Flashbacks: On Religion

Religious choices are a personal decision. Although I’m a regular church attendee, I try to be respectful to all. Enjoy, visit as many as you want, and I hope you comment on the post you visited.

On Smooth Wine

Glass-of-WineTannin is a wine term that provides an explanation why some people don’t like red wine – yet – it also applies to why others or prefer red wines, or even the preference for a particular red wine. Tannin is also the unknowingly basis of why some buyers ask for “a smooth wine.”

Some associate tannin with leather, which a good thought to describe tannic red wines because tannin is what causes the dry feeling within the mouth – the pucker of dryness – the feeling like someone swabbed the mouth dry.

What are tannins?
Tannin is actually a protein group found through plant parts as stems and leaves – and in grape skins. It’s not something one smells, but its taste can also be found in tea, chocolate, herbs, and more. Yet, it is because of tannins that red wine goes so well with the fats of red meats and cheeses.

Why are some red wines more tannic?
There are numerous factors determining the tannin level in wine. Whether natural or from the winemaker, here are the key factors – and help with the understanding, let’s go through the winemaking process.

(1) Grape Variety: Some kinds of grapes are naturally more tannic. For instance, cabernet sauvignon is more tannic than merlot.

(2) Grape Maturity: Picking the grapes at the right time is important for optimal levels of juice, sugar, and tannin. In general, younger grapes have more tannin.

(3) Vineyard: Although the vineyard itself is not a tannin source, the soil and conditions may yield a certain minerality that could enhance tannins taste.

(4) Exposure Time: While white grapes only yield white wines, dark grapes can deliver red or white wines. After all, the grape’s juice is close to colorless; thus, red wine’s color comes from exposing the juice to the skins. Regarding tannins, the longer the juice is exposure to the skins, the higher the tannin levels.

(5) Fermentation: Fermentation is the process yielding the alcohol. Some winemakers prefer to ferment the juice in the presence of grape stems, skins, and seeds – which will yield more tannic wine.

(6) Barrels: After initial fermentation, winemakers place many red wines into barrels. Because the barrel’s wood is from the stems of a tree, the barrels naturally contain tannin. Now, sub factors as the type of tree, the newness of the barrel, and the time spent in the barrel become important factors.

(7) Additives: The winemaker may choose to add wood chips or tannin powder to the barreling process. Again, type, amount, and time are factors.

(8) Age: Finally, the wine moves from the barrel to the bottle. Although many wines are drinkable, some need more time in the bottle than others – time allowing additional reactions to occur to tone down the tannins.

(9) Blending: In order to achieve the desired outcome, the winemaker has the luxury of blending wines (before bottling). Remember grape varieties and the vineyards are two of the initial factors. A winemaker may blend Cabernet from different vineyards to achieve a desired taste. They may add less tannic wines to soften the tannin levels – or add tannic wine to a softer wine to give the wine more substance

A blending note: Labeling laws are different everywhere, California law gives the winemaker much latitude. That is, for a wine to be labeled Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, or whatever, it must contain at least 75% of that grape variety. In other words, the other undisclosed grapes may in the bottle, but not on the label.

Winemakers experience a lot of pain when determining the result in that bottle. They know consumers have different tastes. So, people asking their retailer for a smooth wine are actually asking for less tannin … so keep this in mind in your purchases.

On Fine Wines in America: Abridged

This is an abridged version of a story because they were many more events than these.

As this previous post establishes, Prohibition (1917-1933) decimated the American wine industry. Gallo produced jug and fortified wines to fit the market needs, but popularizing fine wines was still decades away.

In the 1940s, Cesare Mondavi sold grapes, and later in the decade became a partner in two wineries. Interestingly, each son (Peter and Robert) got their exposure here.

In 1943, Cesare purchased the well-known Krug winery. With Peter as the winemaker, and Robert focusing on marketing, they produced two labels: CK Mondavi (for quantity) and Krug (for quality).

Cesare died in 1959, so his wife ran the company. They struggled, the brothers argued, and she chose Peter to lead a revival in 1965 – leaving Robert to be on his own.

Robert’s became enamored with fine wines on a 1962 trip to Europe, thus he was now free to pursue his dream of making fine wine in America. In his quest to find start-up money, his public relations skills helped find supportive winemakers. His first harvest came in 1966. The winery’s tasting room drew tourists, and his brand became known. By the 1970s, Mondavi was leading the wine revolution in America – but it was still a country of inexpensive, jug wines.

The story changes direction in 1975 when Stephen Spurrier (a British sommelier and wine shop owner in Paris) visits Napa Valley for the first time. The region was far from what we find today nonetheless, American wines caught Spurrier’s attention.

Upon returning to Paris, he organized a blind tasting competition featuring American and French wines a year later. Stags Leap Cabernet Sauvignon (1973) and Chateau Montelena Chardonnay (1973) won, thus beating the notable wines from Bordeaux and Burgundy. (Ever see the movie Bottle Shock?)

The world finally recognized that fine wines were in America, and the dreams of Thomas Jefferson and Nicholas Longworth came to be. Americans also took notice over time. In 2006 (30 years later) Spurrier hosted another competition, and American wines won.

Today, all 50 states have wineries. California still leads the way, but quality wines are also in Oregon and Washington – plus New York and Virginia in the east. Ironically, one of the wine regions is near Thomas Jefferson’s home.

Jug wines remain popular, and Gallo (with its 60+ labels) is one of the largest wine producers in the world – and its stable now includes quality wines. Robert Mondavi died in 2008 at age 94, but sold his winery to Constellation Brands in 2004.

