Advice from the wise: Older wines? ‘Grip ’em and rip ’em’

February 21, 2018 Comments off
Bonotto 1959

Holding on to wines in hopes they improve with age is a gamble. Pictured are 1959 Raboso from Antonio Bonotto in Tezze delle Piave, Italy. Photos and story by Dave Buchanan.

I recently posted about the joys of finding and drinking older wines. In this particular case, it was regarding a wine from 2006, which really isn’t old as far as wines goes but as I pointed out,  the wine was totally unexpected to be as delightful as it was after 11 years under my benign care.

The point I was trying to make is that older wines can offer insights into a winemaker’s thoughts during the original production. And, more key to the post, that you might come across an older wine, forgotten in a rack or in the case, and find yourself learning first-hand how a wine ages and the benefits a few years of patience can offer.

Curiously, a few days later, writer Michael Franz said in a post at Wine Review Online that holding a wine too long for wine can be a mistake. I’ve known (or better, known of) Franz since a trip to Italy in 2007 and have always enjoyed and appreciated his insights about wine and all the circus fuss that often accompanies it.

In this case, Franz makes several keys points. One, “there’s no way to know whether you’ll be catching the wine at the optimal point of maturity until you’ve pulled the cork”; and two, “And if it seems like you’ve waited too long, there’s no undoing the damage of an overly delayed opening.”

A sort of vinous “buyer’s regret,” I suppose. You buy a wine you think might be better in a few years and then you forget you have the wine or you spend years mentally relishing how nice the wine will have aged, only to find once it’s opened you missed the window of opportunity.

So what does Franz (the editor of WRO and a highly respected wine judge and critic)) recommend?

“After years of wrestling with the issue, I now find it quite easy to advise (owners of older wines), and I invariably advise them to get over their reverence and just drink the damned things,” he says succinctly.

In the case of the 2006 wine (a Grand Mesa blend of Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot from Plum Creek Winery), I wasn’t being patient so much as forgetful. I simply forgot I had the wine. And, yes, I got very lucky to find winemaker Jenne Baldwin-Eton intentionally made this vintage to be shelved and opened years after bottling.

“For me, reserve status is carried all the way through fermentation,” Jenne recently emailed in response to my query. “Reserve wines were made with the idea that they needed to age in the bottle, so I was looking for different aspects through the fermentation process.

“Those that appreciate or recognize this evolution of the wine are the ones that buy cases of it to cellar and look forward to opening bottles with more bottle-aging time,” she wrote.

But, a Franz points out, maybe you should just drink that wine instead of forcing it to be something it might never be. Too many times you simply wait too long for something that isn’t going to happen. And, after all, you have an entire world of wine from which to choose for the next bottle.

“… a truly revolutionary diffusion of technology and expertise over the course of the past generation has now transferred potential excellence so widely across the globe that there’s no such thing as a bad year,” Franz states.

So the next time you pull out a surprise from that dusty box hidden behind the skis and the long-forgotten VCR, remember what Michael Franz suggests: “… grip ’em and rip ’em (because) even the luckiest person isn’t guaranteed another day, and you can’t drink your treasured wine tomorrow if you get hit by a bus today.”

 

 

 

 

Late bloomers: Wines that share their secrets only when they are ready

February 14, 2018 Comments off
Old wines on racks

You can’t judge wine by its bottle. Proper storage, which doesn’t always include regular cleaning, is one key factor in making sure a wine will improve with age. Here, a cellar in Spain shows its age and its promise. Story and photos by Dave Buchanan

What is it about older wines that attracts us, like moths to a flame?

Maybe it’s akin to the daring of an older lover, or the mystique of yet-to-be-revealed secrets, or simply the call of the unknown and unexpected.

Opening a bottle of wine older than, say, five years, which really doesn’t make it old except under today’s standards of winemaking, shouldn’t be such a risk.

There are many people tonight who are opening wines bottled before they were born and, sure, some bottles won’t pan out.

But that’s OK, because the people seeking older wines have learned that wine can improve with age and with that the need to hold the reins on one’s expectations.

Today’s wines rarely are aimed at being around for 15 years or more. It’s certainly not true in all cases but many wines – luscious fruit bombs with soft tannins and little acidity –  are made to be consumed while young, aged no longer than the drive home from the liquor store.

