Friday, September 27, 2013

Make Your Own Aroma Standards – The Reds

I recently organized a wine tasting at my house using the homemade red wine aroma standards suggested in this Wine Spectator article.  Aroma standards are things that smell like the smells we smell in wine.  For example, you improve your ability to recognize cherry aromas in wine by smelling the wine, then smelling cherries mixed with wine, then referring back to the original wine.  By practicing this way, you heighten an aroma and make it easier to recognize and remember.

The link above has instructions for creating lots of different aroma standards, so I won’t repeat that information here.  Instead, I want to pass on what I learned when I incorporated this exercise into a fun home tasting with friends, and give you all the information you need to do the same.

Setting up the Aroma Standards

Select the wine.  I used Bogle Merlot ($8 per bottle at Spec’s) to create my red aroma standards.  I wanted something inexpensive, but from a reputable producer, and not so cheap that I ran the risk of finding funky aromas in the wine. 

Add your own aromas.  Don’t think you have to stick to Wine Spectator’s recipes.  I added 2 aromas to my lineup:  mushrooms (using 1 fresh mushroom) and cloves (using ~1/4 teaspoon).  Next time I’d like to try cranberry and blackberry.  If you think of an aroma you’d like to have, try it and see if it works.  The bottle’s already open, it wasn’t expensive, and you have nothing to lose.

Make them ahead of time so you can adjust them.  Some of the aromas will get stronger, the longer they sit in the wine.  Put the ingredients into the wine at least an hour in advance.  That way, if some of the aromas have become so strong that they overpower the wine, you can remove some (or all) of that ingredient from the wine, or add more wine.  For instance, the tobacco aroma was extremely strong after sitting in the wine for 30 minutes, so I strained it all out before the tasting began.  You can also add more of an ingredient if the smell is not strong enough.  I did this with the mushrooms.  We all have different thresholds for detecting aromas, and you’ll get the best result if you adjust the strength of the smell for your level of scent perception.

Label them.  I used wine bottle tags to label the stems of the glasses with what aroma they contained, then folded the paper over so we couldn’t see the label.  That way we could quiz ourselves by guessing the standard first without looking.  A post-it note would probably work too.

Incorporating Aroma Standards into a Home Tasting

There are 2 ways to go about this:  the simple way and the ambitious way.  First the simple way:  Use 1 wine to create the aroma standards AND to taste.  This keeps the focus on detecting and identifying the aromas.  It is easier to compare the aroma of the plain wine with the aroma of the standards you’ve created when the wine is the same.

The more ambitious approach is to select several red wines you want to taste, then create aroma standards (using one of those wines or another fairly neutral wine) for the aromas you expect to find in the wines you’ve selected.  This highlights how aromas differ from one wine to another, and gives you more wines to taste!

Here are some guidelines for aromas commonly found in red wines.  This can help you decide which aroma standards you will definitely want to make, based on what wine(s) you’ll be drinking.

If you’re tasting/drinking…      Make sure you create an aroma for…
    Pinot Noir / Burgundy                      Strawberry, mushroom
    Merlot / right bank Bordeaux            Cherry, coffee, vanilla
    Cabernet / left bank Bordeaux          Blackberry, green pepper, tobacco
    Tempranillo / Rioja                           Cloves
    Sangiovese / Chianti                        Cranberry

Setting the Table

Last but not least, here are some ideas for setting up your tasting table.  If you’re using the simple method of just one wine for the aroma standards and for tasting, it would be easy to do this with a large group, and you would not need to set a place for each person.  You just need a central area to place your aroma standards so people can walk up and sniff.  If you’re using the multiple wine approach (like I did), I suggest placing your aroma standards in the middle of the table and giving everyone a place to sit with their own tasting glasses.

After the tasting, I don’t think these aroma standards can be kept for later use.  Just like the wine they’re made from, they will only last a couple of days. 

I’ll soon be hosting a tasting just like this but for white wines, so I’ll tell you all about my experiences with making my own white wine aroma standards then.

I hope you give these a try.  They make a tasting so much more fun, and they’re wonderful for training your wine senses.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Texas Wineries: Miranda Lambert's Red 55

Last year the husband and I spent a few days visiting the wineries of the Texas Piney Woods Wine Trail, which covers the area roughly between Dallas and Tyler.  One of them is the Miranda Lambert/Red 55 Winery in Lindale, Texas.  (I had to be informed that Miranda Lambert is a country singer who grew up in the area, since I’m not familiar with any recent country music.)  

This location is only a tasting room, not a functioning winery.  Most of the grapes are grown in west Texas, and Red 55 has a partnership with Crump Valley Vineyards, which makes most of the wine.  The winery is a family project, with Miranda’s brother designing the labels and her family choosing the names of the wines. The store front in Lindale is a combination tasting room and souvenir shop for all things Miranda-related.  

We tasted all 7 of the Red 55 wines at the winery, and honestly I wasn’t impressed.  I bought 1 bottle of my favorite (Kerosene) to take home and taste again later.  Here are my notes on all 7 wines, in descending order of yumminess:

This full-bodied dry white – made from Blanc du Bois, Chardonnay, and Muscat Canelli* grapes – is the best smelling of the lot.  It has flavors and aromas of tart citrus, apple, apricot, and herbs, along with some floral and earthy notes.  High acidity. 

