The Bight, the Cape, and the Bright Red Soil: The Mount Benson GI

Map of the Limestone Coast Zone via: Phylloxera and Grape Industry Board of South Australia

Mount Benson is a wine region located along Australia’s Limestone Coast. The area, which stretches for about nine miles alongside the ocean, attained its status as an official Geographical Indication in 1997.

The area has a mostly maritime climate—not surprising considering its rugged coastal location—and enjoys a long, cool growing season. Vines are planted at low elevations; with the vineyards closest to the shore planted at about 16 feet (5 m) above sea level and continuing inland through rolling hills that top out at 160 feet (50 m) of elevation.

In addition to Mount Benson itself—which is actually a 250 foot-high (77 m-high) hill—three interesting geographical features help to define the terroir and culture of the Mount Benson GI: the Great Australian Bight, Cape Jaffa, and terra rossa soils.

The Bright Red Soil: Portions of the Mount Benson GI are rich with terra rossa soil, which is much more famously part of the Coonawarra Region located about 65 miles to the east/southeast. There are many theories about the genesis of terra rossa, but it is typically found above a bedrock of limestone and believed to form as the bedrock decomposes. Briefly stated, as calcium carbonate in the limestone weathers, it mixes with clay and other soil particles and forms a series of layers on top of the bedrock. As the iron particles in the soil absorb oxygen (oxidize), they change color and lend a reddish hue to the soil.

Map of Australia by Norman Einstein via Wikimedia Commons

The Bight: The 9 mile- (15 km-) long coastline of the Mount Benson GI runs alongside a portion of the Great Australian Bight. (A bight is simply an open bay.) The Great Australian Bight basically runs along the entire south coast of Australia, making it one of the largest bights in the world. There are several dueling definitions of the parameters of the bight; however, in Australia (according to the Australian Hydrographic Service) it is considered to run for 720 miles/1,160 km from Cape Pasley, Western Australia, to Cape Carnot, South Australia.

The Cape: Cape Jaffa, located at the northwest corner of the Mount Benson GI,  is an area of headlands (a place characterized by rocky shores, steep sea cliffs, and breaking waves) located just south of Lacepede Bay. The headlands of Cape Jaffa extend along the coast for about 1.25 miles (2 km) and inland to Mount Benson. There is also a (very) small town and a marina known as Cape Jaffa.

The historic Cape Jaffa Lighthouse (now on display in Kingston)

More to our purposes is Cape Jaffa Wines.  Cape Jaffa produces a wide range of interesting wines, including varietally-labeled Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc and Shiraz produced with fruit from a variety of areas including Mount Benson, the Limestone Coast, and Wrattonbully (located inland from Mount Benson). Other wines include “Anna’s Blend”—named after winemaker Anna Hooper and consisting of barrel-fermented Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon alongside a splash of Gewurztraminer—as well as “Samphire Skin Contact White” fermented in a ceramic egg  with six months of skin contact. The Cape Jaffa cellar door is located just about six miles (9 km) from the sea.

Currently there are about 1,500 acres (600 ha) planted to vine in Mount Benson. The region is planted approximately 70% to red grapes, led by Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot; and 30% to white grapes led by Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. Besides Cape Jaffa Wines, other wineries in the region include Cape Thomas Wines, Ralph Fowler Wines, Norfolk Rise Winery,  and Wangolina Wines. Mount Benson wines are apt to be difficult to find in the United States, so a trip to Australia might be in order.

References/for more information:

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

Pertaining to Petrichor

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Wine and spirits aficionados have a unique vocabulary. Consider these terms, and admit to yourself how often you have used them: foxy, malo, stemmy, corked, brett. Dig a bit deeper and we find hogo, rancio, lanolin, graphite, and iodine.

And then there is petrichor, often used to describe an earthy, sometimes mineral-like aroma defined as “the scent that arises from the earth after it rains.” To be specific, it refers to the scent of the air after a light rain falls on dry earth—the breaking of a dry spell, as it were. Scientists will tell us that we humans find the aroma pleasant due to the fact that in an evolutionary sense, humans relied on the rain for survival and the aroma represents life-sustaining rainfall (a fact which remains true today).

