Friday, November 22, 2013

No closure on closures - Elvis' wine list?

If you don't want to read about corks, skip down to the picture! 
A semi-brief technical matter before the entertainment, kids:  some of you may have noticed that I have discontinued use of screwcap closures and have been using agglomerate corks of various shades and decorations as closures for the past few years, but not so-called 'natural' one-piece corks (except in one special circumstance which is immaterial to this discussion of materials).  I am still supportive of screwcaps despite their physical vulnerability to a 'rim strike' on the bottle, but my mobile bottler has five lines with varying schedules, and only one has a machine that applies screwcaps.  
The producers of agglomerate corks have made tremendous progress over the last decade, after some false starts and one persistently flawed product, the "1+1" - identifiable by the relatively large (2-6mm) and irregular cork chunks that make up the bulk of the cork cylinder, and the thin disc of 1-piece cork at either end.  The modern agglomerates, on the other hand, consist of small and relatively uniform cork pieces (under 2 mm) that have been carefully washed and purged of TCA and other contaminants.  They may look cheap, but they can cost 2-5 times as much as a one piece 'natural' cork.  (Of course, there are some very expensive "natural" corks available, and some producers of $100+ wines use them, but as there's no way to wash, purge, or reliably test one piece corks, they're playing Moldy Lotto.)  My quality control method is simple - I get a sample bag from a producer whose website says the right things about the specifics of their production technology, and then I bite a cork in half.  Sniff.  Repeat until I get a bad one, or the bag's empty.

Something to drink while the King sweats?   Chapoutier Tavel Rose, $12.  Puligny Montrachet, $22.  Two Cold Ducks!  Printed only two years before his death; it's a shame he didn't ask a lovely young thing in the front row for one of these.  
"Hey Charlie, get me one bottle of everything on this list, and I'll see what I like best.  These damn pills are killin' me."

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Decanting For Wankers

The decanter differs from the tastevin in that it is not completely useless; some elderly wines are so sedimentary that the assistance of a sommelier with a candle and an expensive piece of crystal can be entertaining, if not actually helpful.  I've used a plastic pitcher for aeration and CO2 dissipation, upon occasion.  For aged, dormant or juvenile wines, however, the use of a decanter is hit or miss -  it can be a  ramp strike.

Decanting, properly done, excludes most bottle sediments and exposes the wine to oxygen, but it does not replicate the anaerobic aging of wine in the bottle, facts known to all professionals and knowledgeable amateurs.  What is less known, if in practice harder to employ, is that what we colloquially call the 'opening up' of a wine and, in the case of red wines, the softening (linking) of its tannins, is often best observed over a period of days, not the minutes or hours usually allowed by the use of a decanter in a restaurant, or at home when you have the best intentions but many an inquiring and parched guest.
So, try this:  open a dormant or young wine and pour a glass, then replace the cork.  Wait a week.  The effects are often far superior to decanting - as a simple test, leave the initial glass to breathe for an hour or so, and memorize it.  If the wine is better a week later, well, there you are!
This is a tried, if imperfectly true, test.  For what it's worthless, this post was inspired by recent experiences with the "Deep Purple" Petite Sirah, and the "Longboard Ambassador" Pinot Noir, amazing to behold.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Harvest, bottle, harvest!

