Freezer Burn

I wish I could say it was a science experiment but it was really just an accident. I’d done what many of us do when a guest asks for a glass of white wine and you have none chilled: throw it in the freezer for a few minutes.

When I went to retrieve it, the wine had pretty much solidified, and thawing it out was going to take some time. Winesicles, anyone??

So what happens to the wine if, say, it’s left in the freezer for a few hours? Or worse. Overnight?!

Cold Snap

During the process of winemaking, a phenomenon takes place called tartrate or cold stabilization ~ where the wine is purposefully chilled down freezing for a short amount of time during fermentation. This is done to prevent the formation of tartaric acid crystals – wine ‘diamonds’ – after bottling. If cold stabilization doesn’t happen, the chances increase that crystals will form as soon as you place the bottle in the refrigerator or if it’s stored for long periods of time. Sometimes the crystals can look like tiny shards of glass in the bottle or when your pour it in your glass. It doesn’t mean that anything is wrong with the wine if you notice these crystals in the bottle or on the cork; tartaric acid is a naturally occurring function in wine making. After fermentation, some wines have an excess saturation of tartaric acid which solidifies and forms crystals. Chilling it out prevents this from occurring.

Pretty ice crystals... and crunchy, too!

Better Safe Than Sorry

So if wine in the bottle freezes does it go bad? Before we talk about the wine inside, there are some safety issues to consider:

• If your bottle has a cork, freezing might push it out. As the water content of the wine begins to freeze, it can expand and push out the cork especially if there isn’t much space in the bottle.

• Your bottle may burst. As the air surrounding the bottle rapidly cools, the liquid inside rapidly expands and Ka-BOOM! A bottle rocket in your freezer.

NEVER, ever freeze any sparkling wine! The contents are under pressure as it is and freezing will increase the odds of it exploding.

Spin the Bottle

If you want to quick-chill any wine quickly, Somm Brian Smith recommends: “filling a bucket with 50 | 50 mix of ice and water, a little salt, and then take a spoon and spin it around and around the bottle.” The centrifugal force will move the rapidly chilling water around the bottle allowing more of the contents to come in contact with the cold glass. Cool!

Keep in mind that wine that has been frozen doesn’t miraculously become… Ice Wine. Sorry, I know you’re thinking, “It’s iced up, and it’s wine so…” but nope. And honestly, it’s really not worth the risk of popped corks or exploding bottles.

The good news is: for the most part, the wine inside will not be damaged. While freezing can separate the water from other components of the wine, and this has the potential alter the flavor somewhat, it’s generally so subtle that no one will notice.

So chill! That frozen bottle you forgot about might be a little crunchy at first, but as it thaws, it should taste the same as it ever was. Just really, really cold.

Cheers! 🍷

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Malbec Monday: Amancaya Gran Reserva 


If I hurry I can get it in under the wire! I’m definitely tardy today– busy days mean that sometimes I can’t get my wine homework done.
Rushing to find my weekly pick, I discovered a 2013 Amancaya Gran Reserva Malbec | Cabernet Sauvignon.

A collaboration between Nicolás Catena an Domaines Baron de Rothschild (Lafite), this wine was clear, garnet colored, full body offering with medium-hi tannin. It had a delicate nose of cherry and rose and tasted of  bold blackberry, black plum with just a hint of bell pepper. While it was 2013, it began to open up to reveal a bit more complexity; it was a nicely balanced 50/50 blended vintage.

Putting the Grand in Gran Reserva 

Gran Reserva  is a frequent term used on the labels throughout Spain to define both quality and style. In Spanish law there are labelling terms that indicate the minimum periods of ageing the barrel and the bottle. It is traditional practice to age wines for long periods of time in oak barrels and then in the bottle before it’s released. Therefore, Spanish produced vintages are usually older  than those from other countries.

On the label you’ll find one of four terms that indicate the levels of age. In order of increasing age:

  •  Joven~ wines bottled the year following the vintage for immediate release, and indicate wines that haven’t  been aged in oak for the minimum of time to be considered Crianza. $10-15
  • Crianza~ one year in oak– one year in the bottle. $15-20
  • Reserva~  one year in oak– two years in the bottle. $25+
  • Gran Reserva~ two years in oak– three years in the bottle. $35+                             Gran Reserva wines are produced in only exceptional vintages, and the best of these are beautifully complex.

So now when you look for Malbec, you’ll know what to look for on the label to get the most complex and flavourful offering. After all, age ain’t always just a number; it’s time spent in the barrel and bottle.

Cheers! 🍷

Mac n Cheese Monday!

Ok, so it’s more about the wine than the mac and cheese but Rosé doesn’t start with M

My girl is home from college and as a budding gourmet, she wanted to experiment with a simple but yummy mac and cheese recipe. So which wine would be interesting? 

A few days ago, HubbyDoug came across a 2016 Alexander Valley Vineyards dry Rosé of Sangiovese. We’ve enjoyed many of AVV’s offerings in the past but a Sangiovese Rosé was what peaked his interest. Who was I to say, “Bah!”? 

