Issue # Three - June 2013

Issue # Three - June 2013

Noteworthy news in the world of wine with an emphasis on France!

Compiled & edited by Roger C. Bohmrich MW

Exploration of “minerality” contends with ambiguous definitions

In “Sensing Minerality,” Wine Business Monthly tackles “the esoteric topic of minerality and its possible cause,” presenting views of scientists and winemakers. The article cites Dwayne Bershaw of the Southern Oregon Wine Institute, whose research into “minerality” shows a correlation with “the perception of acidity.” Ann Noble, creator of the Wine Aroma Wheel – which does not include “minerality” – believes the term refers to “a combination of many attributes.”

Winemakers interviewed propose possible links with older vines and succinic acid, perceptions of which are “perhaps parallel to the mouth-feel accounts of minerality.” The author is unable to present a definitive conclusion, explaining that ambiguity in the word itself must first be resolved before “we can consider a specific cause.”

Geologist says scientific basis of “minerality” is “at best conjectural”

Alex Maltman of the Institute of Geography and Earth Sciences at the University of Wales, who has written extensively about soil and wine, presents a thorough and lengthy synopsis of “minerality” in Practical Winery & Vineyard (printed as part of Wines & Vines).

This carefully reasoned analysis focuses on the scientific challenges to an idea the author describes as “simple and romantic.” Noting that the “mineral” descriptor “has no place in the science-based schemes on wine aroma, mouthfeel and flavor,” he points out that the wine press has nevertheless embraced the term. Maltman recognizes a direct connection between geology and “minerality” in wine might seem “plausible” at first glance. He then lays out the scientific inconsistencies, starting with the observation that minerals in soil – termed geological minerals – are insoluble, noting that vines can only take up “dissolved matter.” Nutrient minerals in the plant and wine may originate with geological minerals, but only by way of “complex, protracted” processes. There is, he says, a “major disconnect between the two types of minerals.” This “disassociation” is multiplied within the vine and magnified in grape juice and during vinification.  These complex relationships, the author states, undermine the notion that “minerality” expresses the minerals found in a vineyard.  Minerals in wine are present in “minuscule” concentrations and are almost all “flavorless.”

Going further, Maltman points out that “licking a mineral or rock surface” can only leave a “tactile sensation” and not a taste per se. If mineral nutrients are added to distilled water in concentrations typical of wines, humans “cannot perceive their presence.” While tasters often compare “minerality” to a “flinty taste,” the scientist explains that flint is a type of silica and lacks “any taste or odor.” Moreover, vines cannot take up “inert, insoluble silica.” Similarly, he dispels the illusion of “struck flint or of gun-flint” in a wine’s aroma, which would refer to “the smell of burning iron or steel” rather than minerals. The aroma of stone is not in fact derived from the rocks themselves, but is an allusion to “kinds of organic oils” present in soils. Last, the writer mentions seashells and fossils in vineyards, pointing out that they “bring nothing different” in terms of vine nutrition or wine composition. In conclusion, Maltman admits to the “intuitive attractiveness” of “minerality” and allows for the possibility research may uncover “complex and circuitous ways” nutrient minerals influence wine flavor. However, science indicates that “minerality in wine – whatever that perception is – cannot be in any literal, direct way the flavor of minerals derived from vineyard rocks and soils.”

Ed. I highly recommend that all wine professionals, educators and journalists read the full text of this article.


New Pitt-Jolie Provence rosé creates stir

Wine Spectator announces the first release of “Miraval,” produced at an estate owned by Hollywood power couple Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.

The 1,000-acre estate in the village of Corens, Wine Spectator writes, has about 150 acres of vineyards. The AOC Côtes de Provence rosé is “a blend of red grapes Cinsault, Grenache and Syrah and the white grape Rolle” and is being retailed at U.S. $23 to $28. 

The Perrin family of Château de Beaucastel looks after production and distribution, although “Pitt and Jolie participated in the blending sessions.” The bottle of Miraval features a “distinctive Champagne punt design.” Perrin & Fils general manager Marc Perrin maintains that “it is not a celebrity wine – it is a great terroir, and we produce a family wine, so that’s why we are there.” According to the magazine, the initial lot of 6,000 bottles offered in France “sold out within five hours.”


“New era” for Beaujolais region

Beaujolais Aujourd’hui reports that vintage 2012 marks the beginning of a new era for the region.

