"Estate-grown", "hand-picked", "bio-dynamic", "new oak"...these are some of the terms you may find in a wine's description. But, do they signify something significant or are they just catchwords for people who enjoy the minutiae of viniculture? Chef Randy Bublitz explained to our class how these terms make a difference. Our teacher Antonio had an important winery event, so we were fortunate to have the head of the School of Culinary Arts as our substitute. Besides being well-versed in wine knowledge as an experienced chef, he also taught the wine course in the years prior to Antonio.
USEFUL WINE TERMS:
Green harvest (French: vendange vert): removing some of the immature green grapes during the growing season, to reduce the yield, since smaller yields produce more extracted wine. It is a labor-intensive practice and indicates great care on the part of the vineyard manager/winemaker.
Hand-picked: just like it sounds--the opposite is machine-harvested. Obviously, picking by hand allows judicious choice by the human harvester on which grapes to keep and discard. Machine harvest takes all the grapes--ripe, as well as the odd ones that are unripe and overripe.
Estate-grown: grapes are grown on the winery's acreage. Cheap jug wines use any mixture of cheap grape juice from a number of sources, they ferment it quickly and get it from vine to consumer as quickly (and cheaply) as possible to maximize profits. Estate-grown grapes signify the intention of the winemaker to capture the terroir--the taste of place--of the grape and carefully control the quality of the grape. As the saying says, "wine is made in the vineyard".
Estate-bottled: traditionally synonymous with the above, but technically the two terms are not identical. Nowadays, a winery can grow their own grapes and have an outside winemaking facility make the wine, yet bottle it as "estate-grown". Estate-bottled originally meant grown, vinified and bottled in-house, but now a winery can have a long-standing vineyard supplier for their estate-bottled wine. That being said, most wineries use these terms in their original meanings.
Bio-dynamically farmed: an organic method developed by an Austrian philosopher. There is not a consensus among wine experts on bio-dynamics; proponents believe it excels in bringing out the terroir.
Chapitillization: a French term for adding sugar to the grape juice when the brix (percentage of natural sugar) is not high enough. Illegal in California.
Cold fermentation: takes longer than fermentation at ambient temperatures (so is more expensive) but gives a smoother flavor and less natural sulfites develop.
Free run: the juice or wine that freely runs out of the skin and seeds without pressing. Pressing crushes the seeds and any stems, bringing some bitterness. Most wines are a mixture of free run and first press juice; a wine only from free-run juice would be rare and premium.
Racking and fining: racking is the process of drawing off the wine from the lees (the sediment at the bottom of the barrel consisting of yeast and grape particles); fining is the mixing in an agent such as bentonite or egg white to attract the particles which clump and drop to the bottom to make racking easier. The cheap alternative is to centrifuge the wine as large scale jug wine producers do, centrifuging removes some flavor and aroma.
New oak: most wines are aged in wood barrels; oak imparts a little spice and vanilla to the wine and gives it structure. 80% of the flavor of the oak goes out in the first use, 20% in the second, so by the third year the oak will not be lending much taste to the wine.
Made in California: 100% of the grapes have to be from California, in other states, only 75% must come from that state.
Grape varietal, e.g. "Viognier": in all US states, 75% of the grapes must be of that varietal. So, if the bottle says Merlot, it may be 25% something else. If you want a true single-varietal wine, you need to look for "100% [varietal]" on the back label. However, many high-end cult Cabs have Merlot or other grapes to soften the Cabernet Sauvignon's tannins and acidity. For some odd reason, some people look down on blends, though top Bordeaux costing thousands of dollars is a blend; Bordeaux is a region, not a grape.
AVA, e.g. "Santa Ynez": the AVA (or American Viticultural Areas) is the appellation of origin. 75% of the grapes used must be within the listed AVA.
Why does it matter where the grapes are sourced? To paraphrase the explanation of wine quality from our text from The Culinary Institute: the three objective standards to judge wine are 1) whether the wine has "varietal character" meaning are the flavor and aroma profiles true to the type of grape it contains, 2) does it express the terroir, and 3) there should be no off-flavors or aromas. So, the source of the grape is extremely important. Wine terms can help us determine much about the wine before we even sniff or savor it.
*note: my notes from Chef Bublitz lecture are supplemented with information from our excellent Culinary School class text: Steven Kolpan, Brian H. Smith and Michael A. Weiss, "Exploring Wine" Third Edition, (The Culinary Institute of America).
Vegetarians and humanitarians--save the geese and try this mellow spread. Toasted almonds round out the flavors of an herbed mushroom pâté. Pair this recipe with a classic Burgundy, like the earthy, concentrated 2004 Domaine Rossignol-Trapet Gevrey-Chambertain which is wine that is bio-dynamically farmed, hand-picked, hand-sorted, vinified for 14-18 months, then gravity racked.
4 Tbsp. butter
2 Tbsp. minced garlic
2 cups sliced button mushrooms
2 Tbsp. half and half
2 Tbsp. fresh parsley minced + extra sprig for garnish
2 tsp. thyme
2 tsp. marjoram
1 tsp. oregano
1/8 tsp. white pepper
1 tsp. salt
Roughly chop the almonds and place on an ungreased cookie sheet. Put into the oven on a lower rack and turn on broiler. Toast the almonds, turning to brown them evenly. Toasting your almonds instead of buying pre-roasted almonds yields superior flavor. Put the almonds into your food processor.
Over medium heat, melt the butter in a large frying pan as the width will help the mushrooms cook without becoming juicy. Fry the minced garlic for a minute, then add the mushrooms and cook, stirring frequently until they are cooked through. Add them to the food processor. Add the half and half and herbs (fresh herbs are best) and blend until just mixed and still a tiny bit chunky. Adjust the seasoning if desired. Spoon into a serving dish, using a rubber spatula to smooth the surface. Garnish with a sprig of fresh parsley. Cover and refrigerate until chilled, serve with crackers and a Burgundy, such as the 2004 Domaine Rossignol-Trapet Gevrey-Chambertain, or a Barolo.