Not every wine is perfect. In fact, not every wine can be perfect. Indeed, one could make a strong argument that it is the imperfections in a wine that can make a vintage stand out above its peers. But sometimes, those flaws can turn a fantastic vintage into, well, sour grapes, if not vinegar itself.
So it was the case with the bottle of the Trendsetter that I acquired. (I believe this bottle was the 2018 vintage; I cannot quite recall.) I had been excited to drink this Kansas blend for a while. The WineHippie herself had brought this bottle with her for me. The blend of the Trendsetter consists of Norton and Chambourcin, about 50% each, from Twin Rivers winery in Emporia, Kansas. However, something had gone wrong, either while I stored it, while she transported it, or during the winemaking process itself.
And you know what? Shit happens. It’s not a big deal. This is 2020, after all! You have to make do with what you can. And with such a stunning label (modeled on Maud Wagner, the first female tattoo artist in America), we just couldn’t let this one rest.
So we decided to make the best of it, and talk in this episode about something I had been meaning to talk about in this podcast at some point, anyway: Wine Flaws. This way you know when the wine in your glass is flawed, and what caused it!
Take a listen. Guest stars are James Callahan and Anna Schneider, of Rune Winery in Sonoita AZ. After all, who best to teach you about wine flaws than a winemaker themselves, right?
Apologies for the long absence, again. This Covid thing has left me in a severe state of executive dysfunction where I swear I can’t do things unless the stars are properly aligned, and then I, like Cthuhlu in his depths, suddenly become active again and do all the things. It’s also, admittedly, been really hard to record podcasts with friends while we drink, since that requires mask removal… but luckily I still have some podcasts recorded from the BC days in my cellar. That, and frankly life has been a bit insane of late, still. But enough excuses, let’s drink!
In this episode, new special guests James Callahan of Rune Winery, and his special ladyfriend, Anna Schneider, join me in drinking a bottle of the 2016 JayD’s Blanc du Bois, from Landry Vineyards, located in West Monroe, Louisiana. I must note that this bottle is no longer available from the vineyard, but if you’re intrigued by our description of this wine, there are three other vintages of Blanc du Bois available. This Blanc du Bois was harvested from grapes grown in their estate vineyard. I am told that this wine was made in conjunction with Louisiana local celebrity chef and speaker Jay Ducote of Bites n’ Booze fame. This makes perfect sense, because, as we discuss in the episode, this wine feels tailor-made for Louisiana cuisine.
Blanc du Bois is a French-American Hybrid grape, or as these grapes are being increasingly called, “mixed heritage varietal.” While some winemakers feel this term is an unwelcome intrusion from so-called “politically correct” culture, I personally feel this is actually a welcome term, as “hybrid” often has baggage attached to it as “lesser” wines with “inferior” varietals, often with serious flaws. And, if there’s one thing I’ve learned while working on this podcast, I’ve tasted some seriously phenomenal wines made with these grapes that are on par with vinifera. But I digress.
Blanc du Bois was created in 1968 by John A. Mortensen, over at the University of Florida’s Central Florida Research and Education Center. The idea of this project was to create grape varietals that would both produce marketable wines and resist Pierce’s Disease; a major scourge of the viticultural industry in the American Southeast. Mortensen created this variety by crossing various Vinifera grape varieties such as Golden Muscat and Cardinal with indigenous Florida species such as V. aestivalis, V. cinerea, and Vitis labrusca. This grape was released to the viticultural market in 1987, and named in honor of Emile DuBoise, who was a rather influential grape-grower and winemaker in the area around Tallahassee, Florida. While this varietal was created in Florida, the most abundant plantings of this grape are in Texas as it turns out, so we may well meet this varietal again in the future.
With the world in the current state, what better time is there to drink, right? Even though I recorded this episode last summer… better late than never! Apologies. Life has again gotten in the way of things.
But, never fear! In this episode, a massive group of folks who are friends with our intrepid Judgemental Graphics Designer, VeniVidiDrinki, join us in meeting one of the most interesting white grapes that is slowly beginning to take the market by storm: Grüner Veltliner.
Grüner Veltliner is probably the Austrian wine industry’s greatest claim to fame, as the country has 42,380 acres of this vine planted there. This bright, highly acidic grape likely had its origins in Italy, as the name literally translated means “Green Wine of Veltlin,” Veltin being a community in Northern Italy. Grüner Veltliner has a reputation of being a particularly food-friendly wine, and is rapidly becoming a popular offering on wine lists in restaurants, or even in grocery stores here in the US.
