Five Fast Facts about Zweigelt

Zerigelt 1A quick read about Fritz Zweigelt and the grape he created.

#1 – Zweigelt is the leading red grape of Austria. It is also planted in small amounts in Canada, in both Ontario and British Columbia. Zweigelt is the third most-planted grape of the Czech Republic, where is goes by the name Zweigeltrebe. A few wineries – including Wilridge Winery and Perennial Vintners – have some small plantings (a few acres or so) in Washington State.

#2 – Zweigelt is a cross of St. Laurent and Blaufränkisch/Lemberger created by Fritz Zweigelt in 1922. Fritz was working the Federal Institute for Viticulture and Pomology at Klosterneuburg, Austria at the time, which makes the Zweigelt grape a true native Austrian. It was made with the purpose of creating a red grape unique to Austria that could thrive in the cool climate, be disease-resistant, and create a red wine of medium to full body and flavor.

#3 – Dr. Zweigelt did a good job – the grape that bears his name is indeed cold-hardy, drought-resistant, and thrives in a variety of soils. It is fairly disease-resistant, but is susceptible to powdery mildew (that’s Oidium to you CSW students) and berry shrivel/grape wilt.

Zweigelt 2#4 – The name of the grape is pronounced “TSVYE-gelt” – and if you think that’s difficult to say, consider yourself lucky. The original name of the grape was Rotburger (the name of a town close to where the grape was created) but was later changed to honor its creator.  Zweigelt also goes by the name Blauer Zweigelt. By the way, don’t confuse the original name of Zweigelt – Rotburger – with the grape that goes by the name of Rotberger (who would – ha!). For the record – Rotberger (“berger with an e!”) is a white grape cross of Riesling X Trollinger.

5 – As with all wines, the characteristics of a good Zweigelt vary according to vineyard conditions and wine-making techniques. Cool-climate, unoaked versions from Austria’s northern reaches are typically violet-red in color, medium-bodied, and moderate in tannins with fruit-forward flavors favoring red and black cherry. As such, it is the most widely consumed red wine in the pubs, bars, and casual restaurants in and around Vienna. The warmer growing regions in the areas of Lower Austria (Niederösterreich) – particularly  Neusiedlersee – produce full-bodied, richer wines with firm tannins. Such wines are often oak-aged, resulting in flavors of red cherry, red plum, cinnamon, and black pepper.

References:

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas… missjane@prodigy.net

Five Fascinating Facets of Flor

Bodegas Hidalgo La Gitana (producers of La Gitana Manzanilla) in Sanlúcar de Barrameda – photo by Caleteron via Wikimedia Commons

Bodegas Hidalgo La Gitana (producers of La Gitana Manzanilla) in Sanlúcar de Barrameda – photo by Caleteron via Wikimedia Commons

Ok, I apologize for the gratuitous alliteration, but you have to admit…flor – the indigenous yeast cells that form a “veil” on the surface of certain types of Sherry as it ages – is fascinating. Flor (meaning “flower” in Spanish) is a subject that just seems to get more interesting the closer you look. As a matter of fact, I had a hard time limiting the information I found to just five facets!

#1: Flor is what separates the Finos from the Olorosos. Flor is a film-forming yeast (actually, several related strains of yeast) that is indigenous to the region around the Jerez-Xérès-Sherry DO. Flor is the main factor that causes the myriad types and styles of Sherry to divide roughly into three camps – Fino, Hybrid, and Oloroso – based on the extent of flor influence. Fino Sherries (such as those labeled as Fino or Manzanilla) are aged under the somewhat constant influence of flor. Oloroso Sherries (labeled as Oloroso or sometimes as Cream Sherry) are aged entirely without flor; while hybrids (such as Amontillado and Palo Cortado) are aged partially with flor and partially without.

#2: Flor is that “something in the air” in Jerez. Flor imparts its magic by finding its way from the air to the young base wines being prepared each year. The flor starts to develop in the base wines, and, after the wine is fortified – as long as the maximum level of alcohol remains around 15% by volume or less – and placed in a barrel, the yeast will reproduce and start to form a veil (velo in Spanish) that covers the surface of the wine in the barrel like a blanket.  The veil has been described as a waxy foam, about two centimeters thick; or as a light “cottony” film. The “blanket” formed by flor is sturdiest and palest in spring and autumn and turns rather thin and grey in summer and winter. Talia Baiocchi, in her new book “Sherry: The Wine Industry’s Best-Kept Secret” describes a thick film of flor as resembling a “1970s popcorn ceiling.”

