Monday, 19 August 2019

It's that corked wine again and again

In my last blog I promised to report back on my efforts to remove the taste of corked wine from the glass. The theory goes that you can dip a sheet of cling film into a jug of the tainted wine and stir it around for a few minutes. The TCA chemicals that taint the wine will then stick to the cling film and you will be able to taste the wine without the cork taint.

I did this with my contaminated wine. I took one sniff of the wine and realised that it didn't work. I asked my wife to sniff the wine and she thought that the process had worked. Ten minutes later she concluded that the experiment did not work and we poured the wine down the drain.

We had a bottle of the same wine and vintage in reserve: we opened the bottle and the wine was superb with roast lamb, fresh peas and Ile Noirmoutier Lady Christl potatoes. I must say that the Lady Christl potatoes were excellent and almost as good as the Pembrokeshire new potatoes that I picked as a boy, in South West Wales. Pembrokeshire early potatoes are treat not to be missed and are available from late May, they are best eaten steamed or boiled until they are just soft. They are good enough to be eaten on their own with some welsh salted butter and better still with Sewin, if you can find it ,but beware of poachers as the species is rare and protected.

The island of Noirmoutier is situated in the Vendée region of France on the bay of Biscay and just south of the Brittany peninsular. It's most celebrated agricultural product is the Bonnotte potato which is not cheap.

Monday, 29 July 2019

It's that corked wine again

 Last night we opened a bottle of  Bordeaux red to go with our evening meal. The wine was ever so slightly corked, meaning that  the wine is "contaminated " with either the chemical 2,4,6,trichloroanisole  (TCA) or 2,4,6-tribromoanisole (TBA). These two chemicals can ruin the taste of wine by rendering it with the earthy smell of a damp cellar and a taste of damp rotten cardboard.  The TCA usually ingresses into the wine through the cork. A cork can be infected with fungal spores which convert chloro-phenolic compounds, used in the winery, to TCA or less commonly to TBA: hence the term corked wine.

Humans are able to taste TCA at levels of parts per trillion; some humans are more sensitive than others. My wife is more sensitive to the smell than me. She is able to smell cork taint from across the table when the cork is pulled. Sometimes I can smell the cork taint on the cork after pulling.

On this particular evening my wife did not smell the cork taint and I did not smell a cork taint until I swirled the glass before drinking it, for some reason my wife did not do this.

This particular wine was not completely ruined by the cork taint and I could taste plenty of fruit in the wine. It was clear that the wine was contaminated at a very low level. Some people, such as my brother-in-law, cannot sense low levels of cork taint, so he would have found the wine perfectly acceptable.

When you are in a restaurant it is best to swirl your wine before you agree that it smells acceptable. The swirling will release the flavour of cork taint. A good wine waiter should smell the cork before serving you the wine to taste. However, in the case of this wine there was no smell off wine taint on the cork, and my wife can confirm this. It would be embarrassing to send back a bottle of wine if you have not been able to smell or taste it has been corked before slugging it back.

It would be unfair to name the wine as we drank another bottle of the the same wine and its 2015 vintage. The wine was perfectly acceptable, in fact it was very good wine and very good value for money.

The cork taint is not just confined to reactions of the cork. It can ingress into to wine from similar chemical transactions when fungal spores in the atmosphere meet choro-phenolic compounds used as sterilising agents for rubber hoses or seals.  This is termed systematic contamination. TCA can also be produced when wooden pallets are exposed to fungal spores in the vineyard or transportation. The TCA is then able to penetrate a natural cork to contaminate the wine. It is quite possible that TCA could contaminate a wine that is sealed by a plastic cork or screw cap, I have never experienced this, however.

Any wine sealed with a natural cork could become corked despite the price of the wine. If you open a bottle of wine that is corked you can return it to the supermarket or wine merchant for a refund, You must do this quickly, however. Our wine was bought in France so it is not worth the time and effort to go back for a refund.

Some wine experts claim that you can remove the cork taint by dipping some cling film into the wine and stirring it for some seconds; apparently the polyurethane is able to absorb the TCA or TBA and remove it from the wine.

I have tried this before but it didn't work. I am going to try this again as the TCA is present at very low levels: more of this later.

Modern winery techniques are reducing the incidence of corked wines sealed with natural corks. I like the idea of natural corks produced from oak trees in Portugal. Natural corks are the best method of sealing wines which need to be kept to improve in the bottle over a number of years. They allow oxygen to permeate into the wine in exceptionally small quantities to help age the wines and break down tannin. Of course, too much oxygen will eventually ruin a wine, but some wines can age for 50 years or more, in a cold and dark cellar, to improve the taste.

