Sojourn Cellars, Ziggy, and TCA

At the August 17 Family Winemakers tasting in San Mateo, we discovered Sojourn Cellars and their excellent pinot noir. While doing research on Sojourn’s website we ran across the story of Ziggy, “The Love Dog” and official canine of the vineyard. According to the Sojourn website,

Ziggy is our 6-year-old Fox Red Labrador. Currently responsible for retrieving tennis balls, guarding the office door, and keeping track of which pocket the FedEx guy keeps the treats in, she can be found trailing Craig wherever he goes, riding in the truck, and occasionally, lounging in the Tasting Salon.

Ziggy spent her puppyhood training learning to sniff out TCA [the chemical that causes corked wine] in oak staves destined for the wine industry. After an intensive, two-year program, she was adopted by Craig and Ellen, who occasionally call on her to show off her sniffing skills. Ziggy has been featured in Wine Business Monthly and Food and Wine magazines.

Ziggy lives in Sonoma with Craig, Ellen, and her pals Natalie and Julia.

This is the tale of Sojourn Cellars, Ziggy, and TCA.  She has had two articles in the wine industry press.  Both are great reading and highly recommended.

Ziggy’s Story

We were intrigued by this and followed the links to stories about Ziggy in Food and Wine[1] and the Wine Business Monthly.[2]

The Food and Wine Version


Ziggy Sojourn Cellars and Ziggy


Ray Isle, writing in Food and Wine, took on Ziggy in a contest to see whether his human sense of smell could detect an oak barrel stave contaminated with 2 parts per trillion of TCA (2,4,6- trichloroanisole, the chemical that causes cork taint). Mr. Isle is no amateur, possessing a certificate (from Vinquiry, $75 fee) that states he is able to detect 1 part per trillion TCA. There was, of course, one issue. He refused to get down on all fours, claiming he “had to maintain a certain amount of dignity.” We’ll get back to that point shortly. But the outcome was clear. Ziggy found the contaminated stave while Ray couldn’t. And Mr. Isle made an important observation: Ziggy got his name because his search pattern is a zig-zag.

Mr. Isle’s article is delightful reading and highly recommended. We were reminded of a talk we heard at the weekend Wine Appreciation seminar at U.C. Davis. Prof. Hildegarde Heymann is a well-known expert on sensory analysis, especially of wine. She gave a presentation on the science of sensory analysis. Along the way she mentioned that her research had, at one point, used bloodhounds to track certain scents. She then showed a photo of a graduate student being abused. This abuse consisted of a blindfold and earplugs, leaving only the sense of smell to track. The photo showed the grad student on all fours following the same zig-zag path used by the bloodhounds. Had Mr. Isle gotten down on all fours, he would have lost some dignity but might have been more successful.

The Wine Business Monthly Version

For quite a few years, WBM has run a column by the pseudonymous Jake Lorenzo, playing the role of a wine detective. In this episode, Jake finds out he has some local competition.

Iggy Calamari called to give me a warning: “Jake, you got some private eye competition in your hometown, Sonoma,” he said, “and she’s good-looking and friendly as hell.”

Jake Lorenzo has lived in Sonoma for 33 years. There’s nowhere near enough investigative work for even one detective to make a living. It’s bad enough I’ve got to take on sleazy cases for winery owners insecure about their married relationships. I get queasy every time the bare larder forces me to take on bodyguard duty for some drug-crazed rock and roller or, even worse, some pampered starlet with her silicone breasts hanging out of a skin-tight bodysuit. Now, I’m going to have to share the meager work with some other detective. I don’t think so.

I hustled over to Calamari’s. No one answered my knock, but the door was unlocked so I went in. The coffee pot was still on, and I thought I heard some noise coming from Calamari’s lab. I walked quietly across the yard toward the lab when suddenly I was bowled over from behind. Someone jumped on my chest, and I was slapped in the face by something cold, wet and sticky.

“I see you’ve met Ziggy,” Calamari laughed.

The [Sojourn Cellars] salon is open daily by appointment. If, while you are tasting those delightful wines, you feel a wet, slimy ball being pushed into your lap, then you have just met Ziggy, Sonoma’s other great detective.