Sherry barrel with transparent front to demonstrate the natural development of flor - Photo by El Pantera via Wikimedia Commons

Sherry barrel with transparent front to demonstrate the natural development of flor – Photo by El Pantera via Wikimedia Commons

#3: Flor protects the wine from oxidation in a variety of ways. The veil that is created via the action of flor protects the wine resting beneath it in a myriad of ways. For one, it simply forms a protective barrier between the wine in the barrel and the oxygen above it. In addition, the flor actually consumes some of the oxygen around it, as well as some of the alcohol, glycerol, and (if present) sugar. Thus, Fino Sherries tend to be pale in color, light in body, and bone-dry.

#4 – The collective effects of flor – referred to as “biological aging” – are amazing. The main benchmark for biological aging is considered to be the wine’s aroma. Simply put, contact with flor (both while it is alive, and after it expires and sinks to the bottom of the barrel as lees) may create up to 1,000 milligrams per liter of acetaldehyde in the wine. That is, according to Ruben Luyten of the blog Sherry Notes, more than twenty times the amount of acetaldehyde found in most table wines.  Acetaldehyde’s aromas have been described, variously, as rancid apple, apple cider, almond, hazelnut, and even straw or hay. The presence of flor will also lead to an increase of in other highly aromatic compounds, such as lactones and terpenes, which may add an array of aromas – from dried herbs to green walnuts, mushrooms, and baking spices – to the wine.

#5: Flor has some definitive preferences as to climate and conditions.  Flor can only survive in wine that has an alcohol level of somewhere below 15% abv – but that’s just the beginning of its ways. Flor also needs a good deal of humidity in the air, which explains why Fino Sherries thrive in certain areas, such as the cooler, coastal areas around Sanlúcar de Barrameda and El Puerto de Santa María, while Oloroso Sherries (which are aged without flor) thrive in the hotter, drier, more inland areas around Jerez. It is well-known that solera systems (and the buildings that surround them) are often at ground level (as opposed to an underground cellar) and built with high ceilings or even left partially open to the elements, so as to encourage air flow. It’s also rumored that bungs are left gently in place in Fino Soleras to encourage the movement of the humid air inside the barrels.

Flight of Fino Sherries at London’s Bar Pepito – Photo by Ewan Munro via Wikimedia Commons

Flight of Fino Sherries at London’s Bar Pepito – Photo by Ewan Munro via Wikimedia Commons

While wines produced “under a veil” are somewhat uncommon around the world, there are a few shining examples besides Fino Sherries. These include the Vin Jaune of France’s Côtes du Jura AOC, certain types of Tokaji, a “Vin de Voile” produced by Domaine Plageoles in France’s Gaillac region, and the “Condado Pálido” produced in Spain’s Condado de Huelva DO, among others.  While these wines undergo a similar style of biological aging, it is not certain that they use the same strain(s) of yeast as are found in Jerez-Xérès-Sherry, and, of course, each of these wines is made in its own conditions of climate-atmosphere-terroir. Thus, we can safely say that there’s nothing in the world quite like the flor of Jerez, the protective foam-blanket it creates, and the resulting Fino Sherry.

References:

Pinot Noir. It’s Complicated.

27863500_lAnyone who appreciates a good red wine has most likely waxed poetic over a red Burgundy, a Central Otago Pinot Noir, or a glass of the Willamette Valley’s finest.  I can hear it now – “So Subtle! Layers of flavors! It evolves in the glass!”

If this is you – if you tend to like to say things about the cherry-berry-smoky-earthy-herbal-floral-rose-spicy-awesomeness of a complex glass of Pinot Noir – you are redeemed!

Science has proven it: there’s a lot going on in that glass.

It happened a while back, in 2007, but still amazes me. In a project that took over two years to complete, a group of French and Italian scientists working at the French National Genetics-Sequencing Laboratory just outside of Paris unlocked the genome – the chemical building blocks of the DNA – of Vitis vinifera Pinot Noir.

Pinot Noir was the first fruit crop to be sequenced and only the fourth flowering plant. The first flowering plant the team investigated was a strain of wild mustard – chosen for its ease of growth in the plant lab and 6-week life span. This was followed by a series of plants deemed most important to human culture.