The use of natural corks also helps with the sustainability of oak forests which cannot be a bad thing.

Thursday, 4 July 2019

The heatwave and the Vineyard

Phew, it was hot in Southern France in June. The canicule broke records. 45.9 degrees Celcius was the highest temperature ever recorded in France. This is another sign of dangerous climate change although scientists are reluctant to claim that such a canicule can be directly attributed to climate change. The French government was well prepared this time to protect human life and fortunately the calamity of 2003 was avoided. In 2003 over 14,000 deaths were attributed to the heatwave in France.

The heatwave in June devastated some of the vineyards in Southern France. Some growers lost 50% of their crop. Growers often use sulphur in the vineyard to protect the vines from mildew. If there is a heatwave the residual sulphur combines with the heat to dry out the leaves and fruit of the vines. However, some growers did not use sulphur this year and their vines were still destroyed. Some growers recorded 60 degree temperatures locally. Remember the recorded temperatures of 45 degrees C were shade temperatures. Vines are always exposed to the sun for good reason.

The temperatures reached in some vineyards were exacerbated by pebbles and small rocks which absorbed the heat and reflected it back to the vines. This process helps the vines to grow when temperatures cool down but of course when the air gets too hot the reflected heat damages the vines further.

The training of the vines helps to ameliorate  the effects of heatwaves and some growers did not top and trim the foliage to the usual extent.

Some growers, in the far south of France, are now despairing for the future of their vineyards. This is a strong wake up call. Climate change could really be dangerous for all of us and our farms and vineyards.

Other growers further north, in Bordeaux, have been rejoicing about the hot weather - in a few years they may be suffering from the same problems of heatwaves - so watch out.

Human beings have been on the planet for thousands of years and have lived more less in harmony with nature. It is only in the last 250 years that industrialisation has led to damage to the environment.We had better be careful; the next 250 years could see our very existence on Earth being put into jeopardy as a result of our very own actions.

Monday, 10 June 2019

Glyphosate in Wine

A recent study in the US discovered that glyphosate was present in 19 out of 20 wines and beers tested. Glyphosate was even found in organic wine. The concentrations of this weedkiller found the beers and wines were very low. The highest concentration was found in a wine at 51.4 parts per billion and the lowest in an organic wine at 4.8 parts per billion. One organic beer was found to have 0 parts per billion.

Glyphosate is so widely used as a weedkiller that it is found in many agricultural products such as oats albeit at very low concentrations. The judgement is out whether low concentrations of glyphosate in the food change are dangerous to our health. It is suspected that farmers and regular domestic users of glyphosate could be damaging there health if they do not take precautions to protect there skin and lungs when using this weedkiller.

It is my opinion that  such  a low concentrations of glyphosate in wine is not dangerous to our health and that the alcohol in  wine is probably a greater danger. Keeping alcohol consumption at levels which do not harm our health will probably protect individuals from exposure to other potentially damaging chemicals.

We do not need to use chemical  weedkillers in our vineyards and there are other mechanical and natural methods of reducing the growth of weeds. So why not take a precautionary response and only use weeding methods which we know to be absolutely safe.

France is claiming to  lead the way to reduce glyphosate usage in the vineyard and wants to eliminate its usage by the end of 2021. Doing this will be highly controversial and some sections of the wine industry are resisting this. The producers will want subsidies.

With an ever increasing awareness of the ecological factors affecting the health of both ourselves and the planet, it might be a wise move to placate young people, who are now beginning to protest about climate change and unsustainable farming. In some senses they are correct; a "weed" has as much right to live as a vine.  Eliminating all weeds could damage the environment; after all they provide food for birds and insects and they rot down to help provide a healthy soil substrate. Weed and vines also have the right to grow in an environment unmarred by human induced climate change.

The sooner we produce sustainable farming methods globally the better. The challenge will be how to feed the growing population without the use of potentially dangerous herbicides and insecticides.

 Until that time comes, I shall enjoy a glass of good wine even though it might be  "contaminated" with a very low level of herbicide. And, I shall drink to the health of everyone on the planet.

Friday, 10 May 2019

Charles Melton 2008 Voices of Angels Shiraz Dry Red

Charles Melton is one of Australia's most accomplished winemakers. His vineyards are situated in the Barossa County in the Adelaide Hills of South Australia. His Nine Popes wine is delicious but a little expensive now in the UK; nevertheless his wines compare favourably with the best from Europe and the US.

