When MW Bob Campbell urged NZ Riesling producers to utilise a taste profile on their labels at the recent Aromatics symposium, there was one person in the room who broke into a wide smile.
The stakes rise
In my last column I credited Babich with a new record RRP for their 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon. That claim attracted the following response from Ed Aster of Aster Estates/Reliance Wines.
"I just finished reading your latest Blog in the February/March Winegrower and had a bit of a chuckle. The Babich 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon is not New Zealand's highest RRP wine. For the past six years Providence Vineyards of Matakana has been selling their Single Barrel Select Merlot's and Syrahs at DFS and now ARI Duty Free for $588 for the current 2013 Merlot and $688 for the 2010 Syrah.
Both wines are sold in a beautiful bespoke Rimu gift box with accompanied winery history and tasting note materials. The offering is limited to 300 bottles each ie. Single Barrel, 225 ltr.= 300 bottles per barrel. These wines have sold very well and Aster Estates/Reliance Wines looks forward to our continued marketing relationship with Providence to keep these highly valued wines available to the discerning customers in Auckland Airport Duty Free."
Any advance on $688?
How sweet it is
Wine marketers are happy to let us know when a Riesling is dry (even when it is Medium/dry) but few are prepared to reveal the fact that a wine is medium/dry, medium or medium/sweet. I assume they feel that any mention of sweetness could discourage potential buyers. But when someone buys a wine expecting it to be dry or off/dry they're going to be even more pissed off when they discover the wine is too sweet for their freshly shucked Tio Point oysters.
I have some sympathy with the widely held belief that wine consumers don't really understand where dry finishes and medium/dry begins. When I serve an off/dry Riesling to students in my wine classes and ask them to indicate what category of sweetness the wine falls into there's always a wide spread of opinion ranging from bone-dry to medium/sweet.
There is a simple solution.
An international group of Riesling producers called the International Riesling Foundation (IRF) have come up with a precise sweetness scale that winemakers can display on their labels for no charge. It shows a scale ranging from dry to sweet with a marker indicating exactly where the wine sits.
Winemakers simply enter the wine's residual sugar (RS), total acidity (TA) and pH into a formula to find out where the arrow sits on the scale.
It's an incredibly useful guide when buying Riesling and it also helps Riesling drinkers calibrate sweetness levels. I think that every bottle of Riesling made in this country should have this scale on its back label. Only about one-fifth of Riesling bottles carry the IRF scale according to my informal survey.
Beware clear bubbly bottles
Tom Stevenson, chairman of the Champagne Sparkling Wine World Championship (CSWWC), is calling for all producers to restrict the use of clear-glass bottles after experiencing a high percentage of "light-struck" characters in clear-glass entries in the CSWWC. According to studies (see below) just 60 minutes under artificial lighting or daylight in any clear-glass bottle can result in the production of an unpleasant compound, dimethyldisulphide (DMDS), which smells of "old drains and sewage". Sparkling wine is particularly susceptible.
From 2015 the CSWWC has "double-bagged" clear-bottle entries in heavy duty plastic as soon as it is delivered. That has resulted in a reduction of Light-struck faults by 94%.
The same fault can also affect beer in clear bottles. I recall tasting a bottle of beer in a clear bottle that had been exposed to sunlight for one hour – it had an off-odour that reminded me of raw sausage meat, especially when compared to a control beer that had not been exposed to light. To be on the safe side avoid clear bottles wherever possible.
Extract from 'Sensory Defects in Wine' by George Vierra
"Lightstruck": Smells like cheese or plastic. Problem in sparkling wine. Magnifies effect of CO2 on aroma perception. Lightstruck is formed from amino acids plus light to create DMDS, DMS, H2S, methanethiol and ethyl methyl sulfide. Simply put light characters, often described as wet dog or wool, are caused by the reaction of UV light with amino acids (specifically methionine). The byproducts are: hydrogen sulfide, methanethiol, dimethyl disulfide and sulfide, and ethyl methyl sulfide. Most typically, this problem occurs in finished or bottled wines (note: other food products can have light struck characters).
Wines bottled in flint or clear glass offer the least protection from UV light. Green and brown containers offer the most protection. The "rule of thumb" is the darker the glass the better the UV protection. It also should be noted that the reaction time could be a very short. Experience with flint glass and sparkling wine is that the light characters can evolve in as little of 60 minutes when exposed to a fluorescent light source that is 36 inches from the bottle. This is an enormous problem in sparkling wines because the carbon dioxide amplifies the aromas. Once formed these light characters cannot be remedied by copper additions. Aeration is only method of reduction (not removal), and this can be even detrimental to the wine. The easiest form of prevention is to produce wines that are low or void of sulphur containing compounds.