Rising to the occasion: A yeast bug in your wine


With the right yeast, and enough of it to complete fermentation, someday there will be a finished wine in these barrels.

With the right yeast, and enough of it to complete fermentation, someday there will be a finished wine in these barrels.

For most wine drinkers, the role of yeast in winemaking can be whittled down to the basics of fermentation: yeast eats the sugars in the grape juice and gives off ethanol alcohol, which is safe to consume in moderate amounts.

‘Nough said, open that bottle.

Last week, when discussing what are called “natural” wines, it was mentioned that some winemakers, in their desire not to add anything to the finished product, depend on naturally occurring yeasts on the grapes or in the winery to ferment their grapes.

Ripe grapes and other fruit have natural yeasts on their skin and as long as the skin isnt broken, fermentation doesn’t happen.

Crushing the grapes at the winery releases the juice, which the yeast eats and fermentation begins. Some anti-additive winemakers seek spontaneous fermentation by simply piling whole berries in the fermentation tank, where the weight of the upper layers squeeze the lower ones.


All ripe grapes have natural yeast on them; the only question is if it's enough to complete fermentation.

All ripe grapes have natural yeast on them; the only question is if it’s enough to complete fermentation.

They are betting there are enough yeasts either on the grapes or in the winery to take the juice all the way to the preferred level of dryness (a wine is completely dry when all the sugar has been converted to alcohol).

There are problems with that, said Stephen Menke, state enologist from Colorado State University and the Orchard Mesa Research Center, because not all yeasts are equal in their ability to start and complete a fermentation.

Menke said many native (or indigenous) yeasts are affected even by small amounts of the alcohol they produce and die before fermentation is finished.

If the yeasts die before all the sugar is consumed to the desired level of dryness, you get what’s called a “stuck” fermentation.

What we call indigenous yeast bacteria are not very alcohol tolerant and may be involved in the earlier part of the fermentation process but not finish it,” Menke said.

As Menke noted, there are reasons other than alcohol levels for a stuck fermentation, including a lack of nitrogen or powdery mildew or even a killer yeast that takes over from the natural bugs but then topples.

If there is enough of the right yeast in the vats or winery to take over, you’re in luck. Many older wineries in Europe, where equipment has been used for generations, can be havens of yeast bugs, and have so much yeast on the walls and in the tanks there rarely are problems with stuck fermentations (that also contributes to a consistency in flavors but that’s for next time).

Not so in the high desert of western Colorado and elsewhere where generally low humidity and relatively new (and clean) equipment don’t foster microbial growth.

But when fermentations stick, winemakers have an ace in the hole.

That ace is our (mostly) alcohol-tolerant and fermentation resistant yeast, Saccharomyces cerevisiae.

Archeologists tell us winemakers in Armenia and China may have relied on naturally occurring Saccharomyces cerevisiae at least 6,000 years ago because it has the key attributes needed for fermentation–a tolerance to high sugar, elevated acidity and high alcohol levels.

Writer, wine blogger and scientist Erika Syzmanski, in a March 10, 2013 post on the online wine magazine Palate Press, said, “This is part of why ‘natural wine’ and ‘wild fermentation’ are slippery terms. (W)inemaking practices have been influencing yeast survival for millennia. No yeast that finds its way into a winemaker’s vat, in this age, has been untouched by human domestication.”

Syzmanksi also points out Saccharomyces cerevisiae is the only yeast to be named a state microbe.

Winemakers today have hundreds of commercial Saccharomyces cerevisiae yeast options, most of them developed by a lab or a company to achieve specific results in the finished wine.

Finding the right yeast is a step toward finding that elusive balance in flavor and texture, Menke said.

That dynamic balance is very hard to control, it’s always changing, “ he said. “That’s why people play around with blending different grapes or experiment in using different types of oak or how much oak, and the kind of yeast they use.”

Categories: Uncategorized

When the topic of ‘natural’ turns to wine

Iconoclastic Slovenian winemaker Ales Kristancic of Movia is an innovative winemaker renowned for his visionary techniques, which include long aging, no additives and no manipulation.

Iconoclastic Slovenian winemaker Ales Kristancic of Movia is an innovative winemaker renowned for his visionary techniques, which include long aging, no additives and no manipulation.