Jake’s story is another great read with a few more facts. Even though TCA contamination is called “cork taint” it’s far worse if a barrel is contaminated. After all, one tainted cork costs 750 ml of wine. But a tainted barrel contains 50 or 60 gallons of wine (about 250 to 300 bottles). Detecting TCA on barrel staves is far more valuable than simply sniffing corks.

One added note: a comment on one of the articles noted that in the future the commenter would sniff the cork. That misses the point. The smell will be in the wine, not on the cork. The only reason to pick up a cork is to make sure the wine has not leaked (identifiable by streaks of wine going all the way up the cork). Don’t smell it, don’t chew it, just look at it. If the cork is OK, focus on what’s in the glass.

Chemistry Note

It’s been a while since we wrote anything about wine chemistry. This seems like a good opportunity. Since this isn’t a refereed journal, I’ll rely on Wikipedia:

TCA molecule Sojourn Cellars and Ziggy

2,4,6-Trichloroanisole (TCA) is a chemical compound that is a chlorinated derivative of anisole. TCA is a fungal metabolite of 2,4,6-trichlorophenol, which is used as a fungicide. It can be found in minute traces on packaging materials stored in the presence of fiberboard treated with trichlorophenol.

TCA is the chemical primarily responsible for cork taint in wines. TCA has also been implicated as a major component of the “Rio defect” in coffees from Central and South America, which refers to a taste described as medicinal, phenolic, or iodine-like.[3]

TCA is usually produced when naturally occurring airborne fungi and bacteria (usually Aspergillus sp., Penicillium sp., Actinomycetes, Botrytis cinerea, Rhizobium sp., or Streptomyces) are presented with chlorinated phenolic compounds, which they then convert into chlorinated anisole derivatives. The chlorophenols can originate from various contaminants such as those found in some pesticides and wood preservatives. Chlorophenols can also be a product of the chlorine bleaching process used to sterilize or bleach wood, paper, and other materials; they can be synthesized by reaction of hypochlorites with lignin. They can also migrate from other objects such as shipping pallets treated by chlorophenols.

The odor of TCA is not directly perceived. Instead, the molecule distorts the perception of smell by suppressing olfactory signal transduction. The effect occurs at very low concentrations (single parts per trillion), so even very minute amounts of TCA can be detected. It causes unpleasant earthy, musty and moldy aromas.[4]


There are millions of stories in the wine industry.  This one caught our eye.  Kudos to Craig Haserot, his family, and the gang at Sojourn for adopting this terrific dog and introducing her to play.

[1] Isle, Ray, ” Learning to Sniff Out Corked Wine” Food and Wine (no date listed). Available at accessed August 27, 2014.

[2] Lorenzo, Jake, “Competition” Wine Business Monthly February, 2009. Available at accessed August 27, 2014.

[3] Spadone, Jean Claude; Jean Claude Spadone; Gary Takeoka; Remy Liardon (1990). “Analytical investigation of Rio off-flavor in green coffee”. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 38: 226–233. doi:10.1021/jf00091a050.

[4] Takeuchi, Hiroko; Hiroyuki Kato; Takashi Kurahashi (2013-09-16). “2,4,6-Trichloroanisole is a potent suppressor of olfactory signal transduction”. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences: 201300764. doi:10.1073/pnas.1300764110. ISSN 1091-6490. Retrieved 2013-09-17.

The New Malibu Coast AVA Might Be DOA

In effect, the L.A. County Supervisors have told the Malibu wineries, “Drop dead.”

The new Malibu Coast AVA might be DOA.  Today the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors passed a far-reaching coastal plan that specifically prohibits planting new vineyards.  Existing vineyards with a valid permit are grandfathered in, but there are a few with no permits that may be forced to rip out their vines.

This is perhaps the ultimate in NIMBY behavior.  Here’s a quote from the background story in the Los Angeles Times:

L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said the regulations would ensure that the coastal mountains don’t become suburbanized, like those to the north in Calabasas or Agoura Hills.

“This plan makes sure that development doesn’t dictate the land,” he said, calling the vineyard ban “a very small tail that’s not even wagging the dog.”

Yaroslavsky dismissed claims that he targeted the wine community, saying the decision is really about the greater good.

