Friday, December 31, 2010

Go Prosecco For New Year's!

Happy New Year's Eve everyone! I recently ran across a decent Prosecco at Trader Joe's that would make a perfect celebratory libation for anyone who wants to keep it cheap. At 5.99 a bottle, Villa Carlotti Prosecco offers a great balance of quality and price. I use this cheap Prosecco as a welcome cocktail for my out-of-home supper club, Hip Nana. It has many of the qualities of an good Prosecco - crisp, lightly fruity, friendly - with the only drawback being that it isn't 100% clean. But that's splitting hairs! For this price, you can go for more than a couple bottles.

Here's a review with pictures.

If you want to get real classy, Trader Joe's also sells Zonin's "Brut" Prosecco, a delicious Prosecco, for 6.99. Buon capoanno ragazzi!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Digging Through Mountains of Grape Skins - Memoir of a Winery Worker

(Above photo courtesy of Dobbes Family Estate Winery and yep - that's me)

In this part of the wine making process, the grape juice has turned to wine, i.e. the sugar has been turned to alcohol, and we need to separate the grape skins and seeds from the juice. To do so, you have to put on a CO2 meter, a harness, and all-weather gear and climb inside the giant steel tanks. This is a pretty dangerous activity, since loads of carbon dioxide are present, so you get a fan and a spotter to help keep you safe. No one was knocked out by CO2 this year as far as I know.

At this point, the skins have been mixing with the juice in order to create aromas and flavors. This process usually takes ten to 30 days. You can add additives, such as FermAid, to make fermentation go more quickly.

Below is a tank digging photo-story. Click on the title "Digging Out Tanks" in the lower left-hand corner to check it out. Click anywhere on the image for full screen.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Gifts for Wine Lovers

Since I have a lot of wine lovers to shop for this year - some new to the wine world, some professional - I thought I'd put together a list of shopping ideas.


Waiter's Corkscrew
Price: $11-$20
I worked as a fine-dining waiter for 9 years, and this style of corkscrew is the best. It is easy to take on a picnic and thanks to the double-lever hinge it makes opening wine at home a breeze. This is for those who think the rabbit style is too bulky. Example.

Price: $11-$70
The simpler the better. No base. No handle. No stopper.

Bottle Ring or Collar
Price: $3-$15
A great stocking stuffer; especially for those with too many bottle stoppers! These collars make it so that wine will never again drip from the mouth of the bottle and down the side. Fun and cheap. Examples.

Wine Breather or Aerator
Price: $20-$30
This is just fun: You instantly get to taste the transformation that a wine undergoes when it breathes. Instead of waiting 45 minutes, the wine is ready to drink immediately. Example 1 and Example 2.

Here are some good deals from Puglia, the region of Italy that I specialize in.

Cantele: Great wines for $10-$15 that can be found almost everywhere. I highly recommend the Salice Salentino, the Primitivo, and the Negroamaro.

Taurino: Great wines for $12-$22 that are available almost everywhere. The Salice Salentino is great for the novice, while the Notapanaro is great for everyone. This latter wine is a fine wine at a ridiculous price. Here are some tips for where to find it around the San Francisco Bay Area.

Pairing Zinfandel and Primitivo: If your wine lover particularly enjoys Zinfandel, I recommend buying a bottle of Zinfandel and a bottle of Primitivo (the Italian name for Zinfandel) so that he or she can compare the two. While the wines will feature the same grape, they are drastically different due to difference in growing conditions and local wine-making philosophies. Most Primitivos from Puglia run between $12-$25. Because their availability is rather unpredictable, I suggest asking for local wine guy for the best bottle.

Best Wine Book:

The Wine Bible, by Karen MacNeil
Price: $12
Though published in 2001, the book is still relevant today. MacNeil does not focus on specific vintages, but gives a very down to earth perspective on wine. She covers it all and manages to keep it interesting from page 1 to 904. Amazon's.

Magazine Subscriptions:
There are more magazines than I have time to write about, but here are some of the best:

Wine Spectator
One Year: $49.95
With a highly respected point system, Wine Spectator is a great magazine for those who like to collect wine. Articles are usually engaging and informative but can sometimes be less than entertaining.

