Sunday, April 29, 2012

Odd blends

Spent some time in the cellar yesterday moving wine around.  The 2010 Lemberger (also known as Blaufrankish) had spent the better part of 10 months in a 4 year old 11 gallon American Oak barrel.  It was starting to take on some dark dried fruit flavor, which to me means that it's time to come out of the barrel in order to retain as much of the fruity varietal character as possible.  Given the age of the barrel, not a lot of oak flavors had been extracted, but frankly for this wine, I didn't really care.  Enjoying the fruit forwardness with just a hint of vanilla instead of being over-powered by the oak flavors.

Of course, when a barrel is emptied, you've got to fill it back up to prevent any acetification of the barrel as it sits empty.  I had an assortment of left-over wines from previous barrel fillings so I decided to do an "Estate Cuvee" blend.  Into the barrel went 5 gallons of 2010 Cabernet Franc & 3 gallons of 2010 Merlot (both from Two Mountains Vineyard in WA).  The rest of the space was taken up by about 2.8 gallons of 2010 Carmenere from the Curico Valley in Chile.

That tertiary blend may sound a little odd at first glance, but it's actually a time-honored Right Bank Bourdeaux blend.  The Bourdeaux region of France is split by the Gironde estuary  and it's two primary tributaries, the Garonne and Dordogne Rivers.  Wineries along the "Left Bank" along the Garonne River typically produce wines that are more commonly blends of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot due to the western side of the river typically being a little warmer due to the closer proximity to the ocean breezes.  This allows for a longer growing cycle to allow the Cabernet Sauvignon grapes to more fully mature.  The "Right Bank" wineries along the Dordogne River are known for blends more typically based on Merlot with some Cabernet Franc.  However, pre-Phylloxera Bourdeaux vineyards also grew a number of other grape varietals like Carmenere & Malbec.  After the vineyards were essentially wiped out and rescued by replanting on American rootstock (the dirty little secret of French wine), the vineyards were replanted in more economically desirable varietals like cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, and merlot.  Carmenere and Malbec were used more as blending grapes & didn't command high price points, so their plantings in France were essentially extinguished.  However, these grapes found a new home in South America due to the Spanish missions (and some fortunate mistaken identities where the vineyards thought they were actually planting merlot).

And that's where we re-enter the Aaronap Cellars story....after filling the barrel with a historically typical Right Bank Bourdeaux blend and making sure the carboys of Lemberger were topped off, I had a half-bottle of Lemberger and a little Carmenere left in the carboy.  Can't let a little wine go to waste, so I filled the half-bottle of Lemberger with the Carmenere from the carboy, stopper it up, and let it sit overnight.  This afternoon, after working on cleaning out the garage, I sat down to sample this interesting blend.

Frankly,  my eyebrows went up a notch.  Really, really tasty!  Dark purple color.  Heavy fruit forward nose with black cherries and raspberries predominating.  High tannins in the mouth and a spicy after finish.  Both of these wines were unoaked, so the varietal characters were on display.  I like this interesting blend!

Don't believe that I've every heard of a Lemberger/Carmenere blend before.  What's your wildest grape varietal blend?  Ever come across something completely unheard of, but really quite tasty?  Share people share!


Sunday, April 15, 2012

2011 Paso Robles Grenache Update

I haven't posted too much info on the 2011 wines after getting everything fermented, pressed, and into the basement for the winter since getting the winery applications submitted have been a priority.  But since I'm a little in between things at the moment, and spending a quiet Sunday afternoon around the house while recovering from a long run this morning, I thought I'd reflect a little on the results.  In particular, the grenache is not turning out as I was hoping.

