Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Hidden Messages in a Bottle

Most of us have discussed endlessly the issue of cork versus screw cap and other closures. What does cork give that screw cap doesn’t? How to avoid cork taint? How to avoid reduction when choosing the screw cap closure? The story is endless and many producers decided to adopt to change and put all their wines under screw cap whilst others have remained faithful to cork.

Last week at the London International Wine Fair, I attended a seminar on the use of oxygen in wine. This was a very technical seminar with most of the panel being oenologists, yet it took a different perspective towards oxygen in wine and hence ultimately touched on the closure issue. The main debate was how to manage oxygen in wine since ultimately this phenomenon is needed to produce wines and to age them well. One of the speakers, Stephane Vidal, a post bottling oenology specialist described the use of oxygen in wine on three different levels:

1. Macro Oxygenation – the use of oxygen needed for the yeast to kick off fermentation and to keep the yeast population at an optimum level.

2. Micro Oxygenation – this is the exposure of wine to limited quantities of oxygen which can happen either through barrel maturation or through the process of micro oxygenation developed by Patrick DuCournau in 1991. This method is used widely in Bordeaux and consists mainly in the polymerization of tannin into larger molecules, which are then perceived softer on the palate.

3. Nano Oxygenation – this is the oxygen needed for wine to be stored and aged well. Around 1/2mg per year is the ideal amount of oxygen intake to mature wine at its best.

As wine undergoes the various stages of production, less and less oxygen intake is needed by the wine to maintain a balance between the proper use of oxygen and oxygenation which can create faults in wine. So is the oxygen intake from cork closure important for wine? Can the head space used in screw cap closure introduce wine to more oxygen than needed? How does the quality of the cork influence oxygen intake?

Another important and interesting point raised during the presentation by Clemancy Yates, another oenologist, was the issue of bottling. After conducting her studies on bottling lines she concluded that fast paced lines used for the production of bulk wines introduce the wines to much less oxygen intake than slow paced bottling lines used for higher quality and less quantity wines. In her opinion, the advances being made on controlling oxygen intake at the various levels of wine production can lead to wine labels to include a best by date like all products found on supermarket shelves.

Oxygen transmission rate, optical technology, jet systems are all an innovative options given to the winemaker to take control of this phenomenon. Together with closure debates oxygen management is now one of the hottest topics in the wine industry. Poor oxygen management can lead to wine faults; too little oxygen can lead to reduction, it’s up to the puppeteer to manage the best show.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Celebrating the World Cup in Style

Everyone is eager to get in front of the telly to watch their favourite team on the battlefield. The World Cup always has a significant impact even on the lesser zealous football fans. With the 2010 FIFA World Cup Final just around the corner, South Africans have been pulling up their sleeves to prepare for this great event. Cape town Airport has been given a face lift, new stadiums are nearing completion, hotels are being refurbished and roads have been revamped. Yet what is happening within the wine industry? Most would say that it is going through a Tweeting effect. Most wineries are using the most innovative social media tools to market their wine and take advantage of this great event.

Apart from marketing their wines well, South Africans have gone a long way to improve quality in their wine making and to compete even on export markets. Recently, it has been shown that South African wines have overcome French wines on export in the UK. So which wines should one choose to drink in front of the telly whilst supporting your team? South Africa like most New World countries hosts a variety of grape varieties from the well-known Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon to more interesting and expressive Pinotage. This latter grape variety is a hybrid of Pinot Noir and Cinsaut (Hermitage), which more recently has been cultivated successfully in South Africa. Apart from the wide range of grape varieties planted, terroir is a concept South Africans are very sensitive too. At a recent seminar in Prowein, a South African producer explained how the Atlantic and Indian oceans give maritime influences and a cooling effect which result in a Mediterranean climate in regions like Stellenbosch, whilst a continental climate prevails in the inner regions of South Arica like in Worchester Region.

So which wines to enjoy easily this summer whilst supporting your squad? I would go for the following 3 easy drinking wines enjoyable any time of the day.

Chenin Blanc – Chenin Blanc also referred to as Steen in South Africa can produce very refreshing and light wines. This grape shows strong guava, tropical, herbaceous aromas which are nicely complimented with a long clean, crisp aftertaste.

Pinotage Rose – Rose wines are both trendy and very easy drinking wines. This style of wine can have an attractive pale strawberry appearance and the nose shows exuberant fresh candy with hints of flower blossoms. Off-dry, best enjoyed with chicken salads, paella and sweet and sour dishes.

Shiraz/Pinotage – A blend of the well known Shiraz grape and the interesting Pinotage grape described earlier. Smooth, medium bodied with vibrant black fruit, spice and red cherry flavors. Grilled, smoked and spicy foods are traditional favorites with this style.


Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The Glacial Saints bring the Winds of Change

As I clicked on my automatic blinds this morning at 7am, I was hoping for some sun to surprise my still peeping eyes yet to my dismay all that welcomed me was grey skies and ghastly cold winds; the trees in the garden opposite where possessed by Wagners’ Ride of the Valkyries. Out of time as usual for the early class on viticulture I just put on a few layers of clothes and my leather jacket. As soon as I stepped out of my 15 square metre cosy, warm studio flat I realised I had put toofew layers but it was too late now.

During our viticulture class whilst covering the various seasons and viticultural practices on the vine, our proficient professor Claude Chapuis pointed out that in the middle of May, just after a few days of sunshine when you finally start putting your short sleeves on and getting hints of tan, the Glacial saints make a visit to France. You might ask? What kind of saints are these? Or better was Berenice struck by brain freeze? Maybe not as yet. :) Well, for those Christians out there, this is easier to understand. In the quest to eliminate superstition around the 1960s, the Vatican introduced saints to all the days of the calendar and guess what! The Glacial Saints of Saints Mamert, Pancrace and Servais fall on the 11th, 12th and 13th of May respectively. This year it seems that they paid their visit earlier than usual, around a week in advance.

By now you should be asking, but why did Claude Chapuis bring up all this during viticulture class? Well, during this period winemakers would be praying all the other Saints on the calendar to limit frost damage on their yearly crop. Spring frosts are a problem in all the major wine producing regions of France from Champagne to Loire to Burgundy because they can cause severe damage to the buds which burst only a few weeks ago. The vines on the plains and the lower foothills are the most prone to spring frost, whilst the hill slopes, having the surface-chilled air, will drain more easily.

Apart from high trellis systems there are a number of ways to combat this mishap of nature. Smudge pots are fairly popular especially in Champagne. Whilst visiting a few weeks ago some wise winemakers were already spreading these pots across their vineyards in preparation for the blessed Saints. Smudge pots create warm blankets of air which protect the buds from frost. Other forms of protection against frost are wind machines which help circulate the warm air from above, keeping ground level above freezing point. Another efficient and widely used method is the aspersion system where sprinklers are used to spray the vineyards with water insulating the shoots, therefore protecting them from frost.

Well let’s hope these Saints don’t curse the Burgundian vines but bless them instead! We are all looking forward to more sun, less layers of clothes and hopefully some more skin tan which I surely miss after so many months away from the Rock!