I was breaking down some boxes for recycle when the lettering on one caught my eye.
“Natural wine,” it read. “No sulfites.”
An interesting claim, if true.
First because the federal government, which regulates winemaking and labeling, has no official definition of a “natural” wine, although many people would like to make and drink them; and second, because you can’t make a wine without sulfites.
You can make a wine without adding sulfites, which is what makers of “natural wines” and organic/biodynamic wines claim to do, but sulfites occur naturally in grapes, so at best what you can have is a low-sulfite wine.
I’m not a winemaker, nor am I a chemist or scientist, but I am a wine drinker and like most wine drinkers I have an interest in what I put in my glass and my body.
I’ve heard the claims about natural wines and also the complaints about so-called red wine headaches, which many people attribute to sulfites.
Probably not true, unless these people are among the 2 percent or less of Americans with a true allergy to sulfites, which occur not only in grapes (white wines often have more sulfites than red wines) but in many fruits and vegetables.
Do you also get an apricot headache?
More likely, according to recent research, a headache is a reaction to the histamines, also naturally occurring, in grapes.
Take an antihistamine before you drink a red wine and see if that helps your headache.
Sulfur/sulfites is a preservative, helping to keep fruit fresh and prevent oxidation.
Take a bit out of an apple, stick the apple on the counter and come back in an hour.
It’s brown, it’s oxidized. And probably doesn’t taste quite as good.
Sulfites, which are a natural byproduct of fermentation, help keep wines from oxidizing, retaining the fruit and helping the wine age (tannins and acids also aid in aging gracefully, at least for wines).
The government requires winemakers (and other food manufacturers and processors) to label their wines “sulfites added” when sulfites exceed 10 parts per million, which is about the upper level you’ll get without adding sulfites.
Small amounts of sulfites are generated by the yeasts used in making wine, but more sulfites usually are added as a preservative — more in white wine than red, because the reds’ tannins help to preserve them.
Sometimes a lot of sulfur is added – the government allows up to 350 ppm sulfites.
One of the complaints about “natural” wines, those with fewer than 10 ppm sulfites, is their short shelf life, which sulfites extend, and the rapid disappearance of the fruity flavors of the wine.
Natural wines tend to be drunk young, very young, within a day or so of opening and within a year or so of bottling.
The difference between organic wines and natural wines is what happens once the grapes reach the winery.
“Because you are an organic winemaker does not mean you are a ‘natural’ winemaker,” Paul Grieco said last month during his seminar on natural wines at the 2014 Food & Wine Classic in Aspen. “Being a natural winemaker means what happens when we get into the winery.
“You think wine is just grapes? Well, it ain’t just grapes.”
It may be chemicals, colorings, yeast, egg whites, diatomaceous earth, flavors, a witch’s brew of thing other than grapes.
Organic wines have to be made from organically (or biodynamically) raised and processed grapes.
Natural wines tend to be made from organic or bio grapes but not always, and again, it’s what happens in the winery (where the sulfite, the yeasts for fermentation and other chemicals may be added, at any of various stages of conventional winemaking) that decides if a wine is “natural” or not.
“Here is what I, and it’s just me talking, think a ‘natural’ wine should be,” said Grieco, owner of the Hearth Restaurant and Terroir chain of wine bars in New York and who last year was named the second-most influential wine person in New York City, behind Eric Asimov, wine columnist for the New York Times. “The fruit in the vineyard should be at least organic, the harvest must be manual to give you pristine fruit, only indigenous yeast – that occurring on the grapes or in the winery – can be used, no cultured yeast at all, no fancy equipment is used in the winery, no flash pasteurization, no reverse osmosis or all the other (stuff) that’s going on.
“And nothing is added, maybe (allow a threshold of) up to 30 parts per million sulfur, and finally it’s bottled unfined and unfiltered.”
It’s not impossible, but it isn’t easy.

