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Julius Orth
 
February 3, 2023 | Julius Orth

Ektimo Podcast on Wineroad

Sometimes blogs are best kept brief, especially when there is something more substantial buried within.  That being said, check out the "Wineroad Podcast" with Julius as the guest to speak about Ektimo and more.

Time Posted: Feb 3, 2023 at 12:37 PM Permalink to Ektimo Podcast on Wineroad Permalink
Julius Orth
 
January 26, 2023 | Julius Orth

Wine competitions in perspective

Wine Competitions..... we love them, we love getting the medals, we love the pat on the back, but it is important to put competitions, awards and medals in perspective and not all competitions are equal.

So what is a wine competition?  Many of these now exist, from state fairs, to magazine and press sponsored competitions where usually people considered to be "experts" in their field are tasked with tasting through a range of wines and determining which ones meet the criteria for excellence in the particular competition.  Sommeliers, winemakers, wholesalers, retailers and restaurateurs are invited to judge at competition, and each of these has their own perspective on what constitutes excellence for a specific wine.

In reality, these skilled people may be tasked with tasting through an array of 100 wines in a 3 hour period, and at the end of it all express their opinion on these products and choose their favorites?  

Make no mistake, each of these competitions has value.  It serves as an attempt by a group of people to rank wines in a manner that might assist the buyer in determining which wine their palate might align with.  A Gold medal wine must taste better than a Silver medal wine right?  Not so fast.  Does a Gold medal winning wine from the Idaho potato festival get bragging rights over a Silver medal winner from San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition?  Maybe, maybe not.  Is a wine rating 100 points from Robert Parker guaranteed to satisfy more than a wine rating 17 Cheers by Julius?  Perspective makes all the difference.

Now I would not for a moment deny the marketing clout that a Parker rating will bring to a wine, or the leverage gained from a 100 Point score in the Wine Spectator.  But at the end of the day, each and every one of these awards is an expression of opinion.  The consumer is then tasked with deciding how much weight to place on any of these opinions.  It is therefore fundamentally important to determine a formula to apply competition information to your own personal preferences.

If, for instance, you have absolutely loved every single Gold Medal wine award that has been awarded by Wilfred Wong, then chances are the next time he rates a wine highly you will enjoy that one too.  However if Hubert Schwartz reccommends the 1982 Chateau Lafleur, and you are looking for that rich & buttery Rombauer Chardonnay you will likely be disappointed by his reccommendation.

The scale of a competition can also tell you a lot about its awards.  As an example let us take one of the larger competitions, the 2023 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition which just posted it latest array of awards.  These figures you will see are pretty close approximations and do not represent all the details, glean what you will.

You just saw a promotion stating that "The Dude (fictitious example)" wine just won Double Gold Medal at the competition... WOW!

Now this competition had 60 judges, analyzing 5500 wines from 1000 wineries in 190 categories, IMAGINE !!!!  Of these wines there were 800 Bronze Medals, 2396 Silver Medals, 1155 Gold Medals, 518 Double Gold Medals, 199 Best of Class Medals and Seven Sweepstakes awards.  If you were to taste 3 of the gold medal winning wines every day it would take you over a year to try them all !!!  All of a sudden the shade of perspective changes everything.

 

 

So what should we take from this.  Competitions are important, awards are noteworthy, medals have value, but ultimately there is no substitute for each of us stepping into the fray and becoming judges ourselves.  That is exactly what you do every time you visit a tasting room or attend a public tasting event.  You become the most important Judge of wine there is.... the one that decides what YOU like.

Time Posted: Jan 26, 2023 at 2:34 PM Permalink to Wine competitions in perspective Permalink
Julius Orth
 
November 26, 2022 | Julius Orth

Futures arrive fast..... sometimes

If you are unfamiliar with winery futures programs, here is a brief description of how they work, and how the futures at Ektimo are quite unique.

It the most basic sense, wine futures are a "layaway" program.  The practice to sell wine before it’s bottled, commonly known as en primeur or wine futures is a rapidly growing segment in California wine country, and has a well established history in Bordeaux.  One of the primary motivating factors in such programs is Barrel Tasting, where you get to preview the quality and characteristics of a wine via sampling from the barrel, evaluate the personality of the wine and project what you anticipate the finished product to be like once it has completed its its metamorphosis, and been bottled and aged to perfection.  Unless there is a proven history of consistent outstanding quality, each of these opportunities is a leap of faith, a vote of confidence, and ultimately an opportunity to secure some extremely limited releases before they go mainstream.