It is made into wines of many different styles – much is intended for drinking young, some is made into sparkling wine, but others are capable of aging long-term in a cellar. As an example, the steep vineyards near the Danube produce very pure, mineral-driven Grüner Veltliners referred to as Smaragd (etymologically related to Smaug, by the way), intended for long-term aging in the cellar. Meanwhile, down in the plains, citrus and peach flavors tend to be more apparent in wines of this grape, with spicy notes of pepper and sometimes tobacco, and these are intended to be imbibed sooner, rather than later.
As for the wines in this podcast, only one, the Crazy Creatures, is from Austria. The other two are vintages from the USA; one from Michigan, courtesy of a #winestudio exploration of the region (the same which lead to our Chardonnay comparison), and the other is from Crane Creek Vineyards, in Young Harris, Georgia. The state, this time, not to be confused with the country we’ve been exploring a bit in the last few episodes.
Along with exploring this grape with folks who have never tasted it, we delve a little bit into the world of wine marketing and label design… I hope you enjoy!
In the same early episode where I mentioned that Rkatsiteli was the viticultural equivalent of Goldberry, Co-host Gary had asked what grape would be the equivalent of Tom Bombadil. “Why, that would be Saperavi, of course,” I replied.
It’s about time we meet this grape. Like Rkatsiteli, Saperavi originates from the cradle of viticulture, the Republic of Georgia. This is also a varietal I’ve wanted to explore on this podcast for a long time, as it is a personal favorite of mine. Years ago, before I started this podcast, two members of the wine club at the winery I once worked for, Anita and Ken Colburn, told me they were going to visit the Finger Lakes, and asked if I wanted them to bring back anything. I said that I had heard very good things about Saperavi from that region, and if they found one, I’d happily trade something from my cellar for a chance to taste.
Lo and behold, they were kind enough to bring back with them the vintage which is the keystone of this podcast: the 2014 Standing Stone Vineyards Saperavi. It seems that currently, the Finger Lakes is the seat of Saperavi’s throne in the United States, though there are plantings in other parts of New York, and Kansas. I have also heard rumors that there are vineyards with this grape growing in Virginia and Maryland, but have been unable to substantiate these rumors.
We compared the 2014 vintage from Standing Stone with the 2014 Saperavi from Merani Cellars in the Republic of Georgia sourced from Kakheti; the probable homeland of this ancient grape varietal. Take a listen, and enjoy!
Way back at the beginning of season one, I tangentially mentioned a fascinating grape in our first episode talking about wines in Massachusetts: Rkatsiteli. This was just one of the five grapes in that particular blend, the 2014 Cinco Cães from Westport Rivers Winery. If you remember, I casually compared Rkatsiteli to Goldberry, Tom Bombadil’s wife in the Lord of the Rings books. I decided though, at some point, it would be fun to take a look at this varietal in-depth at a later time.
But trying to find single varietal takes on this grape here in the United States is a hard thing to do. Dr. Konstantin Frank Winery does produce a single varietal version (and an amber version I would dearly love to get my hands on), but the fact of the matter is that Dr. Konstantin Frank himself did so much for the viticultural industry on the East Coast that I wanted to do a deep dive episode on him, specifically–tackling two deep dives in one episode might make the resulting podcast too long.
But then, VeniVidiDrinki went to New Jersey and found a bottle at Tomasello Winery during the same visit she picked up the Blaufränkisch we enjoyed back in season one. Problem solved! I picked up a version from the Republic of Georgia at my favorite Russian import market in Phoenix, and we sat around and drank the two side by side to produce this episode. It wasn’t the best comparison, as the two wines were produced in slightly different styles, but mayhem still ensued. Enjoy!
Apologies for the long absence. Again, life has gotten very much in the way of things. In this case, it was a move back to a mountaintop lair in Jerome after some rather gruesome personal trauma… and, well, the original episode I was going to share for number ten was about Tasting Room etiquette…
Which seemed uh, kinda pointless right about now in the midst of Covid-19 when we’re drinking our wines at home. After some debate and much procrastination, I decided to switch the order of some upcoming episodes, since listening to podcasts is a great way to occupy oneself during these days. So.. We’re starting up again. Hopefully, there will be some kind of regular schedule again… but life has a rather annoying way of ruining regular schedules.
In this episode, I hang out with some friends, drinking the wines made by Sal Mannino (@carbonicmass on Instagram), who has been a long-time follower of mine on the ‘grams. All of these wines were made from grapes grown in New Jersey. Furthermore, these are grapes I never expected to see growing in the verdant lands of New Jersey; all of these are varietals I am much more familiar with here in Arizona. (Well, with the exception of Pinot Noir, that is; I’ve had plenty of fun Pinot Noir vintages from Maryland on northwards to Massachusetts, but I digress… but what else is new there?)