“We’re being guided by science, not by the politics,” he said. “I love vineyards. I love Cabernet. But I wouldn’t want it at the expense of the natural area.”

Hey, we love pinot noir and we know full well that the grapes have to be grown somewhere.  Supervisors that voted for this plan should be prohibited from consuming any wine.

Pegging the Irony Meter

Ironically, the Malibu Coast AVA regulation was finalized on August 18:

“T.D. TTB–121, Establishment of the Malibu Coast Viticultural Area, which establishes the approximately 44,590-acre “Malibu Coast” viticultural area in portions of Los Angeles and Ventura Counties in California. This viticultural area includes the smaller, established Saddle Rock–Malibu and Malibu–Newton Canyon viticultural areas.

Both of these final rules are effective on August 18, 2014.”

Who says government can’t act fast?  Eight short days later the Supervisors told the wine industry to forget it.

Press Coverage

KPCC in Pasadena has a 30 minute segment that was aired just as the Supervisors were voting on the plan.  I stared at my radio in disbelief when one of the guests informed host Larry Mantle that it had passed.

And there’s more from today’s Los Angeles Times story on their website:

“The passage of the plan, known as a local coastal program, consolidates land use authority with the county and sets rules for future development in the coastal area near Malibu. Among the limits on future development is a ban on new vineyards. Permitted, existing vineyards would be allowed to remain.

Vineyard owners complained that the plan unfairly singles out their crop from other forms of agriculture.”

Indeed.  The previously quoted  Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky says, ““Vineyards are water suckers, there’s no question about it. … It would be irresponsible for this plan not to address that.”

So much for being guided by science.  Most vineyards get all the water they need from winter rains.  Even in a drought year like this, Napa and Sonoma wineries are not watering their vineyards.  Vitus vinifera needs to struggle to produce high-quality grapes.

Finally, here’s the reality faced by two vineyard owners who went into winemaking:

Although the proposed rule would prevent them from expanding, vineyards with Coastal Commission permits would be grandfathered in. Vintners who didn’t get those permits, however, might have to yank up their vines.

That’s the reality facing Dave and Ruth Gomez, who planted grapes on two slopes near their home 15 years ago.

Malibu Coast AVA

The official website of the ava is   Here’s a map showing the area:

Malibu Coast AVA The New Malibu Coast AVA Might Be DOA

Malibu Coast AVA

And here’s a list of the members of the association.  We urge you to buy their wines. (Click the image to make it larger — and readable).

Malibu Coast Members The New Malibu Coast AVA Might Be DOA

Malibu Coast Members (click the image to enlarge it.)



Rhine and Mosel Visit Artisan

Saturday, March 1, we seized the opportunity to visit Artisan Wine Depot’s new store in Los Gatos

The event was a tasting of German wines from the southwestern Rhine and Mosel regions.  We arrived with great anticipation.  We were not disappointed. The Rhine and Mosel visit Artisan with great success.

Artisan Los Gatos

Artisan Los Gatos

Our History With This Region

We have fond memories of travelling through this area in conjunction with our presentations at the American Association of Wine Economists‘ inaugural meeting in Trier.

Trier Roman Thermes set up for Reisling and Gerwurtztraminer

AAWE tastes German wines in the Trier ancient Roman Thermes


Trocken is German for dry, … On a wine label, it indicates a wine that is dry rather than off-dry (halbtrocken), sweeter (lieblich) or sweet (süß). Technically, trocken wines are not devoid of residual sugar, but have, at most, a few grams per liter, which can be perceptible but is not overtly sweet.

From Wikipedia→

The first pair of wines were 2012 Riesling Trocken (dry Riesling) from Dr. Loosen and Weingut Robert Weil.

Dr. Loosen’s “Red Slate” (Mosel, $16,  BARGAIN) opened with citrus aromas veering toward white peaches.  On the palate there are flavors of blood orange with just a hint of pear.  The wine is produced exclusively from estate-owned vineyards in Ürzig and Erden that have the iron-rich red slate soil, then fermented naturally in 3,000-liter casks.  According to our host, this wine is made with “a lot of technology, stainless steel, highly managed fermentation, giving a clean, fruity style.”

