Cigareetes, Whuskey and Wild, Wild Women – Song & Lyrics Tim Spencer, 1947.

Nanaimo Winemakers March Zoom meeting didn’t feature many wild women but whiskey was aplenty! It appears the club’s wine appreciation enthusiasts have a significant interest in whisky as 36 members and partners tuned in for a whisky making and tasting education session at their March Zoom meeting.

This month’s dress theme was a tribute to St. Patrick and green was the colour of choice. Most members found some suitable attire and had their names entered into the costume draw.

President Andrew welcomed members:

 

Treasurer Chris gave a brief financial update:

Membership Coordinator David updated the latest membership numbers:

 

 

 

 

Barrell/Cork Supplies Coordinator Don outlined the 2021 situation:

Quite honestly, I’m not sure you can trust anything these “clowns” say but they do seem to be having a great time! Fortunately, Education Coordinator Cindy and hubby Mike restored some confidence with their appearance:

Cindy outlined future education plans not only for the monthly general meetings but also more detailed winemaking education sessions utilising the benefits of Zoom and additional to the regular meetings. Cindy thanked Jan and James for the extra work involved in putting on this months education session and the meeting was then turned over to Nanaimo Winemakers members James and Jan :

 

 

 

 

In preparation for the education session, Jan and James purchased three whiskeys and samples of the whiskeys were put into vials and delivered to each member who had coughed up the $15 tasting fee – what a bargain!

The three premium whiskeys to sample were:

1. Red Breast Irish Whiskey aged 12 years
2. Glenmorangie The Qunita Ruban Scotch Whisky aged 14 years
3. Ardbeg Islay Single Malt aged 10 years

James gave an interesting presentation on the distilling process and then led members thru a tasting and evaluation experience. As usual to this writer, a lot of time was spent on looking at the appearance of the whiskies and the “Nose” and perhaps “Tasting” is not an accurate description of the experience?

What was apparent was that the initial “nose” and taste does not always quickly reveal the whiskey. Sometimes one has to allow the whiskey to open up in the glass and the mouth. And adding just a few drops of water to the whiskey can totally change your enjoyment. Even the “peaty and smoky” Ardbeg, which was initially not to my liking, took on a different taste and enjoyment with a little water.

All in all, a very educational experience and thanks to James and Jan for pulling this off so well.

Andrew then led members thru a Whiskey Quiz which tested people’s knowledge of Irish, Scotch and Bourbon whiskeys:

Cindy did a roll call on who had the most correct answers and there was a three way tie for first with 16 out of 20 correct – the Gillinghams, the Grahams and James W. After an elimination draw, James was the well deserved winner. Cindy then wrapped up the education session and held draws for the raffle wine and costume outfit.

A final social session for members to chat did prove that 40%+ proof whiskey has some redeeming qualities!

Once again, a good time was had by all!

 

LOCAL WINE CLUB HAS “STELLAR” NEW YEAR’S MEETING

January 12, 7pm          By: Dddd

I was invited to join the January meeting of the Nanaimo Winemakers – like many events today this was a virtual meeting using Zoom. I was intrigued to find out how a club celebrating the enjoyment of wine and winemaking would bring in the New Year.

President Andrew Fox welcomed 35 members and 20 spouses, some dressed in outstanding style – albeit from the waist up – hopeful of winning a prize! As I sat looking at my monitor, one by one they appeared: some without video, some without audio but helping hands soon had them operating in the fast lane. There were masqueraders, there were tuxedo clad men looking like Hollywood stars, ladies in their finest with earrings dangling, jewels flashing and hair straight from the local salon. There were mavericks, hats galore and lots of laughter.

Cindy, who doubles as Minister of Social Events and Education,  introduced a new raffle wine event for the next five meetings:

After a brief business session, Cindy then introduced the guest speaker Jason James from Sumac Ridge/Black Sage. Jason would be giving a talk on making sparkling wine the Methode Traditionelle way as well as how Steller’s Jay Sparkling wine is made.

A week before, all 47 members had been gifted with a bottle of Steller’s Jay Sparkling Wine from Nanaimo Winemakers hand delivered by Cindy Scott or Doug Markin. Jason’s talk was very well received and was followed with a video on how to open a bottle of bubbly with a sabre sword. Club member Don Graham was the sword master.

