Category Archives: Wine lessons

How Vintage Affects Your Wine

Will it be a fresh, easy-drinking vintage or one that needs a bit of cellaring? And just what the heck makes it easy drinking or a wait-a-while wine? Are the sugar, acidity and tannins balanced and therefore ready to pick? Or do the grapes need more sunshine to ripen?

In the vineyard, it’s Mother Nature who determines these things, from bud break in the spring through warm summers without rain or hail to harvest in a dry or wet fall.

Vintages from warm years, such as this latest one, tend to have more sugars, lush fruit and with careful tannin management are drinkable in the near term. Cooler years produce wines with thicker skins and higher acidity, more in need of cellar time.

Many are touting the 2014s will go down in the harvest history books as one of the earliest vintages, one of the biggest and one of the best, primarily for the West Coast. Everything was high: temperatures, crop size, sugars and potential alcohol. Other areas, particularly in Europe, were not so fortunate in Mother Nature’s grand harvest scheme.

For most of the northern hemisphere, harvest typically starts around the end of August and wraps up around the first of November, with a few exceptions for those gambling on a late harvest or ice wine. The southern hemisphere, however, is just the opposite: it’s experiencing bud break while the northern half is harvesting.

Washington’s wine grape harvest was off to an early August start this year. The hot summer of 2014, valuable to vineyard managers, produced grapes, free from mildew, ripe and at perfect picking peaks one after another. Wineries scrambled for fermentation tank space. A record harvest of around 230,000 tons is projected, which exceeds 2013’s record of 215,000 tons.

The 2014 Oregon wine grape harvest was pretty perfect, with a warm summer and no summer squalls to water down the thin-skinned Pinot Noir grapes. For the state’s 905 vineyards, this was the warmest growing season on record. The consistent warm temperatures allowed growers to harvest grapes at peak condition rather than rushing around to beat cold weather or rain. As a result, Oregon wineries are harvesting big yields and very good quality grapes.

And in California, a mild winter and spring caused early bud break, and for California, the earliest harvest in recent memory. Sparkling wine producers harvested in July! The sparkling wine producers typically harvest earlier for the higher acidity levels.

Despite drought conditions and an earthquake in August, California’s harvest was estimated at 3.9 million tons. Last year’s crop was 4.24 million tons and 2012 was 4.02 million tons, a bountiful, great drinking vintage right now. The smallest California harvest in the last decade was 2004, at 2.77 million tons.

In Europe, harvests varied significantly by country, with France doing better than last year and Italy facing difficult weather conditions during most of the growing season.

And speaking of drought, Bordeaux and Burgundy haven’t seen a 90-point vintage on the charts for three years. In Burgundy, a warm spring had the growing season off to a good start, but a ruthless hailstorm at the end of June brought the yields down significantly. For the most part, the 2014 vintage appears to have been saved by an Indian summer.

The Rhône region with a cool summer and heavy rainfall during harvest caused slow ripening and the need for meticulous sorting. It’ll be short and perhaps not so sweet.

Further south, Italy saw a lot of wet weather, which will translate to very small quantities on the shelves in two or four year’s time, except for an exceptional year for Sicily.

The Port region of Douro was also hit by rains, which caused soil erosion in many parts of this steep valley and producers facing a challenging harvest.

While Spain as a whole is expected to return to average after last year’s record high. Only Rioja is looking at a bumper harvest.

Germany also saw periods of heavy rain, however the harvest is expected to rise by 16 percent. Let’s hope for an early freeze and much botrytis.

So it looks like enjoying California and Washington wines from 2012 and 2013 vintages is the prudent course to take now while waiting for the West Coast 2014s.

The year of the snake means it’s sake time

Mary writes:

This Sunday celebrate the New Year again!  Most Asian cultures celebrate the lunar New Year, which begins Sunday, Feb. 10 with the new moon, in style.

So we’re going to start out this New Year right and focus your attention on a different kind of wine that is technically a beer.

Why? Because it’s actually brewed and no fruit is involved, just rice and millet.

In China, traditional celebrations of the New Year vary. Window and doors are festooned in red symbols of fortune, wealth and happiness. It’s sort of like our holidays where people buy presents and on the eve of the New Year supper is a family feast with lots of savory foods paired with rice wine. The evening is capped with fireworks. Sound familiar?

The Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Mongolian, Tibetan and Vietnamese all make rice wine and the varying wines are made with different types of rice. There are more than 20,000 different rice varieties of rice in the world. Red, black, white and brown.

For our foray into rice wine, we’ll explore sake. Many different styles of sake are brewed in Japan. They also brew mirin, which is sweeter and used in cooking.

At a sake tasting a few years back, I learned that the better sakes were served cool, like a white wine. Most sake that is heated, is not the top of the line wine. And like wine, rice wine adds flavor to sauces and acidity to marinades.

Sake is clear in color except for Nigori. This style is opaque, almost the color of milk. The bottle is meant to be shaken before serving — an unsettling act to a vintage red wine aficionado.

When tasting sake, use a wine glass that allows you to swirl the rice wine to release the aromas, just like you would do with wine made from grapes. The more complex sake will have floral or tropical aromas.

Ginjo styles are fruity and floral and the easiest to like. The earthiness and rich, fuller bodied Junmai is appealing to the more savory palates. The taste is subtle with star anise, fennel and white pepper.

A tasting is a great way to share your sake experience and expand your palette. Dress up in a fancy red shirt and ring in the Lunar New Year in style.

Happy Lunar New Year!

The perfect wine-related gift

Still searching for a Valentine’s gift for your sweetheart? We’ve got one idea, and it’s perfect for any wine lover out there.

It comes courtesy of Eleven Winery, owned by Bainbridge Island winemaker Matt Albee. Eleven is offering wine courses, at a reasonable price, for people looking to expand their wine knowledge.

Most of the classes are to be held at the Poulsbo tasting room along Front Street, although there’s a few scheduled for the winery on the island. Classes will be held the second Wednesday of the month from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. The first class is Feb. 8.

If you’re interested email this address to sign up: Here’s the email from Eleven describing what’s offered and the price:

Ever had a wine question you were embarrassed to ask? Felt intimidated by a wine list at a restaurant? Or just wish you knew more about wine? We at Eleven are here to help.  Starting in February, we are offering classes on the second Wednesday of each month.

In February we offer Wine 101, Basics and Beyond, and this class will alternate each month with another class on a specific topic. More information will be available soon on our website. We look forward to seeing you!

  • February 8: Wine 101; Location: Poulsbo Tasting Room. Cost: $15
  • March 14: WineMAKING 101; Location: Winery. Cost: $15
  • April 11: Wine 101; Location: Poulsbo Tasting Room. Cost: $15
  • May 9: Wine Blending; Location: Winery. Cost: $25
  • June 13: Wine 101; Location: Poulsbo Tasting Room. Cost: $15
  • July 11: Wine Component Tasting; Location: TBD. Cost: $25
  • August 8: Wine 101; Location: Poulsbo Tasting Room. Cost: $15
  • September 12: Food and Wine Pairing; Location: Poulsbo Tasting Room. Cost: $25
  • October 10: Wine 101; Location: Poulsbo Tasting Room. Cost: $15
  • November 14: Food and Wine Pairing; Location: Poulsbo Tasting Room. Cost: $25
  • December 12: Wine 101; Location: Poulsbo Tasting Room. Cost: $15


Aging wines: A snapshot of young vs. old

Brynn writes:

A few weekends ago Mary and I decided to get together outside of our regular blog meet up day. The purpose? To compare a 1996 St. Joseph with a 2006 Crozes-Hermitage.

Both of these wines are from the Northern Rhone region of France and made with Syrah grapes.

The idea to compare the wines came up after I started asking Mary for advice about how to decide which wines should be saved for a few years and which wines should be had now. (That will be a topic of a future post to come, so stay tuned).

We planned the menu for the evening: Roasted lamb marinated with olive oil, rosemary and thyme, and roasted red potatoes and onions seasoned with dill, parsley and basil.

We opened the 2006 Chave Crozes-Hermitage first, saving the 1996 to have with the dinner because once open it would fade.

We were surprised to find that even after four-and-a-half years, the 2006 was tight. The color was typical of a Syrah, deep purple, but the nose was limited to whiffs of plum. The lamb in the oven smelled better than this wine at this point.

Eventually it did open up to a nose of violets, licorice and plum.