This is due to several reasons, not the least of which are today’s consumer wants fruity, easy drinking wines to please a sweeter palates and to ease the trials of waiting a decade to drink a wine they might not like anyway.

But once in a while, even while searching for a “tonight” wine, you come across a vintage that dares to ask – Drink me now or wait for me?

Patience, grasshopper.

If you purchase and open a recent bottling of a good Bordeaux, Burgundy, Barolo or any of several other varieties, you’ll likely find it a bit stringent, short on fruit and long on tannins and acidity.

Come back in 10 years (or more) and it’s mellowed, with intense fruit, rounder tannins and a depth unlike anything you’ve ever tasted. These wines, and wines like them – subtle, nuanced, complex – were made to age, unready to share their secrets until time was on their side.

Recently, the Grand Valley received some welcome publicity from a national wine magazine. The article touched on the many wonderful attributes the Grand Valley offers to visitors (and locals) and mentioned the local Grand Valley AVA (American Viticultural Area), unfortunately overlooking the nearby West Elks AVA along the North Fork Valley.

But some of us reading the article had the same feeling we get when someone asks us, “You mean they actually grow grapes in Colorado?” Read more…

What’s in the Glass – #4-2018

February 2, 2018 Comments off
TomGore-Wines-Lead

Tome Gore sums up his winemaking philosophy quite simply: Letting the character of the fruit shine through his well-balanced wines. Photo courtesy Tom Gore Vineyards. 

A popular bumper sticker in my farm-to-table part of the country reads “Know farmers, know food.”

Take that a step farther and Tom Gore might say, “Know farmers, know wine.”

Gore prides himself on being a second-generation grape farmer in Sonoma County who several years decided to meld his love of farming with a vision of true-to-nature wines and began his self-named line of affordable, well-balanced wines.

His website recounts his farming and winemaking philosophy: “Great wines start with the work of a farmer” and Gore describes his lineup as “farm to glass” wines.

Here are the latest samples I’ve enjoyed:

Tom Gore 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon – $13. Aromas of dark cherries, currants and a hint of leather greet your nose while the mouth is filled lots of dark red fruits, dried red plums, sour cherries and black currants.

Soft tannins bolster the wine to a long finish of hints of faint cedar, dark chcolate and dried cherries and currants.

Tom Gore 2015 Chardonnay – $11. Fermented 60 percent in oak and 40 percent in barrel, this lively Chardonnay carries the best traits of both: a light oak styling brings depth to the fruit (a mix of yellow apple, pear and guava) while the stainless steel adds the right amount of tautness to balance the creamy underside of the oak.

What’s In The Glass – #2-2018

January 20, 2018 Comments off
bovin winery

The Bovin Winery in the Tikvesh region of Macedonia. Photo courtesy of Bovin Winery.

Another in our continuing (albeit irregular) contributions about new openings. All prices are averages seen online or in local wine shops:

Bovin 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon, $12 – The Bovin winery is in the Tikvesh wine district of Macedonia, properly the Republic of Macedonia which formed after the 1991 breakup of Yugoslavia.

Winemaking goes back at least 4,000 years in the region and recently Macedonia’s wine industry has been pushing to gain more recognition.

Bovin has the capacity to produce 1.5-million bottles per year, which means producing various levels of wine to reach both regular and high-end consumers. I enjoyed the former and am intrigued about the latter.

I sampled the 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon made of 100 percent Cabernet Sauvignon grown 80 percent on winery owned vines and the rest sourced from regional growers. Full-bodied wine with an herby/earthy nose, lots of dark fruit (currants, blackberries and cherries) and soft tannins.

There also is a line of barrique-aged wines and a line labeled Superior, including (among other varieties) a Cabernet Sauvignon Barrique and a Cabernet Sauvignon Superior. More info on the website.

Imagery Chardonnay 2016, $16 – This pleasing blend of California-grown Chardonnay (95 percent) and Chenin Blanc (5 percent) is from Imagery’s new California tier of wines. The wine offers hints of apple and lime and pear with just enough oak to add some body and mouthfeel. The Chenin Blanc added some fullness for a fine mid-winter white wine.