Wine Advocate
One Year: $99
Robert Parker's magazine, the Wine Advocate is for those who share his tastes, or those who like to find up and coming, inexpensive wines, just 1.25 seconds before the rest of the world. Some great deals, but not a good magazine for those who like photographs and travel stories.

Wine Enthusiast
One Year: $29.95
I really like this magazine. It's articles are more entertaining, "cool," and even irreverent than most, and it also provides you with some great deals.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Blasting - Memoir of a Cellar Rat

Buy 6 or more bottles from our online wine store and get 1/2 off shipping with code "wblog81"

After the Pinot Noir grapes are destemmed, the resulting mixture of grape skins, seeds, and juice, is pumped into massive stainless steel tanks. This is when the maceration process takes place; the process where the flavors and aromas of wine are created. The longer the juice remains in contact with the skins, the more powerful it becomes. To really get those powerful fruit flavors, you don't just let the skins sit around. No, you have to blast.

Ever seen pictures of grape stomping? This is the ancient method of extracting flavors from grape skins. The skins are pushed around, putting them in contact with more and more of the juice. Two of the most popular methods for making wine flavorful are punch downs and pump overs. Punch downs are just what they sound like: You punch through the cap of grape skins using a large stick. It's like dipping a tea bag to extract more flavor (to the right: photo shows the process being completed on 1 ton bins). With pump overs, you pump juice from the bottom of the tank over the top. (Below: 1st photo shows a pump over in the foreground; my buddy Paul watching a tank in the background; 2nd photo shows Paul, 15 feet in the air, watching a tank mix.

At Wine By Joe, we used cutting edge technology to get the most flavor from the grapes. Blasting (technically called the pneumatage process), uses blasts of air to move the grape skins around. I connected four air hoses to the bottoms of the steel tanks, then sent evenly time bursts through thousands of gallons of wine. This made for some incredible sights.

First, the CO2 that was trapped under the skins is released; the smoke-like gas spews out of the top of the tank, making it look like a volcano, as the slideshow above shows.

Sometimes the air blast is too powerful; this makes angry oceans of wine: juice actually shoots out of the top of the tanks. To make sure that this doesn't happen, you need to use a scissor lift to get to the top of the tanks, some of which stand 20-25 feet high. Fireworks = grapes in the slideshow above.

Sugar is also converted to alcohol during this process. Say the Brix reading begins at 25 degrees: You'll want to wait until it drops to negative degrees before draining the tanks and pressing the grape skins. The maceration process differs depending on the grape variety and the winemaker's vision. Usually between 10 and 30 days. At Wine By Joe, the process usually took 10-15 days.

In the next post I'll talk about one of the most fun parts of being a winery assistant: Digging out tanks.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Memoir of a Winery Assistant---Welcome To The Winery

When the trucks came, they came fast. On the fastest days we'd process 180 tons of grapes with 17 people in 24 hours (that's more than 10 tons/person). Trucks would arrive filled with half-ton bins of grapes and you'd hop on forklifts to unload them, then weigh the grapes and bring them inside the winery. It could be an amazing sight: flatbed trucks arriving at night, torrential rain pouring down, and 4 to 5 guys on forklifts racing to unload the fruit while staying out of each others way.

Inside the winery, the half-ton bins of Pinot Noir are dumped into hoppers on top of destemming machines. One person drives a forklift with a dumper attachment. The hopper on the destemmer we used stood about 12 feet up, so the half-ton bins were dumped at this height. To make sure the grapes went down well, another person grabs a plastic pitchfork and climbs a ladder up to the top of the hopper. If the grapes were too wet, we would run some of the free running water and juice off in order to get a higher Brix reading. This is the saignee method, which Assistant Winemaker Andy McVay described as making espresso instead of coffee.

The destemmer knocks the grapes free, then the mixture of grapes and juice is pumped into one of the many steel tanks in the winery. One person has to keep track of the amount of grapes pumped, to make sure that the tank doesn't overflow. Pinot Noir grapes are very delicate, breaking easily to release juice. Other varieties, such as Sirah, have much thicker skins.