Dinner was ready and we opened the 1996 Chave St. Joseph — but not before a little difficulty with the cork, which decided to crumble as we tried to extricate it from the bottle. Dang! No Ahso. (You know, the corkscrew with the two metal arms that go on each side of the cork).

A knife was inserted down the neck of the bottle to loosen the cork’s hold. We then drilled the corkscrew into the side to get a better hold on the cork. We met with success.

Comparing the two wines, there was a visible difference. The 1996 had a brick rim, a sign of maturity. The nose was fragrant with plum and cinnamon, and the flavor much more subdued for a Syrah, with a long, smooth finish.

The 1996 St. Joseph paired so nicely with the succulent lamb and herbed red potatoes. The plum and cinnamon flavors married perfectly with the lamb and the parsley and dill potatoes.

The 2006 Crozes-Hermitage, while tight when enjoyed by itself, became “hot”  with the lamb. This means the alcohol was much more prominent on the finish after sipping it with the flavor of the lamb in our mouths. We revisited the St. Joseph for the rest of the delightful meal.

Going with the theme of trying wines that have been aged for a few years, the next night Jeff and I dug out a bottle we had from 1999. The wine is also a Rhone style blend, but we bought it from a Virginia winery we visited when we lived on the East Coast.

I bought the wine (along with five other bottles) four years earlier as a gift for Jeff for Valentines Day.

We had one bottle at the time and it was as great as we remembered from our visit to the winery. But four years later when we opened this wine, a blend of Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre, Carignan and Tinta Cao with a splash of Viognier, our reaction was much different.

Maybe our palates have since grown, or maybe the wine was past its prime. We tried to drink it, but after a glass we decided it was flat and the nose was unappealing.

I did the unthinkable, I poured out the bottle. It was painful, but the wine was past its prime.

With one bottle left I decided I needed to bring it to Mary, to get her expert opinion.

Her observations included:

“When we first opened it, I really enjoyed the nose. At first it smelled of spices and orange peel, it was very appealing, but…”

But 20 minutes later, the nose had completely faded and Mary’s reaction was that the smell reminded her of fruit flies in her wine, and as she said “I really hate fruit flies in my wine.”

Her next comment: “It’s a tired wine, so we’re going to have to pound this.” She was joking of course, but not about the wine being tired.

It would be interesting to try the most recent vintage of this wine from the winery — assuming they still make this blend — to see if we still like it.

This is a case where we shouldn’t have held on to the wine as long as we did. Lesson learned.

Wine tasting tips for any wine lover

We’re coming up on prime wine tasting season, but before you venture out to taste the latest releases at that upcoming trendy wine event, we want to equip you to not only look like a wine tasting pro, but be able to remember whether your last sip was of a Cab, Syrah or Merlot.

Our hats are off to Aaron, who recently replied to a different post that it would be good for us to give some wine tasting advice. Your timing couldn’t have been more perfect Aaron.

Tonight Monica’s Waterfront Bakery and Cafe is hosting a wine tasting from 4 to 6:30 p.m.; Sunday the Washington State Wine Commission is holding Taste Washington!, its largest wine tasting event of the year to celebrate March as Washington wine month; and next Thursday, March 31, five Bremerton restaurateurs are hosting the first-ever Manette Wine Walk from 6 to 9 p.m.

If you’re planning to attend any of those events, or others, read on for tips about how to keep your senses, how to look like a pro and how not to look like a drunk fool by the end of the night. And remember, everyone’s palates have their limit, so expect to hit the wall. (But, we hope our tips help you taste a few more wines before that wall comes slamming at you).

How to taste like a pro, and other tips:

Aarons’ tips:

  • Never take more than three tastes of a wine (consider this rule: sip-sip-taste[the food pairing]-sip).
  • A “taste” should be less than a milliliter. There should be leftovers from a 1oz. pour.
  • Dump it if you don’t like it, otherwise you’re just wasting your limited tastes.