The challenging weather conditions, they say, bring attention to efforts by growers to produce quality wine. The 2012 harvest of 508,860 hectoliters represents a reduction of 40% as compared to 2011. Overall yields were barely 30 hectoliters per hectare. Among the Crus, the greatest shortfall was in Régnié (-52%) and the smallest in Saint-Amour (-24%). The problematic season began with a cold wave in early February which did considerable damage, particularly affecting old Gamay vines. Flowering also saw difficulties, and there were attacks of oidium and mildew as well as hail storms throughout the area. The grapes eventually picked were generally healthy and ripe with the occasional dry berries to be removed at sorting. The vintage is, the magazine suggests, difficult to characterize, and the wines are of very different levels from one estate to another.

The article points out that vinification techniques have evolved in Beaujolais. Methods such as full or semi-carbonic maceration are giving way to conventional fermentation followed by aging in small oak barrels. Growers now may practice “destemming, pumping over, délestage and pigeage,” prolonging vatting up to two weeks as opposed to eight to ten days in the recent past.


“War declared” in Burgundy against vine malady

Bourgogne Aujourd’hui announces that Burgundy is mobilizing against the attack of flavescence dorée, a degenerative vine malady.

Some are comparing it to a “new phylloxera.” This highly infectious bacterial disease is transmitted by a cicadelle or leafhopper. The leaves of the vine become discolored and roll up. The article reports that the malady has caused “thousands of hectares” to be pulled up in recent years in Languedoc-Roussillon, Charentes and Bordeaux. The first case in Burgundy was detected in 2004, and the infection has spread around Tournus (Saône-et-Loire). Spraying with insecticides three times during the year is obligatory. 

Organizations charged with protecting the plant have been mobilized. The mandatory use of insecticides is disturbing organic growers, who fear their certification may be jeopardized. However, the magazine points out there are products which are approved for organic viticulture (although their efficacy is not discussed).


Swedish manufacturer promotes biofuel from vineyard waste in France

La revue du vin de France (RVF) reports that Scania, the Swedish truck manufacturer, is promoting the development of fuel based on grape marc.

The company is quoted as claiming that this alternative fuel “represents a reduction in gas emissions of 85% compared to conventional diesel fuel,” even if emissions released by its production are taken into account. The fuel, known as ED95, is composed of 95% ethanol from the pomace of crushed grapes. Biofuels, claims the article, account for 5% of French consumption.

Alternatives to gasoline are currently obtained from sugar cane, beets and cereals; those for biodiesel come from rapeseed and soy beans. Yet, RVF underlines, reliance on these new agricultural sources is being accused of contributing to the risk of global malnutrition as well as deforestation, which heightens CO2 emissions. Bioethanol derived from grape marc is being developed by Raisinor France. Scania manufactures trucks which are compatible with high concentrations of biofuels.


The Chinese wine market: “tempting but risky” for French producers

China and Hong Kong, according to La revue du vin de France (RVF), have become the third largest market for French wine after the U.K. and U.S. 2012 marked a moderate deceleration of growth, however, due to overstocking by importers, which in turn raises possible questions about storage conditions. 

RVF points out that trademark protection is “indispensable” to avoid the risk of counterfeiting in China. The issue of poor translation on labels is also mentioned as it can lead to unintended meanings.  Hélène Hovasse of Ubifrance, assigned to support French exporters, warns that charging much higher prices in China than elsewhere can easily be uncovered with an internet search. “Selling too expensively,” she says, “is like shooting yourself in the foot” and cannot be corrected after the fact. China’s vineyard surface has increased by 20% in four years, but high-end wines are imported. Restaurants which list foreign wines do not serve Chinese wines, they note. Imported wine represents one-fifth of all consumption, and France accounts for half of imports – or 10% of all wine consumed per RVF.


Changes in appellations of origin

From numerous sources, here are changes in AOCs in recent months:

Two communal AOCs have been added to the eleven previously approved for a total of thirteen. These two communes are Alsace Bergheim and Alsace Coteaux du Haut Koenigsbourg, and use of the communal name is limited to still white wines.

Formerly a communal extension of AOC Languedoc, Picpoul de Pinet has been elevated to an independent appellation. The denomination continues to apply to six communes including Pinet, but the authorized cultivation area has been reduced in size by 18% to 2,400 hectares. In addition, base yield has been lowered to 55 hl/ha.

A fourth sub-region within AOC Côtes de Provence, Pierrefeu, has been approved and applies to red and rosé wines. The zone encompasses multiple communes on schist slopes and a calcareous clay plain. The other three sub-regions are Sainte-Victoire, Fréjus and La Londe.

Rhône Valley:
There is an additional “named village” in the Côtes du Rhône Villages, Gadagne, bringing the total of this tier to eighteen. CDRV Gadagne may be sourced from five communes including Châteauneuf-de-Gadagne. The approved area is a few kilometers due east of Avignon in the Vaucluse department on the left bank of the Rhône River. The vineyards are situated on a long plateau of galets roulés.


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