The term itself was invented in 1964 by two Australian scientists—Isabel Joy Bear and Richard G. Thomas—who were working for Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO). Their work was published in the March 1964 edition of Nature magazine, under the titled The Nature of Argillaceous Odour (the word “argillaceous” referring to rocks or sediment containing clay).  Bear and Thomas explained the source of the petrichor aroma as remnants of the oils emitted by plants and bacteria trapped in the soil.

The word itself is derived from the Greek petra (stone) and ichor (the blood that flowed in the veins of the gods, according to Greek mythology). In terms of etymology, it is the stuff of legends: blood from a stone. 

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In 2015, scientists at MIT figured out—and captured using high-speed cameras—the mechanism of petrichor. Put simply, as a raindrop hits the ground (a porous surface), tiny air bubbles are trapped just below the surface. The bubbles then shoot upward, creating a tiny explosion of aromatic compounds as they escape the surly bonds of earth.

Pop culture alert: the word petrichor had its moment of fame in the Doctor Who TV series. In the episode titled “The Doctor’s Wife,” characters played by Karen Gillna, Matt Smith, and Suranne Jones used the word as part of a password (Crimson…Eleven…Delight…Petrichor). They defined petrichor as “the smell of dust after rain.” It’s an impressively accurate definition. Check out a video here.

There is also a winery known as Petrichor Vineyards, located in Sonoma’s Fountaingrove District AVA. According to the winery website, the term “petrichor” represents a passion for terroir—and a good choice it is.

References/for more information:

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

What’s it all about, Bergland?

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The wine regions of Austria have always seemed a bit confusing to me. Actually, that’s an understatement—but the issue is with me, not with Austria. I just need to focus. So here goes—I’m diving straight into the area that has (in the past) confused me the most, and am determined to develop a crystal-clear understanding of Bergland.

For starters: Austria has four main Weinbaugebiete (we’d call them “quality wine regions”). They are: Burgenland, Niederösterreich (Lower Austria, referring to being down-river on the Danube from the region they call “Upper Austria), Wien (Vienna), and Steiermark (Styria). These four regions are also states (or, in the case of Vienna, a capital city that serves as its own state, much like Washington DC here in the US) and can therefore serve as a PDO designation of origin—and—these regions may also contain more specific subregions (which may or may not be a Districtus Austriae Controllatus [DAC]). Did someone say confusing???

What’s Bergland got to do with it: Austria also has three large Weinbaugregionen (Landwein regions), or regions that are approved for PGI (protected geographical indication) wine. Two of these—Weinland Österreich and Steierland—neatly overlap with the PDO regions and are simple enough. However…there’s Bergland (not to be confused with Burgenland)…with no subregions and no overlap with the Quality Wine Regions of Austria.

If you check out my handy-dandy map, you’ll see that all of Bergland lies in the western section of the country which has typically been thought of as too cold, too mountainous, and too alpine for high-quality wine production (but a fantastic place for schnapps and beer—keep in mind that a good portion of the area is just south of Germany’s Bavaria). However, as we’ll see, there are some nooks and crannies of this rugged area that make for decent vineyard land, and wine is produced here.

Here is a closer look at the Bergland PGI, divided up by the five federal states that comprise the region:

Hochosterwitz Castle

Kärnten (Carinthia): Carinthia is the southernmost state of Austria, is entirely situated within the Eastern Alps, and is home to the eastern edge of the Grossglockner—the highest peak in the country. Viticulture in this area centers around the area near Hochosterwitz Castle as well as the valleys of the Lavant and Drava Rivers. The area currently has 170 hectares (421 acres) of vines, and the wines of the region have proven popular with tourists and locals alike, showing “promising potential.”

Oberösterreich (Upper Austria): It makes sense that the region upriver on the Danube would be a fine region for viticulture; after all, after the Danube crosses the political boundary separating “Upper” from “Lower” Austria, it flows through the famous wine regions of Wachau, Kremstal, Traisental, and Vienna. The area of Upper Austria did (historically) have quite a dynamic wine industry, and after several decades of decline, is back in business. Upper Austria currently has about 112 acres (45 ha) of vines, both in the Danube River Valley and the hilly regions closer to the center of the state.

