Donelanpedia: wine terms defined.
Alcohol: Byproduct of yeast’s desire to be inefficient sugar consumers, & as a chemical in your brain requires government warning.
We are starting a series we call Donelanpedia: wine terms defined.
To get things started, how about Donelanpedia!
Donelanpedia: a cheeky attempt to define wine terms in 140 characters or less. Send terms our way, we’ll become your winopedia.
Come say hello, meet proprietors Joe and Cushing Donelan along with winemaker Tyler Thomas this Saturday in Los Angeles at Wally’s Wine. As part of Wally’s weekly Saturday tastings you’ll be able to taste our wonderful portfolio of Chardonnay, Roussanne, Pinot Noir, Grenache and Syrah wines. Enjoy multiple wines, get questions answered, and experience the passion of the Donelan family: “the best wines that you’ve never heard of”.
Lately we have spent much of the mid-winter checking in on wines we made several years ago. At times we are impatient to see how our Pinot Noir or Syrah or whatever develop because that information can inform what we do in the upcoming vintage (which is why we often taste verticals as harvest approaches). It was with great pleasure though, and patient savoring that we recently cracked a 2009 Nancie Sonoma County Chardonnay, our inaugural vintage (we recently uncorked our 2009 Pinot Noir too).
When first bottled, this wine was reticent if at once richly textured and crisply structured. Those mouth feel characteristics have been happily retained but the aromatics have begun to complexly open and develop in a way that expresses classic Chardonnay. The nose seems Californian with its riper tropical fruit but mixes in hints of wet stone and other “mineral” notes along with citrus and white peach. The palate continues to be where the wine shines and orients itself toward its cousins across the Atlantic. If you have any of 2009 Nancie Chardonnay left, check in on it with some fish or scallops, it won’t disappoint. It should also continue to nicely develop over the next several years.
Once our Syrah, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, or whatever wine reach the aging cellar, our hope is to do nothing to them except employ patience and blending. At times however, a good racking is in order if only to Marry various components together sooner rather than later. Racking is a process of removing wine from barrel (off any settled protienaceous material that has settled) into a tank, rinsing the barrels, then returning the wine to barrel.
Obsidian Vineyard Syrah is a very unique Syrah. Nestled in Knight’s Valley and growing in rocks, the vines produce wine of rustic – and classic – Syrah character. Rarely does one find Syrah vines planted on such rocky perches that dot Sonoma County (watch video describing vineyard). Recently we racked the 2011 Obsidian to make the final blend destined to be bottled in Fall of 2013. Before doing so we always taste every barrel just to double check.
Wow, this wine is incredible! Savory Syrah if there ever was one. Loaded with cherry tobacco, earth, and a certain something-something that is at once compelling and comforting. The palate is fresh but austere too, creating a bigness that doesn’t exhaust the palate. Still in need of much time, we just had to share this update of one of our more iconic – if not California’s more iconic – Syrah wines. It is fantastic as usual.
With the impending release and bottling of the 2011 Two Brothers Pinot Noir, I (Tyler) recently dipped into my allocation to enjoy our inaugural vintage: 2009. The context was perfect: on a ski trip with a bunch of colleagues I have known since my genesis in this industry. The perfect crowd for constructive critique but the perfect setting for utter enjoyment after a day of skiing.
If you are like me, you’ve hoarded at least few bottles of this wine, and yet also have consumed more than you probably wanted. The latter fact is due to the wine’s delicious youthfulness. After reading this note you’ll likely wish you had more. Sadly the wine is very much sold out so grab hold of the 2011 while you can!
The 2009 Two Brothers is a classic for what we think Pinot Noir ought to be: perfumed with fruit and spice, layered, delicate, refined, quite youthful, supple, and finesse driven. Tart red fruit, cardamon, and hints of sweet spice pour from the glass. The wine demonstrates the paradox of light color, delicate texture, but utter depth and complexity. Think of it like lace: gentle, elegant, but intricate. Beyond all that flowery description it is just a darn good drink. The constructive critique confirmed this, and I can officially recommend pairing the wine with a long day of skiing!