The Robert Weil (Rhinegau, $26) was less to our taste with more acid and less fruit. Our host freely admitted the presence of petroleum distillates in the aroma, easily detectable by both of us, and not a feature we enjoy. Lots of minerality here for those that enjoy slate. In contrast to the Dr. Loosen, the Weil is made in a more traditional manner, fermented in giant oak barrels and using natural yeast. Those petroleum aromas make us wonder about the provenance of those barrels.  Did, perhaps, some fir trees go into their manufacture?  Retsina, anyone? Not surprisingly we liked the high-tech wine better.

The First Six

The First Six

 Halb Trocken

Moving slightly up the sweetness scale, Weingut Fritz Haag offered a 2012 Riesling Estate (Mosel, $27).  This wine is a “Feinherb,” the word that describes the balance between sugar and acidity, usually indicating the wine is Halb Trocken, or “semi-dry.” This wine meets that description precisely with excellent sugar-acid balance. Aromas and flavors of green apple, white peach and pineapple are followed by a spicy, slightly smoky finish.


Kabinett (literal meaning: cabinet) … [are] … wine[s] … made from fully ripened grapes of the main harvest, typically picked in September, and are usually made in a light style. In the German wine classification system, Kabinett is the lowest level of Prädikatswein, lower in ripeness than Spätlese.[1] A German Kabinett is semi-sweet (lieblich) by default, but may be dry (trocken) or off-dry (halbtrocken) if designated so.

The next wines were Kabinett.  This is a broad category, as explained by Wikipedia

First up was another from Fritz Haag, a 2012 Riesling Kabinett Brauneberger (Mosel, $27). Smoke on the nose is followed by flavors of yellow peaches, honeydew melon and oranges, with hints of caramel. The finish shows honey and anise.

Dr. Loosen also offered a 2012 Riesling Kabinett “Bernkasteler Lay” (Mosel, $24). Juicy and racy, with bright, engaging flavors of green apple, key lime and pear.

Maximin Grunhauser finally broke the string of 2012s with a 2011 Riesling Kabinett Herrenberg (Mosel, $29). We were not fond of this one.


Spätlese (literal meaning: “late harvest”…) is a … wine from fully ripe grapes, the lightest of the late harvest wines. Spätlese is a riper category than Kabinett in the Prädikatswein category of the German wine classification … Spätlese is below Auslese in terms of ripeness. The grapes are picked at least 7 days after normal harvest, so they are riper and have a higher must weight. Because of the weather, waiting to pick the grapes later carries a risk of the crop being ruined by rain. However, in warm years and from good sites much of the harvest will reach Spätlese level.

From Wikipedia

Dr. Loosen was back again with a 2012 Riesling Spatlese “Urziger Wurzgarten” (Mosel, $26). Aromas of ginger followed by flavors of pineapple, dried apricot and pear, accented by gooseberry hints. Ripe melon and spice round out a very pleasant experience.

Weingut Robert WeiI offered a 2012 Riesling Spatlese “Tradition” (Rheingau, $39).  If you like citrus and minerality, this is the wine for you. Add the touch of lavender on the finish and you have another very nice wine..

The third Spatlese was from Weingut Fritz Haag 2012 Riesling Spatlese BraunebergerJuffer (Mosel, $30). Aromas of bing cherry, almond blossom and hazelnut. The flavor is tinged with herbs, nuts and vanilla with undertones of slate.

Overall, this was our favorite category.  We would happily drink any of these three wines!

 ... and the Last Four

… and the Last Four


From Wikipedia:

Auslese (literal meaning: “selected harvest”…) is a late harvest wine, … riper … than Spätlese in the Prädikatswein category of the Austrian and German wine classification. The grapes are picked from selected very ripe bunches in the autumn (late November-early December), and have to be hand picked. Generally Auslese wine can be made in only the best harvest years that have been sufficiently warm. A small proportion of the grapes may be affected by noble rot [botrytis fungal infection] in some regions although this never dominates the character of the wine.

Our old pal Dr. Loosen is back with a 2011 Riesling Auslese “Erdener Treppchen” (Mosel, $55). Very rich and honeyed, this is loaded with a gorgeous array of mango and pineapple flavors, as well as peach and apricot.  A great dessert wine but you’ll need to visit your dentist the next day.