Salzburg, with Mönchsberg Mountain in the background

Salzburg: Apparently there is more to Salzburg than the Sound of Music. However, if you are familiar with the classic musical (movie version), you no doubt noticed the soaring Alps surrounding the city, and indeed, the city of Salzburg is known for its five mountains, one of which—Mönchsberg—is home to vineyard overlooking the city. While apparently a new phenomenon, it seems there are now several vineyards in the state of Salzburg (totaling about 18 acres [7 ha]), and even a few within the city limits. This version of what they call “Mönchsberg Sparkling Wine” looks fascinating!

Voralberg: Voralberg is the westernmost state of Austria, bordering Switzerland, Germany, and the tiny country of Lichtenstein. Voralberg touches on Lake Bodensee and the Rhine River, and is close to a few outlying portions of the Württemberg and Baden wine regions of Germany. As such, it makes sense that there was once a thriving wine industry here; by some accounts the area had over 500 hectares planted to vines once upon a time. However, phylloxera reared its ugly head, and the industry has been slow to bounce back. Currently, Voralberg has 25 acres (10 ha) of vines, including one located in the town of Röthis, just a few miles east of where the Rhine River forms the border between Austria and Switzerland.

Photo of Zirl by Svíčková via Wikimedia Commons

Tirol (Tyrol): If you are familiar with Italy’s South Tyrol (Südtirol, aka Alto Adige) wine region, you may have wondered if there is a “North Tyrol.” Well, there is—and it is just north of Italy, in Austria. The state of Tyrol is discontinuous, divided by a 4.3-mile- (7 km-) wide strip; the larger area, straddling the area between Italy’s South Tyrol and Germany’s Bavaria, is known as North Tyrol; the smaller portion is East Tyrol. There is some historic connection to wine production here, including a (no longer cultivated) 14th-century vineyard located in Zirl—the products of which were greatly appreciated by Emperor Maximilian I (1459-1519). Modern winemaking is springing to life as well, and Tyrol currently has 12 acres (5 ha) of vines and over two dozen wineries; check out the website of the Weinbau Verband Tiroler here.

Grapes and wines produced in Bergland are similar in variety and style to the overarching wines of Austria. White grapes prevail—particularly Grüner Veltliner, Riesling, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Müeller-Thurgau. The main red grapes are Zweigelt and Blauer Burgunder (Pinot Noir).

References/for more information:

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

Literary Libations

It’s a good time of year for two of my favorite things: having a high-quality cocktail and taking the time to relax and read a good book. So this year I’d thought I’d explore the area where literature and libations connect, and share a few distilled spirits named in honor of some of my favorite authors.

Robert Burns Single Malt Scotch Whisky: Named for Scotland’s most famous poet, the Robert Burns Single Malt Scotch Whisky is produced by the Isle of Arran Distillery.  The distillery’s website describes the whisky’s appearance as resembling “Ayrshire sunshine,” a reference to Ayrshire, the poet’s place of birth, which is just across the Firth of Clyde (a 14–mile wide inlet of the Atlantic Ocean) from the island of Arran.

This delightful whisky—redolent of apples, vanilla, apricot, honeysuckle, and smoke—is good just about any time you might fancy a dram; however, there is no excuse not to have a glass or two on Burns Night. Burns Night (also known as Robbie Burns Day) is an annual celebration of the poet’s January 25th birthday. The holiday is often marked with a Burns dinner featuring Scotch whisky, poetry recitations, bagpipers, and a main dish of haggis (as noted in Burns’ famous poem, “Address to a Haggis”).

Here is a quote on the joys of whisky from Robert Burns (“John Barkeycorn” is a term for whisky):

  • “Inspiring bold John Barleycorn! What dangers thou canst make us scorn! Wi’ tippeny [tuppenny ale], we fear nae evil; Wi’ usquabae [whisky], we’ll face the devil!”—Robert Burns (1759–1796), Tam o’ Shanter

Dorothy Parker Gin: Dorothy Parker gin is produced by Brooklyn’s New York Distilling Company. Dorothy Parker Gin is named for New York City’s witty, wise-cracking poet, critic, and short-story author, best-known as a founding member of the Algonquin Round Table. Dorothy reveled in her martinis and as such, she seems to be the perfect character to be honored on the label of a bottle of gin.

