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A return to natural simplicity, in all things

27 comments

 

If there’s a new no-makeup, or low makeup, look for women—and the Wall Street Journal says there is–then I’m a fan. I never did like that Tammy Faye Bakker over-the-top clown face, although I did like Tammy Faye herself, who seemed to be a big-hearted, fair-minded, loving woman who never hesitated to part company with her co-religionists when she felt they were wrong on an issue.

 

tammy_faye_bakker

The WSJ article suggests that the tendency for stars such as Jennifer Anniston and Reese Witherspoon to “brave the big screen with little-to-no visible makeup” is a welcome alternative to the “fully made-up look of [the] Kardashian sisters,” a look that “social media [has] helped spread…”. Cosmetic companies, the article reports, “are responding with lighter foundations, sheerer lip glosses and new products” that allow women’s faces to look like what they really are, rather than somebody’s fantasy of what they should be.

This is great news: what America has always needed are people comfortable in their own skins.

And the wine connection? Pretty obvious, really. You can draw a straight line between the no-makeup look and the emerging taste among American wine drinkers for wines that are less oaky and less extracted.

We can all agree that there is such a trend. You hear it from sommeliers and from consumers themselves. Wineries are listening and reacting accordingly. I do not believe that things are as dire as some winemakers and some wine writers allege; we don’t hear overwhelming consumer demand for no oak, or for wines that must be below 14% alcohol by volume. What consumers want are wines that taste of the grapes, and not of toasted barrels and prunes. Well, we all want that.

Actually, speaking of poor Tammy Faye (she died in 2007), the winemaker Jean-Noel Formeaux du Sartel, who co-founded (with his wife, Marketta) Chateau Potelle (whose Mount Veeder estate was purchased by the Jackson family in 2007), twenty-plus years ago told me, as we sipped his fabulous VGS Zinfandel on the winery’s deck, that in his view too many California wines were “like Tammy Faye Bakker,” in that they were too big, extracted, ripe and oaky. His vision was to craft wines more in “the French style”: balanced and elegant. So this current importuning for “balance” is nothing new.

However it has picked up steam, and social media has certainly played a role in that. I’m onboard, if this movement really is about balance and not an ideological quest for a sort of ethnic cleansing in wine. I do think our era is defined, in part, by a desire for a new kind of simplicity and purity. Post-Sept. 11, post-Great Recession, and still in the midst of political and cultural schism, we collectively yearn for a stripping-away of what’s irrelevant, so that we can focus on the real, the true, the sincere, the credible. This applies to women’s faces; it applies to wines; it applies to the foods we put into our bodies. It’s a good revolution to have, and to be part of.

* * *

Correction: An earlier edition of this story misstated the date of Tammy Faye Bakker’s death.

  1. Lest we forget, or go way overboard in the “purity” revolution, the world-wide love of Chardonnay has been fueled by the use of small-barrel aging. When Ambassador Zellerbach came back from Europe and brought with him barrels to age his Chardonnay, in the method he saw in Burgundy, there was so little Chardonnday in California that it could not be counted in the annual Grape Acreage Survey. Indeed, Chardonnay was then listed under “Other Red Varietals”.

    Balance is in the eye of the beholder, and it is a good thing that we are beginning to “see” a brighter standard for balance, but it would be a surprise and a shame if we never again dressed up Chardonnay and other varieties with any oak at all. That is a kind of “purity” that has more to do with zealous adherence to a narrow and ungenerous view of the world. Less makeup does not mean no makeup.

  2. To paraphrase my wife, “it’s a lot of work to make a wine taste so effortless”.

    I think a lot of this comes down to the fact that many people don’t understand how wine is actually made, and Charlie illustrated it perfectly. Malolactic fermentation is a natural process, and preventing it from happening requires a lot of equipment and manipulation. But since most people don’t know this, they consider a chardonnay that hasn’t gone through ML to be more “pure”. It is similar to the militant wholefoodsism of urbanites that have no idea where their food comes from, but think they know better than the farmers who grow it.