Red 55
Made from Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, this smells and tastes of black currant, herbs, and smoke.  It has moderate acid and tannin, but needs to be decanted or aerated.  (12% abv)

County Road 233
Made from Merlot grapes, this has the usual Merlot markers of red and black fruits and spice, with some herbal undertones.  Moderate acid and tannin.  (13.1% abv)

This is a sweet red cabernet with aromas of black currant, red berries, and an earthy quality.  Moderate acid and tannin.

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend
This sweet Muscat Canelli* has a good sugar/acid balance going for it, but a funky aroma that I wasn’t crazy about.  

White Liar
This crisp, dry, unoaked Chardonnay smelled good, but had a very simple flavor and wasn’t as fruity as I had expected.  

Electric Pink Blush
This semi-sweet rosé (think White Zinfandel) is made from a blend of several grapes, but I found it to have a funky aroma and very little flavor.

*Muscat Canelli is the same grape as Moscato, though Texas wineries often use the Muscat Canelli name instead.

All of these wines are sold at the downtown Houston Spec’s.  Unfortunately, I can’t suggest that you buy any of them, except possibly the Kerosene.  They’re priced between $15 and $18, and while they’re not terrible, you can get much better wines for that price.  I would only recommend you try them if you are a) really into Miranda Lambert, or b) so interested in Texas wines that you want to try all of them, even the not-so-good ones.  Obviously, I fall into category b.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Jennifer Simonetti-Bryan's Video Series on Wine Quality

Recently I posted the first 2 short videos in a series on wine quality that Jennifer Simonetti-Bryan, MW, is producing with  Here are the first 2 again, followed by the next 2.  I'll continue adding to the collection as the series progresses.

As I mentioned before, I'm excited about these because I think they will answer a lot of questions about how to judge wine, and whether wine can be judged objectively, or only subjectively.  (Jennifer Simonetti-Bryan is also the author of The One-Minute Wine Master, which I recently reviewed.)

1) Introduction to Wine Quality with the acronym FBLICCAT!  (Finesse, Balance, Length, Integration, Complexity, Concentration, Age-ability, Typicity)

2) Finesse:

3) Balance, Part 1:  Here she instructs us on how to train our palates to recognize acid and alcohol levels using a component tasting.  To do the exercise, you will need a glass of Pinot Grigio, a lemon, and a little vodka.  Acid and alcohol are some of the measurable characteristics that help us evaluate a wine objectively.  (Note that the video is actually only ~3:30 long.  The rest of the length is a black screen with the acronym FBLICCAT shown at the end.  Just an oversight, I assume.)

4) Balance, Part 2:  Here she discusses the more subjective side of balance.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Ancient Ale on Tap in Houston!

A few months ago I wrote about ancient beers and wines, including a collaboration between Dr. Patrick McGovern (a molecular archaeologist, "the Indiana Jones of wine") and Dogfish Head brewery.  What I didn't realize was that Dr. McGovern and Dogfish Head have collaborated several times over the years.  The full list of their creations is here.

Most recently they have crafted Birra Etrusca Bronze, which is now on tap at Nobi Public House in Clear Lake, as well as The Hay Merchant on Westheimer.  Birra Etrusca recreates an ale found in a 2800-year-old Etruscan tomb in Italy.  Here's the full description from Dogfish Head:
The backbone of Birra Etrusca comes from two-row malted barley and an heirloom Italian wheat. Specialty ingredients include hazelnut flour, pomegranates, Italian chestnut honey, Delaware wildflower honey and clover honey. A handful of whole-flower hops are added, but the bulk of the bitterness comes from gentian root and the sarsaparilla-like Ethiopian myrrh resin.
I tasted Birra Etrusca at Nobi last night.  It is amber in color, has a fruity aroma with hints of honey, and a rich, full-bodied mouth-feel (not surprising with 8.5% alcohol).  There is a bit of sourness at the finish, probably from the pomegranate.  It's a lovely, complex ale and will be more pleasing to modern palates than Midas Touch, which I previously reviewed.

Try some!

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

A Few More Points About Decanting

I've written about decanting and aeration before (see "Should You Let the Wine Breathe?" and "Oxidation, Friend or Foe?") and recently came across another good article on the subject by Will Lyons of the Wall Street Journal.  He summarizes the main reasons for decanting and points out the areas where professional opinions differ.

Here are his insights that I found the most helpful:
  • You may want to decant your whites as well.  It will open them up and allow them to warm slightly if they're coming straight out of the fridge.  (Remember that fridge temperatures are a bit too cold for most whites!)
  • As for how long the wine should sit in the decanter before you drink it....  Young wine can sit for several hours or even days, but if you go ahead and pour it into your glass, you get to experience how it's changing over time.  Old wines should be decanted and then served right away, because they can be damaged by too much exposure to oxygen.
  • If the inside of your decanter is encrusted with the wine from the night before (definitely a problem in my house), "fill the decanter with a handful of uncooked brown rice, pour in hot water and swirl around."  I'm looking forward to trying this one.
My overall approach to decanting/aerating is to err on the side of caution.  You can always let a wine sit in the decanter longer, or aerate it again, but once you've done it, you can't go back.