Seemed like quite a lot of wasted bubbly to this writer. Finally, Cindy gave a short presentation on the different methods of making sparkling wine and members were asked to sample the Steller’s Jay wine and a Jacob’s Creek Sparkling wine made in a different method. Your writer had no idea how different wine glasses could influence the enjoyment nor that different methods produced different quantities of bubbles. Apparently, wine enthusiasts count the bubbles!

Later, I would discover that Champagne could have a million bubbles! Perhaps, by now I was mishearing things and was experiencing CO2 shock – but whose counting anyway!

Cindy then had a very disturbing announcement to make. Members of the Club Executive Team had not followed what they and the Government preached regarding safety and isolation over the festive season. Cindy then showed a video of five members of the Executive caught frolicking in what looked like Caribbean or Hawaiian waters over the holidays. She did point out that if any member wanted to remove a guilty member from the Executive then they had to take over their responsibilities. This seemed to quieten down the rowdy protesters rather quickly! Click on the play button below!

The next to last item on the evening’s agenda was a PUB STYLE QUIZ with fifteen questions focused around sparkling wines. The winner, based on the honor system, with TEN correct answers was a Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence and Jane Matthews. I must say, to an outsider this was greeted with less than enthusiasm. Apparently, Mr. Matthews is a frequent winner of club raffles and “rescued” gold medal wines. In fact, I thought I could hear shouts questioning the enumeration system and suggesting the tally was rigged! Remains to be seen if anyone can bring convincing evidence before Mr. Matthews spends his $15 gift card.

Finally, the evening came to a close with the award for Best Dressed Couple. Elaine and Tim Peligren were the winners and your writer was in agreement as they blended masks, hats and elegant outfits – a bit of fun and whimsy!

All in all, your writer had almost as much fun as the club members and would enthusiastically recommend others to join future meetings. $50 membership gets you in the door which appears to be a ZOOM door for most of this year.

In America, the species of oak typically used is the Quercus alba which is a white oak species that is characterized by its relatively fast growth, wider grains and lower wood tannins. It is found in most of the Eastern United States.

In France, both the Quercus robur (common oak) and Quercus petraea (white oak) are considered apt for wine making; however, the latter is considered far superior for its finer grain and richer contribution of aromatic components. French oak typically comes from one or more primary forests: Allier, Limousin, Nevers, Tronçais and Vosges. The wood from each of these forests has slightly different characteristics.

Prior to the Russian Revolution, Quercus petraea oak from Hungary was the most highly sought after wood for French winemaking. The trees in the Hungarian Zemplén Mountains grow more slowly and smaller in the volcanic soil, creating fine tight grain which sequentially lends itself to a very delicate extraction. The hemicellulose in the Hungarian oak breaks down more easily, and conveys an exceptional selection of toasted, vanilla, sugary, woody, spicy and caramel-like flavors – imparting these aromas with less intensity, and more slowly than American or French oak.

Many winemakers favor the softer, smoother, creamier texture that Hungarian oak offers their wines.

Barrels are constructed in cooperages. The traditional method of European coopers has been to hand-split the oak into staves (or strips) along the grain. After the oak is split, it is allowed to “season” or dry outdoors while exposed to the elements. This process can take anywhere from 10 to 36 months during which time the harshest tannins from the wood are leached out. These tannins are visible as dark gray and black residue left on the ground once the staves are removed. The longer the wood is allowed to season the softer the potential wine stored in the barrels may be but this can add substantially to the cost of the barrel. In some American cooperage the wood is dried in a kiln instead of outdoor seasoning. While this method is much faster, it does not soften the tannins quite as much as outdoor seasoning.

How many members does it take to have a successful first Club Zoom Meeting? Well, 37 members, including partners, came together to give it a shot this December and a good time was had by all…..we hope!

After a number of tutorials in the previous week, President Andrew Fox welcomed members to our December Zoom Club Meeting. After a short, dry, perhaps a little boring business session, our new Education Coordinator, Cindy Scott, had everyone wide awake and racking their wine brain with a very challenging and entertaining wine quiz.

Cindy was also kind enough to donate a raffle wine –  a bottle of her 2017 Zinfandel that won Best in Class Provincial Club Crush in the 2019 Provincials. What was the catch you ask? All you had to do was wear your favorite Christmas sweater or hat for the Zoom meeting. Norm Lemmen was the lucky winner!