  3. Everyone talks the talk, very few walk the walk.

    Critics don’t judge for natural, authentic, sincere …

  4. Bill Haydon says:

    Gabe, there’s nothing wrong with ML in Chardonnay. Virtually every Chardonnay from the Cote D’Or or Chablis undergoes malo. It’s an issue of–dare I say it–balance. The problem with the Michelle Rolland cookbook as practiced in California is when you take grapes that are over-ripened to the point of almost raisining and, consequently, coming into the cellar with very little natural acidity and then put through malo that you get these hideous over-the-top, Tammy Fay (I prefer “Frankenwine”) wines. Throw in massive acid adjustments, excessive lees stirring and the slathering on of the new oak.

    It’s boring, by-the-numbers (and for-the-numbers) winemaking that will come to be seen as nothing but a transitory exercise in excess and bad taste. The leisure suit era of winemaking.

  5. People show you the pic of J Lo who dares to come out “without” any makeups. But they did not tell you she’d put on lots of natural & bare-looking markups to get to look that way. It’s the new gizmo, and some folks think they outsmarted us and just discovered another bonanza.

    We hold verified definitions on beauty, authenticity, confidence and sincerity. I used to think J Lo was drop-dead gorgeous, sexy, talented and THE diva. But now, she has to shake her booty like a hooker to attract your eyeballs and tell you that she’s gorgeous. Poor teenagers of ours, who are bombarded with oceans of such bombastic social-media contents. Being surrounded by the trendy viral culture, I want to be less foolhardy with my wine selections.

  6. “Tammy Faye (hard to believe she died 22 years ago)”

    It should be hard to believe — she died in 2007, just 8 years ago!

    Excuse the nitpicking; I only checked up on this because I remembered seeing her on the reality show The Surreal Life, and I was pretty sure it wasn’t that long ago. The years are slipping by me, but not that quickly!

  7. ” grapes that are over-ripened to the point of almost raisining and, consequently, coming into the cellar with very little natural acidity and then put through malo ”

    Raisins put through malo? Really? REALLY?

  8. Dear Jim B., you are correct Sir! The date has been corrected.

  9. @Bill – “Virtually every Chardonnay from the Cote D’Or or Chablis undergoes malo.” Do the French actually collect statistics on that? Do you have them? Do you know why that’s technically unlikely?

    You should limit yourself to what you know.

  10. I think it’s important to emphasize the distinction between wines that have endured artificial enhancement (make-up, silicone,) with the intent of creating or broadening appeal (Tammy Faye), and wines that come across as a “big” or hedonistic – but do so naturally by virtue of terroir (Bo Derek?). When “enhancements” are added to wines that are already naturally voluptuous (Kim Kardashian?), freak-show entries are produced. I applaud the trend toward wines that are far less gussied up.

  11. @Kevin – Nicely said.

    Isn’t this entire discussion basically moot? How does a taster have any idea if a wine is natural or not? Do they trust what the producer tells them? Is any producer going to say their wine is not “natural” no matter what process it has gone through? The taster has no idea how the wine was made and all too often tasters have been proven wrong in their guesses about a wine.

    I somewhat regret being a little tough on Bill in my previous comment, but do want to make a further point in regards to ML. ML fermentation “naturally” works against balance. ML lowers acid in a wine, but a wine is less likely to go through ML the more acidic (lower pH) it is. The reason being that ML bacteria have a difficult time surviving in low pH wine.

    Steve & Charles, in the past, have been clear that they will downgrade their rating of a more “natural” wine. The two best reference points for this that I recall are Steve’s previous posts about terrior vs. taste and one about 2011 “unripe” wines.

  12. Bill Haydon says:

    Not a big deal, @Brad, and I was incorrect about the Chablis half of my observation; although every Cote D’Or cellar I’ve visited has let a majority of their wines go through ML.

    Regarding ML working inherently against balance, I disagree. It depends on how the grapes are coming into the cellar. If ML is turning malic acid into lactic while lowering TA by about a third, that may actually enhance balance in a very acidic wine. Conversely, if the grapes are coming in at very high brix/low TA then putting the wine through malo is only going to exaggerate the existing imbalance in the wines, regardless of how much acid gets dumped in from a bag. To me, it’s a case-by-case and region-by-region question of whether malo is beneficial or not in making Chardonnay. In California–at least as practiced over the last twenty years or so–I don’t believe that it is.

    I’ve tasted some beautiful Chardonnays being grown in the Monferrato hillsides in Piemonte that I know go through malo–at least a portion of the barrels. Then again, these are wines grown on limestone hillsides in a very cool climate, so the grapes are coming in fundamentally different than is the case with most California Chard. In my humble opinion, this region makes the best Chardonnay in the world outside of Chablis and the Cote d’Or.