Treats Await Through That Door!

Treats Await Through That Door!

The Los Gatos branch of Artisan is more open with light and air.  In the Mountain View store, we always tread carefully in fear of knocking bottles off the racks.  The Los Gatos location is a welcome addition to south peninsula shopping!

Does Music Change the Taste of Wine?

Does music change the taste of wine?  That question is posed by an interesting entry in Jonah Lehrer’s Frontal Cortex blog on  Lehrer’s blog is a summary of another summary by Christian Jarrett at the British Psychological Society’s Research Digest web site.  The research being summarized is a paper by Adrian North in the British Journal of Psychology.[1]

In any case, North finds that his panel of tasters respond more to the style of the music being played than to the taste of the wine.  Of course they do.  His panel was 250 university students.

Even worse, both blog entries focus on the tongue.  Lehrer correctly describes the tongue as a “really dumb” organ, correctly noting that the tongue can only sense five flavors.[2]  However, they have managed to ignore a far more important component of wine: aroma.  A typical human nose can detect 10,000 different aromas.[3]  We’ve written about this before on our Wine Tasting Philosophy page.

But that’s not the real point.  There are constant references to the fact that “expert wine tasters” can be tricked, manipulated, and otherwise persuaded that bad wine is good and vice-versa.  Somehow these “experts” are never identified by name.  My guess is that many of them know less than we do after our weekend seminar at U.C. Davis and our experience tasting literally thousands of wines.

So uninformed college students respond more to music than the actual aromas and flavors of the wine.  Big deal.  Some of them will outgrow it.

[1] North, A. (2011). “The effect of background music on the taste of wine.” British Journal of Psychology DOI: 10.1111/j.2044-8295.2011.02072.x . Currently (Dec. 29, 2011) only the abstract is available for free.  Look in the “Early View” section where pre-publication articles are posted.  (Note to Wiley Online Library, the repository for this and many other articles: my university has an institutional subscription.  I was able to log in to your site.  Why, then, are you trying to charge me for access to this article?)

[2] Sweet, sour, salty, bitter, umami.  Prof. Hildegarde Heymann of U.C. Davis is a leading expert on this subject.

[3] Heymann, Hildegarde (2009).  Presentation at U.C. Davis Extension seminar “The Sensory Evaluation of Wine” April 25, 2009.

Cellaring Wine – Do-it-Yourself Solutions

Most do-it-yourself solutions for cellaring wine involve tools and pricey materials.  Simpler alternative approaches can get you decent results without all the fuss, expense, and your time … especially if you live in coastal California.

Say you’ve bought a case of some  pinot noir or other red wine you can drink now, but it has aging potential for 5 years or so. Should you bother to hold some of it? Unless Get decent cellaring results without all the fuss, expense, and your time …especially if you live in coastal California you have an appropriate storage location, you probably shouldn’t bother.  “Appropriate” means very little light, temperatures that don’t go much below 40 or much about 75 degrees F, and storage either sideways or upside down.  (The purpose of the last requirement is to keep the cork from drying out, shrinking, and letting air into the bottle.  Today’s plastic “corks” and screwtop closures don’t need special positions.) The ideal storage site is the basement of a Norman castle. Got one? Neither do we.  Read on.

Californians who own a new or remodeled home with an electronically controlled wine cellaring room do have the equivalent of a Norman castle.  If you’re one of those lucky folks, you need not read on. However, please feel free to invite us to your next wine tasting or even dinner.  But for the rest of us, is it still possible to age some wine at home? Without taking on a major  home cellar building project  please!

Location, Location, Location – Garage or Basement

Coastal California from Santa Barbara to Eureka enjoys a  Mediterranean type climate without long freezes or long heat waves. If you have one of those older pre-World War II  homes with a dry partial  canning cellar or if you have a semi-shady ranch home from the 1950s with a cement floor garage, you can probably cellar some wine for fun.  (If you don’t have such a spot, ask your friends. You folks that have stored that bottle of 1966 Chateau Lafite-Rothschild in the wine rack in your living room should donate the bottle to charity or sell it to a sucker on E-Bay. Just make sure they’re good friends first.) It’s important not to let the wine get too cold or too warm. Be realistic.  If it ever gets above 75° or below 40° F in that spot, that’s not good.  There should be no direct sunlight near your pseudo-cellar. If you actually use this the garage to park cars with hot engines, forget it. If you are thinking of more than a few hundred dollars worth of wine, consider getting a temperature USB datalogger from Amazon to collect time series temperature data about the spot and verify the temperature for a year. Or you’ll have to move up to the higher ticket solutions described later in this article.