Nick and Ed, over at New Jersey Wine Reviews also tried some of these same wines at a dinner event, as well as a few different vintages that we didn’t get to imbibe; pop on over to their blog and take a look. Sal Mannino himself joins us just after halfway through the podcast, via phonecall; prior to this, my friends Dina Ribado, Isla Bonifield, and Tracy and Chuck Demsey drink through his wines and give our thoughts and comment on tasting notes and the techniques used to make these unique vintages.
Tracy and Chuck were kind (and awesome) enough to host at their awesome bakery and bottle shop, ODV Wines. If you are ever in the Phoenix area and need super-cool wines or super awesome pastries, be sure to stop by their spot–tell them Cody the Wine Monk sent you. I love their shop to pieces, and I specifically recommend her lemon bars.
Over my holiday hiatus, I was thinking recently about what 10 varietals might define the overall Wine industry in the United States. Would it be defined by which grapes are grown by highest amount of acreage? What about grapes that may not tip the scales in terms of total acreage, but have found themselves to be widespread around the country? Would it be defined by which grapes have had the largest influence in the history of winemaking here? Would it be defined by grapes used to make historical vintages that alerted the Old World to the New?
I haven’t quite finished that list yet, but I will say that Norton, a grape we’ve metseveral times before on The Make America Grape Again Podcast, should qualify for that top ten list. After all, any indigenous American varietal that manages to have its own Riedel Glass is definitely important. This glass, unveiled in 2009 at Les Bourgeois Winery, indicates the importance that Norton has to the wine industry in the American Midwest. As a matter of fact, the vintage we drink in this podcast comes from Les Bourgeois. Kim, a longtime Norton aficionado and friend of mine, has for years been trying to convince me that Norton is actually worth my time and energy to understand, but I have been tragically dubious. She comes from Missouri, where this grape is, unquestionably, the king of the local industry there.
I first became convinced there was something to Norton with our first ever episode, featuring a Norton from Kentucky, but when she brought this vintage over, I was truly smitten. Take a listen, and learn about Norton.
We explored Michigan once before, but that episode was recorded about a month before I got the chance to drink some fantastic Michigan wines courtesy of a #winestudio event and the Michigan Wine Collaborative. Among the bottles sent were two bottles of 2016 Chardonnay; one from Amoritas Vineyard, and the other from Chateau Chantal. These wines are from the Leelanau AVA and Old Mission AVA, respectively. The original idea for this episode was to focus on vine age and resulting vintages, but the conversation quickly shifted to different modes of making Chardonnay–not all Chardonnay vintages are made for the same purposes, as it turns out!
These two bottles, provided through the kindness of the Michigan Wine Collaborative and #winestudio turned out to be perfect examples of the two main styles of New World Chardonnay: Buttery and oaky, and crispy stainless steel. Both of these wines had us saying Chardon-yay, for sure, and allowed us to take a deep dive into a grape varietal that is perhaps overlooked due to its prominence in the wine market but is really just as fascinating as any hipster varietal you may not have ever heard of.
I learned a lot about Michigan wine thanks to the interactions on #winestudio with the folks tweeting at the Michigan Wine Collaborative and the veritable host of winemakers (most of whom were women, which is freaking awesome) over the course of the three weeks of this program. Emi Beth was fabulous at answering all of our strange questions about the wine scene that is exploding in Michigan currently. Another wine from this particular #winestudio program, a Grüner Veltliner, will appear in a later episode this season for a deep dive of this unique Austrian varietal.
We’ve had a couple of sparklingwines in this program before, but we’ve never really had a traditional method sparkling wine on the show before. Let’s change that, with a look at the 2007 RJR Brut Cuvée, from Westport Rivers Winery, in Massachusetts.
In case you were not aware, “traditional method” is code for the same method which is used to make Champagne in France; it’s just that nobody outside of Champagne can use this word to describe a wine method, due to very strict provisions laid down by the EU and France. You will occasionally see wines made in this method labeled as ‘Classic Method,’ also. What these words mean is that the sparkling wine in question was bottle-fermented; that secondary fermentation which produced the bubbles occurred in the bottle in which the wine was sold. This can be a time-consuming process if done by hand, but other places (such as Gruet in New Mexico, as an example) have figured out how to do mass-production of such bottles.
