October 25 Round-Up: White Burgundy Tasting, House of Chanel Gets Grapey for Fall, and Let’s Talk Pouilly

TASTING NOTES
Each week I review two wines with my “Sip It!”-or-“Skip It!” recommendation, a rating of one to five corks, and an overall summary based on the [Hugh] Johnson System (abbreviated HJ). All Vintages and product numbers refer to the LCBO.

**We’re interrupting your regularly appearing format to bring you the mildly informed and completely amateur impressions of a selection of 2011 white Burgundies.**

That’s right, folks – this week it’s all about the noble Chardonnay grape and my thoughts on eight wines representing some of the best (and possibly worst) of the 2011 vintage as sampled during my last Toronto Vintners’ Club outing. Seven of the eight wines tasted are from the Côte de Beaune, and one from the Cote Chalonnaise (Montagny), which, perhaps, for neophytes like me, requires a quick geography lesson.

Burgundy is situated in east-central France in an area that is bounded by the city of Dijon in the north and Mâcon in south. Rich in history, viticulture in the region dates back to the Romans, and was highly influenced by the Benedictine and Cistercian monastical orders of the medieval period. Today, Burgundy has some 30,000 hectares under vine in very narrow land parcels and escarpment areas — as little as two kilometres wide in some places.

For Burgundians, the terroir dictates the profile of the wines; it’s about the complex interrelationship between soil, aspect and climate  that influences the expression of the grapes in any given year. I really love the way Don Kinnan puts it in his seminar on Insider Wines of the Côte d’Or: terroir is more of a promissory note than a guarantee. (Check it out on Grape Radio; it’s in two parts.)

The 2011 Vintage

Reviews across the board are mixed, though bordering on positive. Many wine gurus have remarked about how “delightful,” “charming,” or “easy-to-drink” this vintage is, but overall the erratic weather made the 2011 wines less ripe than in earlier years, and certainly slightly disappointing when compared with the power of 2010s.

A harsh winter lingered until the February thaw. The early summer no doubt made Burgundy’s vignerons uncomfortable, with heat arriving in April and May, and the trappings of fall coming way ahead of schedule in July. An early harvest–only the sixth time in Burgundy’s history–began in August, with producers of ‘named village’ whites starting before month’s end.

This vintage saw the harvesting of grapes that were not quite as ripe as in previous vintages, leading many winemakers to add sugar to grape must after fermentation occurred (chaptalization).

2011 Selected Tasting Notes

Wines sampled:

Domaine Jean-Marc Pillot, Chassagne-Montrachet, Les Baudines, 1er Cru ($112)
Domaine Louis Jadot (Duc de Magenta), Chassagne-Montrachet, Morgeot – Clos de la Chapelle, 1er Cru 
($99)
Maison Vincent Girardin, Puligny Montrachet ($54)
Domaine Latour Giraud, Meursault Charmes, 1er Cru ($97)
Domaine Bernard Millot, Meursault Les Petits Charrons ($54)
Maison Champy, Pernand-Vergelesses, En Caradeux, 1er Cru ($50)
Domaine Dublere aux Vergelesses, Savigny Les Beaune, 1er Cru ($59)
Maison Roche de Bellene, Montagny, 1er Cru ($27)

The Côte de Beaune is known as the epicentre of white Burgundy, and, historically, these wines have been revered for their long-term ageability.


In recent years, higher risks of oxidation have made collectors skittish, with producers “[working] feverishly” to address the causes. (I mention this only because one of the wines, the Domaine Louis Jadot, had a slight odor of rotten eggs, and grew cloudy in the glass as it warmed.)

Do I agree with the assessment of “joyful restraint” the Wall Street Journal, Decanter and others have used to characterize the vintage? I’m not really sure. I didn’t find the wines to be extraordinary, but then I suppose there was no promise of that. The selection of wines tasted was pleasant, drinkable and relatively light, with hints of caramel and butterscotch notes–the much-preferred light oaking of French Chardonnays to some of their aggressively oaked California cousins.

