Where Wine and Beer Meet: Cider

It’s the middle of harvest and we all have been rather busy with picking grapes and the numerous wine festivals this time of year. All that being said, I never got to write a blog for last week…  

So without further ado: Cider

While I was at Cornell, one lecture was devoted to the topic of apple cider. One point brought up was, “What exactly is cider? Would you call it a wine or would you call it a beer? It doesn’t really fit either category…”

Cider, to me, is where the brewing world and the wine world meet. It is sold like a beer, often with crown caps, carbonation, and generally has the same alcohol level as a beer. From the wine end the apple juice is fermented like any other fruit wine, just with a shorter fermentation since there is less sugar in apples. The line really blurs when one starts to consider carbonation, some cider is flat like most wines others have CO2 like most beers. Legally though, cider is simply fermented apple juice with a final alcohol level below 7%.

Enough of that debate though; let’s get into what makes a good cider. Surprisingly, the answer is sharp (highly acidic) apples. Well, a blend of those and sweet apples. Most of a good cider’s structure comes from the acid that found in the sharp apples. Too few sharp apples and the drink feels watery and flat. Too many sharp apples will produce a cider that will make someone pucker in an instant. The key is finding the right blend of sweet and sharp apples.

Lastly, I’m proud to say that our Artisan Orchard Cider, just released this past weekend, is my first creation as a winemaker! I hope you enjoy it.

-Brian Tomasello 4th Generation Outer Coastal Plain Winemaker Tomasello Winery

 

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The Three Parts of a Grape Berry

We started harvest about ten days ago so I wanted to talk about grapes today. Wine grapes have three parts: the skins, the pulp, and the seeds. The seeds have been bred out of table grapes, one example being Thompson seedless grapes.

Let’s start from the inside with the seeds. Seeds are not very tasty since they have very high amounts of tannins and do little when it comes to winemaking. If you have ever bought a bag of concord grapes and then bit down on the seeds you know how bitter the seeds can be. That being said, the last thing a winemaker wants to do is crush the seeds when the juice is pressed otherwise this bitterness will find its way into the juice. Grapes can have anywhere from one seed per berry up to four seeds per berry.

The most important part of the grape for white wine is the pulp. This contains the sugar, acids (both tartaric and malic), aromatics, and a small amount of potassium. A white wine gets all of its acid and flavor profile from the juice that is extracted from the pulp.   

The last and most important part of the berry for a red wine is the skins. The skins contain all the color (called anthocyanins) in a red berry and thus need to be left in contact with the juice for the wine to have a red color. If the grapes are pressed shortly after they are crushed then the wine will be similar to a white wine or be rose in color. This part of the grape also contains the less bitter tannins that a winemaker wants in a red wine; it helps to give the final product a better mouthfeel.

-Brian Tomasello 4th Generation Outer Coastal Plain Winemaker Tomasello Winery
Image Credit: http://dcwineweek.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/DCWW-Blog_extra61.jpg

Chambourcin

I hope you all had a wonderful Labor Day weekend. I worked a wine festival in Allentown, NJ and came to realize that a number of people do not know what a Chambourcin is so here is a small introduction.

Chambourcin, a red grape, is a French-American hybrid grape that was first commercially sold in the early 1960’s. For a hybrid it is very popular in France and has found a home in the northeast United States, Australia, and Vietnam as well. It is a grape that can handle the winter cold better than most hybrids but also does well in the hot and humid summers of New Jersey because it is particularly resistant to downy mildew.

From a wine side, Chambourcin does particularly well when aged in oak. It has a number of fruit forward notes like, black cherry and plum but also has hints of baking spices from the oak. We age our Chambourcin in American oak for a period of ten months. The wine has a deep and dark plum purple color and a very round, smooth finish.   

We are just about to release our 2015 vintage, which is a wonderful example of the full bodied reds that can be produced here in Southern New Jersey. Stop in and try some today.

-Brian Tomasello 4th Generation Outer Coastal Plain Winemaker Tomasello Winery

Let’s Talk about Closure. Wine Closures that is…

There are two main types, corks and screw-caps.

Corks are produced from the bark of a cork tree, in the Quercus species. These cork trees can be harvested every few years. Removing the bark off of the trees does not harm them in any way; additionally a new layer of bark will form meaning the cork is a renewable resource. The majority of corks used for wine are produced from trees that grow in Portugal, Spain, France, and Italy. One benefit to cork is the slight bit of air that passes through them over time. This allows older wines to breath. The main drawback to natural corks is cork taint, a bacterial issue in the cork, which makes the wine inside the bottle smell like wet dogs or old wet cardboard. This has been limited though since corks are screened numerous times between the cork tree growers and the cork producers. To keep a natural cork working correctly a bottle must be inverted so the cork stays wet, otherwise the cork will dry out.     

