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Alentejo, Dão and Bairrada MW trip

Alentejo, Dão and Bairrada MW trip

Our band of 14 intrepid MWs truly enjoyed and learned much from this week long trip under benign skies to these three important and historic regions of Portugal; ones most of us had not been to prior. Two days of tastings and visits in the Alentejo revealed significant differences in temperature, altitudes, geology and approach between the several different production zones. One constant, however, was the continued belief in the excellence of Alicante Bouschet for the Denominacion, and how much the variety is woven into the vinous history of Alentejo, from the origins of its use at Mouchao, to the continued use of old vines at Quinta do Carmo of Julio Bastos. As we learned from David Baverstock at Herdades de Esporaõ, perhaps the most startling revelation we received from our visits was how intensively Portuguese producers have been pursuing grape research. We didn’t know that Arinto has 530 clones, for example!A highlight for many of us was a final visit to the Symington’s new outpost of Quinta da Fonte Souto in Portalegre, guided by Charles and Dominic Symington.

Arriving in Daõ brought us into the continental climate, granitic hills and fairly high vineyards of this compelling area surrounded by mountains up to 2000 meters elevation. Producers like Casa Passarella, and Quintas do Cabriz, dos Carvalhais and dos Roques enabled us to taste the glories of the local Encruzado white wines for youthful and aged consumption, along with the fine interplay and complexity of blends composed of the native Touriga Nacional, Jaen and Alfrocheiro. Daõ wines deserve to be better known and appreciated, we all agreed.

Our visits in Bairrada, included the spectacular‘baroque’ Palace Hotel do Buçaco and its historic cellars, which contain many fine old bottles(and excellent new ones as well). Visits with Luis Pato and Caves Alianca also showcased the warm, intense and rustic character of the local Baga grape. The maritime climate and lower altitudes open to the Atlantic’s influence was completely different from Daõ just over the mountains! And, it turns out, Bairrada is a pretty good place for sparkling wine production! All in all, this trip was memorable in so many ways.

Joel Butler MW

Lallemand seminar

Lallemand seminar

This was an excellent and riveting seminar, especially for those who thought that malolactic bacteria was one of (in my case not very many!) areas of wine biochemistry where we know it all! So much learnt, and in a fascinating lively way.

The seminar was presented by:

And with the lively contributions of the wonderful Sibylle Krieger-Weber of Lallemand.

To summarise the event, the most significant thing that we learned was that the bacteria that provoke malolactic fermentation also do so many other things in wine. That controlling them, and the timing of the inoculation, can have myriad effects beyond the malic – lactic acid conversion with which we are all familiar.

This makes complete sense when one considers how much more yeast does than simply converting sugar to alcohol.

Lactic Acid Bacteria (LAB) contribute to taste and texture of all fermented foods, and can inhibit other spoilage bacteria. They can also subtly change the flavour of the wine by creating thiols/sulphides.

Unlike yeast however, there are fewer strains of bacteria to consider because as the pH of the must/wine changes, and the alcohol increases, fewer bacteria can survive the environment. The most prevalent bacteria is Oenococcus oeni, although there are others which achieve MLF, just ‘not necessarily in a good way’ according to Silvano.

Lallemand’s selections have been based on the known tolerance criteria:

  • Acidity (tolerance pH 2.8 – 4.5)
  • Alcohol (less than 16% abv)
  • Temperature (can tolerate low temperatures)
  • SO2 (< 50mg/L)

Within this, the bacteria are selected according to their production of Biogenic Amines (in addition to histamine, these include such delightful sounding substances as putrecine, cadavérine, and spermidine, so you don’t need to be a chemist to know they are not great news!), and other factors such as Copper Resistance. And, according to the sensorial profile, their ability to limit or influence Cinnamyl esterase negative, Citrate Uptake and Mousy and other taints. Further considerations are production feasibility (in freeze dried form), and extensive trials for validation.

One of the key learnings is that carefully selected bacteria will not produce acetic acid from hexoses. Many wine producers reject co-inoculation with fermentation yeast due to the risk of VA developing. Lallemand’s particular strain of O.oeni prevents that because it cannot convert sugar to acetic acid. This is critical because the time between the finish of the alcoholic fermentation and the beginning of the MLF conversion – “the lag time” – as Sam Harrop described it, is a critical stage for the wine, where the winemaker’s main assistant is Sulfur Dioxide to prevent the development of off-flavours, and especially Brettanomyces.