Recall, dear readers, that all of the 2011 vintage grapes arrived as crushed & frozen must (due to an unholy combination of cool & wet weather in CA, a record early snowstorm in New England, & my work/vacation schedule).  Usually that means that you don't have to work very hard to extract color from the grapeskins because the freezing process does the hard work for you.  Even with that going for me, I opted to apply the usual combination of pre-ferment tannin addition (30 g/hL FT Rouge dosage) and a 1 g/gal dose of Opti-Red to really go for a dark, bold color in the resulting wine.  This combination strategy has worked incredibly well on previous vintages.

Since the grapes arrived in crushed form, I don't have the supplier information.  During fermentation, the color was definitely not as dark as my other varietals.  After fermentation, well the pictures speak for themselves.  After all the snow & turmoil before the grapes arrived, it turned out to be a gorgeous day for the pressing.  You'll notice my pre-filter technique to catch wayward skins, seeds, or large gunk before it got into the buckets.  That worked well, just the sieve caught a lot of material and had to be switched with a clean filter about every 10 minutes.  You can see that the pressed pomace is a very light color, which would indicate that I sucked as much color as possible out of the grapes.  However, the pressed wine in the carboys is a pretty light color.  Not much I could do at that point, and I thought that it might be reflective of the solids still present in the wine, so I let everything settle before racking off the gross lees.  After malolactic fermentation in my warm spare bathroom, the carboys were transferred to the basement where they've sat until about 3 weeks ago when I freed up some barrel space so I could get this into a French Oak barrel.

That racking really reinforced the color issue.  Big tannin punch to the wine, but the color is slightly darker than a very dark rose.  Aroma is wonderful--strawberries and plums.  It's just that light color.

Now--grenache is known to be a thin-skinned, light color variety, which is why it's the work horse grape for rĂ³se production in the Rhone region of France.  And why's it's usually used as a blender in regions like the Rhone, or Priorat in Spain to make full-bodied reds.  My ultimate goal for this wine is to blend it with syrah to make a Rhone-inspired blend.  Also have some carignan so I can even try to emulate a Priorat blend.  But the color of those blends is going to come mostly from the syrah or carignan.  In the end, we'll see how it turns out--I was just hoping for a little more color in the grenache base wine.  Perhaps if I have enough left over from blending, I'll even try to treat the single varietal like a Italian nebbiolo where is packed with tannins, but light in color.

That is the beauty of wine--blend it to achieve what you are truly aiming for!


Wednesday, April 4, 2012

TTB Basic Permit Received!

Yesterday was a rollercoaster ride for the Aaronap Cellars household.  Work was the usual pell mell dash so I was a tad exhausted when I came home.  Neither Shawna nor I felt like making dinner or eating left overs so we headed out for dinner.  I took her to one of my favorite restaurants in Chelmsford and we had a lovely dinner of Spanish tapas at Cafe Madrid (the spinach & cheese empanadas & pork loin were awesome).  After enjoying a lovely glass of granacha (her) and monastrell (me), we wandered home and I opened my Aaronap Cellars email account...

To find an email from the TTB announcing that the Basic Permit for Aaronap Cellars had been approved!!!

After gaping at the screen with an open mouth for a few moments, I yelped like a fool, which brought Shawna running.  A couple of big hugs later, I was finally calm enough to think.

"Oh my God, I own a federally licensed winery!"

The absolutely amazing part was how quickly this happened.  I submitted the application on March 11 and less than 17 business days later, it was approved.  I definitely have to credit my TTB agent Heather with an excellent customer-service approach.  We had a few back-n-forths about some details that needed amended and she fixed them for me on the application!  After my recent brush with the faceless bureaucracy that is the IRS, this dealing with the Federal government was eye-openingly refreshing.

Of course, this means that I need to get my rear in gear and get moving on the state and local permits.  I honestly wasn't expecting to get the TTB permit for at least another month or two, so had turned my focus to other things for a little bit.  Time to refocus!

The wine to celebrate this momentous occasion?  Alto Moncayo Campo de Borja Garnacha 2007, a lovely full of chocolate & black fruit aromas, silky tannins, and a bold fruity aftertaste.  Yum!