 

Time for a drink? Dry winter has grape growers watching the sky

January 15, 2018 Comments off
011718 FD wine art vines

This winter has been neither extremely cold nor extremely wet, and only the first pleases grape growers. Grape vines are being freeze-dried as they lose moisture during the winter months.

If you’ve taken a stroll across your lawn recently, you know how parched things are.

January normally is a dry month for Colorado but until this past week’s smatter of moisture this winter has been especially dry. Certainly not normal, even for the high desert, and home owners in western Colorado have been urged to water trees and landscaping to prevent future damage.

But what do you do when your “landscaping” involves acres of grape vines?

The Grand Valley is no stranger to dealing with cold damage to grape vines. Hard winters (including the devastating winter of 2002/03 and most-recently in 2014) are among the challenges facing grape growers.

But this year, with daytime temperatures still climbing into the high 30s to mid- 40s (at this writing it is 48 degrees in Grand Junction) with nary a lick of snow on the ground, brings a new set of challenges.

Grape vines store a sort of anti-freeze in the form of stored sugars from last year’s photosynthesis but deep cold still can damage or kill buds, trunks and canes.

Also, a long, dry winter can desiccate older plants and kill young ones.

“We’re basically freeze-drying the vine tissue,” explained Horst Caspari, state

011718 FD Wine dry vines 2

Except for the ground surface being dry, there’s nothing wrong with this vine a good snowstorm won’t fix.

viticulturist at Colorado State University’s Orchard Mesa Research Center. “Over the last three months we’ve had virtually no significant moisture, so it’s definitely a concern.”

While night-time temperatures aren’t far the long-term average, daytime temperature are averaging about 12 degrees above normal. Caspari said.

As any fruit grower can attest, winter damage often doesn’t show itself until spring, when warmer temperatures start the regrowth process.

“It concerns me, that’s for sure,” said grape grower Kaibab Sauvage, owner of Colorado Vineyard Specialists LLC in Palisade. “Vines can be damaged if they’re dry and they damage more easily at higher temperatures if they’re dry.”

A brochure from the University of California-Davis tells grape growers to maintain some ground moisture during dry winters in order to supply needed moisture for even bud break and flowering once vines break their winter dormancy.

Most vineyards in western Colorado get a heavy watering just prior to the irrigation canals being shut off, which usually is adequate for surviving the winter and getting a head-start for the following spring.

“We try to get the soil profile really full of water in the last week before we lose the (irrigation) water,” said Nancy Janes of Whitewater Hill Vineyards and Winery. “Around the last week of October, after we get things hardened off for the winter, we’ll blast it with water and hope it makes it pretty well through the year.”

The soil moisture also acts as insulation by filling the gaps that occur in dry soil.

“Most vines send their roots really deep, so they find water even when it’s not obvious,” Sauvage noted. “But young plants and shallow-rooted plants may be struggling right now.”

Snow also helps insulate the ground, particularly the upper few inches.

“Right now, at 6 inches down,  the soil isn’t frozen and it rarely does in our part of the state,” Caspari said. “In wet soil, water is a good insulator but when you’ve had a dry period the frost penetrates much deeper and roots get damaged much easier than do buds.”

“If there was no rain or snow in the forecast, I’d rush out and water today,” he said.

Grower Galen Wallace, who has weathered some 30 winters providing grapes to Colorado’s wine industry, recently said he will be more concerned if the present conditions continue into March.

“So far, I’m not too worried,” he said. “Now, if it stays dry like this and we get some cold weather early in March, even something that’s not unusual, say lower 20s or even in the teens, it could impact our crops.”

Nancy Janes shared that sentiment, saying the mild winter so far has been pretty worry free.

“Most of our challenges seem to come from cold temperatures,” she said. “We may another month of this and then by mid-February or later is when everything starts to change.”

The damage starts to show when the vines break dormancy, Wallace said. “Growers could see a reduction in vigor, so they have to be aware of what’s happening in their vineyards.”

He advised growers to begin irrigating as soon as water is available.

“If the canals are filled on Wednesday, growers should have water running on Friday,” he said. “What worries me more right now is the lack of snow and what it might mean for late-season water.”