For me, one of the standout wines was the Maison Champy, which I enjoyed for its long finish, bright acidity to balance the buttery oakiness and playful minerality. Notes of honey, citrus and even subtle stone fruits made this white Burgundy particularly pleasant, though its water-whiteness around the meniscus suggested that it could benefit from longer-term aging.

Another favourite was the sole Côte Chalonnaise, the Maison Roche de Bellene, with its crisp acidity, medium finish and strong aromas of stewed apricots and summer sunlight (yes, I swear it’s a flavour!). At $27, I thought this was a steal and would be a great seafood or poultry pairing.

Perhaps my tastes don’t run to the expensive, or perhaps my palate isn’t yet developed enough to pick out the Grand or Premier Crus in blind tastings, but one of the wines I liked the least was the Domaine Jean-Marc Pillot, a $112 wine. A youthful wine of pale straw colour with hints of green around the meniscus, I found it flat, with no pronounced minerality, and extremely subtle flavours of caramel and honey-butter. More light-bodied than some of the other wines tasted, I found it lacked the weighty mouth-feel that I liked about some of the others, including the two Meursaults — the Domaine Bernard Millot and Domaine Latour Giraud.

Overall assessment? Unless you like ’em young, skip these for at least another five years.


WINE LINES
Dispatches from the world of wine – a roundup of blog and news articles of the week.

Canada

U.S.

International


GRAPE POURRI
Wine world miscellanea – from varieties to regions, and from vine to bottle. 

THIS WEEK: WINES

Pouilly-Fuissé vs. Pouilly-Fumé vs. Fumé Blanc

I had no idea Pouilly-Fuissé was one of those trendy wines, like Blue Nun, that everyone was drinking back in the 1970s until I stumbled on this WSJ article. Seems it was as ubiquitous as bell-bottoms and mini-skirts and backlines. The Chardonnay-based white Burgundy was even featured in a Hall and Oates song — who knew?

I sometimes struggle with the two Pouillys: which one is the Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire Valley, and which is the Chardonnay? Fuissé is the latter, from the Mâconnais region of Burgundy, where, unfortunately, there are no Grand or Premier Cru vineyards to help drive up the value of these wines. Pouilly-Fumé, on the other hand, is one of the Loire Valley’s most revered wines, only rivalled by Sancerre, another Sauvignon Blanc-based wine. The “Pouilly” in this name is short for “Pouilly-sur-Loire,” while the “Fume” is the nickname for the Blanc Fumé grape, the colloquial name for the Sauvignon Blanc variety in the region, and refers more specifically to the gunflint-smoky expression of these grapes.

I decided to tack “Fumé Blanc” onto this discussion — the New Word twist on the Old World Classic. Robert Mondavi is credited with introducing this term for the barrel-aged, dry-style Sauvignon Blancs he produced, inspired by the French Pouilly name-sake.


THE ONE-MINUTE WINE TUTOR
Curious about the best resources to learn about wine? Here I review books, videos, podcasts and other educational tools in under a minute. 

Since we’re focusing on all things Burgundy this week, it seems apropos to highlight some exceptionally informative podcasts. From Grape Radio, I recommend checking out the primers on Côte Chalonnaise, “Insider Wines of the Côte d’Or,” the latitudinal parallels between Oregon and Burgundy (there are two parts), and the more introductory “walk through the Burgundy region” and wines of Burgundy with Maison Louis Jadot.

Be sure to check out some of the slide decks on the World of Pinot Noir website that correspond with these podcasts.

October 18 Roundup: Sweet on Sauternes, Annie Hall Turns Wino, and DIY Aroma Kits

TASTING NOTES
Each week I review two wines with my “Sip It!”-or-“Skip It!” recommendation, a rating of one to five corks, and an overall summary based on the [Hugh] Johnson System (abbreviated HJ). All Vintages and product numbers refer to the LCBO.