For all intensive purposes, this is the complete winemaking process. Believe it or not, all you have to do is break grapes and put them in a clean container for a little while, and they'll turn to wine on their own. Of course, this is only the 2nd of a 6-part series: There's a lot more to tell. But those are the fundamental principles.

For white wine, it's a little different. We worked with Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, and Muscat. The grapes are poured into a hopper, but they are not destemmer or pumped directly into steel tanks. Instead, they are pumped into a giant bladder press. The grapes are then pressed immediately. I'll get into pressing---one of the more subjective and artistic components of winemaking---in part 4. In the next part, I'll describe blasting.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Memoir of a Winery Assistant---Watered Down Fruit

So far not much has happened on the Dobbes Family Estate blog, so I'm gonna give it to you straight. Here's what I've been doing as a winery assistant. If you want to know what goes on behind your wine, this is an inside look. This six-part, photo-story-driven Memoir will show you exactly what happens inside of a winery---from the moment the grapes arrive to when they're racked in barrels. Let's get started.

To make good wine, you need good grapes. Winemaker Joe Dobbes was in constantly communication with Oregon's grape farmers. Since I wasn't eves dropping, I can only guess at what was discussed, but I think they were trying to predict the weather. If rain is predicted and the fruit already has good sugar levels, you want to get the fruit into the winery. Sugar levels are measured in Degrees Brix (I believe that ideal fruit comes in between 23-27 Degrees Brix), and rain instantly dilutes the overall character of the grapes, lowering the Brix. Rain water is carried both inside the grapes themselves and inside the grape bunches. Because sugars are converted to alcohol, low Brix equals low alcohol levels. It's like pouring water into your wine. At Dobbes, there's an entire lab dedicated to tracking Brix levels in all of the vineyards.

Dobbes Family Estate and and Wine By Joe produce a lot of wine (this year we processed 1,950 tons of grapes in all----yeah, that's a lot), and it was cool to watch Joe shuffle the multiple vineyards around, kinda like a Rubik's Cube. Here are some of the things Joe had to work with:

-every vineyard matures at a different speed
-birds destroyed an estimated 1 or 2% of the fruit this year. this made the vineyard managers eager to harvest (more fruit=more money), but harvesting too soon sacrifices quality
-waiting too long results in more attacks from parasites and molds
-Oregon's sun-breaks (short periods of time when it's not raining) are unpredictable, so when they happened, everyone went crazy: fruit arrived all at once or not at all

The 2010 harvest in Oregon was one of the latest in recent history. At the end of this memoir, I'll try to provide a overall picture of quality of the harvest, similar to my covered of the 2009 Harvest in Puglia, Italy. Right now I can tell you that most of the farmers reported a decrease in quantity of 50% in respect to 2009, but that the total amount of fruit processed at Dobbes was nearly the same as last year--- last year being a record breaking year.

In the next part, I'll show you how wine is made.

Sunday, November 28, 2010


Horror movies and wine have nothing in common, right? Well, they do if you're working in a winery. Turns out that grape skins and juice look a lot like the make up and fake blood used in horror movies. Winery workers have been nicknamed many things, including cellar rats, but I've never heard us referred to as zombies. Here are some photos I took while working as a winery assistant during the 2010 harvest at Oregon's Dobbes Family Estate Winery. If I hadn't told you that these photos feature winery workers, what might you have thought?

Monday, November 8, 2010

Diary of a Winery Assistant (Nov. 8)

Good news.

I've been introduced as a guest blogger on the Dobbes Family Estate wine blog. A series of upcoming posts will feature photos from inside the winery and descriptions of the fantastic work we've been doing there. Wine explosions... 15-ton stainless steel tanks topped with steam clouds of CO2 looking like pent up volcanos... Drunk hornets walking across my eyelashes... Stuff like that.

(Above: My buddy Shawn.)