You folks that have stored that bottle of 1966 Chateau Lafite-Rothschild in the wine rack in your living room should donate the bottle to charity or sell it to a sucker on E-Bay.  It’s highest, best use is probably salad dressing.

Cost Plus sells wooden modular racks

Boxes or Wine Racks at Home? What’s your Budget?

We’ve stored dozens of bottles in plain old corrugated boxes in our 50 year old  ranch home’s garage – no working cars allowed.  But recently we upgraded to modular wooden racks from CostPlus when they were on sale. A friend who also ages wine in his ranch home garage swears by the metal wine racks sold at Ikea. On a per bottle basis, the metal racks are probably cheaper. But we felt the wooden racks could be stacked higher and could be better stabilized for an earthquake.  Wine Enthusiast has several different lines of wood racks at various price points. Got a bigger budget?  Invest in a EuroCave.

Rent a Penthouse for your wine — even if you live in a 2-bedroom apartment!

Or if you don’t need to visit your wine regularly and can afford it, there are specialized multi-tenant wine storage and aging facilities both in Northern California and Southern California.  Get a penthouse for your valuable  wine from a list of facilities around the world.

What Wine to Hold? For How Long?

Deciding  what wine to age  is pretty easy .  Usually it will cost you over $20, have some complexity, and plenty of tannins. Tannins are easy to taste. They make your tongue pucker. Look for the winery’s tasting notes for ideas about how long to age.   If you’re at the winery, ask the folks in the tasting room for help. Some wineries post very detailed technical descriptions and notes on their websites.  Over the years we’ve put aside bottles for 2, 5 and even 10 years.  But judging how long to hold a wine continues to be something of a mystery to us. Frankly, we’re not very good judges of  how long to hold a wine.  All too often we open one we’ve held on to  and it’s going over the hill.

How to Manage Your  Wine Inventory

We don’t do anything fancy. We use a gold metallic Sakura Pen-Touch to write the year for opening right on the glass of the bottle. (Everyday wines don’t get labeled of course.) The friend with the Ikea metal racks puts an ID tag on the neck of the bottle.  Even though we are computer geeks we don’t even maintain a list of bottles.  However we are looking into and for their cellaring apps.  Both sites have some social networking features, but Snooth seems to be aimed at letting people share tasting notes on what wines tasted like when opened.  The problem with both websites is that we don’t know how those writing the reviews have stored their wine. In fact, we don’t know how much they know.  We posted a review of the Steven Kent Radius III on and were surprised to discover another review of that exact wine.  We were less impressed when that reviewer identified this cabernet sauvignon blend as a syrah.  But CellarTracker made the correction once we had pointed out the problem.  As one example of the storage issue, we are sure the wine aging in our garage is going to age faster than if it were stored in that Norman castle!

Hitting and Missing the Peak of Quality on the Years to Age Curve

Some people can afford to age wine the ideal way. 1) buy a whole case of the same wine. 2) make a schedule to open and drink a single bottle  in 2, 4, 6 years and so on, to check on how the wine is doing .  3) When that one bottle tastes good and there are no significant tannins left, it’s at it’s peak. 4) Drink the whole case up over a few weeks or months.

In spite of our  modest aging facilities, we had some luck hitting a near peak with a couple of bottles we opened last week — Steven Kent Radius III (2005) and Wood Family Vineyards Zinfandel (2004).  Both wineries are in the Livermore Valley AVA, which is just a few miles due  east of the San Francisco Bay area.  We bought both wines about five years ago, and when we originally tasted them, they were full of tannins and oak.  We decided to take a chance.

