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January 25, 2010

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Arresting fermention has become de rigueur for most of the older, quality Riesling producers in Germany. These producers are almost always practicing spontaneous fermentation as well which makes the task somewhat easier to achieve.

Congrats to Billsboro and the other winners. You make us proud!

Rich,

On our recent visit out to taste the wines of Erie/Chautauqua, a winemaker there told me about back-sweetening, "It's just easier. You can't convince most people to take a more difficult path."

But of course the more difficult path is often the most rewarding. Perhaps we'll put together some larger sample-size trials for later this year to determine whether there is a discernible difference. I suspect there is.

On another note, that photo of the wine swirling in the glass is one of my favorite, ever. My wife does some pretty cool things with the camera.

Great Post Evan, gave me and education. Before I finished reading the post I mentioned that I too like that photo of the swirling wine glass.

Question..how was the fermentation stopped?

I'm proud that those are my fingers and my glass a-swirlin'

Rich, when you were making riesling (and I know you are again) are you back sweetening, or arresting? Or are you letting it go to dryness if it wants to. I know with your current focus on spontaneous fermentation, you might have a unique angle on this.

I have never had a "crunchy" wine, but it sounds delicious!

Michael

Generally a fermentation can be stopped by chilling the fermenting juice to around 40 degrees. This is the temp that the yeast will stop doing its thing.

The juice is then filtered enough to take the yeast out and then sulfured to prevent spoilage and any leftover yeast from starting up another fermentation.

I suppose you could also choose a yeast that dies off at low alcohol too to achieve an arrested fermentation.

Another trick is to use encapsulated yeast that is much easier to remove from the fermenting juice.

Everyone

The act of arresting fermentation takes a great deal of skill and foresight to predict how the finished wine will show its acidity with the remaining sugar and alcohol. When you decide the juice has fermented to the balance of acid, alcohol and sugar you want, you just can't flick a switch and shut it down. It takes time to chill the juice down and it will keep fermenting until it reached that low temp.

It has been a surprise that a region known for Riesling doesn't use more arrested fermentations, but I understand this is much easier to achieve in smaller batches.

Bryan: Thanks for pointing that out. I suppose some people also add sorbate to prevent re-fermenation?

Everyone: Grape must sugars are a mix of fructose and glucose (and other non-fermentables), but in most cases, yeast preferentially consume glucose. The only difference I can forsee in backsweetened vs. chaptalized/untreated musts (i.e., same alcohol level, etc.) is that the sugar left over from fermentation will be mostly FRUCTOSE in the non-backsweetened, while it will be SUCROSE (or if invertase is still around or it's a süssreserve, about 50/50 glucose/fructose) if back-sweetened.

These sugars ARE perceived differently, and fructose is significantly sweeter than glucose/sucrose (almost 2-fold).

I suppose the above-mentioned experiment proceeds thusly: Find a bottle of dry-as-dry-can-be Riesling (Ravines, etc.). Backsweeten to the same percentage with sucrose, glucose, and fructose and taste blind (triangle test) to see if there is a difference.

Of course, adding sugar before fermentation does change the environment in which the yeast are fermenting, so it's possible that that has an effect as well.

Also, maybe arrested fermentation wines are made from riper grapes in general, leading to greater development of other aroma compounds...

Bryan - Great stuff. Regarding your surprise that it's not more common: Obviously, in cases like the Wine of the Year, it's becoming more common. A guy like Vinny Aliperti is a tremendously skilled winemaker, and he wouldn't give this method a try if he didn't expect to find some value in it. Of course, I don't mean to imply that it's the be-all, end-all. But as the regional winemaking improves, more will feel confident in attempting the more difficult methods.

I'm interested in seeing a large trial to find out if there is a detectable difference, but I'll say this: I like the results thus far. Anthony Road arrests fermentation, and we know the quality of those wines. Now Billsboro. Wiemer has been doing it for years. There are others. It's an interesting discussion.

@Bryan...Thanks for explaining it. I understand the process now and I can understand how someone would back sweeten.

@Tom...Thanks for the explanation of the different sugars that come about. That would be an interesting tasting and would love to see the results.

Lenn - years ago the process of using süssreserve was more common and was the main way quality Rieslings were sweetend. (Süssreserve is produced by holding a small amount of fresh juice aside and keeping it unfermented through the use of sulfur and filtration.) I remember the debate at one wine workshop in Geneva where the discussion centered on whether additions of straight sugar or süssreserve made any difference and if one could taste the difference. The Cornell guys (none of whom are there anymore) argued that no one can really distinguised between the two. Needless to say many winemakers disagreed.

There is a clear winemaking advantage to having the balance of a wine clearly in place before a final addition of sweetness. This is especially true if you have lots of grapes from different vineyards every year. However I like the practice of arresting fermentation simply because I believe it creates a more seamless wine. There is no need for the wine to "knit together."
Over the last 15-20 years more producers have gone to stopping fermentation - I believe mainly because they have, over the years become so familiar with their vineyards and their wines (and their acid levels) that they have a good feel for how much residual sugar should be left. It's probably also due to the fact that years ago many producers in rural Germany did not have access to the type of winery refrigeration that is so common today leading to the süssreserve technique. Nowadays its rare to find a quality producer who is making high end Prädikat wines with the süssreserve. I believe its still used a great deal for the lower end whites by the large producers and co-ops. In either case, the addition of just straight sugar after fermentation has always been looked upon as the least desirable method.

Damn - this discussion has me wishing I'd asked the winemakers about their use of süssreserve when I was in Germany last year.

I'd be willing to be that you can find excellent German Rieslings made using it. But then I have a serious sweet tooth...

Rich:
I imagine that arresting fermentaion before there was sterile filtration and refrigeration was risky business.

I also would think that süssreserve would add some "juicy" aromas, for better or for worse.

Sugar vs. süssreserve has been studied in a few cases. Panels preferred süssreserve over sugar.

http://www.ajevonline.org/cgi/content/abstract/31/4/337
http://www.ajevonline.org/cgi/content/abstract/35/2/88

Stopped vs. Süssreserve vs. Muté:

http://ajevonline.org/cgi/content/abstract/55/2/168

Sincere Congratulations to Vinny and Billsboro, it's a pleasure to work with you.

Although when you ask them, most high end German producers will say they only arrest fermentation, I wouldn't be surprised if a few did use a little süssreserve as well - just to tweak flavors a bit if the finished wine was still a little unbalanced. Kind of like an insurance policy.

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