Categories: Uncategorized

Taking one for the (Riesling) team at the Food & Wine Classic

ASPEN – I’m not sure John and Jan Stenmark traveled from Jackson,, Miss., to the 2014 Food & Wine Magazine Classic in Aspen to get a Riesling tattoo, but that’s how their second day at the Classic began.
Sitting quietly, waiting for Paul Grieco of Hearth and Terroir restaurants in New York to begin his seminar on Rieslings, and before they could react, there was Grieco with a devilish grin, wet towel and handful of stick-on tattoos.
“We sure don’t have anything like this back home,” said John, a self-described “retired but not retiring” fan of Riesling and the F&W Classic. But a listener wasn’t sure if his remark referred to Grieco’s unexpected offer or just the F&W Classic in general.
Jan looked at the bold black letters running up her right forearm and smiled. a bit weak, perhaps, but still a smile.
“Do you think it will come off?” she asked quietly, and mentioned something about grandchildren seeing her come home with a tattoo.
Such was Day 2 of this year’s Aspen Classic, a day in which Bobby Stuckey of Frasca Food and Wine in Boulder assured his audience that in the world of winemaking, “Nature always bats last”; wine writer Ray Isle offered his audience the chance to blind-taste wines of different prices and ponder, “Why do we pay what we pay for wine?” and Mark Oldman helped answer Isle’s question by hosting a seminar titled “Wines for IPO Millionaires,” which featured a 2004 Dom Perignon Champagne and an 1872 Madeira.
And that was just part of the wine segment; there was an whole ‘nother world of food seminars and cooking demos.
In one of the cooking tents, chefs John Shook and Vinny Dotolo of Animal restaurant in Los Angeles defended the use of foie gras in their seminar “You want me to Eat What? Nose-to-Tail Meets Uncharted Waters.”
“We believe in foie gras,” said Shook of the controversial dish made from the liver of specially fattened ducks or geese.
And nearby, cheese expert Lauren Werlin was pairing her favorite cheese with sparkling wines while in the cooking tent cookbook author and Chef Micheal Chiarello was sharing his “Meatball Master Class.”
It was another busy day at the Classic, which winds up Sunday with the ever-popular Classic Cook-off, more seminars and the always entertaining Grand Cochon finals, the culmination of a 10-city tour where local chefs are tasked with using as much as possible from an entire Heritage Hog.
No day at the Food & Wine Classic is a typical day, for there always are new wines, new foods and even new tattoos to keep you entertained and exhausted.


Categories: Uncategorized

Summer Camp for Foodies – Day One at 2014 Food & Wine Classic

It’s Day One of the 2014 Food & Wine Classic in Aspen, the start of the annual Summer Camp for Foodies.
Just like the summer camp you remember, this weekend is the time you greet friends from years past and make new friends for the future years. You won’t spend much time at this camp doing arts and crafts, unless trying new wines and sampling the best of the F&W’s Best New Chefs will count.

What a way to start the 2014 Food&Wine Classic in Aspen: A party at Casa José, where you were served "Tacos José"of Fermin jamon and Beluga caviar.

What a way to start the 2014 Food&Wine Classic in Aspen: A party at Casa José, where you were served “Tacos José”of Fermin jamon and Beluga caviar.

Everyone rolled into town yesterday (Thursday), and it seemed as if all 5,000 of the expected attendees spent the evening at Casa Jose Andres,where the renowned Spanish chef holds his annual barbecue and wine tasting.
But to call it a ‘barbecue’ isn’t quite enough, since there are whole pigs roasting over open fires, wines red and white from every region of Spain and seemingly every chef in Andres’ international chain of restaurants serving such delights as Tacos Jose, a deceptive name for tapas which are nothing less than thin-sliced Fermin jamon wrapped around Beluga caviar.
The setting alone, an immense, stone-and-wood private home just off Brush Creek near Snowmass Ski Resort, was enough to wow the guests, and by the time the limousines were lined up for the ride home, there was a giddiness in the air even the finest Spanish wines couldn’t match.
The seminars, Grand Tastings and cooking demos begin today, with another round of invite-only events tonight and well into the morning.
It’s a hilarious, invigorating and body- and soul-inspiring weekend. All that and the chance of hangover or two.
Let’s get started.

Categories: Aspen Food & Wine

Testing the waters in northern Italy


Falzarego Pass in the province of Belluno in north Italy connects Andráz and Cortina d’Ampezzo and is characteristic of the high mountain birthplace of Italy’s crystalline spring water.

It’s the water.
Readers of a certain age will recall a famous beer commercial with those words extolling a then-popular malted beverage.
The theory being, of course, that having a superior water source somehow made for a superior beer.
I’m not sure how that works, since I never tasted the water at its source (although I had some limited experience with the final product).
However, I can attest that drinking water without chemical additives for purification, without high levels of distorting minerals or the teeth-numbing metallicity that comes from running through rusty pipes, can be a mind-opening experience.
Most Americans (by which I mean in the U.S.) drink plain tap water, of which in most cases there is nothing wrong. You can even get charged for tap water in some “gougé” restaurants, but that’s your fault.
 Other countries, however, more often drink bottled water, either by choice or necessity. I asked a friend, a lovely chef from Parma, why Italians predominately drink bottled water even when the tap water is safe (except on trains).