This week our winemaker, Tyler Thomas, will be posting two pieces as a guest on the notable blog Hawk Wakawaka Wine Reviews. The first reflects on the humanness of winemaking:
One of the elements of winemaking I enjoy is how its production employs our humanness. This topic is difficult and very broad so I’ll try to remain on task. We could start by discussing wine’s transcendence. Wine transcends its original material. It points to – no – engages the imbiber into an experience of enjoying flavors other than what would be expected from tasting its original components. Cherry wine tastes like cherries, but grape wine doesn’t taste of grapes. And while I think, just as NYU President John Sexton argues, that baseball implies a larger transcendence and the same could be said of wine, here we’ll leave that windy path for someone else to travel. But there are plenty of other reasons beside wine’s transcendental nature that invoke our human experience, not the least of which is the way it draws our pleasure and gladness of heart. Continue reading at Hawk Wakawaka Wine Reviews
This was original published for Wines and Vines (July 2010, copyright Wines and Vines).
I (Tyler) have always wanted to be an artist. I greatly admire talent that can morph a concept into visual allegory, or capture a natural detail and evoke emotion and wonder for days on end. I don’t have a favorite medium (OK, maybe sculpture, photography, and literature), but I thoroughly enjoy pieces that seem to delve the depths of human nature. However early in adulthood I realized this talent evaded me. It’s OK, you can’t be everything and besides I’ve found winemaking.
Winemaking is about as close to artistry I think I will get without actually producing art. Now, several colleagues and probably more wine admirers would dispute the suggestion that wine making does NOT produce art, but I assert that wine cannot merit this association.
Conversely, wine is not merely a science. I have heard it time again couched that one must be either the winemaker scientist, or the winemaker artist. You are either romantic and mystical or analytical and technical. I wonder if these poles are constructs from our modern culture which seems to have trouble with nature and mystique coexisting. Why is it that one cannot be both mystical and analytical or creative and technical? In my time as a coerced scientist (read graduate student twice over) I found the individuals I worked with to be incredibly creative and imaginative. It recalls Ralph Waldo Emerson’s perspective that “science does not know its debt to imagination.” I would argue that culture does not know science’s debt to imagination. I think this is true in the wine industry as well.
What can grappling with creativity and the structure of scientific knowledge do for the winemaker, and does creative process alone make wine art? Churchill once said that “without tradition, art is a sheep without shepherd, without innovation it is a corpse.” It has also been noted – I don’t remember where – that tradition is an experiment that worked. You see it takes creativity to experiment, but good analytical thinking to provide constraints to the experiment so that in the end the knowledge gained is useful. Scientific endeavor ought to inform our brush strokes, not define what we create, but aid in how to achieve the painting. Winemaking involves many decisions that require creativity, and many decisions that are aided by analytical interpretation of known scientific entities about our craft. Blended together one may wade through the variables of winemaking to ensure a beverage of distinction, but also rest at night knowing all the possibilities were exhausted and imaginatively applied.
So is this artistry? Perhaps: the artist does learn techniques and parameters that they creatively push to achieve their goals. There are similarities to the process of creating art and wine. But where winemaking falls short of being a piece of art is not in the technique as much as in the end goal. Wine is for pleasure, maybe health, but I can think of little else. Its purpose is limited to evoking one emotive response: gladness. And while this can be euphoric and remarkable in how it uses 4 of 5 senses at once, the limit to wine’s end goal would seem to eliminate it from contending with, say the high art of Rodin’s Hand of God. As art is able to do, winemaking is a beautiful craft that can be transcendent, but it falls short of an art form.
High art has the potential to evoke so much more than pleasure and gladness. Art can connect with individuals in a range of feelings and concepts. It is a prism that can diversely project the ideas, emotions, and humanity of the artist shining into it. Wine has artistic qualities, but does it produce art? Think of a furniture maker who hand crafts furniture. You can choose to go to IKEA, or a craftsman. Both will produce a table on which you will eat. One is engineered on a mass scale, the other is crafted with extra elements of imagination, beauty, and care; but both are still tables. No matter, I am happy to forego the distinction of artist and simply be Tyler the Winemaker.
We are nearing harvest for the Richards Vineyard Syrah. This vineyard produces one of the more unique Syrah in California. A limited wine that Steve Heimoff of the Wine Enthusiast called “easily the greatest Syrah ever produced from Sonoma Valley (97 points).” Enjoy this description:
During fermentation, the massive production of carbon dioxide sends the skins and stems we leave in red wine ferments floating to the top (pictured left). All those elements have goodness that we want to extract from them and as a result we need to work to submerge and mix them with the warm Syrah, or Pinot, or whatever it is. One could use a pump to pull from the bottom of a tank and spray the wine over the skins, or one could “punch down” the stems with a long plunger. We do both.
Standing above the fermentation you simply work to puncture the “cap” floating on top and submerge all those great skins. During the peak of the fermentation this is much more difficult than toward the end when the carbon dioxide production as slowed considerably. We have also posted a video here of this process.