This is like some kind of magic bullet. If the correct bacteria, inoculated during or very soon after fermentation, can prevent Brettanomyces spoilage (due to competition for nutrients), then the winemaker will have no lag time (which often in some European regions extend to the spring after the vintage), and therefore a need for less SO2. It will also limit temperature control expenses (the wine needs to be kept warm for MLF to occur subsequently).

Sam pointed out that some people would ask “Why would you even consider this when Chitosan is so effective?”. But although Chitosan kills ‘brett’, it does not alter the phenols already created. The bacteria can also alter perception of fruitiness (both directions, but mainly increasing), and different oak compound aromas. Co-inoculation reduces acid-aldehydes, which subsequently combine with SO2, and therefore less SO2 will be needed.

Co-inoculation also increases competition for nutrients with the yeast, and certain yeasts under stress produce fatty acids which creates fruitier esters.

And all this before what malolactic bacteria – to the layman – actually DO! Butter and cream!

The production of Diacetyl as part of the conversion produces the well-known buttery flavours, but can additionally create vegetal notes, govern/limit oak integration, increase the pH and decrease fruity/floral notes. All of this can be controlled by selecting the right strain, and management. Some producers actively want butteriness, and some to avoid it. For example, low pH/temperature and longer ferments with limited lees time tend towards high diacetyl production all of which make it more difficult to limit in Champagne base wine fermentation (where doing so is more highly desired).

Lower diacetyl production also occurs when co-inoculated compared to part-way through and post-fermentation.

To demonstrate all this we had a tasting of three Chardonnays, three Pinot Noirs and two Malbecs which were completely equal in all respects other than the strain of bacteria employed and/or when they had been inoculated. The wines were very discernibly different. Not different enough to be considered a ‘killer of terroir’ (although you do wonder just how much that has previously been ascribed to the earth is actually due to the things that live in it), but markedly different. Even the tannins (or the perception thereof) were different in the two Malbecs.

More control cannot be considered a bad thing. Especially if it can limit the production of off flavours (or eliminate the need for other mechanisms to control them).

In addition to this fascinating lecture, open discussion, and illustrative tasting, we had the chance to assist, via a tasting, Ray O’Connor with his research project, with which Lallemand have been instrumental in their support.

A fascinating day. Many thanks to Lallemand and all the contributors.

Rod Smith MW

IMW Auction: South Africa super lot trip

IMW Auction: South Africa super lot trip

Ken Lamb, the successful bidder for the South African Super Lot in the Institute of Masters of Wine Auction 2017 – and his guests Mimi Aye and Gary and Anne Vollen – took up their lot during the first week of March. Accompanied by Cathy van Zyl MW, the group stayed at Jordan Luxury Suites for five nights while experiencing the Cape’s magnificent scenery, changeling weather, exquisite cuisine and exciting wines. Putting their best feet forward were Hamilton-Russell Vineyards, Jordan Wines, Delaire Graff Estate, Paul Cluver Wines, Shannon Vineyards, Boekenhoutskloof, Kleine Zalze, Meerlust, Richard Kershaw Wines, Newton Johnson Family Vineyards, Alheit Vineyards, and Vergelegen.

Cathy said: “What a week! I have seldom been so proud of South Africa, its vineyards, and its viticulturists and winemakers as I was while hosting Ken, Mimi, Gary and Ann. It was a treat to be in the company of such friendly and knowledgeable wine people; as one winemaker said ‘Really enjoyed the opportunity to get so geeky!’ We all look forward to welcoming them back – and we hope it is soon. Sincere thanks to everyone who helped make this a trip to remember.”

Ken added: “What an extraordinary week of incredible wines and convivial company topped off by an unforgettable dinner at the end of the week at Cathy’s house featuring delicious, traditional South African dishes and featuring Richard Kershaw MW, Newton Johnson and Alheit wines along with their proprietors where we did, indeed, get very geeky! Huge thanks on behalf of myself and my guests to Cathy for her efforts throughout the week and as host.”

Cathy van Zyl MW