Monday, August 30, 2010

WN: Virage 2007 Napa Proprietary Red Blend

After taking notice of Virage Napa Valley in an earlier post, I'm happy to report back that the 2007 vintage of this wine definitely delivers for its target price point of $45. It's a blend of 71% Cabernet Franc, 24% Merlot and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon almost entirely from the cooler confines of Carneros, though it carries a Napa AVA. Proprietress Emily Richer sent me a sample to take for a test drive. It's not a high octane wine, but rather a polished, layered wine that should complement food well yet possess the balance for one to finish the glass on its own after a meal. This wine should have an appeal for fans of middle weight New World Pinot Noir, and the price point is competitive with upper level Pinots that offer a similar stylistic approach, albeit a different flavor profile.

The PR packet I received notes that Emily became interested in Bordeaux Right Bank-style wines via the Havens Bourriquot, a similar blend from Carneros of about 2/3 Cabernet Franc and 1/3 Merlot, because of "its complex aroma, flavor and 'thousand-thread-count' tannin structure." Having tasted many of the recent vintages of the Havens Bourriquot, Virage is doing a fantastic job of emulating the character of this now-defunct vintner's style. The tannin structure in particular matches the thousand-tread-count description as it's present, but woven into the wine so that it's not obvious.

In comparison to the 2004, 2005 and 2006 vintages of the Bourriquot, Virage 2007 Napa Proprietary Red Blend is less green than the 2006 and less funky than either the 2004 or 2005. Yet there's still a tension between the non-fruit components percolating in the background. In terms of ripeness, structure and complexity, this most reminds me most of the 2005 Bourriquot, though the level of funkiness is significantly lower. As far as aging capacity, I'm not going to make specific guesses. But I do suspect this wine will integrate better in several years. Its restraint and balance make me think it could evolve in an interesting manner, though.

While tasting I had guessed a pH of 3.6-3.7, with around 50% new (French) oak. The actual numbers are 3.75 and 40%, so I wasn't too far off. The TA is 5.8 g/L, near my personal sweet spot where a wine is fresh but immediately approachable. Thorough notes follow below.
  • 2007 Virage Vineyards - USA, California, Napa Valley, Carneros
    On initial pop and pour taste has savory/meaty quality, currant, cedar and mint. A fair amount of oak shows in the mouth, but it seems to be high quality French and integrated as a fine grained texture. Not quite opaque, between crimson and purple in color. Definite beginning, middle and end on the palate.

    Decanted, then consumed over several hours. Savory aromas dissipate, while tobacco and floral aromas emerge. Palate is layered with plums and currants up front, a bit of creaminess on the mid-palate, and tobacco and herbs on the finish. A complete wine with genuine complexity. Oak does show rather strongly on the palate, though perhaps this will integrate better over time. This is not an especially chocolatey, coffeed or toasty style. The acidity is slightly mouthwatering but approachable, while the tannic structure is very fine. Medium to med/full body with firm but integrated structure. Dry, though not austere.

    There's a palpable tension between a subtle herbaceous undercurrent and the fruit and oak components. A layered, multi-faceted wine that was best on its last sip. The oak on the palate is a bit distracting ultimately, but on the whole it is complementary and doesn't obscure other aromas. Shows a well-polished cooler-climate Cab Franc profile.

Disclaimer: This bottle was received as a press sample. And in the interest of full disclosure, I'm somewhat predisposed to liking both the wine style and business model of the producer.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Boycott Coppola Wines

I don't normally drink Francis Ford Coppola's line of wines. They just strike me as generic grocery store wines. But to each his own, especially if they suit one's budget.

But everyone should be aware of what Coppola is doing right now and should send them a message by boycotting the brand. Coppola has launched a law suit against basically any winery that uses the word "diamond" or even incorporates a diamond shape in any way on their labels. Ostensibly it's to protect their "Diamond Series" brand, but in reality it's the equivalent of legal napalm to raze everything in their path.

This sort of litigious corporate terrorism cannot be tacitly condoned. If folks stop buying their wines until they drop the suit, that will get their attention.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Dr. Velcorin, Or: How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love The Flabby Fruit Bomb

One of my biggest concerns with flabby, high pH, low acid wines has been their potential for microbial instability. But fear no more, for there's Velcorin! It's an additive consisting of dimethyl dicarbonate common not only in wine processing but also food processing that kills bacteria and yeast quite literally from the inside. That eliminates one obvious path for spoilage, especially in high pH wines where sulfites are ineffective except in massive doses.