  13. Bill Haydon says:

    @Charlie “Raisins put through malo? Really? REALLY?”

    My exact quote is “to the point of almost raisining.” You do understand this word, “almost?” Yes?

    And if you’re picking Chardonnay at the 25+brix that much of California does then yes much of the winemaking world would consider those grapes ALMOST raisined.

  14. @Bill – A fact is a fact. Science is science. Wines of the most acidity are the least likely to go through ML. Wines of the least acidity are most likely to go through. ML can be used to improve balance, but the trend is against. There is no disagree. That’s just the way it is. I would hope you found that interesting information that you never thought of before.

    Generally, a winemaker can encourage, discourage or do nothing in regards to ML fermentation. If a winemaker “lets” a wine go through ML, there is no guarantee that the ML Bacteria will comply. It’s less likely they will comply in Burgundy assuming their wines are lower in pH.

    We do nothing regarding ML in our Chardonnay. This year it went. Last year it didn’t. Go figure. Was either wine unbalanced? Definitely not as far as we are concerned.

    We don’t pick Chardonnay anywhere near 25 Brix. My colleague, Steve Mathiasson, doesn’t either. Though, I am not privy to the picking statistics of CA Chardonnay that you seem to possess. I would think your 25 Brix assertion is false as most CA Chardonnay is relatively inexpensive wine most likely of lower alcohol.

    Furthermore, I don’t consider 25 Brix as some standard for raisining. I don’t know of anyone else that would.

  15. @Bill – Your comments regarding the Piemonte Chardonnay stand on their own without getting into a discussion of ML fermentation. They sound like great wines. I’d like to give them a try.

    Please forgive the further criticism, but do you really think CA has no cool climate regions where grapes are grown? Come on.

  16. Mr. Haydon–

    U of Chicago? I guess one can graduate from there and not be able to do any math.

    Picking any set of grapes at 25 Brix and getting alc conversion of 0.55 gets an alc of 13.75. Since when is that over the top. Burgundy allows up to 14.5%.

    And as Brad said, and you will have no answer, 25 Brix grapes are rarely raisined or almost raisined, and they will have plenty of acidity in most cases.

    I don’t care what you like or do not like. That is your business, but when you start spouting utter nonsense on this site, then it is all of our business.

  17. Oh, come on!
    This is so much intellectual contrivance. aka “don’t get your pee all hot.”
    I’ll bet you a nickel TFB never blew Pinocchio.
    Get a life.

  18. Speaking as Bill does of “the Michel Rolland cookbook,” this question occurred to me:

    Does he make or consult on WHITE wine?

    I must confess my ignorance.

    We invariably link his name to red wines around the world.

    This 2006 Wine Spectator profile references his work session blending Araujo’s Sauvignon Blanc:

    http://www.winespectator.com/wssaccess/show/id/41443

    On the subject of Rolland’s stylistic paradigms, see this excerpt:

    “Rolland’s rise as a wine guru began in the early 1980s. He began consulting at a number of neighboring properties in Pomerol as well as at his father’s Le Bon-Pasteur. The best included the wineries of some of his friends, such as Alain Raynaud, whose family owned La Croix-de-Gay, and the late Jean-Michel Arcaute, whose wife then owned Clinet. The group used to socialize as well as work together, drinking great bottles of Pomerol and St.-Emilion from 1947—their mutual birth year.

    “The 1947 vintage was an extremely hot year producing many wines of unprecedented richness and power. Some, such as the Pétrus, Cheval-Blanc and Mouton-Rothschild, have become legends. Even many of the lesser estates of the Right Bank made great wines, and Rolland and his group drank many of them. It was this style of wine, with rich fruit and big, velvety tannins, that inspired Rolland’s mission for winemaking.

    ” ‘The problem with [1947] Cheval-Blanc as a model is that the sugar level was too high, the alcohol was too high and the volatile acidity was too high,’ he says shaking his head. ‘It can’t be duplicated. But it is extraordinary.’

    “Perhaps Rolland is still trying to reach the unachievable in winemaking, with the ’47 Cheval almost haunting his winemaking psyche. He already has made some extraordinary wines in his career.”

    (Recall Mike Steinberger’s February 13, 2008 column for Slate titled “The Greatest Wine on the Planet: How the 1947 Cheval Blanc, a defective wine from an aberrant year, got so good.”)