As most of you will know from getting my emails, the 2013 Verdejo is already in the bottle - it went from grape to glass in five weeks, and another three weeks have passed since then;  local winemakers with more experience than I (and this is my thirtieth harvest in California) have pretended to be impressed - they might not be, if they knew how much wine I lost in hurrying it along.  In the meantime, I've also picked Viognier, Tempranillo, Tannat, an utterly fantastic Pinot Noir, Zinfandel (two clones) and Vermentino;  all but the last two have finished fermenting.  The Zinfandel 'stuck' at a far higher sugar than I've ever experienced, about 5 brix, leaving me with three options: attempt a referment with nutrients and an allegedly stronger yeast, blend with another wine in such a ratio as to almost guarantee refermentation to dry, or make a port.
Of course I'll do all three - I have three barrels to play with, after all!
The Vermentino isn't finished because it was picked recently;  it's foaming along very nicely, with some beautiful exotic aromas.  In about five hours, the Syrah 877 pick starts at Gill Vineyard;  this is the wine that has produced the Colossus.  Because we grafted over some of the miscreant Grenache to Alicante Bouschet last year, with the right blend I can produce, bottle and label another 'La Mort Du Roi' aka Dead Elvis wine ( as long as nothing changes on the label except the alcohol and the vintage, it need not be resubmitted to the Feds.  And there's no sense taking that chance that some bureaucrat will make sense of the label, if indeed it makes sense to anyone but me.  For that matter, it seems that Verdejo is not an 'approved variety' for American wine, notwithstanding that I am the third producer in California (but the only coastal one) the other wineries/growers having legally called it White Table Wine on the label and claimed that Verdejo was a 'fanciful name'.  As the Chateau d'Abalone label was approved as a varietal Verdejo last year, this means I can't change anything but the vintage and alcohol without exposing myself to a considerable delay, or worse; a shame, as I would like to vineyard designate (Twin Coyote Vineyard).


Thursday, September 19, 2013

Harvest in West Paso: the Colossus of Rhones at Gill.

The Syrah leaves turn color before the grapes are ready to pick.  The sugar levels, and consequent alcohols, may seem very high, but the acid levels maintain into the high 20s and sometimes higher.  Flavors are also not fully developed at 'normal' levels, and the seeds aren't lignified yet.  A cool year like 2011 gave us wine with an alcohol of 16.5%, probably as low as we'll see absent the threat of another typhoon!
Already picked:  Verdejo, Viognier, Zinfandel (Dusi and Primitivo clones), Tempranillo, and Tannat, as well as Grenache Blanc and Syrah, Mourvedre, and Grenache for pink.
Still to go: Vermentino, Pinot Noir, Counoise, Alicante Bouschet, Syrah, Petite Sirah, and a surprise or three.  Most but not all of these are in West Paso.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Mr. Natural Wine

Cartoonist Robert Crumb's best known character, Mr. Natural, was a cosmic con man, a spouter of acid-overdose aphorisms, a bearded pervert:  perhaps the perfect spokesman for the latest wine trend to foam out the bunghole of a diseased barrel and cover the Internet.  You've heard of organic wines, sulfite free wines, and biodynamic wines, so you're ready for "Natural" wine. Right?
To review: "Organic" wine regulations vary by nation, but generally mean no added sulfur in the winery.  Because of this, the wines don't last long as a rule; while a small amount of added sulfur was allowed under the original definition, now the US limit is 10 parts per million, a fraction of what's in yogurt and dried fruit. "Biodynamic" means burying a cow horn full of magic crystals in the vineyard, and paying a license fee to a mercenary organization that follows the ravings of a dead Nazi lunatic.
"Natural wine" means all, some, or none of the above, but it does suggest that anyone making wine who doesn't use this term is making "unnatural" wine:  Monsanto Merlot, not to be consumed by those not wearing a tinfoil hat.
Might I suggest as the next buzz term "Raw" wine, meaning wine that was never cooked - never left in a hot UPS truck for three hours, or in a warm kitchen for three days.  Or it could mean grape juice, to which you are welcome to add pure, organic ethanol.


Sunday, July 14, 2013

Tasting room closure

     After almost two years, I've decided to close the Zeppelin Wine Hangar, which was officially the Red Zeppelin Winery tasting room, and unofficially the Stillman tasting room.  I will be using a different venue for special wine tasting appointments, but I'm not disclosing the location unless contacted by an existing club member (a friend, family, fan or stalker) or someone vouched for by same.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Out of the archives: a wine competition judging story from 1997.


