, and horizontal storage at a constant 11 ºC at high humidity. The wineanorak guide to storing wine at home, wineanorak.com)

3. Typically, wine producers only bottle their top drops in magnums, and are inclined to give the bottling another level of oomph by going all out in terms of presentation. Today, for example, I received an email from Clonakilla. They have just released magnums of their flagship Clonakilla Shiraz Viognier 2010.  Each magnum comes packed in a pine box imprinted with the Clonakilla logo and vintage year!

I’ve often wondered why magnums aren’t more popular. The Wall Street Journal’s Lettie Teague pondered this question in a wonderfully titled article, Magnum Force: Big Bottles for Big Bashes. Here’s a few of her interesting insights:

 

  • Women, in general, don’t buy
Read the rest
Sep 09 2011

Wolf Blass: The man behind the famous label

Posted on September 09, 2011 | By merrill@cellarit.com

I recently had the good fortune to attend a cocktail party at a beautiful harbourside Sydney mansion for the launch of the current release of the Wolf Blass luxury collection: the Gold, Grey, Black and Platinum labels.

The line-up of wines was excellent with the sublime Platinum Label Shiraz 2008 Grange-like in the complexity and depth of its bouquet. But the real highlight of the evening was the chance to listen to the entertaining musings of the very dapper 77 old Wolf Blass, who is still a roving international ambassador for the brand.

I went home with a copy of Wolf Blass’ biography, Wolf Blass: Behind the Bow Tie, by Liz Johnston. The book proved a fascinating read. Apart from providing a very entertaining history of a German immigrant generally regarded as “larger than life,” the book offered some very interesting insights into the Australian wine industry and Blass’ very important contribution to its development.

Blass’ business success is legendary. His winery, which began in a Barossa Valley tin shed in 1973, became Australia’s number one wine brand by value and volume in 2003. Today it one the jewels in the Treasury Estate (formerly Foster’s) portfolio with production in excess of 70 million bottles a year.

And by any standard, Blass is also one of Australia’s greatest marketers. The ingenious colour coding of the Wolf Blass range, for example, still sets the brand apart for the ease with which it guides consumer access to high quality products as various price points. Johnston describes Blass’ very German penchant for discipline and order, and indeed the clever branding of his wines reminds me of Mercedes Benz with its A to S Class series.

In a country famous for shooting down its tall poppies, Blass fearlessly embraced self-promotion, proudly wearing the “Australia … Read the rest

Aug 08 2011

The Pros and Cons of Decanting Wine

Posted on August 08, 2011 | By merrill@cellarit.com

I recently discussed the growing trend of decanting Champagne – even the vintage, expensive stuff! (see The Benefits of Decanting Champagne! Cellarit Blog, 24 August 2011). And as a regular reader of The Wine Front reviews by Campbell Mattinson and Gary Walsh, I’ve noticed that they often come back to a wine a day or two after first opening it. In Mattinson’s review of the Moss Wood Ribbon Vale Cabernet Merlot 2004, for example, he commented that: “The longer it sat in the glass, the juicier and lengthier it became – and it drank better on day two.” (Wine of the Week: Moss Wood Ribbon Vale Cabernet Merlot 2004, Cellarit Blog, 25 August 2011).

Hard to believe then that the jury is still out on the value of decanting wine!

In fact, oenologist and Burgundy specialist Professor Emil Peynaud is completely against the idea. He argues that prolonged exposure to oxygen actually diffuses and dissipates more aroma compounds than it stimulates. Better just to pour the wine from the bottle directly into a wine glass and swirl before drinking. (The Australian Wine Encyclopedia by James Halliday, 2009: Hardie Grant Books)

In the days before wine was bottled without filtering or fining, decanting was useful because it helped to separate the clear wine from the sediment at the bottom of the bottle. Today, sedimentation can still be an issue for older bottles, but if the wine is very fragile too much exposure to oxygen may cause it to fall apart.

Decanting can soften the tannins in young tannic wines like cabernet sauvigon and shiraz, but how it actually does this is also a matter for debate! Oxidation may just alter the perception of sulfites or other compounds in the wine, making the tannins seem softer.

In any event, serving … Read the rest

Aug 08 2011

The Benefits of Decanting Champagne!

Posted on August 08, 2011 | By merrill@cellarit.com

Decant Champagne? Yes, it’s becoming popular!

According to Tom Stevenson, the Decanter World Wine Awards Regional Chair for Champagne, Parisian sommeliers  first started decanting demi-sec Champagne in order to enhance its sweetness by reducing the tactile impression of effervescence. Now the practice has spread across the globe and includes almost every type, style and age of Champagne! (Ask Decanter, Decanter September 2011).

Decanting can help tame the most aggressive fizz and soften the mousse of young, non-vintage Champagne. Aerating the wine also helps to release subtle aromas not always apparent in the first glass when the Champagne is directly poured from the bottle. Interestingly, renowned Champagne house Charles Heidsieck also advocates serving Champagne in white wine glasses instead of the more traditional slender flutes, as the wider surface area of the white wine glass enhances the aromatics. (Charles Heidsieck wants to burst your bubble – decanting Champagne, Dr Vino, 23 October 2009).

Typically the prized fine beading and soft mousse of fine Champagne are the result of extended times on lees and post-disgorgement ageing in the bottle – a practice normally reserved for only the best vintage Champagnes.

But according to Stevenson, even vintage Champagnes can be improved by decanting. He offers the following fun, if expensive, experiment:

Buy Dom Pérignon off the shelf and try it side-side with a bottle of the same vintage bought one or two years earlier and you will see that advantage that time brings in softening the mousse. Decant another bottle bought off the self and the result is somewhat between the two.

A couple of years ago, Riedel, in association with Charles Heidsieck, released a decanter specifically designed for decanting Champagne. Shaped like a lyre, it aerates the wine to release the aromas but preserves the bubbles. Ideally the Champagne … Read the rest