  19. Bill Haydon says:

    @Brad, I think California has some cool climates, but that is only half the equation. The other half is austere soil. I’m sure California has some of each but how often they coincide, I don’t know. Then of course, we come to the issue of winemakers (and winery owners) choosing–even if blessed with these types of growing conditions–to go against these soils and Parkerize the wine. As you said, you can choose to let a barrel takes its own path. You can also inoculate for ML and ensure that you get that hedonistic fruitbomb on the other end. I don’t think California is ideal for making Burgundidan style Chardonnay, but I do think it is, in some sites, capable of doing so. The greater sin in California towards Chardonnay has come at the hand of man, not nature. Also, I should have been a bit more precise and said “most premium California Chardonnay.”

    BTW, if you are making wines in the style of your friend Mathiasson, I would probably find them quite interesting and will keep an eye out for them.

    @Charlie; Well, I’ll freely admit that I’m an importer not an eonologist (though I do have production experience), so I don’t do the long math when it comes to brix conversion. The online Brix calculator that I used equated 25 Brix to 15.2% alcohol.

    http://www.brewersfriend.com/brix-converter/

    If that’s incorrect blame them not U of C. So, change my statement to whatever Brix would result in a Kongsgaardian Chardonnay of 15% or over. My point remains.

  20. Bill Haydon says:

    @Bob. Not 100% certain, but I’m pretty sure that he does. I believe that his first client in California was Newton where he developed the over-ripe, full-ML, heavily oaked, high pH style of Napa Chardonnay. Coincidentally, the winemaker at Newton at the time who was passed down the cookbook first-hand was one John Kongsgaard.

  21. Mr. Haydon. Your problem, well, really one of your problems, is that of taking exaggeration as gospel. Whomever it is that makes 16%, overripe Chardonnay becomes your poster child for all of California. Yet, the overwhelming majority of over $20 CA Chardonnay is not low in acid or oaked to death. Kongsgaard? Sure. But, even his wines are not universally excessive. It is not just your math that is at fault. It is your use of the worst case as representative of CA as a whole.

    Yes, this is not Chablis. It is California. And California should not be asked to mimic Burgundy. Burgundy may be the first good example of quality Pinot and Chardonnay, but it is not the only example just because it was first. I taste hundreds of balanced Chardonnays whose ABV is over 14%. They have high acidity and low pH, and one cannot do all that with bag acid.

  22. It appears from Bob’s post that Michel Rolland was not the only person amazed by the 1947 vintage in Bordeaux. It sure sounds like they got some CA weather that vintage!

    @Bill — What do you know about how soil affects wine? My guess is at best unsubstantiated conventional wisdom. My understanding is that from a scientific standpoint there are no conclusions how a given soil affects a given wine. Minerality is still a mystery….

    @Bill – Humans make wine in CA and humans make wine elsewhere in the world. Humans have egos. Wine is a business in CA and elsewhere in the world. Almost everyone is affected by ego and/or business concerns. If Michel Rolland is to be taken as the poster boy for over the top wines, then why do you single out CA when he has clients worldwide? Are you really arguing that Michel Rolland is over the top only in CA and restrained elsewhere?

    Many people in CA are sincere in their effort to make great wine. Many, many in CA share your narrower view of balance. You paint everyone in CA with the same brush as if those sincere people do not exist. By no means are you the only one. The wine business is tough enough without having to deal with unwarranted prejudice.

  23. Bill writes:

    “. . . I think California has some cool climates, but that is only half the equation. The other half is austere soil. I’m sure California has some of each but how often they coincide, I don’t know.”

    One example: Santa Cruz mountains and Ridge winery. Thin topsoil, rock subsoil. Adjacent Pacific Ocean marine influence (wind, fog, rain).

    Paul Draper at Ridge espouses a non-interventionist approach to winemaking. He takes his stylistic lead from France. And with patient Japanese capital backing him, he can take the “long view.”

    In 2002, Jancis Robinson, M.W. wrote up her experience sampling Gruners versus white Burgundies versus California Chardonnays.

    Her conclusion: the Gruners handily trumped the Burgs. And the Ridge “Monte Bello Vineyard” Chard trumped the Burgs.