Screw-caps are small metal shells that go over the opening in a bottle and twist off without the need for an opener. The main advantage for a screw-cap is the assurance of no cork taint. The down side is the lack of airflow across the closure over time; which is not beneficial to wine that should be aged for numerous years. Screw-caps are the main form of closure in Australia and New Zealand as high quality corks were difficult to obtain when these wine regions started to take off in the late 70’s and early 80’s.   

Which closure do you prefer?     

-Brian Tomasello 4th Generation Outer Coastal Plain Winemaker Tomasello Winery

The Basics to Bubbly

To begin, as a point of clarification, the word “Champagne” when used on a bottle of bubbly indicates that the bottle was made in the Champagne region of France. In the United States the term “Method Champenoise” means the sparkling wine was produced using the same traditional methods.

The first thing to do for sparkling wine is to pick the grapes early. This minimizes the varietal characteristics of the wine and allows the yeast aromas to come through. Also, slightly under ripe grapes will make a lower alcohol base wine. After a normal fermentation, the base wine is bottled and has more yeast and sugar added. For Method Champenoise, this must be done on a bottle by bottle basis. (You can note on the bottle that it often says, “Fermented in this bottle”.) These bottles are crown capped and allowed to ferment. The secondary fermentation allows for the CO2 to get trapped in the wine and produces a small amount of alcohol to make up for the earlier lower alcohol level. Once the second fermentation is finished, the yeast is allowed to settle near the crown capped end of the bottle. The neck of the bottle then can be frozen, separating the yeast from the sparkling wine. When the bottle is opened the pressure sends the ice in the neck out pushing the yeast out with it. The sparkling wine then may have some sugar added back via a thick liquid syrup of the base wine and sugar, this is called the dosage. After all this, the wine is finally ready to be cored and with a cage, labeled and sold.

Come try some bubbly today at any of our tasting rooms.

-Brian Tomasello 4th Generation Outer Coastal Plain Winemaker Tomasello Winery

Chardonnay often done two ways

So here at Tomasello Winery we have two Chardonnays. One, our Palmaris Chardonnay, is a classic style similar to Old World methods where the wine is aged for months in oak barrels. This brings out warm oaky notes like vanilla, cloves, and other warm baking spices. Wines of this style, ours included, also commonly undergo malo-lactic fermentation which brings forth buttery aromatics and improves the roundness of the wine, it has a nice smooth silky mouth-feel.  

The other style, found in our Tomasello Painting Chardonnay, is much more a New World creation; the wine solely sees stainless steel tanks. This allows many more varietal characteristics to come through in the finished product. The wine is much more fruit forward, with hints of apple and pear and the lack of malo-lactic fermentation gives the wine a cool, crisp mouth-feel similar to the bite of a green apple. This new style originates from the ABC (Anything But Chardonnay) movement of the late 80’s and early 90’s, when consumers pushed away from heavily oaked and very buttery Chardonnays produced by a few very large wineries.    

If already have enjoyed a 2013 Tomasello Winery or Palmaris Chardonnay I am happy to inform you that all of us here at Tomasello Winery feel the 2014 vintages are even better. These will be released in the next few weeks.   

-Brian Tomasello 4th Generation Outer Coastal Plain Winemaker Tomasello Winery

OCP Chardonnay

One way to categorize all the different wine grapes.

Most wine is produced from grapes however there is a huge number of wine grape varietals. One way to break down all the different grape varietals is to consider where in the world it originated from. Generally, most will agree, that there are three sub-categories of wine grapes. These are: Vinifera, French- American hybrids, and Native American grapes.

Vinifera (or Vitis vinifera) are the grapes from Europe. They are the varieties that one will generally find in French wines, Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay are just a few. These evolved in Europe and are not resistant to a number of grape vine diseases and pests that are present in North America. One extreme example is the Phylloxera aphid that decimated numerous French vineyards in the mid- 19th century.

French-American Hybrids are crosses of two different grape species or two Vitis. Normally, these will consist of a Vinifera and some other grape species. These are generally more resistant to a number of diseases and many have become commercially available thanks to grape breeding programs. Two research facilities, one at Cornell University and one at the University of Minnesota have created many that can withstand the cold winters in the Northern USA. Several of these varieties include Cayuga White, Corot Noir, and Marquette.