Depending on the winery program and the individual wines involved, some of these opportunities require patience and lots of imagination.  For instance when sampling the wines of Bordeaux, or perhaps some of the more robust California Cabernet Sauvignon, the rustic barrel samples may be tight, astringent, tannic and very austere.  It takes a trained palate to recognize the special qualities hidden within such gems, they are often 12 to 24 months away from being bottled, and sometimes years away from their prime.  This being the case, it is a tall order to be asked to invest a substantial sum in advance, being asked to wait 18 months before the wine is bottled and shipped, and then holding that wine for another 2-3 years to reveal the finer qualities of a potentially magnificent wine.  Even the most learned aficionado would be hesitant with such an endeavour unless there is some significant pedigree like Château Lafite-Rothschild, Château Cheval-Blanc, Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, Opus One, Williams Selyem or Kosta Browne.

At Ektimo Winery, our approach to futures is a little different.  Understanding the desire for instant gratification that is prevalent in the current consumer market, we embrace an approach that delivers rapid fire satisfaction.  I have the enviable task of screening our collection of barreled wines, evaluating the qualities of a select few, selecting first class products to present at barrel tasting, and with a targeted turnaround of less than six months.  What you sample from the Barrel at our unique industry leading tableside barrel tasting is already an approachable gem, resplendent with brilliant appeal, yet with the promise of further greatness on the horizon.

As an added bonus, many of our futures offerings come with the option to customize a label with a name or special message.  Such is the case with our latest offering.

Currently on offer at futures at the winery, we have a special and unique rendition of 2021 Lodi Zinfandel.  Check your preconceived notions of Lodi Zinfandel at the door with this one.  What would typically be regarded as a full bodied, robust, intense, jammy, peppery, spicy Zinfandel is so not all that.  Younger vines, sustainably farmed in the Clements Hills area benefitting from cooler eveningsgives us a delectable, bright perky little number that is a wine for all seasons.

Brilliant "Perfection redcurrant" and "Marasca Cherry" with the faintest wisp of juniper berry and "Pink Pearl Apple", it is juicy and vibrantly fruit forward with a delicate sprinkling of "Vietnamese Black Pepper" and a finish of "Keemun Tea".  Ripe, rambunctious and ready to go, this is a wine to be enjoyed early and often.  A very limited quantity of 70 cases will be bottled, and with a little planning your customized label proudly read "Ektimo 2021 Lodi Zinfandel, bottled for (your name)" or "The Crazy Daisy Collection", or whatever irreverent comments you choose (no insults or profanities).

First offering at the beginning of November, with a bottling scheduled in early December, the future is arriving fast for this one, so no long wait time, no forgotten purchase from the distant past, this wine is the future offering the instant gratification we all crave.  It can be ordered online on this site by just "Clicking Here".  Orders are by the case (or multiple cases) only, and for the vote of confidence it is offered at 50% off retail price. 

So, when it comes to futures, at least at Ektimo, the future is now.  

Time Posted: Nov 26, 2022 at 10:12 AM Permalink to Futures arrive fast..... sometimes Permalink
Julius Orth
 
October 30, 2022 | Julius Orth

Ektimo Wine For Every Holiday Celebration

Wine..... it can make any and every celebration something special.  It can mamake a meal an experience, it can make a sunset sublime, it truly can be paired with virtually any experience.

I am sure you are all seeing people express their excitement about the holiday season, halloween decorations in September, we've been seeing Christmas movies since July, it seems like everyone is trying to get a head start on the next holiday, maybe it is time to take a deep breath and embrace each special celebration one at a time.  Lets face it, there is no shortage of excuses for a party. 

But seriously, wine party season is here and we hope Ektimo wines will be a part of your celebrations, and lunches, and dinners, and halloween, and veterans day, and thanksgiving, and the day after thanksgiving, national mutt day, and national bouillabaise day, and national ugly sweater day, and winter solstice, and hannukah, and christmas eve, and christmas day, and kwanzaa, and boxing day, and new years eve, and new years day, and whatever occasion calls for a glass of fine wine. 

WOW, that is a lot of celebrating, better stock up on some wine.

So, here is a good place to start a celebration just because...... November 1st is "National Calzone Day" so here is your recipe for a celebration.  Be sure to prepare all your ingredients ahead of time (see the recipe below) so once your guests are ready you simply need to construct and bake the calzones.

Start (and finish) with a bottle of 2017 Ektimo Russian River Zinfandel.  This is a bright and lively version of Zinfandel resplendent with ripe red fruit flavors of cherry, raspberry, redcurrant, cranberry and red apple.  Tannins are smooth, and only the slightest hint of spice to tantalize your taste buds.