Friday, October 29, 2010

Diary of a Winery Assistant (Oct. 29)

Like I said, I'd update the diary in the briefest of moments... when time is allowed... when I'm not processing tons and tons of grapes... 14 to 17 hour work days... hard labor... 24-hour winemaking... Pinot Noir... piles of grape skins and seeds four-feet high inside 85-ton tanks... My back aches and my hands are swollen. I've learned how to drive a forklift carrying 4 75-gallon tanks of wine into a refrigerator the size of a tractor trailer truck. I've pumped thousands of gallons of mashed grapes into giant tanks, then pumped them out into new tanks, then into oak barrels.

Winemaking is incredibly complicated yet incredibly simple. I think this is the most surprising thing I've learned. The short of it is this. Grapes come to the winery in bunches. Often, they are simply put into a destemming machine. The destemmer usually breaks Pinot Noir grapes because they have thin skins. This mash of grapes and juice is pumped into steel tanks, where it is allowed to macerate and ferment for 5-10 days. Grapes ferment on their own, but yeasts are often added to help the process along. The grape skins and juices are stirred around 2-3 times a day in order to extract as much color and aroma from the skins during maceration. After 5-10 days, you effectively have wine. The sugars have been turned to alcohol and the colors and aromas have been extracted from the skins. The juice is drained and the skins are pressed to get the very last traces of flavor. This juice is wine. End. Of. Story.

Not quite. While this basic process is the foundation of winemaking, those guys in the labs aren't just their to sport the latest in lab wear. They are inducing malolactic fermentation so that the wine isn't too sour. They are measuring brix to see if a wine is ready to be removed from the grape skins. They are doing things that involve molecules I'll never care to understand.

Wine Maker Joe Dobbes oversees the winemaking process from beginning to end. He works as hard as anyone at the winery. The fact that he's always there, from 6 in the morning to 9 at night or later, is awesome. When I'm breaking my back and tired as hell, it helps to see him working just as hard. Joe also adds the most important final touches to his wines. Though the grapes from each vineyard are macerated separately, they are not left this way. To make more interesting and complex wines, Joe blends just the right amount of wine from each tank into his final wine. Blending is an artistic and scientific stage. Joe produces over 20 unique wines. I've been tasting so many young wines, still ripe with sulfur and malic acid, that I can't imagine being able to identify all of their intrinsic qualities to the point of predicting their flavors after 12-months of oak-aging. That winemakers do this with multiple vineyards to produce multiple wines is mind blowing...

Anyway, back to the crush. Back to Zero to 60. Back to climbing rickety ladders with 3 inch hoses full of grape juice. Back to dumping half-ton bins of grapes into hoppers 15 feet off the ground... Rock on.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Wine-Tasting My Way Through the 2010 Harvest in Willamette Valley

I went wine-tasting in Willamette Valley this weekend. The fruit is still on the vine, so I haven't been doing much at Dobbes Family Estate winery except training and cleaning the equipment in preparation for the fruit. I started the day at Dobbes to get some winery recommendations and to taste the Dobbes Family Pinot Noirs. Man was I impressed, and I'm not just saying that because I'm working there. I've actually been kinda bored and unimpressed by Oregon's Pinot Noirs as of late. Many of them lack character and are over-priced. I wouldn't call myself a Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel/Primitivo guy, but I'm pretty much a big wine guy. I LOVE---with a capital everything---complexity: something many Oregon Pinots are lacking. At least, I thought.

It turns out that I've been drinking the wrong wines. I had a great trip through Dundee Hills and the North Valley (click here for a map). The Pinot Noirs at Dobbes had the depth that I need. I really enjoyed the cuvées, particularly the 2008 Grand Assemblage and the 2008 Skipper's Cuvée, which pack a lot of earth and spice. The single-vineyards were more elegant for the most part, particularly the 2008 Meyers Vineyard. If I had a load of money, I'd definitely pick up the 2008 Meyers Vineyard. But since I don't, I'm gonna go with a wine that packs more punch-per-dollar, and the cuvées are first on the list.

One thing that really impressed me was that each wine had its own personallity---even with 7+ Pinots made each year, the Dobbes Family wines were unique individuals.

