Musings on a different kind of bug

I was sitting around with some friends the other day, sipping on a lovely Finger Lakes wine and wondering aloud about malolactic fermentations.

OK, so I lied.

But, luckily for those of us who enjoy a lovingly constructed wine, there are people who do think about such things, Take Peter Bell (right), for example. He's the winemaker at Fox Run Vineyards, located on the west side of Seneca Lake, midway between Geneva and Penn Yan. He writes on the vineyard's blog:

"People often stop me on the street and say, 'What do winemakers talk about in late November?' Well, probably the number-one question we ask of each other in this profession is 'So, d’ya getcher deer?'
"Just kidding. It’s 'How are your MLs doing?' MLs in this case are winemaker shorthand for malolactic fermentations. You may recall seeing a picture ... in an earlier post, initiating the process ... with little cups of freeze-dried bacteria. That was a few weeks ago. By now, our MLs are either well under way or wrapped up entirely.
"What’s the point of this procedure? A guaranteed modest reduction in the acidity of the wine, associated with the conversion of malic acid to lactic, is rarely a bad thing in our cool climate. But we also expect an increase in aroma and flavor complexity."

That may be a nugget of wine knowledge many of you didn't have before. Now you do, and it's a fascinating process. You can read the full blog entry by clicking here.

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Pinot Noir again No. 1 in New Zealand

AUCKLAND, New Zealand -- A 2009 Pinot Noir has been  named "Champion Wine of the Show" in New Zealand's premier competition, the Air New Zealand Wine Awards.

Peregrine Wines' Central Otago Pinot Noir 2009 joined its 2008 Riesling -- a winner announced earlier -- among gold medal wines. The facility itself also won the trophy for Champion Open Red Wine.

Steve Smith, chair of judges, said the Peregrine pinot noir was "the finest example of the finest red wine variety in this country" with "wild flowers, thyme and black fruits on the nose."

The question about such awards from many consumers usually is, can I actually find it at my wine merchant? In this case, chances apparently are good.

Grey Hay, co-owner and marketing director of Peregrine, said winning the trophy in the open red wine category was equally important as it meant the pinot noir was produced in a volume that made it available to the public in a reasonable quantity.

"It's not a small volume selection." he said. "That is our standard pinot noir that has been made to that quality. It's a wine that the public can get access to quite easily."

This is the second consecutive year a pinot noir has claimed top honors at the awards, which are organized by New Zealand Winegrowers. You can access the full list of winner here.

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Burgundy auction posits higher prices

• From the Reuters news service

Prices for Burgundy wine jumped by more than a fifth at the 150th annual Beaune Hospices charity auction Sunday, with growers hailing a high quality vintage and a recovery in foreign demand.

The sale of wines from the Hospices domaine, conducted by auction house Christie's, traditionally gives an indication of price trends for the latest vintage and is one of the highlights of the French wine calendar. ...

Burgundy, where viticulture stretches back to at least Roman times and was nurtured during the Middle Ages by Catholic monasteries, is home to some of the world's most expensive wines. Its vineyards nestle in the valleys and slopes west of the Saone River, a tributary of the Rhone in eastern France.

Growers said the 2010 vintage produced unusually low volumes due to a late harvest and small, intensely flavored grapes.

"The very rare coincidence of these two phenomena suggests a high quality vintage," said Roland Masse, manager of the Hospices de Beaune domaine.

[Go here for the full Reuters report.]

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Former USSR state making whiskey

ABC photo

The former Soviet Union republic of Azerbaijan is about to become the first whiskey producer in the Caucus region of Central Asia.

Naig Mammadhasanov (right), general director of the wine-centric beverage company Tovuz-Baltia, told the Azerbajian Business Center's ABC news office that the company has just begun entering the market.

It plans to finish 15,000 bottles by the end of this year, and "the future will depend on market reaction to our new product. At the same time, German businessmen have already expressed interest in whiskey of our production. They say that there is demand for such output."

Tovuz-Baltia already exports 80% of its other output to European Union and and Commonwealth of Independent States markets in Europea and Asia. Only 20% is sold in-country.

The company was founded in December 1989 and focuses primarily on the cultivation of grapes and the production of wine and wine products such as cognac. However, Tovuz-Baltiya has recently introduced new technology and is producing fruit- and berry-based wines and spirits.

"We decided against bringing spirits from Ukraine, Iran and Russia and are producing vodka with our own raw materials. We have started the production of a new brand of alcohol from watermelon, quince, pomegranate and other fruits," Mammadhasanov said.

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Guest comment: Texas victory needs asterisk

By Fred LeBrun
Albany Times Union

ALBANY, NY -- Texas beat New York badly in the first Grape Gridiron Classic, held a couple of weeks ago in Dallas, but at least there should be an asterisk in the record book.

Just a month or so ago, the Texas Department of Agriculture came up with the idea for a friendly competition between these two wine-producing states, and it's a good one. Using a hurry-up offense, a Dallas-based wine educator and blogger, Jeff Siegel, and Texas wine blogger Russ Kane came up with 11 wines chosen from the 200 wineries in the Lone Star State. Jim Trezise, president of the New York Wine and Grape Foundation, picked New York's team.

The wine-to-wine blind taste-off in various red and white categories, with 40 Texas winemakers, sellers and members of the trade participating, took place at El Centro College the same evening the New York Giants were beating up the Dallas Cowboys.

Virginia wine consultant and blogger Richard Leahy and I were the non-Texas voters in the room, and I certainly agree that Texas beat us that night fair and square, wine against wine. We hang our heads.

However, here's why there's an asterisk.

[Go here for the rest of his commentary.]

