Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Winery Construction Day 1--Beginning With a Bang

My darling wife will tell you that I've been a little bit on edge the past couple of weeks.  The reason for this anxiety has been I've been waiting for final approval of the basement winery building permit.  Even though I had thought that my discussions with the folks up at town hall last fall had identified all the issues and concerns, it turns out that a few more had cropped up in the interim.  Needless to say the building permit approval process took a little longer while I dealt with the new stuff, but the permit was finally approved last Friday.  Construction was ready to begin!

Mother Nature had a little something to say over the weekend with the arrival of 3-4 inches of wet heavy snow on Sunday afternoon which required a little shoveling to clear the driveway & a path to the basement door for the contractors.  Does no one want this project to begin???

After a final shoveling, Monday morning began with the arrival of a Concord Lumber truck carrying a load of wood studs and other boards.  It was quite amazing to watch the crane operator deftly lift, twist, and dodge his loads past the house-roof and under the power lines to deposit them as close to the basement door as possible.  Eric, our head carpenter from Custom Contracting, Inc, was on hand to get started.  First job was to move the wood out of the snow and into the basement.  I pitched in and helped Eric man-handle the plywood and studs into the basement.  I had new respect for Eric since I think my arms stretched about 2-3 inches while we were moving the wood..  Fortunately by the time we got the big stack of studs transferred, another contractor arrived so I retired to the house, completely knackered.

After that, the afternoon passed with quite a bit of racket emanating from the basement.  Lots of prep work before walls can really start appearing, but the wall between the new bedroom and storage room was framed.  The rest of the winery space is still wide open for now, but we're poised to start really moving soon.  Photos below are essentially the starting point of the project (plus some stacks of wood).


Sunday, February 17, 2013

Sparkling Shiraz & Other Sparkling Reds

Last week was a bit of a busy wine-tasting week with meetings of my white wine subgroup of our local American Wine Society chapter and the Chateauneuf-du-Pape dinner at the Boston Wine Festival (see prior post).  In between those bookend events, I sandwiched in a tasting of Vietti Piemonte wines at Lower Falls Wine Company in Newton, MA.  Vietti is one of my favorite boralo & barbera producers so I thoroughly enjoyed tasting their wines and talking with owner Luca Currado.  Nothing like sipping some very fine wine and talking shop with an enthusiastic Italian winemaker!  This was my first time going to the Lower Falls Wine Company shop so after the tasting, I wandered around the aisles to see what else they offered.  Very interesting place with an emphasis on fine wines, especially French old labels.  But over in a corner on a bottom shelf underneath a window, I spied a bottle label that caught my eye...

"Sparkling Shiraz"

Pretty sure that I hadn't read that correctly, I picked it up and sure enough, it was a bottle of dark red sparkling shiraz.  I ever held the bottle up to the light that determine the color!


Never heard of that before.  I'm kicking myself at the moment for not buying a bottle (don't even remember the producer), but I was in cheapskate mode at the time.  I started doing some internet research this weekend and discovered that sparkling shiraz is all the rage in Australia...and not much anywhere else.  Unlike white sparkling wines that are made from unripe grapes that are picked early, sparkling shiraz is made from fully ripe grapes and produced much like a regular still red wine.  Reviews I've read include tasting comments that sound like the reviewer had sampled a red wine:  "meaty, leather, chocolate, cherry.."  Most seem to be slightly sweetened to balance the tannins

I have to admit that I'm a little intrigued and wishing that I'd bought that bottle.  Apparently very little sparkling shiraz makes it out of Australian since the rest of the world has turned its collective wine snoot up against it.  There are only a few producers in California with Geyser Peak and Wattle Creek Winery being the best reviewed--not surprisingly, both have Australian born winemakers.

Perhaps a trip back to Lower Falls Wine Company is in order (after the current snowstorm ends).  But another option if I can't buy a bottle easily would be to make some myself and see what the Australians crave!  Hmmm...

Questions to my readers:
1)  Have you tried Sparkling Shiraz or any other sparkling red?  If so, what did you think?
2)  Should Aaronap Cellars investigate producing our version of a sparkling red wine?


Saturday, February 16, 2013

Boston Wine Festival Chateauneuf-du-Pape Dinner

Some of our very dear friends gave my darling wife and I tickets to the Boston Wine Festival's Chateauneuf-du-Pape seminar & dinner as a wedding present.  Since the event roughly coincided with Valentine's Day, we decided to make a romantic weekend out of it and got a hotel room in Boston.  To say the event was sumptuous doesn't quite provide a good description!