Their next plant was rice, followed by corn – and then, as their first choice for fruit – Pinot Noir. And with good reason! The grape, it was discovered, has over 30,000 gene sequences in its DNA. That’s more than a typical human being, whose DNA contains anywhere from 20,000 to 25,000.

The team also provided a scientific explanation for the legendary (and much appreciated) flavor complexity of Pinot Noir. It seems that over 100 of its 30,000 gene sequences are terpenes, tannins, and other compounds whose job it is to contribute aromas and flavors. According to researcher Patrick Wincker, that’s about twice as many as a typical plant.

According to NBC News, the breakthrough is proof that Pinot Noir is “Scientifically delicious.” That’s a pretty good quip, and hard to follow! However, what the mapping of the Pinot Noir genome may mean to the future of viticulture is yet to be seen!

I’ll tell you one thing, though…this Eyrie Vineyards Willamette Valley Pinot Noir 2012 – with its rich, complex, cherry-berry-earthy-spiciness – is going to be tough to improve upon.

secret life janeIf you love Pinot Noir and would like to learn a bit more about this amazing grape, you can catch the Bubbly Professor at one of her favorite seminars – “The Secret Life of Pinot Noir” at the Boston Wine Expo on Saturday, February 14th. See you there!

More information on the mapping of the Pinot Noir genome: If you understand ScienceSpeak and have all afternoon to read through the original publication, click here.  If you’d prefer Soundbyte, as reported by NBC News, click here.

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas   missjane@prodigy.net

 

 

Decoding the Amtliche Prüfungsnummer

AP rhineThis is a blog post borne of necessity…in teaching my online CSW Prep Classes, I always dread “Module 8.” Module 8, you see, covers the wines of Germany and Austria.

This does not in any way mean that I dread talking about – or partaking of – the wines of Germany and Austria. As a matter of fact, the Grosses Gewachs Mosel Riesling or Kremstal DAC Grüner Veltliner I am sipping alongside is most likely going to be the highlight of my day.

But it’s all about the words, the language, the umlauts and the eszetts. They are all a bit intimidating and confusing to me, being a native English speaker who never traveled to Europe until the 4th decade of her life.

So, in an attempt to dive straight to the heart (in das Herz) of the matter (von tge Sache) I set about to understand something that had always baffled me: Amtliche Prüfungsnummer. It turns out, the Amtliche Prüfungsnummer, while certainly appearing cryptic and complicated, contains a lot of useful information about a German wine, and absolutely reveals the seemingly complex tangle that is German wine to be a highly organized, useful system.

First of all, for the simple language (thank you, Google Translate).

Amtliche – “Official”

Prüfungsnummer – “Exam Number”

Thus, our Amtliche Prüfungsnummer, commonly referred to as the “A.P. Number,” translates as  “official exam number,” although most wine references will refer to it as the “official approval number.”  The A.P. Number identifies the wine as to producer, village of origin, and testing center where the wine was awarded its official approval. The process is required for all wines bottled under the classifications of QbA and Prädikatswein.

The actual number consists of several blocks of figures – surely you’ve seen one, looking quite complicated, such as this example:

AP wine glassA.P. NR. 2 606 319 011 07

Here is what those numbers mean:

2 606 319 011 07: 2 – The first number represents region where the wine was tested. The wine will be tested in the same general region where it was produced, however, there are only 9 testing centers as opposed to 13 quality wine regions (Anbaugebiete). This testing center – number 2 – handles wines from the Middle Mosel and Rheingau.

2 606 319 011 07: 606 – The second number, which may be two or three digits, represents the particular village within the larger testing region, where the wine was produced.

2 606 319 011 07: The third number represents the particular bottler (producer).

2 606 319 011 07: The fourth number represents the sequential order that the wine was submitted by that produce. In other words, this is the eleventh wine submitted for testing in this particular year by the producer.

2 606 319 011 07: The fifth number represents the last two digits of the year that the wine was submitted for testing, usually the year after the vintage.

Whew! Do you have information overload? It’s a lot of data, but remember, this is all to protect the quality and reputation of German wines, which is good for everyone – even us consumers. Producers are required to keep sample bottles of each wine for a certain number of years, and thus the system is such that, if a complaint were received or someone had reason to doubt a wine’s authenticity, a bottle of the specific wine could be located and tested.