Our tips:

  • Swirl, sniff, taste, spit: Don’t be afraid to spit, even if you like the wine. (And don’t be a slob when you spit).
  • Eat: Have a “stick to your ribs” type breakfast before the event, and take advantage of food samplings during the event.
  • Drink water: Start the day before the event and bring a bottle to drink as you move between wineries.
  • Know before you go: For large tasting events create a list of “must visit” wineries — keep in mind some will run out before others, so do your research and visit the most sought after wineries first.
  • Red before white?: Generally the rule is lighter to heavier, old to new, white to red.
  • Bring your own glass, if you wish.
  • Bring a pen (or two) to record names, notes and wines you like. Formal tastings supply a list with winery information.
  • Ask questions: Winemakers love to talk about their wines. Where did the grapes come from? Was oak used, and if so what type? How did they get into winemaking? What’s their favorite of the wines they’re pouring?
  • Record your impressions: This could be a star system, a numerical rating, or something as easy as “I like it” or “I love it!”
  • Avoid strong or spicy foods: They may endanger your palate.
  • Collect your thoughts: When you’re done, sit down with a Perrier (or your water of choice) and write your “after action report” while all the details are fresh in your mind.

And last but not least: Have Fun!

Making Sense of the Senses

Which of the five senses is the most important to enjoying wine? The luscious taste? The sight of a brilliant color? The feel of alcohol warming you up? The sound of the cork popping? The smell of heady aromas?

For Mary, the aroma is what draws her in and keeps her coming back. But the taste is what brings Brynn back to a favorite wine.

Let’s explore what the five senses can tell say about a wine, and whether you’re going to love it or not.

We’ll start with the sight of the wine. The color and the clarity of a wine can be very telling. For instance, if the wine is dark in color, the skins of the grape — which have all the color pigments — will have had prolonged contact with the juice from the grapes during the fermentation process. Some skins are denser than others. Syrah and Cabernet are thicker than Pinot Noir or Beaujolais, so they naturally have more color and more tannin.

Color can also indicate how old or how young a wine is. Reds tend toward a purple/red color when young. As they age they get lighter in color, shedding their purple robe and taking on a ruby red, then brick red, (by now hopefully you’ve enjoyed it) then after more time a red/orange color and lastly an orange/brown.

Whites on the other hand go the other way. They start out very pale, almost straw in color and with age they end up with a golden brown color.

Often, the sound of the cork popping can get your tongue salivating. But other than the great conversation or music, the sense of sound isn’t used too often when drinking a good wine.

By the time you reach the sense of taste, you will know if the wine is sweet, dry, tannic, bubbly, balanced and/or acidic. Add to this the megabyte of flavor descriptors that could be applied to any given wine, and this could take you into the next century to explore them all.
A person’s mouth can sense a smooth wine that has a lot of body — or a light, delicate mouth feel. Concentrated wine gives makes the mouth feel weighty.

Next is aroma. The sense of smell can tell you if the wine is great, good or off with the first whiff. This is the sense that, worldwide, people will agree on the most often, regardless of if they prefer red or white, sweet or dry, or young or old wine. Inhaling aromas can bring a person back to a summer of picking berries, or grandmother’s apple pie laced with vanilla, or the pungent aroma of freshly ground black pepper on a Caesar salad.

A wine’s aroma also changes when it comes in contact with air. Swirling the wine, or decanting a bottle, oxygenates the wine. This allows air into the wine, which releases the esters — all the better to smell the wine. If allowed, prolonged contact with air causes the wine to break down because of bacteria in the air. With enough exposure, wine will turn to vinegar.

So, swirl, swish, sniff, savor. Salute.

Try the lesson: Remember when we said to line up five different glasses and pour the same wine in each glass, then find a favorite glass? That was a test of taste and smell.

The bowl of a glass will affect the bouquet of a wine. For example, an open bowl — like a martini glass — will make it harder to decipher the aroma of wine because there is nothing to trap the bouquet in the glass. By comparison, a large bowl with a narrow opening, like a Burgundy wine glass, will trap the aroma within the bowl, allowing the nose to blossom.

The glass size and shape also affects the way the taste of wine is perceived. Remember the suggestion to try a jelly jar, a wine glass with a big bowl, a glass with a rolled rim and a coffee cup? The wine tasted different in each of those, right? That’s because the shape of the glass is letting the oxygen in, which affects the taste of wine.

Wine glass makers aren’t trying to pull one over on consumers when they make glasses labeled for specific wines like Burgundy, Bordeaux, Chardonnay, Syrah, etc. They truly are crafting glasses meant to compliment those styles of wine. The way they are made is meant to direct the wine to a specific spot on the tongue for the most pleasure.