Go ahead, pour a glass for your friends once your Calzone prep is done.  Baking time for the Calzones is about 20 minutes so be sure to have a second bottle ready to share once the food is cooked.  Get the Calzones in the oven, set the timer and enjoy visiting with your friends as the aromas of the baking fill the room.  

Shiitake Mushroom, Pancetta and Arugula Calzone Recipe (serves 4)

  1. 12 oz Pancetta - cooked until crispy and chopped

  2. 12 oz Fresh Shiitake Mushrooms
  3. 1 large shallot - minced
  4. salt and pepper
  5. 5 oz Arugula chopped
  6. Fresh Pizza Dough - (store prepared works great, you will want 32oz of raw freshly made pizza dough)
  7. 8 tbsp Bertolli’s Riserva Marinara Sauce Plus more for dipping
  8. 4 Cups shredded fresh mozzarella cheese
  9. 8 slices provolone cheese
  10. Light Drizzle of Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  11. 2 eggs - for egg wash - beaten
  12. 1 pinch kosher salt
  13. 2 tbs grated parmesan cheese

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 375

Cook the pancetta on the stovetop over medium heat in a skillet until crispy.  Once cooled, coarsely chop and set aside retaining the rendered fat in the pan.

Add the mushrooms and shallot to the pan. Cook until the mushrooms soften and the shallot is translucent and fragrant. Add salt and pepper to taste. Remove from the heat and place in a fine strainer to drain off excess liquid.

Place a small amount of flour on a cutting board and divide the dough into four equal portions.  Roll each crust slightly to stretch the dough to a full 8" piece. (It will want to return to about 7" and that is ok).  

This is the prep to be done in advance so that when your guests are ready and you are starting on the wine all that remains to be done is construction and baking

Lay out each of the pieces of pizza dough and apply 2tbsp of Bertolli Marinara to each one followed by ¼ of the mozzarella, pulled pieces of 2 slices of provolone, ¼ of the pancetta pieces, ¼ of the mushroom and shallot mix and top with fresh arugula and drizzle with olive oil.

Using a pastry brush or finger tips, wet the edges of the calzone with water so that the dough will stick together well when folded. Gently fold the top half over the bottom half and using a fork, press the edges together well. Once pressed, roll the edges and pinch well.

Brush the top of the calzone with the beaten egg, sprinkle with kosher salt and a pinch of grated parmesan. Using a sharp knife, cut three vent holes in the top of each calzone.  Sprinkle with chopped arugula.

Gently place the calzones onto the prepared baking sheet and place in the oven, center rack on 375. Bake for 20 minutes and check. The calzone is done when the pastry is nicely browned and slightly crisp. Remove from oven, cool for 5 minutes and then serve immediately.

Once this little get together is over, what do you want to celebrate next?  Need some inspiration?  Check out the calendar that will give you an excuse to party every day of the year.... https://www.holidayscalendar.com/months/   

Time Posted: Oct 30, 2022 at 10:51 AM Permalink to Ektimo Wine For Every Holiday Celebration Permalink
Julius Orth
 
October 22, 2022 | Julius Orth

And just like that..... harvest 2022 is over

It is easy to forget, but at its most rudimentary level our business is all about farming.  When we wax poetic about the intricate and infinite qualities of wine we must always circle back to the most basic elements.  There is a basic and simple rule when it comes to winemaking, it takes great grapes to make great wine.  It is quite easy to make poor wine out of great grapes, it is a different challenge entirely to make great wine out of poor quality grapes.

The farming aspect is often what makes the winemaking process so fascinating.  We go to great lenghts to find the right location, plant the right grapes, tend them with care every step of the way and when the stars align, magic happens.  Sounds simple right?  Then there is this force called nature that keeps things interesting.

2022 in Sonoma County, despite the ongoing drought conditions, started out well.  A mild winter and temperate spring launched the season smoothly.  The dormant vines emerged from their hibernation right on cue, budding and budbreak came and went without a hitch.  Decent fruit set on the vines promised even if somewhat below average yields which are a good precursor for quality.  Spring changed to summer, and while much of the country baked under the mid day sun, wine country enjoyed a near perfect summer. 

Preparations for harvest were smooth and leisurely, and everything was setting up perfectly.  Then nature paid a visit.  Just as even ripening was spreading across the region we were hit with a heatwave that lasted a week.  All of a sudden, the gently ripening fruit spiked and rushed towards the finish line.  Everything was ready to be picked all at once.  This is where the professionals come into their own and earn their keep.  He who panics is lost.