    Link: http://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/chardonnay-v-gruner-veltliner-a-knockout-contest

    An excerpt:

    “A [partial] list of the wines placed in order with their average score:

    “Points
    94.64 1997 Grüner Veltliner Ried Lamm, Bründlmayer, Kamptal
    93.97 1999 Grüner Veltliner Spiegel Alte Reben, Loimer, Kamptal
    93.57 1998 Byron Chardonnay, Nielson Vineyards, Mondavi, California
    93.52 2000 Grüner Veltliner Exceptional Reserve, F.Weingärtner Wachau
    93.43 1990 Grüner Veltliner Vinothekfüllung, Knoll, Wachau
    93.01 1995 Mer & Soleil Chardonnay, Caymus, California
    92.93 1995 Grüner Veltliner Honivogl, Hirtzberger, Wachau
    92.93 1995 Kellerberg, F X Pichler, Wachau
    92.56 1999 MONTE BELLO CHARDONNAY, RIDGE, CALIFORNIA
    91.77 2000 Chardonnay Wirra Wirra, McLaren Vale, Australia
    91.52 1990 Chardonnay, Bründlmayer, Kamptal
    91.30 1997 Morillon (Chardonnay) Zieregg, Tement, Styria
    91.18 1999 Chardonnay La Strada Reserve, Fromm, New Zealand
    91.15 1999 Chardonnay Reserve, Markowitsch, Carnuntum
    91.08 1999 Chardonnay Barrique, Rebholz, Pfalz, Germany
    90.90 1995 Chardonnay Tiglat, Velich, Burgenland
    90.85 1992 Chardonnay Ratscher Nussberg, Gross, Styria
    90.59 1992 Chardonnay Reserve, Chalone, California
    90.37 1999 Chardonnay 100% Barrique, Mulderbosch, South Africa
    90.37 1997 Montrachet, Domaine Baron Thénard, Burgundy, France
    90.23 1999 Chardonnay Pandkräftn, E Triebaumer, Burgenland
    90.14 1996 Chardonnay, Evans Tate, Margaret River, Australia
    89.82 1999 Morillon (Chardonnay) Hochgrassnitzberg, E&W Polz, Styria
    89.81 2000 Chardonnay Tatschler, Kollwentz, Burgenland
    89.78 1999 Chardonnay Rey, Gaja, Italy
    89.47 2000 Chardonnay Reserve, J. Rheinisch, Thermenregion
    89.36 1997 Chardonnay Grand Select, Wieninger, Vienna
    88.99 1990 Corton Charlemagne, Louis Latour, Burgundy
    88.18 1999 Grüner Veltliner Achleiten, Prager, Wachau
    86.51 1999 Chablis Butteaux, Raveneau, Burgundy
    86.04 1999 Meursault Charmes, Louis Jadot, Burgundy
    85.93 1996 Chevalier Montrachet, Etienne Sauzet, Burgundy
    81.57 1992 Chassagne Montrachet La Boudriotte, Ramonet, Burgundy”

    “. . . two conclusions can be made from these results:

    “The grape Grüner Veltliner can produce wine of world class quality and any serious wine lover who does not know these gems should be buying some as soon as possible while the prices still are as low as they are.

    The second conclusion is that the Burgundian winemakers will have to get their act together, their prices do not reflect in many cases the quality of the wines they produce.”

  24. Check out these articles:

    From Slate
    (November 21, 2006):

    “The Greatest Vintner in America;
    Paul Draper’s consistently wonderful wine.”

    Link: http://www.slate.com/articles/life/drink/2006/11/the_greatest_vintner_in_america.html

    By Mike Steinberger
    “Drink: Wine, Beer, and Other Potent Potables” Column

    — AND —

    From the San Francisco Chronicle “Wine” Section
    (December 8, 2006, Page Unknown):

    “WINEMAKER OF THE YEAR: Paul Draper;
    Ridge Vineyards’ leader proves the virtues of tradition”

    Link: http://www.sfgate.com/wine/article/WINEMAKER-OF-THE-YEAR-Paul-Draper-Ridge-2483533.php

    By Jon Bonné

    — AND —

    From the Los Angeles Times “Food” Section
    (June 27, 2007, Page Unknown):

    “Set in his Ways — Wonderfully”

    Link: http://www.latimes.com/food/la-fo-wine27jun27-story.html#page=1

    By Patrick Comiskey
    Special to The Times

    — AND —

    From the New York Times
    (March 1, 2010, Page Unknown):

    “Ridge Vineyards’ 50 Years”

    Link: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/03/dining/03pour.html?_r=0&pagewanted=print

    By Eric Asimov
    “The Pour” Column

    — AND —

    Quarterly Review of Wines
    (Summer 2010):

    “The Magician of Monte Bello;
    Ridge Vineyards’ Paul Draper has been making stellar wines for over 40 years.”