As you may have guessed from the implication above, sparkling wines made in the traditional method undergo two separate fermentations. The first, which is usually carried out in tanks, creates what is known as the base wine, which is still–no bubbles. If the wine in question is a non-vintage blend, the base still wines will be blended according to whatever style and quality requirements exist for the given produced to produce a unified flavor for the brand; or still wines from a given year will be blended together (which is likely what happened with this wine in question). This process, known as assemblage, ends with the blended wine put into bottles, along with a mixture of yeast and sugar to kick off a secondary fermentation. The bottles are then closed with the same sort of cap you see on a beer bottle. (In case you wanted to expand your French wine terms, this mix is known as the liqueur de tirage).
Next up, the bottles are then placed on their sides in cellar environments, while that secondary fermentation begins. It is this secondary fermentation that creates the CO2 which gets trapped to become bubbles. After the second fermentation is complete the wines are left ‘sur lie‘ (resting on its lees – wine terminology for the dead yeast cells in each bottle) for any period of time the winemaker wishes. This could range from a mere 6 months to upwards of several years, like in the case of this vintage. The longer the wine rests on these lees, the more amino acids and other compounds that are in the dead yeast cells will break down and be released into the wine. Known as autolysis, this process is what adds toast, bread, and the yeasty character and aromas that are often associated with higher-end vintages made in this style.
The final steps of this process are known as remuage and disgorgement, where the lees are removed from the bottle. The bottles are carefully rotated and shaken and slowly moved upside down so that the sediment in the bottle is slowly moved towards the neck of the bottle. This process is known as riddling–it can either be done by hand, or by automatic machinery. After the sediment has been gathered to this part of the bottle, the material must be disgorged–something done by freezing the neck of the bottle in a freezing brine bath. After being frozen, the cap is removed, and the bottle of frozen lees sediment will shoot out. The final step of this disgorging process is quickly topping off the bottle with a mixture known either as the dosage or ‘liqueur d’expédition. This is a mixture of wine and sugar, the amount of which is determined based on the eventual style of the wine. As an example, the dosage for the RJR Brut Cuvée probably contained somewhere between 6g and 15g/l of sugar; pretty standard for wines labeled as ‘Brut’.
After this, the bottle is closed with the traditional Champagne-style cork, with the wire cage (known as a muselet) and foil. The wine can now wait and age as long as the winemaker demands before being released to the adoring public. These styles of wine can age very well; as evidenced by our reaction to this bottle in the podcast.
Everyone knows Pinot Noir. Most folks know Pinot Gris, aka Grigio. Pinot Blanc has a few die-hard fans even among the general public. But Pinot Meunier seems to remain the province of wine geeks alone. In this episode, the gang tackles the challenge, when we compare the 2017 Pinot Meunier from Teutonic Wine Company (sourced from Borgo Pass Vineyard in the Willamette Valley AVA of Oregon), with the 2015 Darting Pinot Meunier from Pfalz, Germany. In this episode, we also talk about wine-making techniques and compare the Old-World style of Winemaking, to the New World style, and touch again upon the subject of Natural Wine. I REALLY need to do an episode just focusing on Natural Wine at some point. This also reminds me, I need to reach out to the folks at the fine Natural Disasters for a collaboration on the subject… I digress.
A word about tonight’s (today’s?) grape of the episode: Pinot Meunier. Also known variously as Meunier, Schwarzriesling, Müllerrebe, and Miller’s Burgundy, this grape gets its name (and most of its synonyms) from the flour-like dusty white down which is found on the underside of the leaves; like the result of grinding wheat. First mentioned by name in the 16th century, Pinot Meunier is what is known in the plant world as a Chimeric Mutation, where different plant genes are expressed in different places. In the case of this varietal, the inner cell layers are composed of a Pinot genotype which is close to (if not identical to) Pinot noir, but the outer, epidermal, layer is a mutant, distinctive, genotype. I have no idea how this happens, but it is my understanding that the genetics of most Pinot varietals are about as stable as my average mood, and therefore the plant can mutate simply if you look at it in a funny way.
Of note: Pinot Meunier is apparently almost one-third of all the grapes planted in Champagne, but the French don’t like to talk about this fact and prefer to emphasize the use of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay… though I will say the best Champagne I’ve ever had was a Grower’s Champagne (the Vallée de la Marne Rive Gauche Extra Brut from Bereche & Fils) made of 100% Pinot Meunier, so, uh, take that, popular kids! Or something?
I acquired this bottle of the 2o17 Teutonic Pinot Meunier directly from their tasting room in Portland, Oregon, while visiting there last September; the German example was acquired from Lloyd’s Liquors, in Prescott, AZ.