Our thanks to Cindy and all who attended.

AND LOOKOUT FOR NEWS OF THE JANUARY ZOOM CLUB MEETING – MORE FUN AND EDUCATION TO COME!

Pretty hard to imagine that we are now into our eighth month since covid was seriously recognized. The wine cellar has been taking a beating! Your executive has been meeting – once in a member’s workshop complete with social distancing and a couple of zoom meetings. Also, we have held a few wine club gatherings in the last few months – suitably covid organized and monitored by Cindy in accordance with Dr. Bonnie’s requirements. A picnic at Cavallotti in August and general club meetings in September and October. All in all, a cautious return to “normal” or as close as we can safely get.

Your Grape Team has had to approach things a little different this year in order to continue to bring in grapes safely. No more grape crushing and destemming at Cavallotti with the inherent risk of contact and social distancing problems – grapes were destemmed at site in the Okanagan and Lodi, California and shipped to Nanaimo in a refrigerated state. Zinfandel(Lodi) and Pinot Noir(OK) were the first to arrive  Saturday October 3rd and are now safely fermenting in greater Nanaimo/Ladysmith, Nanoose Bay, Campbell River, Cobble Hill and Victoria. Riesling, Pinot Gris, Viognier, Merlot, Cab. franc and Cab. Sauvignon are all to follow.

The October general meeting featured red wines from some of the newer club members- Gloria, Kathy and Clair. 2019 Cab. Sauvignon, Syrah and 2018 Merlot respectively. All very well received and an indicator of future medal winners for sure.

We were also pleased to welcome a new member from Saltspring Island – Robert Steinbach.

Club member Franco Sartor recently received a very interesting commentary on the Okanagan wine industry from a wine enthusiast friend and we are pleased to share his observations with you. The Okanagan is a very important source for club grapes and changes, particularly in ownership, have affected our supply in the past. No doubt the future will see even more change. Our thanks to Franco and his friend for sharing this with us.

Bruce and Franco:
I will not bother sending you my further Okanagan study notes, but I would like to summarize a few points that are nagging me.

  1. There is a tremendous variance in grape varieties in the Okanagan and Similkameen. I am not sure what to make of it. In long established growing regions elsewhere in the world a particular region tends to figure out what grapes it can grow best and then the whole area focuses on that, with micro-climates lending their own special attributes. It was just 1995 that the first Syrah was planted in the south Okanagan, and it has now become an outstanding grape in the Osoyoos area and the Similkameen. But that does not change the habits of many small wineries that “do not want to make the same wine as everyone else” and, thus, go in sometimes startling other directions. There are red wine grapes from all over the world sitting in plots of various sizes throughout the region. My impression, subject to your thoughts, is that over time there has to be some more focus on a few of the best.
  2. Grape variety is particularly evident in white wine grapes and of course, since I am not a big white wine drinker, I really have a tough time appreciating the variation. I have been turned onto Viognier by this trip. The northern Rhone mixes this white (8%) with Syrah (92%) – the numbers can vary – and now that Syrah has come into its own in our south this northern Rhone blend has become a big thing. Wineries are offering Viognier on its own and exhibiting some pride in it. I noticed that at Vanessa. I have purchased three bottles of Viognier from the liquor store and am slowly sampling. I paid $19.50 for a Backyard Vineyards 2019 Viognier because it was the only VQA Viognier in the store. This winery is based in Langley so they must be shipping grapes from the interior and pressing them in Langley. It is delicious. I also have a $16.50 Spanish 2019 Viognier called Viento Aliseo, and an $18.40 Australian 2018 Viognier from Yalumba vineyards. Have not tasted either one yet.
  3. Ownership of vineyards is of particular interest to me. There are at least three types:
    1. The big corporations such as:
      1. The Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan with their Arterra Wines Canada division which encompasses, in our area, Bodacious, Black Sage, Jackson Triggs, Inniskillin, Kim Crawford, Mouton Cadet, Naked Grape, Nk’mip Cellars, Ravenswood, Ruffiano, Sawmill Creek, See Ya Later Ranch, Sumac Ridge, and Woodbridge.
      2. The Andrews Peller Group of Companies which encompass Peller Estates, Sandhill, Trius, Wayne Gretzky, Red Rooster, Calona Vineyards Artist Series, Thirty Bench, Tinhorn Creek, Black Hills Estate Winery, Grey Monk, and maybe Raven Conspiracy, and Conviction.
      3. The Mark Anthony Group founded by Anthony von Mandl in 1972 and which, in the fine wine category, has set up “VMF Estates” which owns Mission Hill, Cedar Creek, Check Mate, Road 13, Martin’s Lane, and in March 2020 he bought Liquidity Wines for $12.5 Million. He owns over 1,000 acres of vineyards in BC.
    2. The monied entrepreneurs such as the owners of Vanessa. There are a lot of former investment advisors and real estate developers who have taken their money and moved into BC wineries. They tend to start their own and supply the business savvy and marketing. They are reliant on top-end talent in the vineyard and the winemaking, but those who make it a new career often take on these tasks eventually. The outlier in this category is Phantom Creek Estates where Richter Bai, who made his money in Chinese mining, has immigrated here and put $100 million into developing this winery. He is really more like a big corporation, but with just one brand at the moment. That will likely change.
    3. The small entrepreneur looking for a lifestyle. There are so many of these wineries. A lot of prairie people have opted for new lives in the Okanagan. They start small with 2 – 10 acres of vineyard and try to grow their way, little by little, to a business that will support at least two families, since multi-generational families are common in this group. If they have attained 20 acres of vineyards, and the 2nd generation has taken over, I really like this group because of the passion and commitment they bring to their brand.