I don’t usually provide context for the wines that I review, but if you haven’t already noticed, there’s at least some loose linkage between the two bottles, be it the colour, varietal or wine style. Before I got serious about this whole wine thing, I was about as educated as your average LCBO-go’er (for my non-Ontario readers, that’s the Liquor Control Board of Ontario, which regulates alcohol sale through its provincially controlled stores), purchasing the same limited varieties or labels I knew, and never venturing into the Vintages section. After upping my game, one of the first sweet wines I encountered was the oh-so-delicious Sauternes. I introduced Thanksgiving dinner guests to it this weekend, some of whom were divided in their opinions due to the concentrated sweetness and viscosity.

Sauternes is located on the Left Bank of the Bordeaux region, on the Southern tip of Graves. (I realize the map I procured from Wikipedia is probably quite small, but the cherry-red area right near the bottom is Sauternes, just below a light pinky place called Barsac, which I will discuss in a moment).Vignobles_medoc (1)

The region’s proximity to the Garonne and Ciron Rivers, coupled with the hilly aspect, both contribute to the the ideal growing environment for Semillion, Sauvignon and Muscadelle grapes. In fact, the lingering mists in the region’s unique mesoclimate are what help Botrytis cinera, or “noble rot,” thrive. This mould sucks moisture out of grapes, “raisining” them, so that the natural sugars are concentrated. Some sources credit the Dutch, who took an interest in Bordeaux white wine production in the 17th century, with introducing German winemaking techniques to the region, among them a process which helped the production of wine from botrytis-affected grapes.

The regional appellation consists of five communes: Barsac (which is often considered its own appellation and, in the above map, is depicted that way), Preignac, Bommes, Fargues and Sauternes. These wines can fetch a pretty price, often the result of the high production costs and the lack of reliable annual yields. The Premier Cru Supérieur estate of Château d’Yquem is something of the “Cadillac” (no pun intended) of the Sauternes world, though more affordable wines produced in the same style can come from the neighbouring regions of Monbazillac, Cérons, Loupiac and Cadillac.

While I served Sauternes as a dessert wine alongside pumpkin and sweet potato pie, it can also be a delicious aperitif, or paired with its classic mate, foie gras, although I can see it working well with pungent cheeses, like Roquefort, Cambozola or other tasty blues.

Sip It!
Château La Tour Blanche (Sauternes (Bomme), Bordeaux, 2011)
Vintages #: 296319 | 375 mL bottle | $49.85
Alcohol: 13%
Sweetness: Sweet (or, as the LCBO describes it, “lusciously sweet”)
Wine Type: White
Prominent apricot aromas stand out against subtler notes of citrus peel. Unlike the Château Doisy-Védrines reviewed below, this had a slight acidity to cut through some of the sweetness. A pale straw yellow suggests a more youthful wine, while the gentle acidity is matched by a slight earthiness that I’d probably describe as wet autumn leaves. On the palate, some hints of oak and vanilla add to the complexity of flavours and aromas, while a slight nip rounds out the finish.
HJ System Scoring:  4 [wee dessert wine] glasses (it tickled my fancy!)
Rating:  

Sip It!
Château Doisy-Védrines (Sauternes (Barsac), Bordeaux, 2003)
Vintages #:  Not found (Did I buy the last one back in September?) | 375 mL bottle | $36.95 (I think…)
Alcohol: 14%
Sweetness: Sweet
Wine Type: White
There’s almost little point in comparing two Sauternes of different vintages and ages. In contrast with the La Tour, this Sauternes had a pronounced yellow- (bordering on old-) gold hue, indicating (of course!) that it’s far older than its ’11 cousin. On the nose, aromas of sweet brown sugar, floral-honey and nuttiness assault you in an absolutely delicious and tantalizing way. The wine is thick, dense and deeply textured, tasting of stewed stone fruits, carmelized pineapple and butterscotch. The finish is quite long and accompanied by a slight alcohol burn.
HJ System Scoring: 1 bottle (means thorough satisfaction!)
Rating:     


WINE LINES
Dispatches from the world of wine – a roundup of blog and news articles of the week.

Canada

U.S.

International


GRAPE POURRI
Wine world miscellanea – from varieties to regions, and from vine to bottle. 