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NY college, winery teaming up

Freedom Run Winery photo

 CAMBRIA, NY -- While some people are concerned about college students paying too much attention to alcoholic beverages, at Niagara County Community College the interest is being channeled in a positive way.

NCCC and Freedom Run Winery have entered into an agreement for the business to host a school vineyard and serve as the working lab for students studying "Winery Operations," the college’s newest two-year degree program. Also part of the effort is the Niagara Falls Culinary and Hospitality Institute.

The partnership, announced Monday at the winery (part of the tasting room is shown above), "is our first concrete step (in opening) the culinary institute," said NCCC President James Klyczek. "It’s a significant development."

The degree program will consist of 20% classroom work and 80% hands-on experience in all aspects of viniculture, from the planting of vines to picking and processing of the fruit through bottling and sale of finished wines, Klyczek said.

Freedom Run Winery donated an acre of land last spring on which the school's first 300 grape vines were planted. Half are Merlot, half are Chardonnay. Klyczek said the school’s long-term goal is to see wine produced under the Culinary Institute name and served and sold in its restaurant and its wine boutique which is stocked with Niagara Wine Trail wines.

"There’s a real need in Niagara County for anyone with winemaking experience," said Kurt Guba, cellar master for Freedom Run Winery. "It’s exciting to think you can study at a local college and get a job, a career, locally."

Niagara Falls Culinary and Hospitality Institute is to be the new focal point of the college's culinary and hospitality/tourism degree programs, sited in a section of the former Rainbow Mall in downtown Niagara Falls.

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Blowing the dust off a good find

Bill Dowd photo

Sometimes a wine gets lost in the cellar, under coats of dust and indifference. Sometimes they're well past their drinkability when re-discovered. Sometimes they're a pleasant surprise.

The creators of this red Bordeaux, a 60-40% blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, said at the time of its release "It has excellent balance  and flavor which makes it enjoyable when young." What they didn't say -- or perhaps couldn't reliably predict -- was that it is enjoyable at the ripe old age of 13.

The northern Médoc region of France is recognized as an excellent terroir, with its fine gravel soil that allows strong root growth. As part of the appellation d'origine contrôlée (AOC) of Bordeaux, its bold wines are noted for their longevity.

I found this cru bourgeois on a long-neglected shelf in my cellar while looking for something with some body to sip with Constant Companion on a chilly evening this week. We both were pleased with the rich, ruby color and the bold, fruity nose. On the palate, notes of blackberry and plum joined together to lead the way to a long, dry finish.

If you can find a bottle of this '97, seize the wine. Suggested retail price: About $25.

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Wine tips for holiday imbibers

Traditional dining centerpieces for American holiday tables are, by generations-long consensus, turkey for Thanksgiving and ham or roast beef for Christmas. Side dishes may vary, thus allowing for some individuality such as ethnic preferences or personal likes and dislikes. But, when it comes to the wines accompanying the feasts, we're all over the map.

Again, some of that has to do with personal preferences, but in my experience I've found that too often the wines are chosen to appeal more to people who rarely drink except at holiday gatherings. (As an oldtime comedian put it, I feel sorry for such people because when they get up in the morning that's as good as they're going to feel all day.)

I took an informal survey of wine vendors at the recent Pride of New York Harvest Fest held in Albany to see what New York State wines -- not necessarily made just with grapes -- they would suggest to appeal to such occasional drinkers as well as to people with more experienced palates sharing the meal with them. Here's what we came up with, along with my tasting notes from the event.

• Glenora Wine Cellars Cranberry Chablis ($9.99): This is part of Glenora's Fruit Series, and the cranberry aspect is perfect for a turkey dinner. The lightness of the chablis base is a nice starter before cranberry juice from concentrate is added. There is virtually none of the tartness one associates with cranberries; instead, there is a certain freshness and crispness to the concoction, with a slightly sweet and clean finish.

• Knapp  Loganberry ($9.95): The loganberry once was a staple of American home winemakers, but is a comparative rarity these days. Knapp, known for a wide variety of fruit wines, uses a Vidal Blanc base, then adds berry juice from concentrate. While the alcohol content is a touch higher than in many other fruit wines (6% vs. 4%), this is not a "hot" wine that might bother the less experienced imbiber. Fruit-forward taste, bold enough to stand up to those rich pies and cakes we serve as holiday desserts.

• Pazdar Blackberry ($15): This wine is strictly what its name says it is -- 100% blackberry, with no grape base. The deep, dark color and the crisp, satisfying taste of the berry makes this a great wine with heavier meats such as roasts, or even a good dessert wine that pairs wonderfully with chocolate.

• Anthony Road 2008 Cabernet Franc Lemberger ($17.99): This well-constructed blend has only been out a few weeks, and it is immediately drinkable. It will go with any menu, given its medium body, stone fruit notes and  hints of pepper and cocoa.

• Thousand Islands Winery Seaway Blues ($13.49): I was surprised by this wine, packaged in blue glass that gives no hint of the color or density before pouring. It's a potent blueberry style I'd recommend as a dessert wine that isn't terribly sweet (12% residual sugar) and has a clean finish one wants in a final wine note for the meal.

• Amici Vineyards Marechal Foch Frontenac ($13.99): This is an 80-20% blend of the two cold weather grapes. It provides both spice and tartness good in a main-dish wine. Smooth on the tongue, clean and lengthy finish.

• Heron Hill Eastern Wild Turkey Blush ($9.99): The winery's Game Bird Series offers red, white and now this delicate blend of Riesling and Cabernet Franc. It's a festive bright rosé pink color. Opening aromatic notes are a mix of florals, cranberry and citrus. Finishes clean with just a hint of spice.

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