What has been a celebration of nature suddenly becomes a mathematical equation.  Not only do you have to get accurate readings on the fruit in the vineyards, but you have to prepare the winery like a high speed "tetris" game where the rapid influx of fruit has to be picked, processed and then placed in the right environment for winemaking to happen.  Real estate is at a premium as each wine has to find a container for primary fermentation.  The white wines need to fast track and find a comfortable place as they must yield space to the reds that need longer to do their thing before moving on to barrels to complete and age.

Each lot must be evaluated and processed in a manner that will yield optimal results, as mentioned before it is all too easy to make bad wine out of good grapes.  Each wine needs to be carefully escorted through its genesis to allow great wine to emerge.  This is the time of year where winemaking crews are worth their weight in gold, many of them working 16 hour days with no day off for 7 weeks in a row.  The best are the apex athletes of the business, and their reputations are the stuff of legends.

All this begs the question, and it is a question that we are asked repeatedly every year "so how is this years wine looking?".  The honest answer is that only time will tell.  You see, great wine is not just about great grapes, it is also about great artists.  In a perfect year where everything follows textbook perfection, everyone should be able to make great wine, it will never get any easier, and if you fail at making great wine from the perfect season perhaps it is time to evaluate your skillset and follow a new path.  The great winemaker, the great "Artists" are those supreme talents that take al the obstacles thrown before them in their stride, all the challenges that nature can present, take all the hits throughout the game and at the end of it all still make great wine.

The bottom line is, there are no bad years for wine (well unless you include prohibition).  There are easy years and there are hard years, the great winemakers make great wines EVERY year.  If the great winemakers cannot make a great wine, they do not make a wine period.

So be patient, rather than ask about how a wine might be, wait until you have an opportunity to judge what it has become.  Then, and only then can you get a realistic answer.  In a race, there are no winners until someone crosses the finish line. 

     

Time Posted: Oct 22, 2022 at 12:15 PM Permalink to And just like that..... harvest 2022 is over Permalink
Julius Orth
 
October 2, 2022 | Julius Orth

Sonoma County Harvest Fair 2022 Results just in

Ektimo Strikes Gold !!

Just in from the Sonoma County Harvest Fair, they like us..... they really really like us  !!!!  The Harvest Fair is like the Sonoma County oscars for wine, and we are proud that our small family operation was so well received.  Our thanks to the judges, and everyone else that loves our wines.  Cheers  !

Gold                       Pinot Noir Russian River Valley Estate 2020 $34.00

Gold                       Pinot Noir Dijon Clone 115 Russian River Valley Estate 2020 $38.00

Double Gold         Pinot Noir Mt. Eden Clone Russian River Valley Estate 2020 $50.00

Gold                       Pinot Noir Wadenswil Clone Russian River Valley Estate 2020 $38.00

Double Gold         Rosé of Pinot Noir Russian River Valley Estate 2021 $28.00

 

Time Posted: Oct 2, 2022 at 4:31 PM Permalink to Sonoma County Harvest Fair 2022 Results just in Permalink
Julius Orth
 
October 1, 2022 | Julius Orth

The Wine Club

Wine Clubs... most commercial wineries now have one, and they offer a great way to get direct access to your favorite wines.  Each is somewhat unique in structure and how they operate, but all are one of the most important connections between the winery and the consumer.  It opens a portal with access to exclusive limited production wines and special offers.

In its most rudimentary form, a wine club is a subscription service.  By signing up to a wine club, you are striking an agreement to receive wines on a regular basis from your preferred producer, and in return you will enjoy certain priviliges for your loyal support.  One such benefit, is at least 20% off on your wine purchases, and special discount opportunities that are tailored specifically to club members.  You will also receive access to the most limited production wines on a first come first served basis, with special selections sometimes being as little at 25 cases (one barrel) of something truly unique.

At Ektimo winery, there are multiple levels of club membership to choose from, with the same benefits extended to all members.  Entry level is at 2 bottles every three months, processing in February, May, August and November.  There is a choice of either Reds and Whites, or Red wines only.  There is also the choice of picking up the wine in person from the winery and avoiding any shipping charges, or having the wines shipped where the wine packages will be fulfilled by a third party (shipping charged at cost) and delivered to your doorstep where a signature will be required to receive the wines.  If 2 bottles every three months will not satisfy your thirst, you can choose 4 bottles, 6 bottles, 12 bottles or more depending on your preference, you are only limited by your preference.

An alternate level created specifically with particular states in mind, where the extreme heat of summer or the harsh cold of winter may cause delivery problems, we offer a bi-annual club at 6 bottles, 9 bottles or 12 bottles twice a year shipped in the generally most temperate months of April and October.  