The wines at Penner-Ash were also excellent and man, what a view (see above). I really enjoyed the 2008 (or was it 2007?) Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, which uses fruit from 12---count 'em---12 vineyards. The wines at Penner-Ash are superbly refined, while remaining interesting.

Arbor Brook Vineyards also rocked. Winemaker Dave Hanson---who was pouring his wines---was a pleasure to speak with. His wines are definitely Burgundian, and his Pinots feature clones carefully chosen from Pommard and Dijon. Dave's a guy with a vision, and he had such a particular way of talking about the different layers of soil in different vineyards that I couldn't help but stand in awe. He is certainly a terroirist, and it was a fun way to taste the differences between Oregon-style and Burgundian-style-but-made-in-Oregon Pinot Noirs.

He, like most winemakers in Willamette, is very excited about the 2010. "We are in uncharted territory this year," he said. Who knows what will result?

He also told me about the concept of "200% oak." It is the brainchild of a French-design-cum-winemaker whose name slips the tip of my tongue. It involves aging a wine for 10-12 months in new oak, then aging it again for 12-18 months in new new oak. I would think that 200-percent oaking would result in a disgusting wine, but the 2008 Vintner's Select Pinot Noir, which underwent the treatment, was excellent. The oak was not overwhelming, and the wine was a gentle beast: exceptionally massive yet submissively fruity.

So, I'm beginning to change my mind about Oregon Pinot. But why has it taken so long to find these wines? Why aren't they better-represented in restaurants? Is it merely that they're outside of my price range or are the knock-offs dominating the market? Are we looking for a good deal at the cost of complexity? What's your favorite inexpensive Oregon Pinot Noir? For me it's simple: Wine By Joe's 2008 Pinot Noir at $11 bucks.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Diary of a Winery Assistant (Oct. 8)

Picking up where we left off last post, the cold soak is when the grape juice is slowly fermented in contact with the skins in massive steel tanks. The skins rise to the top and are known as the cap. One of the most laborious jobs at the winery is punching down the cap, which must happen 3-4 times a day. This requires stirring skins that are 3-4 feet deep until they are evenly distributed through the entire steel tank. I imagine it's going to be awesomely messy.

When the fermentation process has advanced to a point where Winemaker Joe Dobbes is satisfied, the juice and skin mixture is taken out of the cold soak to the press. The winery features two different types of wine presses: the basket press and the bladder press. When you think of a wine press, you probably think of a basket press. The grapes are put into a basket and a metal slab is screwed down until all of the juice runs free. This press design is over 1,000 years old. A newer press design, the bladder press looks like a giant propane tank. The grapes are put inside, and in the middle is a large inflatable bag. When the bag is inflated, the juices are pressed free.

Both presses have their pros and cons. The basket press presses the grapes only once, while the bladder press can press the grapes multiple times. This makes the bladder press useful if you want to extract more tannin from the grape skins. If you're working with grapes that already have a lot of tannin, you'll opt for the basket press (there are other pros and cons but I can't remember them).

I'm actually unclear about what happens next. I'm pretty sure the juice is pumped back into steel tanks, where its development is further monitored. It can be blended. Then it is transferred to oak barrels or bottled. I'll have to get back to you one that.

Something else I learned was that, because we're working with an edible thing here, every drop of grape juice needs to be kept safe. That means that an entire warehouse needs to be kept sterile at all times. This is one immense job! We were shown the cleaning supplies and a power washer and an ozone machine. Assistant Winemaker Andy McVay pointed out that many chemicals and possible wine additives look identical. Because of this, they are color coded and carefully monitored. There are scales, there are gloves, there are emergency eye washers. There are buckets, soaps, scrubbers, and goggles.

Every single thing done to a wine, from the second it arrives in the winery to the moment it's sold, is documented. It blows my mind to think that every teaspoon of sulfur added to a 22,000 gallon tank in the United States is written down somewhere. Can you imagine documenting every grain of salt you add to a plate of macaroni and cheese?

Alright, I hope we'll get to work soon. Com'on sun!

(Photos are from wineries in Puglia and include vintage presses)

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Diary of a Winery Assistant (Oct. 6)

In this post, I'll explain the general process of wine making as I learned it during orientation at Dobbes Family Estate Winery. This post might be for wine geeks only, but I hope to make it a bit entertaining.