Sauvage and other growers in the valley have very few options when it to getting water to his vines.

“We can only hope there are some storms heading our way,” he said.

 

The gift of learning to be a glass artist

December 24, 2017 Comments off
122417 Wine friends

When serious wine drinkers get together to taste wines, there are sure to be many glasses on the table. The range of styles and shapes are selected to match the selection of wines.

What is more ubiquitous this holiday season than countless electronic versions of your favorite Christmas carols? How about the equally untold recommendations for your “perfect” Christmas wine?

In case it’s of interest, a recent Google search for “selecting Christmas wines” yielded 9.03 million results in .61 seconds.

I found everything from wines deals to wine clubs to assurances I will pick my “holiday wines like a pro.”

A pro what? A pro wrestler?

As in, trust me, where can you go wrong? Maybe it’s best we don’t tell you all that you might find if you dare to look.

How about a set of “Ugly Christmas Sweater” wine bottle covers complete with Santa Hat bottle toppers, or a Wacky Legs Mrs. Claus bottle topper, or 12 ways to re-use wine bottles for Christmas decorations?

And who can resist the DYI handbook of making Christmas crafts (“beyond easy”) with used wine corks? Well, I can, for one.

There are some sensible gifts for Christmas. The first that comes to mind, given the crowd with which I occasionally tip a glass or two, is better wine glasses, or stemware, as they are known.

Riedel Veritas Champagne Wine Glass_White Fill

The new Riedel Champagne wine glass is shaped less like a traditional flute shape and designers say this allows the wine’s flavors and aromas to open.

“Better,” of course means you can run the gamut, from functional and affordable (Libbey, $20 for four) to super-premium and super-cool (Zalto and Riedel, from around $55 and up).

What’s the difference? Well, for your typical Christmas and Thanksgiving crowd (“I drink wine only on the holidays when it’s served at someone else’s house”), a set of basic (i.e., inexpensive) wine glasses/containers will do.

Millions of gallons of wine have been drunk from all sorts of containers and the only negative might be a hangover or two.

A friend is adamant about drinking her wine from a jelly jar (this is reflective of her choices of wine) and hasn’t yet succumbed to any mysterious diseases. She also doesn’t hold much for the disingenuous “swirl, sniff, sip” canard that sometimes overwhelms the very reason the bottle was opened.

But improving your wine glass can make a difference if your interest in wine is greater than it being simply an alcohol transport system.

So why the many options in wine glasses? So many shapes and sizes but you’ll notice all wine glasses share several traits: A stem to hold it, a bowl that’s wider at the bottom and a small (or nonexistent) rim.

The stem keeps your hands off the bowl, since hands tend to change the serving temperature of the wine and leave fingerprints on the clear glass.

The bigger the bowl the easier you can swirl, letting the wine’s aromas circulate and become evident. You’ll notice glasses for red wines generally have larger bowls than glasses for white wines. Partly this is because red wines need more time and more contact with the air to open and release their aromas.

201217 FD wine Drusian cropped

Francesco Drusian makes world-class Prosecco in Valdobbiadene, Italy, and his choice of glass is not the traditional narrow flute but rather a glass with a wider mouth and rounder bowl. A crystal glass, of course.

Bowl shape and size is a personal choice, and some well-known wine critics use the same style of glass (in many cases a white-wine glass) for all their wine tasting.

Hand-blown (or, more correctly, mouth-blown) glasses tend not to have a rim because of the manufacturing process. No rim means less likely to dribble and it allows the wine to spread evenly onto your tongue.

Today’s highly skilled and innovative glass makers have developed wine-specific glasses with the rim and bowl shaped to direct the liquid onto certain parts of the tongue and palate. (Geek alert:) Related theories hold certain wines reveal their nuances better in specific sections of the mouth.

Regular glass or crystal? The difference between crystal and glass is that crystal may contain a certain amount of lead, which strengthens the glass.

Regular glass is lead-free but is thicker, doesn’t have crystal’s clarity or delicate chime when struck and survives your dishwasher, kids and cats better than crystal.

Lead is used in glass-making because it has a low melting point and thus keeps the glass liquid longer and easier to work with. It also makes the glass stronger, a key component when seeking out the thinnest glass possible.