According to their website, Dorothy Parker American Gin is flavored with “a blend of traditional and contemporary botanicals including juniper and elderberries, citrus, cinnamon, and hibiscus.” They’ve even created a cocktail known as “The Acerbic Mrs. Parker” that combines the gin with fresh lemon juice, hibiscus syrup, and orange liqueur.

Here is the quote that makes Dorothy Parker (1893–1967) the ideal candidate for having a gin named after her:

  • “I like to have a martini, two at the very most. After three I’m under the table, after four I’m under my host.” ―Dorothy Parker, The Collected Dorothy Parker

Photo of James Joyce (Public Domain)

 James Joyce No. 15 Single Malt Irish Whiskey: James Joyce No. 15 Single Malt Irish Whiskey, named after Ireland’s famed novelist, short story write, and poet—best known for Ulysses, Finnegans Wake, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and the short story collection Dubliners—is a bit of a unicorn bottle. It’s a private label, limited edition (only 15 barrels) Irish whiskey produced by Bushmills Distillery and bottled in 2016 for the James Joyce House in Dublin. (It was also priced at 250 Euros, at least on the internet). The name of the whiskey honors the address—No. 15 Usher’s Island—of the famous “House of the Dead,” featured in Dubliners.

I haven’t had the opportunity to taste this rare spirit, however, according to the website of the L. Mulligan Whisky Shop, it has flavors of fruit (citrus, grapefruit, green apple), spice (cinnamon), and chocolate, with a bit of tannin and wood on the finish.

Here’s a quote from James Joyce that will have any whiskey aficionado reaching for a glass:

  • “The light music of whisky falling into glasses made an agreeable interlude.” ― James Joyce (1882–1941), Dubliners

Do you have any favorite spirits named after an author?

References/for more information:

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

Five Fast Facts about the Yakima Valley AVA

Photo by Agne27 via Wikimedia Commons

Here’s five fast facts about the beautiful, historic, and tourist-friendly Yakima Valley AVA. Time to plan a trip!

#1: The Yakima Valley was the first AVA in Washington State: In April of 1983, the Yakima Valley AVA was the first AVA established within Washington State (the larger Columbia Valley AVA was established about a year-and-a-half later, in November of 1984). The Yakima Valley area is home to some of the oldest vineyards in Washington State, with winemaking in the area going back as far as 1869. The first vines in the area were planted by Charles Schanno, a winemaker from the French region of Alsace-Lorraine. Later, in the early 1900s, an attorney from Tacoma named William Bridgeman planted vineyards and pioneered irrigation in the area. Following Prohibition, Bridgeman opened Upland Winery and—along with winemaker Erich Steenborg—began producing varietally-labeled wines in the Yakima Valley, including the state’s first dry Riesling.

#2: The Yakima Valley has three sub-AVAs (with one more [maybe] on the way): The Yakima Valley AVA stretches for over 60 miles from the town of Union Gap (just south of the city of Yakima) and along the valley of the Yakima River until just before the point where the Yakima flows into the Columbia River. The sub-appellations of the Yakima Valley are:

  • Red Mountain: the smallest AVA in the state, located on the south/southeast slope of Red Mountain facing the Yakima River, and a powerhouse area for Cabernet Sauvignon.
  • Snipes Mountain: the second-smallest AVA in the state, located in the southeast corner of the Yakima Valley atop a ridge including the peaks of Snipes Mountain and Harrison Hill. This is the area where William Bridgeman’s original winery, Upland Winery was located; the original property (now owned by the Newhouse family) is a large working farm—Upland Estates—complete with an area known as Upland Vineyards.
  • Rattlesnake Hills:  The Rattlesnake Hills AVA is located to the north of the Yakima River, along an expanse of hills running from east-to-west. The vineyards here are found at elevations ranging from 850 feet and rising as high as 3,085 feet.
  • Candy Mountain—the one on-the-way: In January of 2017, the TTB accepted an application for the proposed Candy Mountain AVA, to be located in the far-eastern part of the Yakima Valley, to the east of Red Mountain. If accepted, Candy Mountain will be the smallest AVA in Washington State.