Here's a link---in lieu of my own photos---to a slideshow of the 2006 harvest at the winery.

After the grapes come into the winery (and the bees fly away), they need to be cleaned. Two short conveyor belts and one automatic de-stemmer are involved. We pick out stems and leaves as quickly as possible in order to process as many grapes as possible. We are attempting to process 2,000 tons of grapes in 4 weeks with a crew of around 30. The de-stemmer is an amazing machine with four turbines, each with a hundred or more little rubber fingers that are so gentle that they pop the grapes off the stems without breaking the skins.

Next, depending on the grape variety, the grapes are either put directly into a cold soak, or crushed then put into a cold soak. Pinot Noir is an example of a grape with a very thin skin, and because of this it will break on its own. Grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah however, need to have their skins broken in order to release juice. Sangiovese is an example of a grape that can either be broken or left alone, depending on the winemaker's style, and the characteristics of the particular fruit.

Getting to be a winery assistant at Dobbes Family Estate Winery is an incredibly unique experience because it will allow me to work with a huge number of grape varieties, including Tempernillo, Grenache, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Noir, Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Chardonnay, and many more. Neither Wine By Joe or Dobbes Family Estate create wines with all of these grapes: The winery processes fruit for other wine companies.

The cold soak takes place in steel tanks of various sizes. These tanks usually feature dimpled metal siding, which helps to control the temperature. Thermometers, which look like 3 foot wands, are kept in the very middle of the tanks so that accurate temperature readings can be taken. Because the juice and the grape skins---known as the cap---separate, the thermometer must be positioned at the very bottom of the cap, which can sometimes be a few feet deep. Anyone up for sinking up to their necks in wine?

Depending on the grape variety, the cold soak lasts for a longer or shorter time, during which the main goal is the extract as much from the skin as possible. Skins impart color, tannins, and acidity in a wine. The process is temperature controlled so that fermentation does not happen too quickly, resulting in these elements of flavor and aroma getting lost. This technology is relatively new to the world, maybe 70 years old. It is possible to leave the skins and juice in contact even after fermentation is complete. However, that is a matter of style. I'm not sure what the pros and cons of either approach are. Anyone want to enlighten me?

To be continued...

Monday, October 4, 2010

Diary of a Winery Assistant

This year's grape harvest in Oregon is late. Like, capital L-A-T-E. Last year's harvest was late, but they'd been picking for 3 weeks by now. We're waiting on mother nature to begin work. I should start within five to eight days.

We had orientation at Dobbes Family Estate Winery in Dundee last Thursday. We sat around in a circle in the center of the winery, getting to know one another. After the usual job-stuff was talked about, and after we had a sweet burrito and Pinot Gris (by Wine By Joe) lunch, we got a tour of the winery with an explicit explanation of the processes that we'd be responsible for. This was just what I'd always wanted.

Some wine classes cost hundreds of dollars and hour, and what I got was not only a wine class, but an hourly wage to boot. We began from the very moment the grapes are brought in. Apparently they arrive covered in bees. One full-timer said, "I just ignore them. I let them walk all over me and I've only been stung once." Another said, "It's when they crawl in my mouth and around my nose that bothers me." Next, we were asked if anyone is allergic.

This highlights the fact that working in a winery during harvest is dangerous. I've heard that every year someone dies in Napa. We will be working around the clock, six days a week, with forklifts zooming, oceans of wine gushing, and carbon dioxide fuming. We will be sleep deprived and in a hurry. Safety and attention to detail were the primary points of the day.

Unlike bees, carbon monoxide is invisible and lethal. CO2 is naturally created when grapes ferment, and since fermenting grapes is the name of the game, it can sometimes build up in surprising places.