I do not yet know what these variations in ownership mean to the quality of the wine. Even soulless pension plans carry some impressive quality on their books, although they also produce the cheap pap. And very small entrepreneurs do not have the capital equipment and knowledge to produce consistency.

I look forward to a time when we may talk in person about all things wine. There is so much to know.

Gary

 

As summer begins to fade to fall, we find corks being removed more frequently on red as opposed to white wine bottles. Wine Folly provides us with a guide to exploring red wines.

Fruit-Forward Wine Era

First Love for Red Wine.

We are easily enticed into the world of red wine. Red wine is the most talked about, rated, and collected style of wine, and it’s also associated with several intriguing health benefits. But… how does one develop a palate for red wine?

This is the moment when fruit-forward red wines come into perfect focus. Fruity wines like Zinfandel, Garnacha, Alicante Bouschet, Petite Sirah, Merlot, Malbec, and Shiraz offer a welcoming bear hug to the wonderful world of red wine. Wines can be light, bold, soft, or spicy, but all have sweet fruit flavors as a dominant feature in the taste. To deliver this style, it’s not uncommon to see a small amount of residual sugar (usually 2–5 g/L RS from the grape’s natural sugars) left in the wine to further embellish the fruit-forward style.

If this is your wine palate, here is an article that will round out your knowledge and provide you with new wines to explore that you’re likely to love:

Bold Wine Epoch

Crowd-Pleasers, Yes!

After exploring fruit-forward wines, we amp things up. More fruit. More ripe. More bold. More lush. More everything. Bold red and white wines like Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and oaked Chardonnay are like a meal in a glass. Your tasting skills improve as you identify distinct flavors in wine and associate them to wine making processes. For example, the taste of creamy chocolate or vanilla in a bold red wine is almost always derived from oak-aging. Talk about a massive confidence booster! Add to that layers upon layers of flavor and a long, mouth-coating finish, and it’s hard NOT to love these wines.

If you love this style of wine, you’re not alone. Many of the world’s top wine regions specialize in this style: (Napa Valley, Rioja, Bordeaux, Mendoza, Barossa Valley, Valpolicella, Montalcino, etc.) and it’s a style that pleases crowds of all kinds. In fact, some of you have decided that bold, lush wines are the ultimate for your wine palate and proudly stand behind your decision.

Elegant Wine Era (aka “Pinot Noir Stage”)

The Art of Subtlety.

For those who pass through the bold red wine stage and come out the other end, you are part of a much smaller core collection of wine ‘thusiasts. If your wine palate prefers elegance, chances are you have trained your tastebuds beyond the average taster. You have very little trouble finding delicate floral notes in wine, such as violet and hibiscus, and differentiating between flavors like fennel, anise, licorice, and tar. For these reasons you are often drawn to wines with distinct flavors, or what we like to call pointilized wines (think pointillism).