Some stemware makers (such as Schott Zweisel), aware of concerns about the lead in glassware, now use zinc oxide, barium oxide, or potassium oxide in place of lead.

Crystal stemware is known for its sparkle and feel, having a certain microscopic roughness because of the crystalline structure not found in polished glass.

Crystal wine glasses also are more expensive than regular glass, another reason to handwash.

While lead-free wine glasses, such as those by Riedel and Zalto, are surprisingly durable, they still need special care when being washed and hand-washing is recommended for these and all your better stemware. You can use a machine (I am NOT suggesting this, although some restaurants do it), but make sure the glasses are secure and won’t bounce around.

Stemless wine glasses (or tumblers) are popular today for their casual, unsophisticated manner and functionality. Similar to the discussions between cork and twist-cap closures, there are drinkers who like the tumbler-style glasses and those who prefer the elegance and tradition of stemmed glasses. The stem, as many a server has learned the hard way, is the most-fragile part of a wine glass and where breakage tends most often to happen.

Plastic stemless wine glasses? Save them for camping.

 

 

 

 

It’s a wrap: Colorado (mostly) finishes 2017 harvest and it’s a big one

November 5, 2017 Comments off
2017 late harvest grapes 1

Hanging around after harvest. Some grapes from the 2017 harvest went unpicked, either due to lack of demand or when winemakers ran out of storage space. Photo & story by Dave Buchanan.

Talking earlier this summer to winemakers and grape growers across Western Colorado left two impressions: One, All signs earlier this summer pointed to an early harvest and, two, that there was going to be a lot of grapes to harvest. In most cases that has proven true.

“I think everyone is finished except for some late stuff that didn’t get harvested and was left hanging,” state viticulturist Horst Caspari of the CSU research station on Orchard Mesa said last week. “One reason some grapes weren’t harvested is because the wineries’ tanks are full and no one is buying anymore.”

Most winemakers are reporting this year’s harvest took advantage of excellent mid-summer growing conditions and ran about two weeks early across the valley.

Kaibab Sauvage of Colorado Vineyard Specialists LLC in Palisade said he forecast an early harvest last spring after seeing an early bud break (flowering) on his vines.

“We were about 20 days ahead of normal,” said Sauvage, who owns and manages vineyards and sells grapes on contract to winemakers. “This was an excellent harvest, especially because it’s done. We came up with a little unsold fruit but for the most part we got everything sold.”

Sauvage repeated what many grape growers were saying, that the size of the 2015 and 2016 harvests, among the largest in the valley’s history, haven’t left much room for the 2017 crop.

The two previous years allowed wineries to fill their tanks and build some back-stock after disappointing harvests in 2013 and 2014.

But wineries still have much of that back-stock, which means they don’t have extra tanks or storage places open.

“We have a history of feast or famine, and (winemakers) definitely feasted in 2015 and 2016,” Caspari said. “We still have plenty of inventory from last year and sales aren’t increasing by 20 percent every year. Most wineries have bought all they can take or want or both.”

Jenne Baldwin-Eaton, who teaches the viticulture and winemaking courses at Western Colorado Community College, said she had grape growers cautioning her in September about an early harvest.

“The students weren’t quite ready for the grapes when they got delivered,” she said. “I told them, ‘Welcome to the world of winemaking.’”

However, Nancy Janes at Whitewater Hill Vineyards and Winery said her crop, which is west and a bit higher in elevation than most other grape areas in the Grand Valley, finished right on schedule.

“I’d say at this point we’re pretty much right back on track,” Janes said. “So sometime during the course of it we fell back into a more normal schedule.”

She said her harvest, which she expects to be around 90 tons, is up a bit from last year. Some of that, she said, is the growing conditions this year as well as continuing recovery of vines damaged during the hard winters of 2013 and 2014.

Sauvage agreed that 2017 has been excellent for quality.

“Both quality and quantity,” he emphasized. “We were down about five percent from 2016 but that was the biggest year I’ve seen in Colorado for the last 17 years.”

Caspari said early estimates put the 2017 harvest at just over 2,000 tons. When all the numbers come one, this year could eclipse the 2,100 tons harvested in the 2012, the largest yet on record.