Sounds great, right? Not so fast, my friend. This stuff is toxic to handle--after all, it penetrates cell membranes and inhibits cells from functioning. It apparently breaks down (hydrolyzes) to methanol and carbon dioxide quite rapidly, but methanol is not something we can consume safely in any measurable quantity. The good news is the requisite dosing is quite small, so we really don't need to worry about an appreciable level of methanol in our wine or fruit juice. But that does raise the question, is this a risk we need to be taking? A mistake in handling or dosing does indeed poses a risk for humans.

Like all of these concerns involving wine adjustments, this is a serious gray area. Do we trust Fred Franzia and his Bronco Wine Co. to use this tool in a safe manner? Do we trust conglomerates like Diageo, Foster's and Constellation to act responsibly? At the very least, Velcorin should be listed as an additive. But since it is a "secondary food additive" the FDA does not require it to be documented in any way. To be quite blunt, we should have access to the additives in our food in drink. If Velcorin or Mega-Purple was added to the wine, then list it. Of course, it will take FDA regulations and enforcement for this to happen. I wouldn't be holding my breath on this one. I'm in no way opposed to the use of sound chemistry as a tool, but disclosure is important to keep consumers informed.

For more on Velcorin, check out an older post over on Pinot Blogger. The comments are worth a read as well. W. Blake Gray's more recent post on Mega-Purple is also an interesting read.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Supertasters and Wine Criticism

I was reminded recently of the idea of supertasters, roughly 25% of the population who have a higher density of taste buds on their tongue and are especially sensitive to bitterness as well as sweetness. Supposedly about 50% of all people are normal tasters, while 25% are non-tasters, though I saw the term hypotaster used as well (less stigma attached to it).

Slate columnist Mike Steinberger was tested a few years ago and wrote a column. It turned out genetically he was a non-taster, but a PROP test indicated he might be a supertaster, while another diagnostic showed he had an average number of "fungiform papillae" on his tongue. I'll take the average of the results and say he's a taster.

Jancis Robinson was given a PROP test, tasted bitterness, and it was assumed she is a super taster, though maybe she is a taster given that this PROP test is not 100% reliable. Parker claims to be a supertaster, though I don't know that there's any evidence of him being tested formally. It does seem a bit dubious given his tastes for high octane wines, though from a standpoint of aromas and taste memory it's probably not important to be a super taster. A good nose and taste memory are probably the most important tools for a critic.

Finally, I'm left with a controversial CellarTracker user, Rajiv. He always finds the smallest flaws in every wine. I'm left almost certain he's a super taster for whom every flavor is amplified almost to pain threshold, especially flavors associated with oxidation.

It makes one wonder, doesn't it? How useful is wine criticism, at least from a flavor standpoint, when taste intensity is experienced so differently by everyone. I really like cilantro, for example, but apparently some people find it tastes overwhelmingly like soap! Conversely, I cannot understand why some people love cabbage and cauliflower when to me they have a horrible sulfrous quality.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Concentration vs. Extraction

Concentration and extraction are two terms that are bandied about a bit with wine. They are often related, but are not necessarily correlated. To be honest, this isn't something I've fully appreciated until recently.

Concentration is largely in my mind the intensity of flavor. White wines, which by definition tend to be lightly extracted as there is little to no pigment, tannin or flavor extracted from the skin, can still be incredibly concentrated. I've noticed this most consistently with Loire Chenin Blancs, though this is by no means exclusive. They aren't big or alcoholic--they just have a lot of flavor. And it's actually not that hard to find very ripe, alcoholic wines that lack concentration even though they have good body. Concentration is always good, at least in my book, and is a byproduct of nature.

Extraction is the amount of material taken from the grape skins as well as the seeds and stems. This is a little bit trickier as it seems to rely on taste and experience of the winemaker. Depending on variety, vintage and vineyard, fruit will lend itself to less or more extraction. There are all sorts of tools at a winemaker's fingertips to manage extraction: pre fermentation cold soaks, post fermentation macerations, enzymes, punch downs, pump overs, rotary fermenters and other techniques with which I am unfamiliar. While I doubt this is an exact science, the winemaker is the biggest factor in terms of extraction.

A highly concentrated wine would be "bold" in my book. I have a hard time thinking of a wine as overly concentrated. But over-extraction is another story. Dry extract can add body and a mouth-coating quality to a wine. But if it brings harsh, bitter, vegetal or medicinal flavors with it, that is a negative. Extraction is not intrinsically good or bad; it's about context. A very ripe wine high in alcohol and soft tannin can and probably should carry a lot of extract, though at a certain point the tannin likely still will overpower everything else. A less ripe wine probably should be less extracted to avoid excessive green flavors and hard tannins. Generally I favor less extraction as heavy extraction seems to create a sameness of texture and flavor in many wines even if it does not result in unpleasant flavors.

Enough bloviation, though. Concentration is good. Extraction, well, it depends. Nature gives you the former, nurture the latter. A good parent knows when to be hard on a kid or to back off a bit.