Interestingly enough, we’re observing elegant wines rising to become the “new luxury” in wine. There are many possible reasons for this, but perhaps the most obvious reason, is that in order to appreciate these wines fully, you have to be able to comprehend them fully. And, because it takes a great deal of skill to decipher the subtle flavors in elegant wines, they tend to have a shroud of exclusivity wrapped around them.

This era is the most guilty of wine snobbery, but it can be managed with a healthy pour of bubbles…

6 Red Wines To Explore Taste

There are 6 red wines and most fly under the radar, but as it happens they are some of the best red wines for beginners. Learn what Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Shiraz, Carménère, Monastrell and Garnacha have in common as examples of excellent wines to start your adventure into wine.

It’s true, wine is an acquired taste and everyone’s taste is different. On top of this fact, wine gives off hundreds of aroma compounds that deliver hundreds of unique smells: from cherry sauce to old saddle leather. So what are the best red wines to start your adventure into wine? The following wines are great to use as benchmarks for basic understanding. With over 1300 types of wine grapes, this is just the tip of the iceberg.

These wines were selected for 3 reasons: they are bolder on the flavor intensity spectrum, they have easy-to-identify fruit flavors, and they can be found for less than $18.

Why 100% Variety Wines Are Better for Learning

In the US, wineries can blend up to 25% of another grape variety into the wine. So if it says ‘Cabernet Sauvignon’, chances are it has up to 25% Merlot or others in it. This doesn’t just happen with Cab, it happens with other wines too, like Pinot Noir (Syrah to make the color and flavor richer). Wine blends taste awesome but they are not that useful if you’re trying to learn. The 6 wines mentioned above tend to be produced as 100% variety wines, which is perfect for expanding your palate.

Spanish Garnacha (a.k.a. Grenache)

Look for notes of Raspberry, Candied Cherry and Orange

This wine is all about understanding how to taste acidity. Garnacha from Spain tends to have bright berry flavors and moderate acidity. It’s relatively easy to pick out the mouth-watering acidity because it’s often laced with citrus flavors (e.g. grapefruit or orange). A recent study at the Oenology Department at University of Bordeaux has shown that wines with higher acidity taste less tannic than wines with lower acidity. By the way, Garnacha is an incredibly important wine grape outside of the US. It’s grown primarily in Spain and Southern France where it is the major blending grape in Côtes du Rhône wines.

California Zinfandel

Look for notes of Raspberry, Chocolate and Cinnamon

Zinfandel will help you understand how alcohol affects flavor. Be sure to select a Zinfandel with about 15% ABV for this to work — and invite a buddy with you to help drink it. After you taste the wine, let out a deep sigh and you’ll feel the tingle of alcohol in the back of your throat. High alcohol wines (14%+) often have a ‘spice’ element to the taste and in the case of Zinfandel, it comes across as cinnamon and pepper. Alcohol not only adds a tingling sensation, it also adds the perception of body. Testing at Bordeaux University have shown that higher alcohol wines tend to reduce the perception of tannin in the taste (but not the aftertaste). You might notice this effect the next time you try Zinfandel.
Alcohol Level Tip: Swirl your wine to see that higher alcohol wines have thicker tears. Thicker wine tears (or legs) can indicate higher alcohol and/or sweetness. Practiced tasters can pick the alcohol level of a wine within a percent!

South Australian Shiraz (a.k.a. Syrah)

Look for notes of Blackberry, Blueberry, Pepper and Coffee

Shiraz will help you understand what a full-bodied wine is all about. A few producers of Shiraz in Australia have moved towards a lighter style, but if you get a truly inky Shiraz, say from McLaren Vale or Barossa Valley, you’ll notice how boldly flavored a wine can get. Of course, there is a lot going on with the grapes and winemaking to create a wine this bold including heightened glycerol and sometimes just a touch of residual sugar. Australia is one of the few regions that consistently produces super-charged single-variety wines. When you taste one, focus on the profile and texture in your mouth.