Simple? No.

Effective? Yes.

I sleep better at night knowing my Pflaz Riesling (5 594 022 17 12) and my Rheingau Spätburgunder (4 383 675 01 11) is signed, sealed, and approved!

The Bubbly Professor is…”Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas – jnickles@prodigy.net

 

 

The Good, The Bad, and the Diffuse

Structure

Structure

Last summer when I was putting together my “Palate Tune-Up” session for the SWE Conference in Seattle, I spent a great deal of time researching, thinking about, and (yuck) experiencing wine faults. After all, the main premise of the session was to learn to recognize faults – sulfur dioxide, TCA, excessive Brett and other such imbalances – in wine.

It soon occurred to me, however, that giving such a session based on the ick-factor might be something akin to career suicide. Why would people choose to attend the ick-factor session, when Cru Artisan Bordeaux was being poured right next door?

With that in mind, I decided to start the course off by pouring three spectacular wines – each chosen to represent a specific aspect of what we expect in an excellent wine – before we tested the faulty wines. So, my next challenge was to define – and then demonstrate – what makes a wine “excellent.”

As every wine lover knows, defining what makes a wine “excellent” is a challenging – and very subjective – proposal. Every time I came up with a succinct definition, I could hear the arguments and rebuttals from my future audience.

Balance

Balance

Thus, it was several weeks before I came up with my examples. I would choose a wine to represent the following three aspects of an excellent wine: Complexity, Balance, and Structure. Complexity and balance were relatively easy to define, demonstrate, and provide with near-perfect examples.

Structure, on the other hand, eluded me. I thought I knew what it meant, and I could definitely recognize both its presence and absence in a wine, but it was difficult to put into words without talking around and through the matter for less than ten minutes.

So…of course I went on a research bender. What did the wine experts among us have to say about structure?  The New Wine Lover’s Companion had a pretty good definition, basically stating that structure referred to a wine’s “architecture – its plan – including the building blocks of acid, alcohol, fruit, glycerol, and tannins.”  It went on to say that the term “structure” is meaningless without an adjective in front of it, such as “well structured” or “strong structure.”

The Wine Spectator’s online glossary also had a decent enough definition – saying it was related to “mouthfeel.”  Many other references used the rather clichéd “its like milk versus cream” line of reasoning or provided a multitude of synonyms for body – texture, backbone, weight – or provided adjectives to describe it – mouth-filling, brawny, rich, lean, gritty, velvety, smooth.

Complexity

Complexity

But I still wanted to know just what it was…the technical-sorta definition as to what provides a wine with good structure.  Professor Emile Peynaud came as close as anyone could possibly, it seemed, to delivering what I wanted to know with his definition of “structure” as “impressions of volume, form, and consistency.” In other words, structure is the taster’s sense of the wine’s physical make-up.

But it still seemed that I would need to write my own definition to convey just exactly what I meant to say. So I came up with the following: I would explain what is meant by a wine’s structure beginning with the interplay of the same set of attributes that contribute to balance in flavor. In my definition, therefore, a wine’s structure is composed of the sensory impact of acid, sugar, fruit, tannin, extract, and alcohol – but instead of noticing how these components impact flavor, we draw our attention to how they work together to create the tactile sensation of the wine.

So much for the definition! Now, I needed to define and demonstrate how a lack of structure would be described in a wine. Defining the opposite of balance was easy: unbalanced. Defining the opposite of complexity was very easy: monotony. But the only “textbook” opposite of “structure” I could find was “unstructured.” That just didn’t seem right.

Diffuse

Diffuse

So I went on another month-long research bender to find the perfect word that meant “unstructured.” I could find many ways to discuss wines with inadequate or unbalanced structure. For instance, the term “hollow” is also used to denote lack of structure; hollow wines are diluted and lack depth. A “brawny” or “rustic” wine may be described as a hefty wine with plenty of weight, flavor, and grit; but lacking in the complexity needed to bring the elements together in a refined way. And everyone’s favorite – “flabby” to describe a wine lacking in acid, or missing its “backbone.”

But there was no real “winespeak” term to define lack of balance, texturally speaking. So I found an excellent word to portray what I meant – diffuse. The term diffuse is used to describe a building or structure with no strength, or something that is scattered, spread out, or dispersed.  Remembering that “structure” refers to the elements of texture and their relationship, I think it describes a wine lacking in the regard quite well.