The last group of grapes is the Native American grapes. These evolved in North America and usually are resistant or at least very tolerant to diseases and pests like Phylloxera. These can generally be found in the North East USA. Native American grapes generally get turned into grape juice and because of this their aromas are what most people consider to be the “grapey” aroma. There are numerous grapes that evolved in Native American, these include: Concord, Catawba, Niagara, and Delaware, just to name a few.

-Brian Tomasello 4th Generation Outer Coastal Plain Winemaker Tomasello Winery

How Do I Know When It’s Ripe?

With harvest just over a month away, grape picking equipment is being fine tuned and tanks are being emptied to make room for the coming harvest. But how does a viticulturist determine when his or her grapes are ripe enough to pick?

There are several key factors that influence harvest decisions. The first is the brix (or sugar level) in the berries. Brix are, by definition, the grams of solid in 100 grams of liquid. Most of the solids are fermentable sugars but there is a small amount of non-fermentable solids, such as acid and aroma compounds. The brix number goes up as the summer goes on and each brix will ferment to roughly 0.6% alcohol (v/v).

The second key factor is the titratable acidity (TA) in the grape must. TA is the measure of tartaric acid in the grape. This is the measurement of how acidic the wine will taste. Any number too high and the wine will taste sour. If the TA is too low the wine will feel flat and watery on your pallet.

For premium wines, a grower might also consider the amount of anthocyanin (color compound) in the wine. Additionally, some aroma compounds deteriorate with ripeness, such as green bell pepper or fresh cut grass aromas. Growers need to wait till these smells break down, otherwise you and I will be able to smell it in the final product and most consumers don’t really want to drink grass.

-Brian Tomasello 4th Generation Outer Coastal Plain Winemaker Tomasello Winery

 

 

Rkatsiteli- The wine you can’t pronounce…

Rkatsiteli is considered one of the oldest domesticated grapes in the world. It has spread across the globe from its beginnings in Georgia, of the former Soviet Union. The grape itself has a reddish hue but many use to produce a white wine. The berries are small in size and can still have a fair amount of acidity at ripeness. This grape often ripens rather late in the season and has a good winter hardiness for a V. vinifera variety. While rather uncommon in the United States, Rkatsiteli was once the third most produced grape in the world. It is produced in Asia mostly with the grape not only being used for wine but also sparkling wines and distillation. The wine is often slightly floral, with hints of pear, apple, and quince.

Oh and it’s pronounced r-kat-si-teli in case you were wondering. Feel free to stop by and get some practice as you try the wine.

As always I hope you enjoyed this blog post.

-Brian Tomasello 4th Generation Outer Coastal Plain Winemaker Tomasello Winery

Sources:

Robinson, Jancis, Julia Harding., and Jose Vouillamoz. Wine Grapes : a Complete Guide to 1,368 Vine Varieties, Including Their Origins and Flavours. 1st U.S. ed. New York: Ecco, 2012.

Hot Summer Grapes

The hot summer is good, to an extent.

While you and I here in South Jersey have been sweating it out for the last few

weeks, the grapes have been thriving. Grapes flourish in the warm weather and can put a

lot of energy into ripening berries and producing new vegetative growth (something that

is not ideal if you want to make wine but there are ways to manage very leafy plants).

Plants will continue to thrive in this weather and harvest will be a little early if this

warmth sticks around for a few more weeks. And one of the biggest bonuses of the

warmth is bacterial disease like Downey Mildew and Black Rot are hindered by above

+90 O F temperatures. Any hotter though and the vines will start to feel the extreme heat

too.

Around 100 O F to 105 O F plants begin to slow down as photosynthesis begins to

cost the plant water. If a plant continues to loose too much water it begins to wilt. To

prevent this, the plant will close its stomata (similar to pores in the skin). With the

stomata closed the plant can not take up CO 2 and photosynthesis grinds to a halt. When

the temperature drops low enough the stomata open and photosynthesis resumes.

Now for those of you thinking, “What happens to plants in hotter climates where

triple digits are common?” There are 3 types of photosynthesis, known as C3, C4, or

CAM. C3, which is the type grapes (V. vinifera) have, is the simplest from an

evolutionary standpoint and suited for cooler climates. C4 and CAM differ but both are

better suited for warmer climates. Sugarcane and cactus are examples of C4 and CAM

respectively.

-Brian Tomasello 4th Generation Outer Coastal Plain Winemaker Tomasello Winery