Spanish Monastrell (a.k.a. Mourvédre)

Look for notes of Blackberry, Roasted Meats and Black Pepper

Monastrell will help you understand Old World wines, especially if you compare it to Shiraz. Monastrell is an abundant variety in Spain, but it is fairly unknown in the states. It makes a deep dark full-bodied wine with very rustic notes including tar, roasted meats and tobacco smoke. Earthy flavors are the hallmark of Old World wine and Spanish Monastrell offers great values for their lush bold red wines. Great examples can be found around Yecla in Spain

California Petite Sirah

Look for notes of Jam, Black Pepper and Cedar with high Tannin

Petite Sirah will help you understand what tannin is all about. Petite Sirah grapes are very small and because of this there are more skins and seeds which are the source of tannin and color. Because of this, Petite Sirah tends to have high tannin. When you taste it, you’ll notice how the texture of tannin dries your mouth out and sits on your tongue (and sometimes teeth!). If this is something you like, you’ll find yourself attracted to other high tannin wines such as Nebbiolo and Tempranillo.

Chilean Carménère

Look for notes of Black Cherry, Clove, and Bell Pepper

Carménère will help you understand herbaceous or ‘green’ wines. No matter how cherry and plum flavored a Carménère wine tastes, there is always a subtle note of bell pepper in the mix. This aroma compound is called Pyrazine and it’s the source of the herby-grassy quality of many red and white wines including Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Carménère. Despite its pleasing preference in the aforementioned wines, ‘green’ flavors are also associated with underripe grapes (from a poor vintage).
TIP: If you can’t find a Carménère, seek out a Cabernet Franc from the Loire Valley of France.

 

 

 

We’ve all experienced bad wine – both commercial and homemade. The following Wine Folly article provides some tips on identifying problem wines.

How to Tell if Wine Has Gone Bad

Open for over a week? It’s past its peak…
As a general rule, if a wine bottle is open for over a week it’s probably gone “bad.” There are, of course, a few exceptions to this rule, including fortified dessert wines (like Port or other wines with 18+ ABV).

An experienced drinker can tell almost instantly if a wine is past its prime. Question is, how do they do it? Well, this comes with a little practice, and here’s what to look for:

How it will look

Wines go bad when they are left open for too long. While some claim that open wines last for weeks, most will lose their luster after just a couple of days, so it’s wise to store open bottles properly. First thing to look at is the color and condition of the wine.


Wine is cloudy and leaves a film in the bottle

There are several wines that are cloudy to begin with, but if they start out clear and then go cloudy, this may be some indication that microbial activity is occurring within the bottle. It will begin to brown and change color
A wine browns much like an apple does when exposed to oxygen. While ‘browning’ itself is not bad (there are several awesome “tawny” colored wines) it will tell you how much oxidative stress has occurred to the wine.

It may have tiny bubbles

The bubbles come from a second unplanned fermentation in the bottle. Yes, you just made a sparkling wine! Unfortunately, it’s not going to be delicious like Champagne, it’s going to be oddly sour and spritzy.
“Browning itself is not bad, but it does indicate the amount of stress the wine has undergone.”

What it will smell like


Second thing to observe is the smell. Wines that are “bad” could be for 2 different reasons.
• A wine that has a wine fault. About 1 in 75 bottles has a common wine fault.
• A wine that was left open too long.
A wine that’s gone bad from being left open smells abrasive and sharp. It will have sour medicinal aromas similar to nail polish remover, vinegar or paint thinner. These aromas are from chemical reactions from the wine being exposed to heat and oxygen which causes bacteria to grow that produce acetic acid and acetaldehyde.

What it will taste like

A wine that’s “gone bad” won’t hurt you if you taste it, but it’s probably not a good idea to drink it. A wine that has gone bad from being left open will have a sharp sour flavor similar to vinegar that will often burn your nasal passages in a similar way to horseradish. It will also commonly have caramelized applesauce-like flavors (aka “Sherried” flavors) from the oxidation.

Practice smelling bad wine

If you ever let a wine go too far and you know with certainty it’s bad, give it a whiff before you dump it out. Make note of the sour flavors and the oddly nutty aromas that you find and you’ll be able to pick them out with more accuracy each time. It won’t hurt you, so why not?

Courtesy of Wine Folly

When is a flaw not a flaw?

Wine Folly invited Nicole Goddard to elaborate on this subject in their July 27 2020 issue.
Nikki Goddard is an Oakland-based wine writer, educator, illustrator, and consultant who is constantly chasing the next obscure grape or wine region discovery.