    Link: http://www.ridgewine.com/Images/WholesaleImages/Presskit/qrw-summer-2010.pdf

    By Eleanor and Ray Heald

    — AND —

    From Decanter Magazine
    (September 27, 2013):

    “The Decanter Interview: Paul Draper”

    Link: http://www.decanter.com/people-and-places/interviews/584408/the-decanter-interview-paul-draper

    By Jeannie Cho Lee

    — AND —

    From Wine Spectator
    (October 29, 2013):

    “Featured Winemaker: Ridge Vineyards’ Paul Draper;
    A winemaker with a minimalist philosophy before “natural wines” were a trend”

    Link: http://www.winespectator.com/webfeature/show/id/49126

    By MaryAnn Worobiec

  25. Regarding BradK’s question “What do you know about how soil affects wine?”

    See this article:

    From New York Times
    (November 25, 2013):

    “Microbes May Add Special Something to Wines”

    Link: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/26/science/microbes-may-explain-some-of-the-mysteries-of-terroir-and-wine.html?_r=0&pagewanted=print

    By Nicholas Wade

    Terroir is a concept at the heart of French winemaking, but one so mysterious that the word has no English counterpart. It denotes the holistic combination of soil, geology, climate and local grape-growing practices that make each region’s wine unique.

    There must be something to terroir, given that expert wine tasters can often identify the region from which a wine comes. But American wine growers have long expressed varying degrees of skepticism about this ineffable concept, some dismissing it as unfathomable mysticism and others regarding it as a shrewd marketing ploy to protect the cachet of French wines.

    Now American researchers may have penetrated the veil that hides the landscape of terroir from clear view, at least in part. They have seized on a plausible aspect of terroir that can be scientifically measured — the fungi and bacteria that grow on the surface of the wine grape.

    These microbes certainly affect the health of grapes as they grow — several of them adversely — and they are also incorporated into the must, the mashed grapes that are the starting material of winemaking. Several of the natural fungi that live on grapes have yeastlike properties, and they and other microbes could affect the metabolism of the ensuing fermentation. (Several species of microbes are available commercially for inoculation along with yeast into wine fermentations.)

    But are the microbial communities that grow on the grapes of a given region stable enough to contribute consistently to wine quality, and hence able to explain or contribute to its terroir?

    Such a question would have been hard or impossible to address until the development of two techniques that allow the mass identification of species. One is DNA bar coding, based on the finding that most species can be identified by analyzing a short stretch of their genome, some 250 DNA units in length. The other is the availability of machines that can analyze prodigious amounts of DNA data at a reasonable cost.

    Armed with these new tools for studying microbial ecology, a research team led by David A. Mills and Nicholas A. Bokulich of the University of California, Davis, has sampled grape musts from vineyards across California. Grape varieties from various wine-growing regions carry distinctive patterns of fungi and bacteria, they reported Monday in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

    They found, for instance, that one set of microbes is associated with chardonnay musts from the Napa Valley, another set with those of a must in Central Valley and a third grouping with musts from Sonoma. They noticed a similarly distinctive pattern of microbes in cabernet sauvignon musts from the north San Joaquin Valley, the Central Coast, Sonoma and Napa.

    The discovery of stable but differing patterns of microbial communities from one region’s vineyards to another means that microbes could explain, at least in part, why one region’s zinfandel, say, tastes different from another’s. The links between microbes and wine-growing regions “provide compelling support for the role of grape-surface microbial communities in regional wine characteristics,” the researchers conclude.

    “The reason I love this study is that it starts to walk down a path to something we could actually measure,” Dr. Mills said. “There are high-end courses on terroir, which I think are bunk. Someone has to prove that something about terroir makes it to the bottle, and no one has done that yet.”

    Microbes are deposited on the grape surface by wind, insects and people, and may fail or flourish because of specific local conditions such as the way the grape vines are trained. And there may be genetic affinities between particular microbial species and each variety of grape, the researchers say.