One not so common option that we offer at Ektimo, is that as a member you can customize your club packages, and configure them to your specific preference at any time.  So if you find that one particular wine strikes your fancy, as long as you request it, that can be your club allocation.

Prior to processing the wine club, a courtesy email is sent to all members outlining the specific selections at that time.  Wine club allocations are chosen on a variety of factors.  It may be focused on the newest, previously unreleased wines.  It may be recent award winning wines, or sometimes a vintage wine that is in its prime and a limited quantity remains.  The email details the planned packages, and includes an invitation to customize should one choose to do so.

We then assume that if our members send no response, they are happy to be receiving the wines detailed in the message, and those are processed to the corresponding memberships.  Anyone sending a reply with requests for specific wines, those are substituted and become the current club package.

Ultimately, as long as club members are interactive they can tailor the club wines to be precisely what they want.  There are also various other benefits.  Aside from the standard club discounts, we occasionally share some special offers where club members get additional discounts, up to 50% off!!  You get complimentary tastings at the winery for you and your guests when you visit, you get first access to our extremely limited production wines, as well as our most profound gratitude.

Additionally, on select days during the year, we are members of the "Taste 116" association and we present wine club appreciation events where, if you are a member at Ektimo you are also extended club membership privileges at the other association wineries.  A nice little perk  

Time Posted: Oct 1, 2022 at 1:56 PM Permalink to The Wine Club Permalink
Julius Orth
 
September 17, 2022 | Julius Orth

The Role of the Wine Glass

There have been many articles on the subject of wine glassware and its significance to the tasting experience.  As a "professional consumer", and conscientious wine taster I do of course have my opinion.  There are a great many glassware manufacturers all keen and able to pontificate on the merits and superiority of their glassware above all others.  Some design specific shapes and styles for specific varietals, and some will even go so far as to say that they will present you a glass that will make your coca cola taste better!  But does the shape and style of the glass really make a difference?  Of course it does..... appearance is important.  But does it change the "taste" of the wine?  Hardly.

Stylized glassware is not without its merits, designer glassware is pretty, and there is no doubt that the elegant lines and spacious globes are attractive structures unto themselves, and as such present a magnificent frame for a multitude of elixirs.  They feel refined, sparkle in the light, and are downright striking seductive vessels for enhancing the experience.

Additionally, the glassware is engineered in a multitude of shapes and designs that undeniably enhance the diffusion of the wine which makes inhaling the aromatics easier and more concentrated.  Some will even argue that some of the glass designs may occasionally direct the initial impact of the contents of the glass preferentially to specific areas of taste buds.  There are even classes where you will be instructed to taste the same wine from different glasses and experience the "vast tangible difference".  

The fact of the matter is that when a normal person takes a sip of wine, it cascades all over the tongue and palate yielding a multi faceted experience that is a collaboration of all tangible tasting experiences to yield "a flavor".  This is where the curated sale of designer glassware starts to weave its web.

One of the most powerful aspects of the tasting experience is the power of suggestion, and if the tasting experience is liberally sprinkled with subliminal directions of what wonders will be discovered it is almost like being handed a treasure map.  If someone during a sensory experience suggests that you look for a particular sensation, they are urging you down a narrow path where you will be rewarded by being right.  For example, if someone asks you to imagine a strawberry, and if you have ever had a strawberry, your memory pathways draw on the memory of experiencing a strawberry, and at that moment you will have a phantom memory experience of that strawberry.  Tie this to what you have been invited to experience, and it is not too much of a stretch to say that strawberry will become a part of your present sensory experience.  

Starting to get the picture?  If you want to believe that the information you are being supplied with is accurate, it will have a far greater impact on your conclusion than the shape of the vessel.  Here is where the glassware design argument starts to crumble.

Provided that your "vessel" is made of a non reactive substance (glass, ceramic cup, titanium etc.) it will not change the true flavor or bouquet of the wine period.  The shape and size of the glass may affect how the released aromas may become focused or concentrated for easier detection, but the bouquet remains the same.  For instance, take the glass off a (clean) hurricane lamp, place it over a teacup of wine and it will help you concentrate the emanating aroma, but the actual aroma remains the same. If you pour the same wine to the brim in a shot glass, the bouquet does not disappear, it remains the same, it just becomes a little harder to detect.

Allowing a wine to "breathe" will in time change the aromas of the wine as it interacts with oxygen, sometimes for better sometimes for worse.  Pouring a wine into a large globe of a glass and swirling it steadily will allow a wine to "breathe" more rapidly, and while doing so release more of the aromas into the globe so when you sniff the glass, you inhale more particles to stimulate your senses.  Pour that same wine into a classic rim porcelain soup bowl, it will breathe more quickly but the aromas will dissipate at the flutter of a butterfly wing.