5 Wine Flaws That Can Actually Be Very Good

In tasting wine, it’s helpful to know to pick out the good from the flawed. This can be a tricky pursuit, since (ideally) we don’t often come across examples of various wine flaws. After all, each person has a different natural threshold of perception.
In wine there are 7 primary flaws. But what’s interesting is that winemakers can often use some of these flaws to benefit the wine or create different flavors. Today, we’ll go over 5 of those very faults.
Of course, sometimes a flaw really is a flaw, so we’ll also teach you how to spot the difference.

Oxidation

Exposure to oxygen causes oxidation. When it’s done intentionally, winemakers allow a moderate amount of air to interact with the wine during the winemaking process. This is usually prevented by topping up barrels as some of the wine evaporates. Oxidative winemaking typically forgoes this step.

What Oxidation Tastes Like in Wine

Oxidative wines are all about umami–the oxidation process actually causes an increase in glutamate, an acid related to MSG. Earthy, nutty, yeasty, and savory aromas mark these savory and intriguing wines. A dried fruit character is also usually present.

Using Oxidation as a Benefit

Many white wines in France’s Jura region, known as sous voile wines, use this technique. This includes the region’s complex and delicious signature wine, Vin Jaune. This is also used for Oloroso styles of Sherry, as well as Tawny Port, Madeira, Rancio Sec, and some old-school white Riojas.
Many orange wines use oxygen exposure during the skin-contact stage in open-top fermenters.

When Oxidation is a Wine Flaw

When careless or unsanitary winemaking exposes the wine to oxygen during fermentation or aging. It’s also a problem when a cork’s seal leaks due to improper storage. If you notice faded, dried-out, or cooked fruit aromas and a brownish hue on everyday red and white wines or young vintages you might be suspicious.
Technically, wines should be stored well below 80º F (27º C) but sometimes winemakers cook wines on purpose to add unique nutty-caramel flavors!

Heat

In Madeira, the Estufagem process, used for inexpensive wines, involves heating the wine in temperature-controlled tanks. For higher-end wines, the Canteiro process allows the sun to heat barrels stored under the rafters of warm winery attics. Because of these methods, unintentionally heated wine is often referred to as “Madeirized” or just “cooked.”

What Cooked Wine Tastes Like

Heat is often used in tandem with or in place of oxidation, and creates similar results. Typical aromas include dried fruit, spice, roasted nuts, cocoa, fruitcake, and smoke. Estufagem wines tend to show some burnt caramel character.

Using Heat as a Benefit

Madeira is a great place to start. Heat is also used to produce Rancio Sec, a Sherry-like wine made on both sides of the French-Catalan border, often from variations of the Garnacha grape.
Because they are already “cooked,” these wines have the added bonus of being virtually immortal once opened.

When Heat is a Wine Flaw

Wine can be accidentally heated when stored somewhere that is too warm. This can also occur when shipping in hot weather without proper temperature controls. This can cause wines that would otherwise be fresh and vibrant to have a cooked or cloying roasted fruit flavor.

Brettanomyces

Brettanomyces, or “brett,” is a strain of wild yeast introduced naturally to wine in the cellar. Some wineries simply choose not to prohibit its development and see it as part of their “house style.”
This ambient yeast can be anywhere: on the winemaking equipment, in the barrels, even on the grapes themselves. This means that it can be quite difficult to control.

What Brettanomyces Tastes Like

Brett can make wine smell and taste a bit like, well, a barnyard. Or a sweaty saddle. Or old socks, Band-Aids, wet dog, or cured meat. Wines with brett are often described as “funky;” this can either be a compliment or an insult.
The key to “good” brett is moderation. While some people can’t tolerate it in any concentration, others find a small dose of it adds complexity and character.

Using Brettanomyces as a Benefit

There are no hard and fast rules, but there are instances where winemakers allow brett to exist in moderation. For example, many wines of the Southern Rhône, some Italian Barbera and Sangiovese wines, and wines made by a few old-school Napa and Bordeaux producers, especially from older vintages.
Some natural wines, without the protection of sulfur, can also be vulnerable to brett.

When Brettanomyces is a Wine Flaw

At its worst, brett is a symptom of microbial spoilage, sometimes due to lack of cleanliness in the winery. While brett can be appealing in some red wines, it is definitely considered a flaw in white and sparkling wines.
It’s also problematic whenever it is so overwhelming that the wine lacks all other character. At the end of the day, brett is a debate you can have with your closest friends.