Held in the Atlantic Room of the Boston Harbor Hotel, the seminar was hosted by Alain & John Junguenet of Wines of France (Mr Chateauneuf-du-Pape and his son) and featured wines from 6 wineries.

Chateau Fortia Chateauneuf-du-Pape "Tradition" Rouge 2011 (3/4/4/1/1 = 13 AWS pts)
60% Grenache/40% Syrah  Light color--almost a dark rose.  Fruity nose with black cherry & pepper.  Tiny hint of leather.  Good acidity but a short finish with a bitter end.

Domaine Lafond 'Roc-Epine' Chateauneuf-du-Pape Rouge 2011 (3/5/4/2/2 = 16 AWS pts)
80% Grenache/20% Syrah.  Grenache was fermented & aged in stainless steel while syrah was aged in oak.  Dark purple color.  Heavy fruity nose with blackberry & plum.  Big mouthfeel, very dry tannic finish that lingered with a slight hint of vanilla.

Bosquet des Papes Chateauneuf-du-Pape "Tradition" Rouge 2011 (3/5/5/2/2 = 17 AWS pts)
75% Grenache/12% Mourvedre/10% Syrah/3% Cinsault-Counoise.  Very Dark color purple.  Floral nose with raspberry, black pepper, & nutmeg.  Smooth, full body with medium tannins.

Le Vieux Donjon Chateauneuf-du-Pape Rouge 2011 (3/3/3/1/1 = 11 AWS pts)
75% Grenache/15% Syrah/5% Mourvedre/5% Cinsault.  Dark purple.  Odd nose of black pepper, cinnamon, tobacco, green pepper, & Band-aid.  Very tight on the palatte with lavender finish.  A disappointment.

Domaine Pierre Usseglio & Fils Chateauneuf-du-Pape "Tradition" Rouge 2011 (3/5/5/3/2 = 18 AWS pts)
80% Grenache/10% Syrah/5% Mourvedre/5% Cinsault.  Dark purple.  Cherry, vanilla, caramel, & floral notes on the nose.  Smooth & silky on the tongue with a nicely lingering finish.  Very drinkable!

Chateau Sixtine Chateauneuf-du-Pape Rouge 2011 (3/3/4/2/2 = 14 AWS pts)
40% Grenache/35% Mourvedre/25% Syrah.  Very dark purple.  Spare nose with light aromas of cherry, vanilla, & white pepper.  Full body & good tannins.

Some of the winemakers were present to describe their wines, so it was a treat to hear their obvious love of the wines.  Our absolute favorite was the Usseglio & Fils.  After the seminar, we retreated to the entry hall & enjoyed a glass of Moet Chandon Blanc de Noirs Champagne while the tables were cleared and reset for dinner.  Then the dinner began....

First Course.
Pan Fried Brook Trout with Maine Lobster & Tarragon Sauce
Domaine Pierre Usseglio & Fils Blanc 2011 (3/5/5/2/1 = 16 AWS pts)
     Crisp, citrus, apricot, & a slight butteriness
Chateau Sixtine Blanc 2011 (3/4/4/2/1 = 14 AWS pts)
     Dark golden with dried floral, petrol, & vanilla

Second Course:
Smoked Long Island Duck Breast with Black Olives, Baby Zucchini, Eggplant, & Acini di Pepe Pasta
Le Vieux Donjon Chateauneuf-du-Pape Rouge 2009 (3/4.5/4/2/1 = 14.5 AWS pts)
     Almost nebbiolo-like.  Meaty, cardamon, & cinnamon.  Spicy finish.
Clos des Papes Chateauneuf-du-Pape Rouge 2009 (3/5/5/2/2 = 17 AWS pts)
     Heavy, meaty, black fruits with smooth, silky finish & soft tannins.