THIS WEEK: WINEMAKING TECHNIQUE

Let’s get “toasty”…with wood, of course!

I’m a history nut. What attracts me to wine isn’t just the tasting and appreciation of the grapes, the wine-making processes and the terroir — it’s also the evolution of wine-making over centuries, and how vintners arrived at the processes they’re using today.

One of the most ubiquitous images associated with wine production is the barrel. Most Google image searches will at least pull up a dozen photographs of cellars lined with the pride and joy of talented coopers practicing a craft honed over millenia. But how far back does the use of barrels in fermentation and aging of wine actually go?

I assume it’s quite well known that most Old World wine-making and the vitis vinifera that enables it owes its thanks to the Romans, who not only consumed wine in excess, but as an alternative to water, which was often unsafe, particularly for travelling armies. Unlike the ancient Egyptians and Mesopotamians who used palm wood barrels to store and ferment wine, despite it being notoriously difficult to bend, the Romans favoured storage in clay amphorae (bet that didn’t impart those luscious flavours of vanilla and spice!). It wasn’t until the Romans encountered the Gauls, with their use of wooden barrels in the storage and transport of beer, that the vessel we all know and associate with wine production was adopted.

Barrels can be used in wine-making to impart flavour and colour, as well as help mellow tannins and vary texture, and the type of wood use matters immensely to the end product. Whether it’s proper barrels or wood chips floating in stainless steel tanks, wood has its own phenolic compounds and characteristics that can encourage evaporation and oxygenation, as well as alter the taste profile of a wine.

The length of time spent in a barrel depends on several factors, including the varietal, the winemaker’s preference, and rules surrounding a region or country’s wine-making. Take for instance Spanish wine laws that dictate barrel time: for example, a Crianza, depending on where it is made, can spend as little as 12 months in the barrel, while a Gran Reserva can spend upwards of three years. (I kind of love this animated video explaining wine aging. The cartoon barrel cracks me up!)

Depending on the species of oak, flavour intensity imparted can also vary tremendously. French oak has long been the preferred wood for barrel aging as it imparts flavours of spice and textures of satin and silk (like Pouilly-Fuisse), whereas American oak can produce more intense wines with creamier textures (think oaked California Chardonnay). Italian winemakers often use Slavonian oak, which lends subtler flavours and softer tannins, while lower-end French and Hungarian winemakers source oak from a region proximate to the Black Sea, which is known for its “more elegant and sweeter aromas.”

What else can I possibly say on barrels, except that sizes vary, too, with Bordeaux barrique and Burgundy styles leading the charge with holding 225 L (59 gallons) and 228 L (60 gallons) respectively.

So, the next time you taste a wine, look for the hints of oak and how the wine’s tannins, flavours and texture might be coming through based on the time it spent inside this venerated vessel.


THE ONE-MINUTE WINE TUTOR
Formerly the “WSET Study Buddy,” I’ve decided to tweak this section in order to cover off a greater range of information and approaches to educating oneself about wine beyond the WSET curriculum, and, hopefully in a minute or less. (I think the section should take about 60 seconds to read.) Here you’ll still find reviews of books, videos, podcasts and articles, but more geared towards enhancing one’s knowledge of how to approach studying wine. Think about it this way: instead of learning about the Chardonnay grape, it’s more about where to find information to learn about the Chardonnay grape. 

For those who follow me on Twitter, you’ll no doubt have seen the photos of my aroma kit efforts.2015-10-13 20.00.37 After investigating these kits on Amazon and being astonished by the price (one was almost $500 for 88 scents!), it seemed like something I should try to put together on my own.

I really like Wine Folly’s suggestions around combining spices to see how they interact in the glass, and Wine Tasting Demystified’s groupings of common wine flavours. What I’ve actually begun doing is getting those weekly pill bottle containers from the drug store (you know the plastic ones that let you organize your meds from Sunday to Saturday…?). I then take the wine I’m going to be tasting, pull some of the reviews I find online, and match as many of the scents in my pantry, or, if some advanced planning is required, add those fruit and vegetal-aroma items, to my grocery list. This way I have an aroma kit that closely resembles the wine’s profile.

