Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Winetasting -The Other Part of Winemaking

The essence of cherry and Chocolate. Red fruit, currants and cigar box. Strawberries and cream, oaky vanilla and luscious earthy notes. The intriguing, exotic flavors and aromas of wine have mesmerized mankind as long as history has been recorded. Wine is, without question one of the oldest beverages known to man. But more than that it is one of the oldest pleasures known to man. The bible is filled with references to it and mythology is littered with it; wine. It's the reason so many precious acres of this planet are devoted to growing grapevines instead of staple crops. The love of wine seems quite universal in nature and there are no signs of that trend changing.

Winter is the perfect time for grapegrowers and winemakers alike, to taste their wines. The vineyard is dormant and the new wines are safe in barrels or secondary fermenters. Some pruning is going on in milder climates, but much of that will wait until more hospitable temperatures arrive. For some reason the cold quiet of January and February in the Northeast provides a seemingly ideal backdrop for tasting your wines. In the cellar the cold temperatures really contribute settling the wines down. The cold temperatures cause suspended solids left from fermentation to precipitate. The wine begins to clear brilliantly. It's at this time of year you can really get an idea of what this year's wines, though still in their infancy, will become. What brings even greater pleasure to me at this time of year is tasting wines nearing release. Most full-bodied wines like Cabernet Sauvignon or Cabernet Franc (which I grow and make) need to age nearly two years before they really become approachable. It takes that long for tannins to soften, aromas to mature and flavor components to develop. That's why when you go to the store to purchase wine you'll rarely see a red wine that's for sale with a vintage date less than two years previous. There are some, but not many younger than that.

When it comes to wines you've made, you already know how they're doing. You've been tasting them all throughout the winemaking process. You know which of your wines are flawed and you are exited about those that hold promise. Even wines that seem less than pleasing are hard to give up on when you've grown the grapes yourself and turned them into wine. You keep hoping that someday you'll taste them and magically they will have turned the corner toward deliciousness. This can happen in some cases. For example, if a wine is otherwise good but overly tannic or just a bit too acidic, these characteristics will soften over time and the wine may become outstanding. But a wine that is made from underripe or otherwise flawed grapes, will never lose it's undesirable characteristics. You have to let go at some point and accept it, no matter how hard it may be. I can testify to the pain of pouring a 5 gallon carboy of wine that you have invested one year to grow, and two years to make, down the drain. It's a good thing there was a good glass of wine nearby to help me through it. Sadly this has happened more than once in my winemaking career. The bright side of this is that your knowledge of how to make good wine grows from experiences like these. So I don't really view them as failures.

What makes it all worth it are the good ones. When you draw some wine from a carboy full that has been developing nicely, to taste. You swirl it in the glass to get some air into it and hold it up to the light. Lovely color, deep red and great legs. You raise it up and draw in a deep breath. Currants, rich oak and earthiness flood your senses. If it tastes anything like the nose, this will be your best ever. You take a sip and it covers your tongue like silk. Fruitiness, black pepper and structured tannins fill your mouth. That's it. This is the best wine you've ever made. This is why you do it, why you work so hard in the vineyard and why you sacrifice your relaxation time to make wine. For all those people who think you're crazy for doing it, wait till they taste this... yes, then you'll finally get some objective opinions. But hey, you like it. So who cares what anyone else thinks, Right?


  1. You have a very nice blog, good post...keep up the good job

  2. Thank you Sorina,

    I appreciate the kind words. I hope you stop by again.