One of the most overlooked aspects of wine enjoyment is that it should not be an object lesson in sensory dissection, but a symphony of sensations that is reater than the sum of its parts.  The pleasure of enjoying wine is a complex combination of factors that are unique to every imbiber and their current surroundings, it engages the sense of smell, taste, touch and vision. 

Bottom line, engage as many senses as you choose in the enjoyment of wine, and you will enhance the decadent pleasure of your wine experience.  But remember, the pleasure of wine should be an experience, not a flavor.  

 

Time Posted: Sep 17, 2022 at 3:35 PM Permalink to The Role of the Wine Glass Permalink
Julius Orth
 
September 3, 2022 | Julius Orth

"Tasting" Wine

“Tasting” Wine

What is it about wines that allows them to be so fascinatingly complex?  When it comes to consumable products there are few that receive the attention and analysis that wine does.  From the beginner to the master sommelier, much of the fascination of wine tasting lies in the discovery of unique flavor profiles that are often specific to the person on the receiving end of that glass of fine wine.  Before we meander down the path of complexity, it is important to note how complexity is experienced.

First, we should establish that not all Tasters are created equal.  The average adult has between 2000 and 10,000 taste buds on their tongue.  Most people are able to “train” in order to utilize those taste buds to maximum effect.  Simply by exposing oneself to the broadest array of foods, one can amass a portfolio of flavors to reference when it comes to identifying flavor.  The more flavors you can experience and recall, the greater the descriptive vocabulary you will have to identify and articulate an experience.  It is hard to describe the flavor of rhubarb if you have never tasted rhubarb.

There are a small percentage of the population that are on the low end on the number of taste-buds spectrum.  They are challenged more greatly because not only do they have fewer receptors to capture the sensory experience, but they by the same nature have fewer receptors to detect unpleasant elements.  In general, this category finds most things taste fine, and need to be coaxed into searching for complexity, but with training tasting skills can be honed and refined.

The average person is the ideal consumer.  These are the tasters that can study, and practice, practice, practice in order to fully appreciate all the glorious flavors and sensations that wine has to offer.  Here lie the true aficionados, constantly searching for the next great wine that will create lasting memories for them, and willing to pursue that quest until the end of time.  They are able to identify flaws, yet understand the difference between something being bad and something they do not like.

Then there are the “cursed”, the hyper tasters.  These are the poor souls that have more taste buds than the rest of us, and those taste buds are very sensitive.  Left untrained, these are the most critical of tasters and the bane of winemakers.  To them they can either love something or hate something uncompromisingly.  They may discover the most exquisite flavor of Wiśnia Nadwiślanka (Eastern European cherry) and find it divine, but then the slightest hint of Havana cigar tobacco triggers a negative response they are unable to escape and so they dislike the wine.  As there is simply no such thing as the “perfect wine” they wind up identifying the faults more than they enjoy the glories.

In the simplest of terms there are three primary tasting zones that come into play when tasting wine, sweet which is on the front or tip of the tongue, sour which runs both sides of the tongue, and bitter which is at the base or back of the tongue.  Flavors are experienced all across the tongue, but they tend to be perceived or more focused in these general areas.

The aroma of the wine can often impact the perception of these flavors, as the neural pathways that transmit information to identify smell and taste are deployed simultaneously.  If something smells like rose petals, pineapple and vanilla, our receptors are primed to perceive a degree of sweetness, whereas if something smells like grapefruit, lemongrass and rhubarb they will expect tart.  Once these messages have been sent to the brain, it then computes which flavors it can identify and looks for flavor memories to pair them with. 

The brain being a complex organ, it also has its weaknesses.  The power of suggestion can play tricks on the unwary.  Think about the process, if someone mentions that a wine has hints of a relatively common flavor such as lemon, the only way to process that information is for the brain to search for “lemon” and then try to translate that memory into real time for you to identify.  If you think hard enough about what lemon smells and tastes like, can you smell or taste it?  Just look at the picture and imagine you are biting into the lemon, did your mouth water?  The power of suggestion has planted that seed, and you are predisposed to agree with the information given.  It is not universal, but it is remarkable how often this works.    

Now here is where things get interesting.  We (excluding some exceptions) are not computers focused on algorithms, or machines with a singular purpose.  We are complex organisms that can formulate experiences based on purpose.  Rather than simply finding one flavor and focusing on it, we are able to take these multiple flavor compounds and create a kaleidoscope of flavors so not only do we taste the individual components, but the symphony they create together.  Then we take that flavor creation and convert it into an emotional experience from which we can derive pleasure, and isn’t that what we really want?  Ask yourself this question, is it more important to enjoy the wine or to be able to identify the flavor?