Field of hops

#3: The Yakima Valley is known for Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot, and…hops: The leading grape varieties of the Yakima Valley (listed in order) include Chardonnay (at 3,180 acres), Merlot (at 2,090 acres), Cabernet Sauvignon (at 1,350 acres), Riesling (at 920 acres), and Syrah (at 650 acres). In addition to grapes and wine, the Yakima Valley is a major producer of apples, cherries, pears, and hops. The Yakima Valley contains more than 75% of the total hop acreage in the country and accounts for 77% of all hop production in the US.

#4: There’s a movie about it: It’s not quite Sideways, and I’m not sure the powers-that-be in Yakima Valley want to go shouting it from the rooftops, but there is a funny, semi-wine related and very charming movie set in the town of Prosser, smack in the middle of the Yakima Valley. It’s called “Cement Suitcase” and stars Dwayne Bartholomew as Franklin Roew. Franklin is a semi-slick wine salesman at a local tasting room, smack in the middle of a quarter-life crisis complete with a cheating girlfriend and a goofball roommate (as well as some unresolved grief about the recent death of his mother). It’s a great film to watch on the plane en route to your winetasting tour of the Yakima Valley. Cement Suitcase was directed by J. Rick Castañeda as his first feature film.

Photo of the Stone Chapel at Red Willow Vineyard by Agne27 via Wikimedia Commons

#5: The Yakima Valley has its own hilltop stone chapel: The historic and renowned Red Willow Vineyard, located in the far western part of the Yakima Valley AVA, has its own hilltop chapel. Built from stones collected during the original planting of the vineyards, the chapel is built at the apex of the Chapel Block of the Red Willow Vineyard at a height of about 1,250 feet.

References/for more information:

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

Rotling Revival

 

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This week I happened upon a few examples of Rotling—served at the home of a friend fresh off a Paris-to-Switzerland river cruise. I don’t know much about Rotling, besides the fact that it is type of German rosé, and I can’t remember the last time I tasted (or even thought about) Rotling. It is obviously time for a Rotling revival!

The basics: according to the Wines of Germany website, Rotling is a German rosé made by blending red and white grapes (or red and white must) together prior to fermentation. The “prior to fermentation” detail is very important, as this is NOT a pink wine made by blending together red and white wine (that’s frowned upon in most European PDO wines). Rotling must be pale pink to light red in color, but it may be produced in various levels of sweetness, varying levels of spritz (from still to Perlwein or Sekt), and from a range of grape varieties.

Throughout the course of a very long morning, I googled down many a wine-website-rabbit hole trying to find Rotling for sale in the US. I wasn’t successful in finding a bottle available in Texas, however, I did learn that Rotling is widely enjoyed throughout Germany and Central Europe, often served as a “wine by the glass or carafe” or packaged as a bulk wine. There is also a good deal of bottled Rotling available in Europe at a good, quaffable price—sometimes as low as five euros for a liter bottle.

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The details: There are a few specifically-defined types of Rotling:

  • Schillerwein is a Rotling produced in the Württemberg wine region; it must be at least Qualitätswein-level quality. According to Dr. Christian Schiller, writing on the i-winereview.com blog, the wine’s name is derived from the verb “schillern,” meaning “to scintillate”—a reference to the wine’s brilliant (scintillating) color.
  • Badisch Rotgold is a Rotling produced in the Baden wine region; it also must be at least Qualitätswein-level quality. Badisch Rotgold must be produced using Grauburgunder (Pinot Gris) and Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir), with Grauburgunder as the majority grape, and the grape varieties must be declared on the label.
  • Schieler is a Rotling from the Sachsen wine region; it too must be at least Qualitätswein-level quality.

