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We had a wonderful couple come into the tasting room this weekend. Both of them relatively new to the appreciation and consumption of fine wine, they had previously been in the winery and absolutely fell in love with the 2010 Andis Grenache. A few nights later while enjoying the bottle they brought home with them, they were bothered to discover a bit of dark grainy sediment in the last glass of the evening. Wondering what had gone wrong they diligently trekked back to the winery the following weekend (a tough assignment indeed) to see what was amiss with the wine. I was very happy to be there to chat with them as we have found that sediment is one of the most misunderstood aspects to wine consumption. So I told them the truth – “sediment happens”. Here is the best explanation of bottle sediment I have run across:
The tiny crystals you find in your wine glass, and sometimes first in the wine bottle … are not only the least likely to taste bad, but are treated by some as a sign of a better wine. If you find crystal sediment in your wine glass, there's no reason to worry or fret.
The crystal sediment you might find is called tartrate and forms from naturally occurring tartaric acid in grapes. Not all fruit has tartaric acid and its presence in grapes is what allows us to make better wines from grapes than we can from any other fruit. Because tartaric acid doesn't remain dissolved in alcohol as easily as it does in grape juice, it binds to potassium after fermentation and forms potassium acid tartrates — the crystalline solids creating the sediment in your wine glass. Because red wines have probably been less exposed to cold temperatures than white wines, they are more likely to form tartrate crystals.
In theory all wines should probably form tartrate sediment, but modern wine production has introduced cold stabilization and fine filtration which remove most to all tartrates. More expensive wines that have been created according to more traditional methods, thus eschewing cold stabilization and filtration, are more likely to produce tartrate sediment. People who prefer the traditional methods of wine production, which includes a lot of wine drinkers in France and Italy, will treat the presence of tartrate sediment as a sign of quality.
The tartrate sediment in your wine glass or bottle won't hurt you if you consume it and it isn't going to ruin the flavor of your wine, so you don't need to worry about separating the crystals from your wine before serving and drinking. However, there is also no value in consuming this sediment so don't go out of your way to do so.
So not only is sediment not bad, it’s good!! Sure it's not the best to have a mouthful of tartrate crystals as the final memory of a great bottle of wine, but with some gentle decanting and a little patience, that is easily avoided. To me it's always a sign of a less manipulated, less processed wine, and in the era of mass production that is a nice thing indeed!
Ever wonder what goes on inside a winemaker's head (besides winemaking stuff of course)? Well wonder no more! Our winemaker, Mark McKenna, has started his own personal blog called Life Among The Vines.
Get more personal insight into Mark's winemaking philosophy, his awesome personality and even random thoughts from time to time. Then you'll see what really goes on inside that crazy mind of his.
Wait, did I say crazy? I meant BRILLIANT!
In many ways the end of harvest can be just as surprising as the beginning. After running for months thinking day and night about grapes in various states of ripening and fermentation, the crushpad suddenly gets quieter, the days get shorter, and the seasons turn (as they always do) to a new phase. But each turn of the seasons has its unique attributes to look forward to. The surroundings change, as does the work, as does the weather. The end of harvest and the turning of Fall to Winter brings with it the most striking colors of the year. And not just in the vineyards where the leaves turn into a riot of reds and yellows, but even in the winery itself.
One of the things we need to keep an eye on after the wines have gone to barrel is the progress of the Malolactic Fermentations. Where the primary fermentations are generally completed in a matter of weeks, malolactic can last months before struggling to a finish. We test their progress using a technique called paper chromatography. The resulting patterns are both informative and beautiful. For the months ahead we will taste and test our new wines, thinking about what they want and how to coax the very best from what harvest has given us. As the leaves fall we will do more chromatography, watching the wines evolve and enjoying the beautiful mixture of art and science that is winemaking. In a world defined by rushing about, taking time to notice the profound beauty that surrounds us every day here in Amador is one of the best parts of living a life among the vines.
We take a lot of heat from fellow wine folks for two things – our sorting table and our commitment to making great Grenache. This picture is a perfect example of why the two go hand in hand. Grenache is notorious for ripening unevenly, meaning there is great variation from vine to vine and even cluster to cluster in how the grapes look, but more importantly, how ripe they are. In the picture above it's hard to believe those clusters are the same variety, never mind that they come from the same vineyard!!! Picked on the same day!!! The grapes on the left will make delicious Grenache, the grapes on the right we’d rather leave out.
To that end each and every harvest day, two to four of our cellar crew climb up on the back breaking, time consuming, torture device that we call the sorting table to dig through tons of grapes. This insures that only what we want makes it into the fermentation tanks. It seems at times tedious, until the end of days like this Grenache harvest, when you realize that sometimes what we do not put in the wine is just as important as what we do. Sure it’s tough (that’s why most wineries don’t do it), but, there are no shortcuts to delicious wine (Grenache especially!!).
A friend of ours was recently a guest of a Napa winery owner whose wines sell for well over $100 per bottle. When asked what the most important thing a winery can do to insure quality is, he answered without hesitation “Sort.” We don’t always agree with the Napa crowd, but, here we couldn’t agree more.