Take a 2009 Cloudy Bay Pinot Noir, and this tasting note plucked off CB’s website:

“Vibrant red in colour, Cloudy Bay Pinot Noir 2009 displays a nose that is both pure and complex revealing aromas of strawberries, earthy fresh mushrooms and smoky spice. The palate is finely balanced, with a vibrant core of red fruits clad in a silky, luscious lining. A subtle textural chalkiness and fine grained tannins indicate a wine that will develop beautifully in the bottle over the next 7-8 years.”

Easy enough to match, right? Strawberries and other red fruits (maybe raspberry, red cherry?), earthy fresh mushrooms (you can grab those at Galen’s place) and “smoky spice” (for this I’d probably start sniffing the cumin, smoked paprika, liquid smoke and other things in my pantry). Toss them together in your pill box, a glass, or other receptacle and enjoy comparing it with your libation of learning choice! Now, off you go and enjoy!

October 11 Roundup: Apothic Fad – Winner or Loser?, Trans-Pacific Partnership Welcomed by Winemakers, and All About Fer

HAPPY THANKSGIVING TO MY CANADIAN READERS!


TASTING NOTES
Each week I review two wines with my “Sip It!”-or-“Skip It!” recommendation, a rating of one to five corks, and an overall summary based on the [Hugh] Johnson System (abbreviated HJ). (All Vintages and product numbers refer to the LCBO.)

Sip It!
L.A. Cetto Private Reserve Nebbiolo (Baja California, Mexico, 2010)
Vintages #: 590182 | 750 mL bottle | $17.95
Alcohol: 14.5%
Sweetness: Dry
Wine Type: Red

I had one sip, then another, then another; thirty minutes left breathing in the glass, sixty, and finally I was sure. I liked it, not a lot, but enough that it paired well with my slowcooker nut brown ale-braised pork. Absent the big flavours and tannins present in its Italian cousin, this New World Nebbiolo is more subtle, balanced, and even a bit demure, with flavours of cherry, raspberries, red plums and vanilla. On the finish, there’s a pleasant smokiness reminiscent of autumnal camp fires, and a slight acidity that lends some depth, but by no means lengthens the finish.
HJ System Scoring:  1 glass (tolerance, even general approval)
Rating:  

Sip It! (Or Skip It…I’m so torn!)
Apothic Red Blend (Gallo, California, 2011)
LCBO #:  234369| 750 mL bottle | $16.15 (though often on sale for $14)
Alcohol: 13.5%
Sweetness: Sweet
Wine Type: Red
Liking this wine is the equivalent of admitting you have N*Sync on your iPhone playlist, or that you read Fifty Shades of Grey more than once! I’m even concerned about admitting that I didn’t think this was vile  (please don’t judge me). The trouble with this wine is quite literally a sticking point, with just over 16g/L of residual sugar from concentrated grape juice. From what I can tell, serious critics are torn, many deriding this as a horrid bastardization of the sacred libation we all love, while others suggest it might open the door to a new demographic of wine-drinker. The wine itself is unusually sweet and stood up to a very flavorful beef stew, but the jammy quality was almost overpowering. Black fruit, nutty undertones,  slight spice — these are some of the notes that come through, albeit taking a back seat to the sweetness. I can see this being popular with red-wine haters. I don’t think I’ll buy it again, but I kind of liked it in an I’d-never-tell-Steven-Spurrier sort of way.
HJ System Scoring: 1 glass (tolerance, even general approval)
Rating:   


WINE LINES
Dispatches from the world of wine – a roundup of blog and news articles of the week.

Canada

U.S.

International


GRAPE POURRI
Wine world miscellanea – from varieties to regions, and from vine to bottle. 

THIS WEEK: VARIETY

Have you tried Fer?