The ever-flowing spring at Alois Lageder's Cassón Hirschprunn in Margé, Italy.

The ever-flowing spring at Alois Lageder’s Cassón Hirschprunn in Margé, Italy.

She looked at me as if not understanding the question.
“It’s because we have so many great springs,” she said at last. “Why drink treated   water?” 
Why, indeed?
Every place you go people are opening bottled water; particularly in northern Italy, close by the Alps and the Dolomites, where natural springs bubble nearly everywhere and are tapped wherever there is room to install a bottling plant.
It’s said even Roma has good water, since it’s taps are filled by water piped from the north.
Which brings us, in a roundabout way, to the recent Summa 2014, a gathering of winemakers held last month at the 17th-century palazzo of Alois Lageder in Magré, Italy.
As in way north Italy, where the Alto Adige (or All’ Adige, if you are local enough) snuggles against the Dolomites and pure spring water is abundant as fresh air and eye-popping scenery.
One of the first things you see upon entering Lageder’s stone-walled courtyard is the eye-catching spring filling a trough the size of a small Fiat.
The Lageder family history is intertwined with the natural water; the family summer home, Villa Lageder in the South Tyrolean mountain village of Sarentino/Sarnthein, also has a historical spring.
The wines shared at Summa reflect that freshness and purity found in the water and Lageder’s own philosophy of  “respect for nature, appreciation of the surrounding environment, and responsibility to future generations.,” as his website notes.
As I wandered the two-day event, talking to wine-makers and tasting their wines,  I asked them how much their wine philosophy was inspired by their personal terroir.
Many of them echoed the words of renowned Prosecco maker Primo Franco, who effused about how your mouth and palate are pampered and developed by drinking clean water.
“No question a person’s palate is better when it isn’t maltreated,” he said.
That coddling of the palate is evident throughout Summa, where Lageder’s constant spring proved an ideal way to start anew each session in the tasting rooms.


Making the most of an ancient grape

Tezze di Piave, TV, Italy – When I first met winemaker Antonio Bonotto, of Tenuta Bonotto Delle Tezze, he looked like anything but a renowned winemaker continuing a family tradition almost 400 years old.


Winemaker Antonio Bonotto making something new out of something very old.

Instead, dressed head-to-toe in a forest-green rubber suit and standing on scaffolding 12 feet high, Bonotto was diligently power-washing 400 years of grime off the walls and ceiling of the ancient, heavy beamed space where grapes once were delivered by horse-drawn wagon and making the room into a new tasting room/reception area.

For the moment, Bonotto was making it rain harder inside than out.

I was with my friend Patrick Caseley of Trevignano and when Bonotto recognized Patrick, the oenologist called out, “Hey, Patrick, welcome,” and crawled down from the high rise.

“You caught me at a bad moment, I’m really working,” he said, shutting off the sprayer and walking to us.

It didn’t seem he was very dry, in spite of the rubber suit, and specks of grime dotted his smiling face

“But I’m quite happy to quit for a moment, this is hard work,” he said. “You probably don’t want any photos of me right now.”

He laughed and brought us a treasure found in the walls during the ongoing renovation.

This bottle of 1966 Raboso del Piave was hidden in a wall by Antonio Bonotto's father nearly 47 years ago. It was broken when recent construction uncovered it.

This bottle of 1966 Raboso del Piave was hidden in a wall by Antonio Bonotto’s father nearly 47 years ago. It was broken when recent construction uncovered it.

“It is, or it was, a bottle of wine my father put in the walls in 1966, when he was doing some remodeling,” Bonotto said.

He showed us a broken bottle, still bearing a hand-written label with the date 22/9/1966.

“One of my workers was inexperienced with a machine and he wasn’t able to stop in time to save the bottle,” said Bonotto, shrugging. “Too bad, it would have been nice to have it whole. My father made this wine.”

Bonotto’s family has lived in the Tezze area since at least the 1400s and for centuries the family rented farmland from the local monastery and paid their rent with wine.