The 2008 Voices of Angels had been laying flat at home for a good number of years. The bottle was sealed with a screw cap so there was no real need to lay it down. I can't remember whether I bought it or not or whether it was a present. Probably I bought it in London. The wine was fermented in new oak barrels,
75% french and 25%, and then left on its lees for 24 months before bottling. Charles Melton recommends drinking this wine after a decade or so. The wine was perfect for drinking  in 2019. We drank it with family as we ate pasta with a beef based ragout: the rest of the bottle was reserved for French , English and Spanish cheese.

The wine had maintained its deep purple colour possibly because the screw cap had not allowed oxygen to infuse into the bottle, to slightly oxidise the wine which would happen if the bottle was sealed with a cork. The wine smelt and tasted completely fresh. It was strong in alcohol but this was strongly integrated into the wine. The wine was full bodied but the tannin of the Shiraz grapes were softening. The wine tasted of Shiraz spice but it was fruity, complex and concentrated. It had all of the hallmarks of a superb wine that would age for another decade.

This wine is not something that you should slosh down at a party or barbecue. It is meant to be appreciated with good food. It delivers on high quality and taste. It is expensive but really worth trying to see what superior wine making from Australia can truly deliver. It is well recommended. Why not go out and spoil yourself. I don't think the winemaker is producing this brand any longer so it could increase in value.

Tuesday, 9 April 2019

It pays to keep your wine. Who said Tesco doesn't sell good wine?

We opened a bottle of Beaujolais Nouveau 2018 last week end from November last year. It was produced by JP Selles a négociant located just south of Lyon. Although it is not a top class wine we enjoyed it with food. Beaujolais Nouveau is meant to be drunk straightaway, after it has been bottled, but it is better to let the wine rest for a while before it is opened especially if it is transported. In this case the wine was bought in in a french supermarket and then transported to the UK.

Every year I buy a bottle of Beaujolais Nouveau and very often I find it undrinkable and pour it away.

JP Selles' wine is a remarkable exception; we actually enjoyed it and it did not taste anything like some of its rustic counterparts. Keeping it for a few months before opening probably helped its development.

Another pleasant surprise was a bottle of 2010 Chateauneuf du Pape bought from the British supermarket "Tesco". My friend gave it to me when he joined us for dinner one evening with his partner. Usually he bought his wine from an off-licence; he must have been in a bit of a hurry. I laid the wine down and forgot about it. Time passed by and unfortunately my good friend passed away. We used to talk about everything ranging from travel to astronomy and of course wine. We even talked  and exchanged views for hours about politics and religion without any rancour and always in good humour.

The wine had kept so well and after 9 years in the bottle it had retained its vigour and its fruity flavour .The tannin had softened and there was a nutty taste of almonds mixed with vanilla. A concentrated and complex wine that tasted like a typical Chateauneuf du Pape - superb. Whoever the Tesco's buyer was deserves a big prize.

This wine cannot be slugged back; it is too powerful to drink without food. My wife and I drank a half bottle one evening with a shoulder of welsh lamb. The next evening I made a cawl with the the leftover lamb and we finished off the rest of the bottle with it.

The wine of course brought back fond memories of our friend and the conviviality that wine lovers share.

Friday, 15 March 2019

Yippee, it's the flat wine bottle delivered through your letterbox

We have had wine in the bag, wine in a tin, wine in a tetra pack and wine in a small plastic bottle on a plane. Now we have got wine in a  flat plastic bottle - it's more than cool it's hip.

 All of these wine delivery methods have got one thing in common; the wine is not exactly Chateau Latour or thereabouts.

Never mind, these wines can be posted through the letterbox and will be available for delivery by drone. They are fully recyclable: every piece. Mind you, so are conventional wine bottles. The bottles are sterile and non-toxic and guaranteed not to affect your fertility - evidence please. They are made of virgin PET that will not compete with a castrated cat.

They are advertised as environmentally friendly which reduces their carbon footprint. These bottles pick themselves up from the ground when discarded at a picnic and recycle themselves.

How romantic that they fit in with today's modern PR lifestyle. You can romantically open a bottle of flat pack wine to impress your lover over a deliveroo Beef bourguignon. Be careful though, not to knock over the unstable "Bordeaux bottle shaped" flat pack of red burgundy; your lover might not be too impressed. Ardour could be suppressed. It might be the only bottle of wine you've got - heaven forbid.

You might be better off decanting your wine into a crystal glass carafe. Your wine snob potential life partner might then be convinced that they're drinking Chambertin rather than cheap Merlot plonk from Chile. They might even be convinced that you cooked the Beef bourguignon yourself - just hide the bin.

In all seriousness this could be a good idea and I might try a bottle or two when I have a barbecue. However, I shall not open a bottle of this type of plonk at home with my wife: I shall stick to tradition and still be able to recycle the bottle. I'll be cooking my own Boeuf bourguignon and serving Chambertin when I can afford it.