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas – missjane@prodigy.net

 

 

Just in case you were wondering…

Nervous at computerHi Everyone!!

Just in case your were wondering…well, about just about anything having to do with wine education, education in general, or maybe even wine in general..

Yours truly, The Bubbly Professor, will be hosting an “Ask Me Anything” panel over at Reddit starting later today and going “live” – Sunday, February 23 – at 12 Noon to 2:00 pm Central Time.

So go ahead…make my day and ask me anything.

Can you tell how nervous I am?

How to Study for the CSW (Or any other Exam)

Wine 2In the past few weeks, I have received dozens of emails from people asking “How do I study for the CSW?”  It’s a good question, and one that I thought I’d address here on the blog as it seems so universal.  By the way, most of the inquiries I get have to do with the CSW, but having been a professor for decades, I know that these study techniques will work for any knowledge-based set of material…even other wine certifications!

I think the problem stems from people confusing “reading” with “studying.”  Reading is a good first step, but it’s only the beginning.  Studying is so much more….so here’s my advice on how to “really study.”  By the way, if you are looking for the easy way out, you are NOT going to like me!

My Advice…How to Study for the Certified Specialist of Wine (or any other) Exam

Learning, unfortunately, takes time. Unless you have a have photographic memory, learning requires repetition, active study techniques, and concentration.  Here are few simple tips to help you get the most from your study time.

Read and Take Notes:  Reading alone does not do much in terms of long-term learning for most people. Do you remember that little jingle about “people only remember 10% of what they read?” It’s actually less than that. If you want your study session to result in long-term memory, you need to take notes while you study. Read your study guide section by section, taking notes all the while. Then, clean up those notes and use them as your study material for the last few months or weeks leading up to your exam.

How to study 1Study Actively:  One of the reasons that taking notes is so effective for most people is that writing involves more energy and more of the senses than just reading or listening. The more energy and senses that are involved in studying (or any activity); the more new material will make it to your brain’s “recording disk.” While it might feel silly, reading out loud or reviewing your notes out loud is one of the best ways involve more of your senses in your studying.  Writing, a kinetic activity, also increases memory.  Instead of staring at maps, draw them. Instead of just reading over your notes, copy them over.

Don’t just Memorize – Strive for Understanding: There are two ways to memorize:  by rote (mechanically) and by understanding. Telephone numbers and computer passwords are better learned by rote.  However, anything that needs to be understood must have some meaning behind it. The more association you can elicit for an idea, the more meaning it will have; the more meaningful the learning, the better one is able to retain it. This is the main reason why travelling is such a good way to learn wine…once you’ve driven from Greve to Montalcino, its easy to remember the distances and directions…you totally understand it (and will never forget it, most likely, if you tried to drive yourself)! While you might not be able to travel to every wine region you are studying, you can try to find the context behind the facts.  You can do this by comparing and contrasting, noting similarities in ideas and concepts, tying new ideas to something you already know, and trying to put new information in its proper place in a larger system of ideas, concepts and theories.

Rephrase and explain:  Anyone who has ever taught a wine class knows that one way to really learn something is to teach it.  Teaching requires us to organize and explain material, which just happen to be two of the most important facets of learning. To use this concept in your study sessions, experiment with stopping every five minutes to try and rephrase and explain the material.  This is also a great way to stop your mind from wandering. Remember, if you can’t explain something quickly and succinctly, you don’t really know it well.

how to learn slideUse Spaced Repetition:  Memories fade away rapidly when not reviewed or used. The curve of forgetting is like a playground slide; we forget most of what we learned within the first 24 hours after studying, from there the curve of forgetting proceeds much more slowly.  To combat the “24-hour brain dump,” try to fit in a study session every day, even if it is just ten minutes (although an hour a day is better). The more times around the learning circuit, the longer lasting the impression will be.

Simulate the Required Behavior: When studying for an examination, the most effective approach is to closely simulate the behavior you’ll ultimately be required to perform. What this means is that one way to effectively study for a multiple choice test is to take multiple choice practice tests.  However…what’s even more effective is writing your own test questions. Writing test questions after studying a section of material is also a great way to keep from getting bored or losing your concentration.

I hope these these study techniques – even if you only use one or two, will help you in your studies.  If you have any questions or comments, let me know!!  Good luck with your studies!!

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas  missjane@prodigy.net