Get me to the Geek: closure research
Tuesday 28 June
Apologies to those of you who find closures one of the most tedious subjects on the planet. I’m a geek and am proud to admit it. Secondly, not many wine journos want to write about it cos it is too techy so that doesn’t leave much competition when it comes to getting commissions! I also love the fact that there’s always controversy. The different closure companies love to have a go at each other too, making it a bit of a giggle.
The latest research closure reseach has revealed the rate of oxygen transmission (OTR) through a closure can affect the aromas a wine exhibits – and we’re not talking cork taint here, guys.
Studies from the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, The Australian Wine Research Institute, INRA, Geisenheim, and UC Davis suggest that increased exposure to oxygen for some red varieties enhances their red berry characteristics, particularly Grenache, Shiraz and Carmenere.
By selecting closures with the right OTR, it appears to be possible to perform winemaking in the bottle and create wine styles suited to consumer tastes. In Chile, wines sealed with a lower OTR closure such as a screwcap, exhibited more caramel, violet and dried fruit characters while those with a higher OTR closure eg synthetic or natural cork, promoted berry fruits and tobacco.
The AWRI found that Shiraz’s jam, berry and chocolate aromas can be enhanced with very small amounts of oxygen during maturation.
In California, UC Davis report that Chardonnay aged on lees in stainless stell is very responsive to a closure’s OTR: a combination of lees ageing plus lower OTR closure reduced the production of oxidative spoilage compounds thus this information could see producers alter techniques in the winery depending on the closure.
We’re becoming increasingly knowledgeable about the effects of oxygen on the maturation of wine. It’s now clear that a high oxygen transmission rate will lead to premature oxidation while the anaerobic conditions of a tin-liner screwcap is conducive to reduction. However, this latest research is taking things a step further: it seems there will soon be a closure for every varietal and style.
Australia stunned by another bumper crop
Thursday 16 June
The size of the Australian 2011 has given the industry an unwelcome surprise.
Disease ravaged the country’s vineyards with rains encouraging botrytis, and powdery and downy mildew, yet the crop still surpassed the 2010 harvest, coming in at 1.63 million tonnes.
Stephen Strachan, the Winemakers’ Federation of Australia chief executive, admitted: ‘The vintage is too big. It may seem harsh, given the year many people have had, to focus on the longer term rather than the demands of the present, but a harvest in excess of 1.6 million tonnes (despite the rejections) is out of step with the realities of sustainable production and the market opportunity for premium Australian wine.’
Producers are equally surprised by the figures. Peter Gambetta, senior winemaker for Yalumba told rebeccagibb.com: ‘We thought it would be up to 1.5 but not 1.63m tonnes. Some people may have made wine that they shouldn’t have.’
‘We have made some really good wines; we have created some surprising wines that we thought may not come out well but we also left a fair bit of fruit out. We pride ourselves in Merlot but we may not release a Merlot this year,’ he added.
Malcolm Stopp, PR manager for Peter Lehmann, admitted: ‘It will go down as tough year but we are trying to focus on what we harvested . Our yields will be down 30% we have crushed around 10,500 tonnes as opposed to 20,000 in 2004.’
Biodynamic producer Henschke has some theories about the 2010/11 vintage. Stephen Henschke, said: ‘It rained non stop this year. The last time it did that was 1974. It comes in lunar cycles 1974 and 1992 were wet years and 2010/11.’ To find out more about this lunar idea, read Plimer’s Heaven on Earth, advises Henschke.
He was clearly surprised by the size of the vintage: ‘I was seriously thinking it was going to be about 1.3million tonnes.’
‘I’m amazed it’s that big but there was potentially a big crop at flowering so if we had not had those rains it could have been an even bigger crop, so perhaps those rains were a blessing in disguise,’ added Henschke.
So you think you can be a Master of Wine?
Monday 13 June
The 2011 MW exam, which took place last week, was as tough as always.
If you think you could do it, have a bash at the questions I tackled: you need 65% to pass - and remember to include examples from the old and new world!
Paper 1: The production of wine: part 1
What are the vineyard factors that influence the choice of rootstocks?
Compare and contrast the advantages of organic and non-organic viticulture
What are the options available for the control of acidity in must and wines from selecting the date of harvest to the end of the malolactic conversion?
Paper 2: The production of wine part 2
What factors should influence the choice of a wine’s closure?
What filtration techniques are available to the winemaker after malolactic conversion and before bottling? When and how might each of them be employed?
Critically assess the use of yeast lees in the maturation of both still and sparkling wines.
Paper 3: The Business of Wine
Examine the advantages and disadvantages of remaining a small wine estate
Volume or profit? Examine the options facing multinational wine companies
How can the internet influence the success (or failure) of a wine brand?
Paper 4: Contemporary Issues
How important is the influence of wine journalism in today’s media?
Some say the majority of wine consumers enjoy wine without understanding it. How will this shape the future of the international wine trade?
MW: a qualification worth having?
Friday 10 June
Slate.com has dredged up the issue of the MW: is it worth doing it? As he points out, there are plenty of people who have done quite nicely without those two letters after their name but to say that it isn’t worth the money, time and effort is like saying it’s not worth climbing Everest - after all, you only get a nice view and a bit of altitude sickness for your efforts.
Having just endured the marathon that is the MW exam for the past 3 1/2 days, I’m obviously biased and think the thing is worth having. Yes, my bank balance is looking rather miserable and my partner, Ben, has suffered having a book worm for a fiancee for the past six months. However, the past three years have made me a much improved member of the wine industry and, if I don’t pass, it has been worth it. My knowledge is much deeper, it encourages you to have an enquiring mind, widen your drinking range and meet some of the industry’s most interesting and ambitious people. It also opens doors and engenders a minimum level of respect from others who appreciate the mountain you are attempting to climb.
I probably ought to be going out and celebrating but all I feel like doing is putting my slippers on and having a nana nap.
Next week, I’ll be posting the questions we faced. See if you fancy a crack too!