So, what should you take away from this?  In my humble opinion the start and finish of a tasting should be all about the pleasure of the experience, and the ability to dissect and articulate the details of that experience should always be secondary.  If you want to develop your senses to better appreciate wine, then like any athletic endeavor practice, practice, practice.  Amass an encyclopedia of flavor identities and train yourself to be able to recognize them again and again.  Try not to be a wine critic, they are the people that are looking for flaws in wine.  Be a wine lover, able to identify the flaws in a wine while looking for the finer qualities and enjoying them.

In the end, appreciating wine is like appreciating art, it is in the eye (or the palate) of the beholder.  Appreciating wine is knowing what the ideal version of that wine would be and understanding where your current wine falls in that spectrum, but enjoying wine is a far more intricate and complex endeavor that requires an involvement in the situation that goes far beyond the juice in the glass.   

Julius Orth
 
August 25, 2022 | Julius Orth

Making wine is like making art...

With harvest now picking up speed, wine is being made all around.  The art of making wine however can be as simple or as complex as the artist chooses.  ANYONE can make wine with only the most basic know how.  However making "Great Wine" is a magical alignment where nature, science and art converge.  Making great wine on a regular basis is not just a skill, it is an Olympic Gold medal level of accomplishment.  Most noteworthy winemakers will categorically state that the way to make great wine is to start with the best grapes, scientifically map out your process and stay out of the way as much as possible.  You can make bad wine out of the best grapes.... but you cannot make great wine out of inferior grapes! 

At its simplest, most basic level, making wine is very simple.  1. Harvest your grapes at optimal ripeness 2.  Place them in an air cap tank.  3.  Add some dry ice and let wine making commence, (Historically, in the country of Georgia Kvevri Jars were filled with grapes and buried underground for winemaking).  Ah, but if only it were all so simple.  Using the preceding description wine will be made, but unless the process is somewhat controlled it is pure chance whether the wine will be enjoyable or not. 

Cleanliness and sterilization are very important as any contamination can quite easily spoil the wine.  That being said, most common chemical cleaners are not in play here as they taint the process so you must be very careful to strictly adhere to proper procedure.  Once you have your equipment in order, it becomes time to choose the ingredients.  Wine can be made from any fruit or vegetable product that contains sugar.  I have tasted tomato wine, and carrot wine, and rhubarb wine, and elderberry wine, and strawberry wine, and cranberry wine, and rose petal wine, and pomegranate wine..... but "Vitis Vinifera", the noblest of the grapes are the premium ingredients for making fine wine, and this is generally where the magic happens.

So, what kind of wine do you want to make?  White wine?  Red Wine?  Rosé wine? 

To keep this simple, we will define two sides, red grapes (and the many shades from black to bright crimson) and white grapes (green to pale yellow).  In most cases, the pulp of the grape is gong to be pale in color, and in wine the color of the skin can dictate the color of the wine.  In white wine, the grapes are harvested cool, destemmed, pressed, and the juice immediately separated from the skins.  The pressed juice is then moved to a fresh tank, inoculated with specifically selected yeast (sometimes native yeasts that come in with the grapes are allowed to control fermentation for certain situations) for temperature controlled primary fermentation to begin.  Primary fermentation for wines generally takes three to five days.  

The primary fermentation is where the alcohol is generated.  At its simplest, the yeast eats the sugar and the result is the creation of alcohol and carbon dioxide.  The fermentation process will also generate some heat, so temperature control is important to control the fermentation process accurately.  The extent of the fermentation process will depend on the wine and the grapes.  The amount of sugar in the grapes (measured in brix) will determine the alcohol level of the wine.  The brix levels in the grapes start to rise dramatically in August, and the longer the grapes are on the vine the higher the sugar.  Bright sunshine and heat will cause the vines to photosynthesize and ripen the fruit more quickly, so ideally July & August will be temperate, cool mornings warm days with gentle sunshine and cool evenings.  Extended time on the vine without sugars rising too fast is where the best flavor development happens.  Ideally, the warm temperate conditions repeat allowing the winemaker to track the sugar levels along with flavor development and then harvest at their leisure.  Extreme heat spikes with no cooling can force an earlier harvest which needs expertise to master and still generate magic.  

The chart shows the potential alcohol determined by the brix at harvest.  If not all the sugars in the grapes get fermented out, the residual sugar level will determine the "sweetness" of the wine.  Anything below 0.1% residual sugar is considered dry, and many wines up to 0.2% residual will often present as dry.

