jamie goode's wine blog

Thursday, July 03, 2008

More on the coffee pinotage, and Bertus 'Starbucks' Fourie

A few days ago I blogged, slightly tongue-in-cheek, about Pinotage and Diemersfontein's remarkable coffee-n'-chocolate example (although, of course, I was serious when I said Pinotage sucks and anyone who likes it lacks a decent palate).

Well here's some more information on it, gleaned from a number of sources, including Peter May's excellent site here, Grape here, and Wine here.

The winemaker at Diemersfontein who 'invented' this coffee and chocolate style was Bertus Fourie, who, because of his work, is widely known as Bertus 'Starbucks' Fourie. He was hired by KWV in 2005 to create their Cafe Culture Pinotage, and then left KWV in May this year for a boutique venture called Val de Vie (read more here).

According to Grape, the owners of Diemersfontein were not pleased that he left taking his 'recipe' with him (see here). They even went as far as initiating legal action. So what is this recipe?

The fruit is ripe, without much greenness. The destemmed grapes are hand sorted to remove any green material. But the key aspect is the wood, which in this case consists of staves in tanks. I'm guessing that there is something about the wood - perhaps the toasting process - that is causing those distinctive coffee/chocolate flavours, rather than the vanilla/coconut lactones that normally come from oak.

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Saturday, March 08, 2008

What is this?

OK folks, it's competition time. Can anyone tell me what this is, and what it is used for? Best answer gets a prize.


Monday, July 16, 2007

The world's best Chardonnay?

The title is somewhat misleading; it's meant to be provocative, but there's a more serious side to this question. Perhaps I should have re-titled it 'the world's most important Chardonnay'. This wine is significant.

Tonight, I'm drinking Kendall Jackson's Vintner's Reserve Chardonnay (which I'll abbreviate as KJVRC) 2005, which is an interesting wine, and not just because of the liquid in the bottle. I wrote a little about Kendall Jackson here on this blog a few weeks ago. They're an important player in the premium Californian wine scene, owning about 25 different estates and pumping out between 3.5 and 4.5 million cases per year all from estate-grown fruit.

The KJVRC was first made in 1982. It was an instant hit, and was the driving force behind the establishment of KJ as one of California's top wine estates. The secret to its success was that (1) it was based on good quality fruit from Sonoma Coast; (2) the wine was attractively priced considering the quality; and (3) there was a good dollop of residual sugar, together with a hint of botrytis.

It's the residual sugar that has been the 'story' that's most often brought up in connection with this wine. Basically, the first time it was made, some sweet, low alcohol Chardonnay - the result of a stuck fermentation - was later blended back into the main batch of wine (presumably after sterile filtering), resulting in a final wine with some sweetness. But it's clear that this was one of the reasons why this wine resonated with consumers, and is now a staggering 1 million case production.

I'm sure that KJ are fed up with questions about the residual sugar level of the KJVRC. At a recent press tasting, the technical fiches didn't mention it, and the suggestion was that it is now much lower than it used to be. Interestingly, residual sugar is the key to the success of a number of branded wines. Increasingly, commercial reds are being sweetened by as much as 9 grams/litre residual sugar, most commonly added post ferment as grape juice concentrate.

KJ winemaker Jed Steele left in 1991 and in 1992 was subject to legal action by his former employers. KJ weren't happy that he took with him the secret of the success of KJVRC (see this contemporary news article). I quote:
"In a milestone ruling for the wine industry, a county court in California has ruled that a winemaking process constitutes a trade secret belonging to a winery and may not be divulged by the winemaker to subsequent employers or consulting clients."

It's a ruling that upset the industry. There are only so many ways to make wine, and most of them have been practised for generations. If you are a winemaker who leaves a previous winery, legal shackles preventing you from using the techniques you utlized in your previous employment could effectively finish your career.