You know those massive steel tanks you see at wineries? I'll be climbing up ladders to the tops of those, opening them, and reaching inside with a themometer to determine the speed of the fermentation. After the wine's been pumped out, I'll also be jumping inside these tanks and shoveling out the leftover grape skins. If there's a large quantity of CO2 built up inside, it can cause seriously strong reactions. Most people describe it as feeling like an electric shock or whip lash; you're head actually snaps backwards to escape the scent. More dangerous however, is the smaller but more pervasive quantities of CO2 that go undetected until it's too late: the toxic gas causing a blackout, then death.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

My New Job: Diary of a Winery Assistant

Tomorrow is the big day. I'll head into the Oregon hills and begin to learn how to make wine. Dobbes Family Estate Winery, which also makes Wines By Joe, has hired me on as winery assistant for the 2010 harvest. Another guy approaches the vine.

Another harvest season for the history books... And the ancient ritual ensues. In Italy, grandmothers, daughters, sons, wives and their husbands, twenty-somethings home from the north---anyone willing and able partakes in the harvest. Family-run wineries become reunions during the harvest period. Will it be the same at the Dobbes Family Estate, the 4th largest wine-producer in Oregon?

I do know that I'll be working alongside Winemaker Joe Dobbes (a privilege that I don't take lightly). The work will be hard and the hours long. A reasonable prediction is 12 hours a day, six days a week. It's too early to begin complaining, but the schedule is daunting. I take strength from the knowledge that hundreds of thousands of people have done this before. If a nonna can harvest grapes in the Italian south in 90-degree weather, I can put up with Oregon's cool climate.

When I have time, I will try to document the experience in a series called Diary of A Winery Assistant. Tomorrow is orientation....

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Top 10 Primitivo Wines from Puglia

I spent the last year and a half in Puglia---a land that I truly love---trying to find the ultimate Primitivo wine. Did I find it? Yes and no.

The best Primitivo---the ultimate Primitivo---is as time-sensitive as the best iPhone: Every year it changes; it advances; it ages; it re-invents itself. But unlike the iPhone, Primitivo wines will never be obsolete. These days are particularly transitory for Primitivo because Puglia is a rapidly emerging wine-producing region, where winemakers are still testing out newly acquired technology (as well as their international attention). But I like what I'm seeing.

I wouldn't call any of the wines below the "ultimate" or the "best" Primitivo. I'm still looking toward the horizon.

I've tasted hundreds of Primitivo wines made in Puglia as well as many wines made using Primitivo grapes grown in Puglia but made elsewhere in Italy. My favorites are those made in Puglia using grapes grown in Puglia. I haven't tasted every Primitivo, but I've come close.

I've written more on the Primitivo grape, which is identical to California's Zinfandel grape on a genetic level, here and here.

Top 10 Primitivo Wines From Puglia
(in order)

1. 2007 "Primitivo di Manduria" DOC by Attanasio Winery
2. 2003 “Elegia: Affinato in Barrique" DOC by Consorzio Produttori Vini
3. 2004 “Terragnolo Primitivo” IGT by Apollonio Winery
4. 2002 “Dunico” DOC by Masseria Pepe Winery
5. 2006 “Elegia: Affinato in Barrique" DOC by Consorzio Produttori Vini
6. 2006 “Lirica” DOC by Consorzio Produttori Vini
7. 2003 “Santufili” IGT by Mocavero Winery
8. 2006 “Felline” DOC by Racemi Winery
9. 2007 "Patrunu Ró" IGT by Botrungo Winery
10. 2006 “Amativo” IGT by Cantele Winery (this is a blend of 60% Primitivo, 40% Negroamaro)

Friday, September 17, 2010

Other Quotes from a Recent Trip to Tuscany

From the Department of Common Sense

What is the biggest problem in Tuscany today? Is it that winemakers are succumbing to pressure from the world market and conforming to international flavors and styles? Is it the poor economy?

When I spoke with winemakers in June, it sounded like deer were the big challenge. The animals are not hunted (as locals prefer to pursue wild boar) and their numbers have grown outrageous. Neither fences or alarms are able to keep the beasts from eating those delicious Sangiovese grapes.