The commercial winery began in the 1800s and today Tenuta Bonotto makes a line of still and sparkling wines, including a delightful Prosecco DOC (he’s just outside the Prosecco DOCG zone) in brut and extra dry and a refreshing Novalis, made of 100 percent Manzoni Bianco, with hints of oranges, apricots and a stony minerality derived from the soils and waters washing down from the nearby Dolomites.

He’s particularly proud of his Raboso del Piave-based wines.

It’s an ancient grape, Bonotto said, with ancient records indicating this indigenous grape, considered the “king of wines” by Venetian aristocracy, having been vinified since the 800s.

“The real distinctive characteristic of this grape is the acidity,” Bonotto said. “Normally, when a grape ripens the sugars go like this (moving his hand in an upward arc) and the acidity goes like this (a downward arc). But with Raboso, the acidity gives you this,” and he drew a straight line.

It’s that straight-on acidity that deters many winemakers who don’t understand how to make wines with Raboso, Bonotto said.

Vittoria Bonotto, wife of winemaker Antonio Bonotto, selects a bottle of Bonotto delle Tezze Raboso del Piave Potestá for a guest.

Vittoria Bonotto, wife of winemaker Antonio Bonotto, selects a bottle of Bonotto delle Tezze Raboso del Piave Potestá for a guest.

“It’s not something you can eliminate, so you learn to work with it,” he said. “Or not.”

When vinified as a sweet wine, the acidity balances the sugars, the result being a sweet wine with “nerve,” as Caseley said.

That bottle of his father’s wine from 1966 may still have been drinkable, given Raboso’s acidity, and the current Bonotto rued not being able to see how it might have aged over nearly 50 years.

With his wife Vittoria, we tasted Bonotto’s 2009 Potestá Raboso del Piave DOC (100 percent Raboso Piave) and found hints of violets and roses on the nose with spice, licorice and a pleasing bit of earthiness and minerality.

He also makes a Raboso Passito, its grapes dried naturally for four months before vinification, and a Raboso Rosato Frizzante, bright and indulgent in fresh red berries and cherries.

“This is the blessing of this grape, you can make so many different wines from it,” Bonotto said. “It’s a pity because we have so many other varieties here we don’t focus on Raboso. It’s really a marvelous grape.”



Wine of the week – Bodega Castro Martin 2012 A2O Albariño Sobre Lias

The memory of the sub-freezing temperatures earlier this week was put to rest with today’s unrelenting warmth and the forecast of temperatures in the 80s this weekend.

The Bodegas Castro Martin 2012 Sobre Lias Albaiño

The Bodegas Castro Martin 2012 Sobre Lias Albaiño

Just right for a bit of gardening, maybe a tour on the bike and a chilled white wine on a shady deck.

Thanks to Cornerstone Communications Ltd., which represents the Spanish wine region Rias Baixas DO, I’ve been able to taste a selection of Albariños and this week’s wine comes from that package, the Bodega Castro Martin 2012 A2O Sobre Lias Albariño.

The name is pronounced “A to O,” which happen to be the first and last letters of “Albariño,” and spelled with a tilde over the “2” to make the connection.

The original bodega dates from the 1880s and in 1981 the winery and vineyards were purchased by current owner Domingo Martin Morales who installed stainless steel tanks (quite revolutionary back then but industry standards today) and built a new, multi-level winery.

This top-to-bottom processing helps reduce the need for pumping the juice, must and lees and cuts down on over-handling the wine.

Up to 2002 Bodegas Castro Martin made only one Albariño, the well-known Casal Caiero, but under the thoughtful management of Angela Martin, daughter of Domingo Martin Morales, there now are four wines, all albariños, each blended to take advantage of the different characteristics found throughout the bodega’s various vineyards.

The soils in this cool, maritime climate of northwest Spain are mineral-rich sandy loam overlaying granite and quartz. All of which contribute to the sharp minerality, floral/citrus aromatics and crisp acidity that makes these such great food wines.

Bodega Castro Martin labels the A2O “Sobre Lias,” signifying it ages for six months on its lees, adding complexity and character to the wine.

The website says the eye-catching label is designed for placement in wine bars, restaurants and regular bars, where it’s aimed at the younger wine drinkers looking for a food-friendly, low-alcohol wine.

There is citrus, pears and white flowers on the nose, with lime, ripe pears and that touch of Gallician minerality holding it all together.

Price is around $15.50. Imported by Frederick Wildman and Sons, N.Y.



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