Fer (also going by the aliases Fer Servadou, Brocol, Caillaba, Folle Rouge, Pinenc and Mansois) is a dark-skinned red grape variety grown primarily in Southwest France, but, more recently, I’ve seen it pop up in lesser-known New World wine regions, like Virginia. It shouldn’t be confused with the Argentinian grape of the same name, which is a clone of Malbec; instead, it’s related to Carmenere.

Fer prefers the stony, iron-rich soil around Marcillac and is the star in many AOC wines in Marcillac, Gaillac and Béarn, where it can make up to 90 per cent of the blend, but also plays a supporting role in Madiran, Cabardès and Bergerac wines.

Wines made from Fer are most often medium-bodied, softly tannic and perfumed, with flavours of red fruit, mainly currant, fig, spice, and smokiness.


WSET STUDY BUDDY
As I diligently study for my WSET Level 2, I share some of my favourite web resources on wine — from podcasts to infographics to apps, oh my!

There’s a site called “Thirty Fifty,” which, it admits, takes its name from the latitudes both North and South of the equator between which world’s wine grapes are most commonly grown. Established by Chris and Jane Scott, the couple states they’re “about demystifying wine by bringing fun and non-nonsense wine tastings to people in their own homes.” What I really appreciate about their site is a set of pages called the “Learning Zone.” Click on this link and a drop-down menu of epic proportions is revealed — everything from wine regions to a pronunciation guide to book reviews. Perhaps most helpful to WSET learners are the resources found under the “WSET Courses” tab, which includes a study guide section that is home to audio files, articles, interviews and other goodies all related to the course content. So, for me, an aspiring Level 2’er, I have access to an audio file on the wine tasting approach, food and wine matching, factors influencing the style of wine, grape varieties explored, and finally wine regions. I highly recommend checking this site out if you’re looking for fab resources.

October 4 Roundup: 2006 Bordeaux Tasting, English Sparklers the Next Big Thing and Malolactic Conversion is Everyone’s Friend!

TASTING NOTES
Each week I review two wines with my “Sip It!”-or-“Skip It!” recommendation, a rating of one to five corks, and an overall summary based on the [Hugh] Johnson System (abbreviated HJ). (All Vintages and product numbers refer to the LCBO.)

Sip It or Skip It Special Edition: Eight Wines, Two Gems, All Bordeaux

This past week I attended my first Toronto Vintners Club wine tasting featuring seven Bordeaux Cabernet Sauvignons and one Merlot. What follows are my musings on this interesting, if not slightly difficult, vintage.

VINTAGE FORECAST: STORMY WITH A CHANCE OF STANDOUTS

According to the Wine Cellar Insider and the First Lady of Wine, Jancis Robinson, the 2006 vintage was challenging. After an exceptional 2005, the growing conditions were problematic:

  • First, the vines hadn’t recovered from the 2005 drought cycle;
  • Second, budburst was later than usual; and
  • Third, the low spring rainfall, coupled with a serious summer heatwave, either stalled the ripening process, or, in the case of the early-ripening Merlot, accelerated it.

By harvest time in September, the rain was almost relentless — almost seven consecutive days! These were the conditions impacting the Bordelais growers and the backdrop I bore in mind while working my way through eight different wines.

THE WINE’S THE THING

The tasting included:
2006 Chateau Malescot St. Exupery, Margaux, 3 e ($69)
2006 Chateau Clerc Milon, Paullac, 5 e ($59)
2006 Chateau Grand Puy Lacoste, Pauillac, 5 ($82)
2006 Chateaur Domaine du Chevalier, Pessac-Leognan, GCC ($64)
2006 Pavie Macquin, St. Emilion GCC ($85)
2006 Chateau Leoville Barton, St Julien, 2 e ($99)
2006 Chateau Leoville Poyferré, St Julien 2 e ($95)
2006 Branaire Ducru, St Julien, 4e ($75)

I’ll spare you a review of each because they share so many similar taste profiles, but differ, sometimes radically, in their expression.

On the whole, I found the ’06 Bordeaux a bit premature to enjoy. Sure, they were drinkable, but, in most instances, the tannins were too in-your-face. (I’m sure Robert Parker has used that identical description before!)