    Even if Napa’s chardonnay grapes, say, carry a distinctive pattern of fungal and bacterial species, the Davis scientists need still to prove that these microbes affect the quality of the wine. Microbes could exert an influence both during the lifetime of the grape and during fermentation, when they may add particular ingredients to the wine. “We will look at how overall microbial communities correlate with quality traits in the wine, and whether you can predict quality from the microbes present,” Mr. Bokulich said.

    Thomas Henick-Kling, a professor of oenology at Washington State University, said it was plausible that microbes are a component of terroir. “Unripe grapes taste the same the world over,” he said. It is known that single strains of yeast can have a strong effect on a varietal’s flavor, he continued, “so it’s likely that microbes play a larger role than presently known and are probably a part of the regional differences that we recognize.”

    While Dr. Mills said that “I make fun of terroir all the time,” he believes that regional distinctions between vineyards do exist and that microbes have a role in creating them. If the specific links between microbes and the sensory properties of wine can be identified, growers will be able to take a savoir-faire attitude to terroir instead of a je ne sais quoi shrug.

    On the other hand, he added, pinning the qualities of wine on bacteria and fungi may spoil that frisson of enchantment for some connoisseurs. “Many people don’t want this figured out,” he said, “because it demystifies the wonderful mystery of wine.”

  26. Sorry I can only proffer this “part one” Drinks Business article. The April 2013 sequel article remains outside the reach of search engines.

    From The Drinks Business
    (March 11, 2013):

    “Nutrients Not the Cause of Minerality [in Wine]”

    Link: http://www.thedrinksbusiness.com/2013/03/nutrients-not-the-cause-of-minerality

    By Patrick Schmitt

    Preface: Minerality in wine is most likely to stem from volatile thiols or esters and not directly from nutrients in the soil, according to this month’s edition of the drinks business.

    In an article written by Sally Easton MW in Drinks Business‘s April issue, she highlights research to show that it’s impossible to get minerality in a wine directly from the nutrients in the ground.

    Having spoken to Professor Alex Maltman of the Institute of Geography and Earth Sciences at the University of Wales, she explains that mineral elements in a wine are not only minimal but also tasteless.

    “Potassium rarely exceeds a few hundred parts per million (ppm) with a few tens of ppm for calcium and magnesium… these are tasteless anyway and their concentration in wine are below sensory thresholds measured in water,” says Maltman to Easton during a discussion on minerality.

    However, Maltman is also quoted in the article as suggesting that minerality may stem from esters, which are created by the reaction of alcohol with an organic acid.

    These he says can vaporize easily, and we can smell some of these aromatics in parts per trillion.

    Meanwhile, Dr Wendy Parr, sensory scientist at Lincoln University in New Zealand suggests that tasters may be using the term “mineral” to describe characters produced by volatile thiols such as Benzenemethanethiol (BMT) in Sauvignon Blanc, which produces gunflint aromas.

    Parr is studying descriptors of perceived minerality in Sauvignon Blancs, and although her research is yet to be published, she tells Easton that there’s a correlation between use of the term “mineral’ and screwcaps.

    ““The increased use of the term ‘mineral’ in relation to wine here in New Zealand parallels the increased use of screwcaps which some argue has produced many more wines exhibiting low levels of reductive notes,” she comments.

    She also says, “The general pattern seems to be that wines judged lower in the fruity and green flavour notes are more likely to be judged mineral.”

    Easton’s article also considers the use of the term “mineral” in tasting notes following research by Dr Jordi Ballester, who is oenology lecturer and researcher at the University of Bourgogne.

    Although the descriptor is common today, Ballester points out that word minerality is absent from both Emile Peynaud’s The Taste of Wine (1983) and Ann Noble’s Wine Aroma Wheel (1984).

    As Ballester concludes, “Wine has not changed that much; people have changed”.

    [For a full analysis of the term “minerality” over time and possible sources of aromas and flavours such as chalky, smoky and salty, see the April edition of The Drinks Business.]

  27. Erratum.

    The Gruner versus Burgundy versus California Chardonnay article appeared on Jancis Robinson, M.W.’s website.

    “. . . written by Jan Paulson, a Swede living near Munich whose love of wine has overtaken his career in dentistry resulting in http://www.rare-wine.com, a business supplying fine, rare and Austrian wines . . .”

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