Third Course:
Red Wine Braised Short Ribs with Winter Vegetables
Domaine Pierre Usseglio & Fils 'Cuvee de Mon Aieul' 2004 (3/5/5/3/2 = 18 AWS pts)
     Dark, red fruits.  Smooth & very drinkable
Cuvee du Vatican 'Reserve Sixtine' 2004 (3/5/6/3/2 = 19 AWS pts)
     Inky dark, black fruit, pepper, cinnamon, & raisins.  Medium tannins but very drinkable
(Both wines in magnums)

Fourth Course:
French Cantal Cheese & Wild Mushroom Filled Puffed Pastry
Chateau Fortia 'Cuvee du Baron' 2004 (3/5/5/2/1 = 16 AWS pts)
     Tobacco, leather, meat, vanilla, dried cherry, cinnamon, & bramble fruits
Domaine Lafond 'Roc-Epine' 2006 (3/5/5/3/2 = 18 AWS pts)
     So good that I didn't take notes
Warm Apple Cinnamon & Phyllo Clafoutis

See what I mean about sumptuous?  My belly is still full and my head still aches a tad bit.  All in all, a very delightful evening that we were grateful to experience.  Got to meet some new people both wine industry folks & wine enjoyers, and sampled some excellent wines.  The 2011 vintage from Chateauneuf-du-Pape is a bit of a mixed bag, but there were some very good wines.  And the older wines were simply stunning.  The 'Papes have always been one of my favorites and they did not disappoint!


Saturday, February 2, 2013

Sparkling Cranberry Experiments Results

Roughly about this time last year, I posted about some experimental sparking cranberry wines that I was trying.  Back then, my lovely girlfriend (now my wife) helped me get ready for their secondary fermentations in the bottle.  She'll be the first to tell you that this was a pretty big endeavor since we were investigating the affect of 6 different variables as part of this experiment.  Each of the 3 different base wines (cranberry, cranberry-cider, and cranberry-niagara) were also split into 2 carbonation styles (a lightly carbonated spumante and a fully carbonated sparkling).  If that wasn't enough, I also wanted to try a potentially labor-saving fermentation style using an encapsulated yeast (read the original post for more details).

Since then, the bottles have been sitting quietly doing their thing.  During the winter, I housed them in an upstairs closet to stay warm and then in the basement during the summer to keep relatively cool.  After almost 12 months of hopefully fermenting, I decided to pop a few bottles open a few weeks ago while I was clearing out the basement in preparation for winery construction to begin.

Drumroll please....

"Blech."  Followed by "dang it...shoot" (the words were actually a bit stronger, but this is a family show).

Cranberry (base wine made from 2 lbs cranberries/gallon of water)

Very few bubbles at all.  The spumante bottles were barely fizzy at all and the sparkling bottles had only a light fizz that disappeared quickly after opening.  Pink color with a strong cranberry taste, a thin mouth feel, and a very bitter finish.

Cranberry-Cider (base wine made from 1 lbs cranberries/gallon of apple cider)

More bubbles, but only in about half the bottles.  The sparkling bottles had the largest number of "bubbly" bottles but still had a significant number of duds.  The sparkled bottles did produce a nice mousse of bubbles that lingered for a decent period of time.  Pale orange color with a barely perceptible cranberry taste that was dominated by the aroma & taste of old dried apples.

Cranberry-Niagara (base wine made from 1 lbs cranberries/gallon of Welch's White Grape Juice)

Just about every bottle had sparkled with only 1-2 duds  The spumante bottles were refreshingly fizzy but I wanted more.  The sparkled bottles had a nice lingering mousse of small, fine trailed bubbles.  Bigger mouth feel than the rest.  Pale pink-orange color with a barely perceptible cranberry taste that was dominated by the aroma & taste of foxy niagara grapes (like drinking a dry version of Sparkling Welch's Grape Juice).

In the end, I opened every bottle and dumped them down the drain.  The Cranberry-Niagara produced the highest quality sparkling wine, but did not have a flavor that I really wanted to ever taste again.  Rather than waste valuable storage space on a wine that I wasn't going to drink, I dumped them.

Some lessons learned for the future:
1)  Amount of cranberries in the recipe needs to be fine tuned.  2 lbs/gal resulted in too strong of a flavor, while 1 lb/gal gave too weak of a cranberry flavor.
2)  Use a grape base for best mouthfeel and higher chance of complete carbonation.
3)  Forgo the "foxy" grapes like Niagara and use a more neutral flavored V. vinifera grape as the base
4)  Encapsulated yeast do work well for "sparkling" wine production, although the jury is still out on whether I'd use this "yeast-in-a-cap" method again.  Worked well when it worked, but still had a larger number of duds than I would like.  Reasonable for amateur use, but not commercial use.