Volatile Acidity

Volatile Acidity (VA) is subtle but common in wines with long fermentations. It often reminds of nail polish!
Volatile acidity, or VA, comes from the acids in wine that occur in the form of gas, rather than liquid. This makes VA perceivable by smell. This can result from excess exposure to oxygen during the winemaking process, enabled by a type of bacteria called acetobacter. The most common acid in wine is acetic acid, otherwise known as vinegar.

What Volatile Acidity Tastes Like

Unsurprisingly, wines with VA can taste a bit like vinegar: but sometimes in a good way. Think of a fine balsamic, or even kombucha. In small doses, this can add a pleasing tartness and fruitiness. It also offers heightened character and complexity.

Using Volatile Acidity as a Benefit

It’s hard to pinpoint where you might find VA in a wine! But if you see the words “lifted” or “high-toned” in a wine description, that may be a clue. It’s also more common in sweet wines (especially when botrytis is present) or those made from dried grapes.
So look for it in Port, Sauternes, or Amarone della Valpolicella. VA is also more likely to occur in wines made in older barrels or fermented in oxidative environments.

When Volatile Acidity is a Wine Flaw

When there’s too much VA in the mix, wines can smell a bit like paint thinner or nail polish remover. It’s especially pronounced when a wine does not have enough tannin, body, or alcohol to stand up to VA’s intensity.
By the way, some sniffers have incredible sensitivity to VA compared to others! So again, with this flaw, it’s very much an “eye of the beholder” thing.

Pyrazine

Pyrazines (aka Methoxypyrazines) are compounds that protect vines from pests. They add bell pepper flavors!
Pyrazine (methoxypyrazine) is a chemical compound that occurs in certain grape varieties, causing herbaceous aromas and flavors. It is particularly common in Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Carménère, especially when unripe, and can be desirable in small amounts.
Winemakers who want a bit of pyrazine character choose to harvest these varieties on the early side.

What Pyrazine Tastes Like

Pyrazines tend to taste “green.” They run the gamut from green bell pepper to freshly cut grass to gooseberries to canned asparagus. A bit of pyrazine can be attractive to those who enjoy a bit of an herbal quality in their wine.

Using Pyrazine as a Benefit

Pyrazine is a signature of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, particularly in the Marlborough region. It’s best known for giving these wines a distinctive grassy character. It also makes appearances in some cooler-vintage Bordeaux and Napa Cabs, as well as many Loire Valley Cabernet Francs. It’s more likely to make an appearance in cool-climate wines in general.

When Pyrazine is a Wine Flaw

When the bell pepper flavors are so overwhelming that the wine tastes unbalanced. Like brettanomyces, this very much comes down to individual preference!

Wine Flaws are in the Eye of the Beholder

Armed with this knowledge, you can begin to experiment with “flawed” wines to recognize their characteristics. Work to determine your preferences when it comes to aromas and flavors like brett and pyrazine!
You can also start to identify when these flaws really are problematic and you need to send a wine back.
If you want to get really nerdy about it, we recommend Jamie Goode’s book Flawless: Understanding Faults in Wine for an approachable and informative deep dive into the world of wine faults.
And for an interactive sensory experience, the Nez du Vin wine faults kit contains scented vials of the 12 most common flaws found in wine.
Are there some wine flaws that you enjoy that we’ve missed? Let us know!

Courtesy of Wine Folly

NW’s President, Andrew Fox presenting Ian Murfitt with Saanich Sommeliers Best White Wine trophy.

Congratulations to Ian Murfitt of Nanaimo Winemakers for winning the Best Dry White and Best Vancouver Island White In the Saanich Sommeliers 2020 January Competition.

I asked Ian for some details on his successful wine: “I got a bunch of cuttings from the plant quarantine in Saanich 30 years ago and the only two that I was able to bring with me when I moved to Nanaimo were Madeleine Sylvaner and Cabernet. So the wine that I entered in Saanich was the MS. Funny thing is that I did not like the wine the year before last and thought I should pull out all the plants and plant something else. Procrastination is a good thing in winemaking!!! Sadly I only have ten bottles.”

Not to worry Ian – I only need one to confirm the merit of it’s award!