In other news, "It is not incredible that one movie could change the minds of so many people. It's that so many people are so stupid." ---of the phenomenon of the movie Sideways
--Franca Gatteschi of the Tuscan Mammas Culinary Tours

To conclude our program, I'd like address the impact that Italy has upon visitors, as well as the Materialistic World verses the World of the Dinner Table. "At the table you never get old. You stop thinking about what you put on the outside of your body, and begin thinking about what you put inside.”
--Georgeta Perhald, Sommelier for Rocca delle Macíe

That concludes our program. See you next time on By The Tun.

Vin Santo and Oxygenation

From the Dessert Wine History Department

“The width of the barrels used to age the wine is very important. The thinner the wood is the more oxygen can get into the wine. This imparts more flavors from the barrel into the wine.

"Why do so many producers use such thin barrels when making Vin Santo? Well, the history of Vin Santo begins in the attics of Tuscan winemakers. Winemakers used to use small barrels, barriques, and put them in their attics because during the day it was very, very hot, and during the night it was cooler. They left the windows open and the night wind would come in. So the fermentation process was constantly starting and stopping. Starting, stopping. Starting, stopping. (High temperatures initiate the fermentation process and cold temperatures slow or stop it---MB).

"During the 3 months of fermentation, the entire time on the lees, the wine draws this nice oxidation flavor because the oxygen is able to penetrate so quickly (including the cool night wind of Tuscany---MB). Oxygen has a very important role during every step of the process of wine. Even when we open the wine to drink it! If we don’t allow a 20-year-old bottle of wine to breathe, it greatly affects the nose.

"The nose is 25,000 times more sensitive than the tongue. Our palate has only sweet, bitter, acidic, salty, hot, and cold. How many times do you go in front the window of your neighbor and know what she is cooking? And you can’t see anything! But you know that she's cooking tomatoes and meat. And you pass in front of the window of your other neighbor, and she’s burned the garlic!”

---Georgeta Perhald, Sommelier for Rocca delle Macíe

Monday, September 6, 2010

Where to Find Taurino's Notarpanaro

This post has been a long time comin'. The two times that I wrote about Notarpanaro, I received comments from people who also adore it. After two years of wine blogging, this is the only wine that has received such powerful feedback. The trouble is, it fell out of the American market when the Taurino and its long-time distributor parted ways. Two readers wrote in and asked me if I knew where to find Notarpanaro, and this post is foremost a response to them.

Taurino Winery was the first winery in Puglia to import to the United States. It has been a symbol of the somewhat unknown and sometimes mistrusted region, standing for reliability. Its most basic red, the Salice Salentino Riserva, is an amicable tablewine. Notarpanaro, on the other hand, makes people sing, and it runs for about $19-22. This, in my opinion, is a seriously under-priced fine wine.

If you're having a tough time finding this wine, there's good news. The winery has picked up a new distributor, IMA Imports, and its wines are now being distruted in areas of the U.S. that haven't seen it in years. IMA Importants has recently given me a list of stores and winebars offering Notarpanaro in northern California, particularly around San Francisco. I've also seen the wine in stores throughout New England. New York City obviously has it covered. Please write in with any specific questions or opinions.


Piedmont Grocery, 4038 Piedmont Ave (between 40th St & Glen Ave), Oakland, CA
Unwined, 6946 Almaden Expressway, San Jose, CA
Coach House Wine & Spirit, 1655 S. De Anza Blvd., Cupertino, CA


Caffe Venezia, 1799 University St., Berkeley, CA
Bubbles Wine Bar, 17105 Monterey Street, Morgan Hill, CA

As always, if you really want a wine but don't see it on the shelves, make sure to mention it to one of the wine store employees. They can at the very least order it.

When I visited Cosimo Taurino winery, it was 2009 Cantine Aperte. It was a burning hot day in the south of Italy, and the winery provided its wines as well as traditional Pugliese food, including delicious polpette, aka mini meatballs.

I was very happy to see all of its wines being liberally poured, including its Patriglione (the next step up from Notarpanaro, it runs 28 euro a bottle in Italy and hasn't made a dent on the American market).

There was a band playing the pizzica (click here to hear the real deal).

And they tried to make us dance.

Unfortunately, my behavior helped prolong a common stereotype Italians have concerning Americans.

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