Rosé is made from black grapes and its production is similar to red wines, but fermentation is at lower  temperatures, and is taken off grapeskin contact after only 12 to 36 hours so that the wine doesn’t become too deeply colored or tannic. Most red wines maintain skin contact for more than two weeks (for richly flavored wines). 

This wine was amazing with the combination of Jarlsberg and Monterey Jack cheese; it cut through the creamy butter vibe with a refreshing acidity and wonderful light fruity quality. To try to assauge our guilt, we added a nice combination of sweet green peas and broccoli to the mix. 😉

I’ve often enjoyed a crisp, bubbly Prosecco with dishes that are this creamy and rich, but this Rosé was a surprising and wonderful alternative. And for summer, Rosé is a fun change of pace. Think pink!

Cheers! 

MmmmmMonastrell Monday! 

Taking a break from my studying, I caught myself in a little daydream; thinking back to not long ago and a trip to Jerome, AZ. 

I’d heard of Caduceus Cellars from my nephew, Aaron, who’s really into the bands Tool and Puscifer. What does this have to do with wine? Caduceus was founded by Maynard James Keenan, frontman and songwriter of Tool, A Perfect Circle and Puscifer. Established in 2004, Caduceus is described as a ‘small production family owned winery’. Unlike some celebrity winemakers, Keenan likes to get his hands dirty in all aspects of the business; from planting and harvesting to winemaking and marketing.  

From our wine flights, HubbyDoug and our friends Carl and Deb picked the 2013 VSC Anubis (50% Cab, 30% Cab Franc, 20%Petit Syrah). My pick: the 2014 VSC Monastrell (100% Cochise County Monastrell). 

Monastrell (aka Mourvèdre) is a thick skinned grape that provides color, fruit and tannic structure especially when blended with Grenache and Syrah; it is the ‘M’ in GSM wines. On its own, it has intense perfume notes and blackberry flavours along with hints of meat. Age brings out more leather and gingerbread aromas and flavour. 

The wine in my glass had a beautiful garnet colour with sage on the nose (what I imagine the scent a desert flower would have). It had light-medium body with neutral oak, and flavors of basil, thyme, juniper with a kick of licorice and olive. It made me think of a fragrant, lush herb garden. Normally with reds, I expect to have more of a jammy, fruit forward experience, anything herbaceous I associate with a crisp Sauvignon Blanc. It wasn’t sweet wine, far from it. But, much like it’s winemaker, its juxtaposition from what I thought it should be, and what it was, I found a true expression of where it was cultivated. 

This Monastrell is hand-picked (by Keenan himself), sorted, submerged cap fermented and puncheon aged for 18 months. Puncheon is an extra large oak barrel (70-100 gallons). The larger size allows for stronger/ stricter controls in the wine’s development due to the higher inner barrel surface – wine ratio. 

I’d only had this varietal before as part of the GSM blend but on its own it was a wonderful surprise to add to my list of exceptional wines with a twist. 

Cheers! 

A Noble Steed, and the Fireside Pizza 🔥

Is it the Riesling, or is it still National Pizza  Day? I guess it doesn’t matter since  I’m enjoying both either way.

My research today led me to a chart about pizza and wine pairings. One of the more intriguing was Riesling and Hawaiian pizza; the key element being img_9508pineapple. I’ve never been a fan of pineapple on pizza. Ever. But for the sake of furthering my wine pairing education…

As it so happened, we had a nice 2012  Firesteed Riesling in our collection, and chilling in our fridge (so handy!) and looking on the menu at our local PizzaFire   I found a Za that looked pretty interesting: Free range chicken, red onion, barbeque sauce, and yes, pineapple.

The wine was a lovely, light offering; tasting of tart lemon zest, green, fresh fiddlehead, with just a whisper of white pepper. It paired so nicely with the sweet of the pineapple, and cut a swath through the tang of the barbeque. It really was an unexpected treat. The lack of floral and sweetness in this case worked to enhance the savoury tang of the pizza. Nice!

Whether you observe Pizza Day or not, it’s always good to find new ways to enjoy wine with everyday dining.

Cheers!

©TheWineStudent, 2017

My New Sparkles for Thanksgiving ✨🍾


This Thanksgiving, I wanted to shake things up a little. Instead of serving three wines; a bubbler, white and a red, I’ve narrowed the field to two: Segura Viudas Reserva Heredad Cava and a 2013 Gundlach Bundschu Pinot Noir.

But wait…what is Cava?

Cava is a dry sparkling wine that is produced in Spain using traditional, indigenous grapes from a several select growing regions. The most renown is North-East Spain, particularly Penedès.  It is made from 2-3 grape varietals: Macabea (the Viura of Rioja), Parellada, and the earthier Xarel-lo. While most wines are named after their growing region, Cava gets its name from the type of wine. Unlike other sparkling wines, it’s made in ‘Mètodo Tradicional’ or the traditional method used in creating Champagne.