One of my favourites among the bunch was a Château Clerc Milion, Pauillac, 5e ($59) – Cabernet Sauvignon (50%), Merlot (44%), Cabernet Franc (6%). Deep ruby colour with a tickle of plum purple, this full-bodied red is packed full of black fruit notes, butterscotch and a forest-floor earthiness that added to the complexity. I tasted wood, smoke and dark chocolate. RP Jr. remarked that, “because of [this wine’s] freshness and density, it is reminiscent of a 1996 Médoc.” Wine Cellar Insider points out that Pauillac was one of the “most consistent” appellations for 2006 Bordeaux, which was evident in both the Clerc Milion and the Château Grand Puy Lacoste, Pauillac, 5e, though I found the latter slightly more tannic.

My other favourite was a Pavie Macquin, St. Emilion, GCC ($85). Beside the other seven Cab Sauvs, I thought this wine popped. It seemed brighter, more lively, with pronounced tart cherry notes, cloves, licorice, a slight pepperiness and an unmistakably oaky character. RP Jr. called this wine “backward, brawny [and] muscular,” and a wine for longer-term aging, and while I agree with the presence of high tannins, I thought this had a nice structure and balance.

Final thoughts: Sip It, for sure, but Skip It for 2015. (Maybe in about 5-10 years?)


WINE LINES
Dispatches from the world of wine – a roundup of blog and news articles of the week.

Canada

U.S.

International


GRAPE POURRI
Wine world miscellanea – from varieties to regions, and from vine to bottle. 

THIS WEEK: WINEMAKING TECHNIQUE

For all the hardcore wine geeks out there, what’s this:

HOOC – CH2 – CHOH – COOH → CH3 – CHOH – COOH + CO2 ↑

I’ll give you a three-letter hint: MLF.

Did I just hear you shout “malolactic fermentation” at the computer screen? I hope you didn’t spill any of that Chardonnay, with its yummy lactic butteriness, on your keyboard. (Do you prefer oaked or unoaked? No, wait, I digress…)

Malolactic fermentation — or, more accurately, conversion — is the winemaking process that turns the tart grape juice, with its naturally present malic acid, into the softer-tasting delicious nectar of the gods. The conversion is pretty much standard for red wine production, and some white, like that Chardonnay you were drinking. (That butteriness comes from diacetyl, one of the byproducts of the malolactic fermentation process.) However, it’s the malic acid that offers some of that crisp, refreshing fruitiness of beloved whites foregoing this conversion process — think Riesling, Gewürtz, Sauvignon (not Fumé) Blanc, and so forth.

After the primary fermentation is complete, in which sugar has been converted into alcohol, the wine can be inoculated with bacteria. (I say “can be” because I’ve seen a bunch of literature on different approaches, yeasts to use, “co-fermentation” and other stuff way outside the tiny sphere of my immediate wine knowledge.) During the ML conversion, carbon dioxide, another byproduct, is also released, stimulating fermentation. Many winemakers feel that malolactic fermentation occurring during barrel aging better integrates the fruit and oak character in wine. But MLF in the bottle is a big no-no!


WSET STUDY BUDDY
As I diligently study for my WSET Level 2, I share some of my favourite web resources on wine — from podcasts to infographics to apps, oh my!

I heart Wine Folly for its chic infographics and spectacular maps of some of the world’s most famous wine regions, not to mention short but information-packed articles. Wondering about the most common grape varieties and their expressions? Confused about what to pair with that new bottle of Gruner you just picked up? Can’t remember where Stellenbosch is located? I not only subscribe to the blog, follow the author, Madeline Puckette, on Twitter, but also have her new book shipping from Amazon this week! I highly recommend downloading the free maps, in particular; they’re colour-coded by sub-region and come in super handy for studying.

B.C. Wine Trends blog has some neat data visualizations of British Columbia wine industry statistics, from total acreage for reds vs. whites to (my favourite) winery locations by awards. I’m such a visual person that I find these helpful for committing most prominent varieties to memory. I’m really excited to see what B.C. Wine Trends blog comes up with next!