The wines: here is a bit of information about the wines I was lucky enough to sample:

  • Castel-Castell Rotling Trocken 2016: This wine was a beautiful, bright-but-light watermelon hue. This wine is produced in the Franken wine region from a blend of Müller-Thurgau and Acolon (a Blaufränkisch X Dornfelder cross) grapes. This is a crisp, fruity, delightful wine with aromas and flavors of ripe berries (raspberries, strawberries), a whiff of baking spice and a floral note.
  • Weingut Heinrich Basten Rotling Feinherb 2016: This wine was slightly lighter in color, but still had a delightful “light-reddish” color and crystal-clear-clarity. Nicely crisp but slightly sweet, this wine had aromas and flavors of raspberry, cherry, and tangerine, with a slight hint of nutmeg and (yum) marshmallow. This wine is a blend of Müller Thurgau und Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir).

In Germany, from what my friend tells me, they have no problem drinking Rotling in December—or any other time of year…so now is as good a time as any to reach for a Rotling!

References/for more information:

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

Zip and Zest: Five Fast Facts about Tartaric Acid (and Wine)

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Is it weird that tartaric acid has been on my mind a lot lately? I suppose dreams of tartaric acid are not so unusual for those inclined to the study of wine, and a little bit of a treatise on tartaric might be just the ticket to soothe my soul. So here goes, five fast facts about tartaric acid!

#1: When it comes to tartaric acid, grapes rule: Tartaric acid is one of the main natural acids found in grapes and —interestingly enough—grapes have a higher concentration of tartaric acid than any other fruit or vegetable. Besides grapes, measurable quantities of tartaric acid can be found in avocadoes, bananas, cherries, and grapefruit. However…for the record, most fruits and vegetables—including blackberries, blueberries, apples, apricots, peaches, pears, pineapples, plums, lemons, limes, oranges, and tomatoes—are high in malic acid and citric acid, but contain very little (if any) tartaric acid.

#2: Tartaric acid is tongue-tingling and truly tart: Tartaric acid is typically the strongest acid in both grapes and wine, as measured by pH and volume. Tartaric acid typically accounts for one-half to two-thirds of the acid content of ripe grapes. As such, tartaric acid is one of the most important fixed (non-volatile) acids in wine, along with malic acid.

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#3: Tartaric acid is strong and stable, part one: Tartaric acid is often used as an additive in winemaking (for good reason): In addition to the obvious impact on taste and flavor, proper levels of tartaric acid are important to the microbial stability of a wine. Tartaric acid resists decomposition and microbial attack, and is therefore often used as an additive  when acidification is needed. Malic acid, on the other hand, is easily broken down by malolactic fermentation or other processes. For these reasons and more, tartaric acid is the substance most often used when acidification is needed in the winemaking process.

#4: Tartaric acid is strong and stable, part two: Tartaric acid typically is contained in wine grapes at a concentration between 2.5 to 5 g/L at harvest, and it remains relatively stable throughout the ripening process. Conversely, wine grapes often contain more than 20 g/L of malic acid prior to veraison—however, a good deal of this is used for energy during respiration. Levels of malic acid at harvest are typically closer to 1 to 4 g/L. Tartaric acid is also metabolized during respiration, but at much lower levels than malic acid.

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#5: Tartaric acid is related to, but not (quite) the same thing as cream of tartar: Students of wine are sure to be familiar with the propensity of tartaric acid to form wine diamonds (particles that separate from the wine and look like tiny crystals of rock salt). Wine diamonds can form in the tank, during barrel aging, or in the bottle—particularly if the wine is subjected to cold temperatures. Tartrates can be prevented in the bottle via pre-bottling cold stabilization. Tartrate crystals scraped from the interior of oak barrels once inhabited by high-acid wines can be used to produce cream of tartar—a white powder that is often used as a stabilizing or leavening agent in cooking (particularly with egg whites, sugar work, or baking). Cream of tartar is basically partially-neutralized tartaric acid, produced by combining tartaric acid with potassium hydroxide. Cream of tartar, when used in baking, helps to activate baking soda, which is alkaline. As a matter of fact, cream of tartar combined with baking soda is the formula for baking powder.

References/for more information:

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