This took place at one of the (then, it's fallen on hard times)  larger wine competitions in America, the New World International, where the late Jerry Mead (although he was alive at the time) had made me chairman of the panel that rated the higher priced classes of Pinot Noir.  Mastermind, counterpart, and cohort, we unanimously and independently selected an outstanding example of said varietal as the best of the most expensive wines, and picked an excellent wine as the best of the second-costliest class of Pinots. These wines were then forwarded to a “super-panel” made up of the three of us, the three-member panel that tasted the two classes of cheap Pinots, and some guy from Hawaii or somewhere that turned out to be a pervert.  Our job:  select the Number One Pinot Noir. 
     We tasted the four wines, and voted as follows:  first place wine, one point; second place, two points; etc.  Although the outstanding wine got four of seven first-place votes, it came in second, as one of the other panel’s judges voted it last place.  This judge, who was from a European country not known for viticulture (and tulips make poor wine) argued that the outstanding wine was terrible, that it would not have been considered worthy of an award in any European wine competition, blah, blah, blahHe seemed to be rather excited.  As a run-off vote would have given “our” wine  (I was its loudest champion, of course)  the prize, this person wanted to settle the matter based upon the initial vote. 
     We summoned the Chief Judge, who ruled in my favor on both wine and procedure despite the fact that the stubborn Dutchman was a buddy of his.  The winning wine turned out to be the 1995 Fess Parker Pinot Noir, Reserve.  Later, I asked the wooden-shoed judge if wine made from Pinot Noir didn’t deserve as much or more more stylistic leeway than other wines.  I said, “Look at the variation in red Burgundy.”  He said, “I hate Burgundy.”

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

One wine competition is not like the others . . .

The oldest major wine competition in California does not allow sommeliers, writers, chefs or other inferior types as judges - only winemakers.  That said, some of these guys haven't tripped over a hose in a long time, and another judge on my panel, who boasted that he serves at ten different judgings, had never heard of dimethyl dicarbonate?!?! (I gave him a minute's worth of information, and he continued to draw a blank.)
Still, it's valuable and entertaining, and for two days I sat within ten feet of one of the best Central Coast Chardonnay and Pinot Noir producers, as well as the guy responsible for Two Buck Chuck.  The judging format is different from most competitions in that there is no consensus or conference - you taste, write down a score and recommended medal, and move on.
Having judged there since 1990, I'm usually rewarded with some of the more obscure varietals, see above.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Elvis' Pharmacy

Almost everyone who reads this blog either gets my emailed enological spam, or reads 1-10% of my Facebook posts, which fall into 666 simple categories.  So I try to write posts on my blog that are perhaps of more lasting importance than the ephemera I broadcast in those see-em-and-ignore-em manners.
This isn't one of those posts.  
Oh yeah, my private jet to pick you up, and the Zeppelin guest house to say in.  Maybe next year?
That oversaid:

Sunday, March 24, 2013

A viticultural obituary, Dr. Keith Patterson, Cal Poly SLO

A friend, an adviser, a man always ready to set foot in a remote vineyard site or dirtbag party venue.
Critics and winemakers get the wolverine's share of the attention in the wine world, but much of the tremendous innovation in viticulture and enology over the last decades has been driven by academics.  Emile Peynaud was my first guide to winemaking, and judging with Davis and Fresno professors has been instructive, but Keith answered my text messages - about clones, pests, impromptu concerts, and sadly, his health just a few weeks ago.  He died Thursday.
Above photo taken at Swillapalooza, 10/6/07

Monday, March 18, 2013

Deep Purple Stillman Petite Sirah

Young and powerful, more tannic than the large majority of the reds I've made in almost three decades in almost three states, but it smooths down quickly - well, in three days.  Really, assuming you've opened the bottle and poured a third or so out.  Numerology?  Well, no, and notice the NV - some of the swill is from the last harvest, a third or so press wine and thus somewhat more tannic.  Did I say young and powerful?

Sunday, March 3, 2013

From Elvis Island to Easter Island Graceland

Just moved house from Elvis Island to Easter Island Graceland, not far as the Zeppelin flies, but the new place is in the zone of perpetual surf sound.  A lot, lot closer to the beach, so to speak;  this is the view from the end of the street, and the end of the street is a hundred feet away.  That's the headland above the abalone farm in the distance, the view is to the NW, where the storms come from.  Below, view from the front yard:

Band practice

Band practice