I’ve written before about how sparkling wines are made but here’s a little review: The traditional method allows for  the fermentation of wine in the bottle for months (and sometimes years).  Bottles have a crown cap (think beer cap) to withstand the considerable buildup of pressure (corks would just pop at this phase and no one likes premature popping). Bottles are then slanted downward and kept in this postion to allow the yeast to settle in the neck. After a time, the next phase occurs where just the bottle necks are submerged in a freezing solution; freezing just those few inches of wine that contains the yeast. An ice plug is formed trapping the yeast. At this point, the bottle is turned upright, crown cap removed and the pressure from the gas inside the bottle expells the ice plug (don’t try blaming the dog). What remains is the sparkling bottle of perfection which is then corked and cellared. A painstaking process, it takes great care to make sure it all comes out the way it should.

This is how the traditional method differs  from other approaches to making wine sparkle. Non-traditional method means the wine goes through its fermentation in large metal tanks, is then bottled and carbon dioxide added to the mix.

Cava vs Prosecco

Cava has flavors of lemon flavors with a slightly bitter, nuttier quality on the finish with a more full bodied mouth-feel, and floral notes similar to Champagne. It has many qualities similar to Champagne except that it has a more affordable price point. Feel free to put two in your grocery basket.

Prosecco originates from around the Valdobbiadene region of Italy and is a dry, slightly sweeter, complex bubbler. It’s fermented in steel tanks and has light, crisp flavors of pear, peach, yellow apple, and apricot. Like Cava, it is an inexpensive way to get your bubble on and can be mixed without guilt in a bevy of cocktails.

Whatever you choose to celebrate this Thanksgiving, I wish you all a happy and safe holiday!

Cheers!

Breaking Bud

For the most part, this past winter was not one of discontent. Unless, perhaps if you’re a winemaker. It’s a balancing act when it comes to managing freeze-thaw cycles in a vineyard. Most vines are resilient enough to withstand the below freezing temperatures for a time only to rise and bloom when it’s safe to wake up. This winter and spring were a little different, though.

While bud break  in March is not unheard of, it usually it begins when the danger of frost has safely passed. Winter bud damage can occur at temperatures below -25 C; vine damage can occur between -28 and -30C. The level of damage also depends on the grape: Vidal and Cab Franc being heartier varietals can withstand extremes, but the more delicate Pinot Noir, and Gerwurtztraminer suffer the most when they are exposed to temps of below -10C.

But like anything in nature, adaptability is everything. According to an article in the University of Maryland Extension, buds acclimate in two ways:

  • Dehydration ~ where water contained inside the bud and vine move into intercellular spaces. Shrinkage, if you will.
  • Cryoprotection ~ sugar and protein complexes that bind water work as cryoprotectants which lower the freezing point of water allowing contents of the cell to ‘supercool’ without the generation of dangerous ice crystals.

The difficulty facing winemakers here in the Ohio River Valley is that spring came on early and strong with record mild temps, potentially causing grape buds to emerge earlier than usual. Bud break occurs approximately around late April through mid May. While early bud break allows for the potential of a longer growing season and riper fruit, it also increases the vulnerability to a late spring frost. If shoots are lost, the crop size decreases, yet the quality of the resulting wine can increase.

Matt Meineke, owner and vineyard manager of M Cellars in Geneva, Ohio says [via e-mail] , “with the mild winter early bud break was a concern but we do feel things should be in the clear at this point. Many growers use fans and we actually use a potassium/ calcium spray, and a little luck, to get by on our estate vineyards. On the vineyards we manage we use fans and of course luck!”

Temperatures in North East Ohio for March ranged from 28F on March 2 to a crazy high of 75F on March 8, with variations on that theme throughout the month, ending with a high on the 31st of 70F. It’s no wonder the buds were confused — I was. As temperatures began to decrease again, the frost, snow and ice could likely encroach upon the tender new vines, and damage could then take hold. Just how much damage remains to be seen. As Meineke explains, “ any extreme temperature fluctuation will cause the plants to deactivate from winter hardiness which is always a concern regardless of the variety. Some varieties are more tender, especially the vinifera wine grapes we grow such as Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Riesling, etc.”

So what happens if frost bites the young vines? Having a plan B is essential to a successful season. According to Meineke, “if we have an early frost that causes damage, we would be using our secondary buds for production. This would cause production to be down and typically ripening may be delayed as well. That said, we would probably not be in a good position to make premium red wines, we should be considering premium rose wines as that is what nature has told us to do.”

As for any changes the consumer might see in terms of pricing, Meineke explains, “as far as pricing goes I don’t think we have a lot of room for an increase to the end consumer. We find local wines hard enough to sell on the open market and this would simply be one more reason for the end user to look elsewhere for their wine purchase.”

Even with this season’s fluctuations in temperatures, by the looks of things, the vines are all right. And so will be this year’s vintages.

Cheers!

©TheWineStudent, 2016