So what is the wine like? First, let's judge this in context. In the USA it sells for $13, but loads of places have it for just a few cents under $10. That's a fiver over here. At this price, it's a no-brainer. In the UK, retail is £8.99 through Morrisons, which puts it into a slightly different bracket, although it can certainly compete at this price level.

My first impression is of richness allied with freshness. There's some spicy peach, apricot and fig richness, coupled with fruit sweetness, but offset by good acidity and a citrussy focus. I'm getting a hint of grapefruit, too, on the finish. The sweetness here is alluring - I'm not sure how much is due to the fruitiness or whether this is a wine that still has a bit of residual sugar in the mix. If it wasn't for some of the more distinctive Chardonnay (fig, tropical fruit) characters and the subtle oak, the texture here - with sweetness offset by acidity - would lead me in the direction of a Riesling Kabinett from the Mosel. If points mean anything to you, I'd give this 88/100. Given the quantities made, the low price, the impact this wine has had, and the market penetration, this is one of the world's most important Chardonnays.

One further historical note. In the mid-1990s Gallo launched their 'Turning Leaf' range, including a Chardonnay. The logo for Turning Leaf has a picture of a vine leaf in its autumn colours, an image that appears (to my eye) to be somewhat similar to the autumnal vine leaf that's the visual hook for the KJVRC label. KJ sued Gallo about this and lost. Twice (once on appeal). Interestingly, one of my editors recently asked me a question about the 'Kendall Jackson Turning Leaf Chardonnay'.

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Monday, May 14, 2007

Talking terroir...

Riccardo Cotarella is one of the most famous figures in Italian wine. He's a consulting winemaker to a slew of different estates, many of whom have caught the eye of Robert Parker. But not everyone is a fan of him: like that other famous consultant Michel Rolland, he's been criticised for making wines that taste a bit similar. Wines that impress, but which have been divorced from their origins. He was in London last week presenting many of these wines at a seminar, where he defended himself thus:

'To say that a consulting winemaker will make the same wine using the same grape and vinification techniques in different countries or even different areas of the same country is a complete stupidity. The people making these claims wouldn’t know the difference between a grape vine and a fig tree! In my work with the students at Viterbo University where I am a professor of Oenology we have demonstrated that using the same varietal from the same vineyard with the same treatment in both the vineyard and the winery will produce two very different wines when you vinify the grapes that come from the top of the vineyard on the top of the hill vs. those from the bottom of the same vineyard...90% of the character of a wine comes from the terroir, not the grapes.'
This reads right. Yes, we beleive in terroir, and that it's the way to go for fine wine. But Cotarella fails to acknowldege here that terroir itself is actually quite fragile, and is easily lost - most commonly by picking too ripe and using interventionist winemaking. If you want to bring out terroir - the sense of place in a wine - you have to work hard at your viticulture and take care not to mess up in the winery. It's possible for consultant winemakers to introduce techniques such as extended cold macerations, long hang times, and invasive new oak usage that can obscure origins. And I have to disagree with the last statement. I think the grape variety is very important, otherwise there wouldn't be an insistence that Pinot Noir is the sole red variety in Burgundy, for example. This grape happens to be the best lens through which the Burgundy terroirs can be viewed, if you like. Or, we could say that 90% of the character of a wine can come from the terroir, but only if you let it.
I'm an open minded guy, so I reserve judgement about Cotarella-influenced wines until I've tried enough of them to form an opinion. But I did find this quote interesting, which is why I've commented on it.

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Tuesday, January 16, 2007

The bottles arrive!

Got home to find several large boxes in the living room. Turned out to be 100 bottles from the Quinn Group, for the inaugural vintage (here) of my English wine that I intend to bottle in the next few weeks. Arriving soon will be 100 Diams (the closure I've chosen - it's taint free - and I don't have a screwcap line here so that wasn't an option - other taint-free in-neck closure options would be to use ProCork [the membrane cork] or synthetics, both of which would have suited my needs fine). So far the wine hasn't seen any sulfur dioxide, but I'll probably add just a little at bottling.

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