Once primary fermentation is complete (about 70% done) the wine will be moved to a second container for fermentation to complete.  For some wines, malolactic fermentation is then induced.  Unlike primary fermentation, no alcohol is produced in the process.  Instead, malic acid (this acid is where the tart, citrus like flavors reside and which make a wine bright and crisp), is converted to lactic acid (often identified as a textural acid that brings a softer richer tone to wines that may be referred to as "buttery" in Chardonnays).  This textural exchange impacts the mouth feel and body of the wine.  Some white wines are chosen to go through malolactic fermentation, and almost all red wines undergo this step.   

Some of the more common white grape varieties are Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Gewurtztraminer, Riesling, Viognier, Verdelho, Marsanne, Rousanne, Semillon, Muscat, Albarino, Chenin Blanc, Pinot Gris and so many more.  The grape colors range from vibrant green, to opaque yellow, to deep pink but all the wines are white.  "Click here" for some basic profiles.

For Rosé wines, the process is very much like making white wine.  Rosé is not a specific grape "click here to learn more", but a white wine style using red grapes and limiting the skin contact time to add the appropriate level of pink hue.  For Rosé wines, the red grapes are harvested cool and destemmed.  Then the juice, skin and seeds are moved to a tank where, depending on the grape variety and style of wine to be made, they will cold soak for 6 to 12 hours before being pressed.  The pressed juice is then moved to a fresh tank, inoculated with specifically selected yeast (sometimes native yeasts that come in with the grapes are allowed to control fermentation for certain situations) for temperature controlled primary fermentation to begin.  

More and more you will discover "Varietal Rosé", Rosé of Pinot Noir, Rosé of Malbec, Rosé of Cabernet Franc, Rosé of Zinfandel, Rosé of Sangiovese and many more.  There are many unique characteristics to be discovered in this genre.

Then there is red wine in its many many visions of glory.  Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Malbec, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Zinfandel, Sangiovese, Carignane, Grenache, Cinsault, Syrah, Petite Sirah, Nebbiolo, Barbera, Barbaresco, Tempranillo, Alicante Bouschet..... the list goes on and on.  For red wines, the grapes are harvested cool and destemmed.  Then the juice, skin and seeds are moved to a tank where cold maceration takes place.  At this point the wine is ready to start fermenting, so to prevent this the contents are kept cold allowing for slow and prolonged flavor extraction.  Cold maceration can be as little as 5 hours, and up to 10 days depending on the wine.  During this process, the grape skins and seeds will float to the top of the tank, and the juice will sink to the bottom. 

To continue optimal extraction, a "punch down" process or "pump over" will be scheduled throughout the process. The goal here is to extract the precise amount of color, flavor and texture from the solids.  In the punch down, the skins and seeds are manually forced back into the juice and in soaking them more of the flavors get extracted.

On a larger scale, for the "pump over" imagine the wine tank as a massive coffee percolator.  The skins and the seeds float to the top of the tank and the juice sinks to the bottom.  We attach a hose to an opening on the bottom of the tank, the tank is connected to a pump, which has a hose on the other end that goes back into the top of the tank.  when the motor starts running, the juice is pulled from the bottom of the tank, and pumped over the solids on the top soaking them and extracting more flavor.

Once it is determined that the cold soak has drawn out flavors to perfection, the temperature of the juice will be allowed to rise slowly, and the primary fermentation of the red wine will commence whether it be naturally or by inoculation with customized yeasts for specific flavor profiles.  This primary and subsequent malolactic fermentation will continue generally from 14 to 24 days depending on the wine, and only once the balance is right will the juices be pressed away (or sometimes just free run) from the skins and the seeds and moved to sterile containers to continue to completion. 

Most typically, red wines will be stored in barrels where fermentation will complete and maturation will commence.  Sometimes barrel fermentation can be quite vigorous and it is not uncommon to have barrels blast out the closure and spray foam into the air like a purple geyser. 

Barrel aging can vary considerably, with some wines briefly lingering for 4-5 months, whereas some of the more serious red wines will occasionally age for 4 years in the barrel.  Throughout the entire aging process, the wines must be managed, monitored and maintained in good health to avoid any problems.  Wines are regularly removed from their barrels temporarily so that the barrels can be "sterilized" with steam before the wine is returned to continue aging.

Once the wine is considered "complete", it is time to bottle.  There are various stabilizing processes that need to occur so that the wine entering the bottle is stable and no longer volatile in any way.  Some wines may be filtered, some wines not depending on the maker.  The bottle is the stable resting place where the wine will remain until it is intended to be consumed......... but that is a whole other story.

So, the basics of making wine.  Really simple, and quite complex.