Steven Kent Radius III 2005
Steven Kent Radius III

Steven Kent did not disappoint.  The Radius III is a Bordeaux-style blend.  Put down in 2006, it was terrific in August 2011! Aromas of brambleberries followed by plums on the palate with a long finish that trails into spice. If you get a chance to try this one, don’t say no. Also put down in 2006, The Wood Family zin, by contrast, was past it peak and had become merely drinkable.  The tannins and oak were long gone, but the wine itself was very one-note. Perhaps there never was any complexity there.  They were a brand new start-up winery the year we bought this. And we loved the label.

Wood Family Vineyards Zinfandel 2004

Wood Family Vineyards Zinfandel 2004


Irrational Exuberance in California Rieslings

A summer heat wave means it’s time  to go on a riesling tasting to help offset the thermometer.  We tasted about half a dozen, but Query’s 2009 Central Coast riesling was particularly interesting.

Initially it showed an excellent acid – sweetness balance and could have been our best-in-show. We learned to appreciate this kind of bitting balance from our week in Trier, Germany with the American Association of Wine Economists.  But after about 20 minutes, the acid in the Query disappeared, leaving a rather ordinary riesling.  What the heck happened?  (And, parenthetically, who or what is Query?  The label says they’re in Healdsburg, but I’ve been unable to track down any information.)

AAWE tastes German wines in the Trier ancient Roman Thermes

I had a hypothesis.  Naturally.  There was some secondary fermentation, leaving a little CO2 in the bottle.  This created a weak solution of carbonic acid, which, in turn, created the acid flavor.  But once the bottle was opened, the CO2 bubbled out, the carbonic acid level was reduced, and the acid disappeared.

At the UC Davis Extension Sensory Evaluation Class

Thinking I had a good hypothesis but wanting to confirm it, I contacted John Buechsenstein.  John is a consulting winemaker.  We were lucky to have him as the instructor in the wine appreciation seminar we took at U.C. Davis.  John was gracious enough to reply — and he confirmed my speculation.  In fact, John says this is pretty common among young rieslings.  Here’s exactly what he said:

Class Break – UC Davis Extension Senory Evaluation Course

“I’ve experienced this many times. Younger Rieslings do retain much of their CO2 from their original fermentation. This is particularly true since they are usually kept cool during storage and bottled young. This is desirous as it helps them have a “zippy” edge when first tasted. So, this spritz plus the fact that initially we serve them cold helps to boost their acid impression. Then, as they sit a while, they both loose their carbonic edge and warm up, eventually presenting a bit softer.”

Prof. Lima with Prof. John Buechsenstein, UC Davis Extension

Query riesling is available at Beverages & More in the Bay Area (14.99 per bottle, but BevMo has it on sale with a second bottle for $0.05 right now).  If you buy it, make sure you have enough guests so the bottle doesn’t stay open long before it’s empty!




High alcohol wine: mea culpa

OK, I was a little bit wrong last month when I berated the Wall Street Journal for touting high alcohol wine.  Norma and I were two of the lucky 50 people who attended the Hartford Family Winery’s winemaker’s dinner on May 22.  Dessert was “Chocolate Clafoutis al’Ancienne, Blueberries, and Hazelnut Croquant.”  It was incredible.

I still maintain that most high-alcohol wines are not well-balanced and largely undrinkable.  I’ll make exceptions for Hartford, Lynmar Estate, and Kenneth Volk because I trust their winemakers.

But even more incredible was the 2007 Hartford Vineyard Russian River Valley zinfandel ($55 per bottle, get one before they’re gone).  Don Hartford has done an incredible job of tending the vineyard and whipping up a wine that is 16.5% alcohol but still balanced.  And, yes, the aroma was not pure alcohol.  Neither was the flavor.

So I was wrong, but just a tad.  I still maintain that most high-alcohol wines are not well-balanced and largely undrinkable.  I’ll make exceptions for Hartford, Lynmar Estate, and Kenneth Volk because I trust their winemakers. For all the others, you’ll need a lot of credibility with me to get me to taste them.

Don Hartford has done an incredible job of tending the vineyard and whipping up a wine that is 16.5% alcohol but still balanced.

About the dinner.  Chef Taki Laliotitis (if you click the link, scroll down to see Taki’s photo and bio) put together a menu that perfectly complemented the wine selections.  For the record, here’s the menu (complete with my scribbling about some of the ingredients):

Hartford Dinner Menu

Hartford Dinner Menu