According to the Wine Institute, the United States is sixth in the world in grape acreage, fourth in production, and is the largest global consumer of wine. As a wine lover, thank you Robert Mondavi for being a believer and tireless promoter of quality wine – and for leading the charge.

Enjoy this interesting, quality tribute to Robert Mondavi.

Other Posts in the Wine in America Series
The Start
Temperance and Wine
Revival: Gallo Style

On Rejuvenating Wine in America: Abridged

This is an abridged version of a story because they were many more events than these. It’s also part 3 of the series: Part 1 (the industry’s start), and Part 2 (the link between wine and temperance). For Part 4, the post following this one, click here.

The end of prohibition was not a good time for the wine industry because most wineries closed, growers replaced wine grapes with domestic grapes, old equipment, and a lack of knowledgeable winemakers. So, reclamation for the industry would be years away – but two names would lead the way to fine wines in America – Gallo and Mondavi – but they will do it in different ways.

Nearly broke, family members loaned two brothers $5000 to start a winery. With Ernest as the idea generator and marketer, and Julio as the winemaker, the Gallo brothers set their sights on returning wine to the America by producing wines for daily consumption through modern production methods.

Going into Prohibition, 25% of wine sales involved sweet, fortified wines. Interestingly, following Prohibition, a sweet, fortified (high alcohol) wine actually led wine’s comeback. That’s right – a wine called Thunderbird, the one associated with town drunks (winos), was an early Gallo success! After all, they could produce it quickly and with low-quality grapes.

Unlike Nicholas Longworth’s ambition of bringing culture to America through wine, Ernest had the knack of visioning new products for an untapped market, thus Julio developed the wine to meet those needs. Gallo ultimately achieved successful through names as Livingstone California Burgundy and Paisano. Popular labels as Boone’s Farm, André Cold Duck, and Bartles & Jaymes wine coolers helped grow Gallo’s profits.

By the early 1990s, Gallo (now the largest winery in the US), one of every four wine purchase was a Gallo brand. At this time, to grow into finer wines, the corporation started purchasing land in Sonoma County.

Today, after 75 years of wine making, Gallo wines remain a powerful force. With the children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren of Ernest and Julio involved in the company, Gallo claims to be the largest family-owned winery in the world, plus the largest exporter of California wine. Grocery stores with large wine selections carry many Gallo labels, most of which consumers don’t know. After all, Gallo now offers over 6o brands/labels.

Enjoy this report from NBC about Gallo.

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Previous posts in this series

Part 1: Wine in America (the start)

Part 2: Wine and Temperance (leading up to Prohibition)

On Wine in America: Abridged

This is an abridged version of a story because they were many more events than these.

(The people) didn’t consume many of the beverages we drink regularly today. Not only were there few nonalcoholic juices (citrus fruits being unavailable and other fruits fermenting like grapes), but coffee and tea were expensive, milk spoiled quickly, and water frequently was brackish and disease-ridden. Ironically, health and safety constituted the primary advantage of alcohol.

American Vintage: The Rise of American Wine, Paul Lukacs, p 24

These were the typical conditions in the US for the early 1800s, thus what a young man from New Jersey encountered when he headed west in 1803 to start a new life in a frontier town known as Cincinnati, Ohio. Arriving full of hope and optimism, Nicholas Longworth became a lawyer and a real estate mogul – and given Cincinnati’s location in the westward movement, he became wealthy as the city grew.

Longworth was also a man of temperance, but saw wine as a beverage of moderation that would improve life for the commoners. Keep in mind that wine wasn’t in the picture because supply was limited to imported European wines and mainly drank by the elite – and yes, banishing wine was not part of the temperance movement at that time.

Thomas Jefferson, the US President at the time and early spokesperson for wine in American, not only loved European wines, he believed America could also make great wine. His enthusiasm drove him to try cultivating European varietals in Virginia, but he was unsuccessful Native American varietals grew in the wild, but made poor wines. As other were unsuccessful throughout the east, the curious began hybridizing American and European varietals.

Nicholas Longworth made his first wine in 1813, but it was a fortified wine that was over 20% alcohol, thus far from the 12% dry table wine he wanted to make. Therefore, in 1825 he purchased a little known hybrid from Maryland called Catawba.

Experimenting with separating skins from the juice, Longworth produced a sweet wine that Cincinnati’s growing German population enjoyed. He kept trying with different grapes and techniques, and in 1842 accidentally discovered a second fermentation producing a sparkling, which led to a new problem – exploding bottles.

Fortunately, Nicholas Longworth had deep pockets to fund his passion, so he kept trying. By the 1845, his wines were getting national attention, thus production was around 300,000 gallons (over 1.1 million liters) per year. By the end of the decade, grapes covered over 2,000 acres in the Cincinnati region. The wine even inspired this poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: The Ode to Catawba Wine.

220px-Nicholas_Longworth_Wikipedia

Image from Wikipedia

In 1860, a disease (blight) hit the region’s grapes – and the grapes suddenly vanished. Longworth died in 1863 at age 80, but his son was unsuccessful at revitalizing Cincinnati’s wine industry.

Longworth’s dream lived on through others (including former employees) as growing grapes moved west to Missouri and eventually California – all building on Longworth’s knowledge. This is why Nicholas Longworth – the one who came to Cincinnati for a new beginning, earned his title: the Father of the American Wine Industry.

Note: Click to continue to the next post in this series.