Sunday, September 17, 2023

Whole-Bunch Fermentation---What & Why?

                                     Whole grape clusters are used, including all of the stems

This is the second in a trio of articles for the month of September exploring common terms used in the grape harvest.  Those of you who have visited wineries may have heard the term whole bunch fermentation, but do you really know what it means and more importantly, do you understand why it is used?  By the time you finish reading this article you will know what it is, as well as why some winemakers choose to use it.

Whole-bunch (or whole-cluster) fermentation involves the practice of not destemming the grapes.  In fact, the entire bunch (stems and all) goes directly into the fermentation vat.   Prior to World War II, this was generally the way wine was made, as destemming machines weren’t commonly used.   So why would a winemaker use the whole-bunch technique of fermentation rather than destemming the fruit before fermentation? 

            The de-stemming machine (separates the grapes from the stems) is NOT used in                                                                         whole-bunch fermentation

Below are some reasons winemakers may choose to utilize whole-bunch fermentation:

1.   Lower alcohol wines

Warmer weather is increasing the amount of alcohol in wines (riper grapes translate to higher alcohol levels during fermentation.)   High alcohol wines not only decrease the amount of wine that can be enjoyed safely, but are harder to pair with food.                                                                                                                                                                                                             

2.  Paler color wines

               For inky opaque wines such as Syrah or Mourvedre, lightening them up a bit                     could be desirable.  

          3.  Lower acid wines

     Acids play an important part in a wine’s structure, however, too much acidity is       a problem. 

The last blog in this three-part harvest series will discuss the flavors and aromas of wine that are a direct result of fermentation.  Look for it September 27.  


Thursday, September 7, 2023

Do you Know These Important Harvest Terms?

It's harvest time in the northern hemisphere.   Serious wine lovers who have visited wineries during this period (and/or attended wine appreciation classes) have probably heard most of the below terms of the wine-making process.   But, do you know what they really mean?    Below is a 5-6 minute quiz for 10 terms you need to know.
     (Answers at end)  

1.  Alcoholic fermentation:

a.  The addition of alcohol to fermenting grapes.

b.  Alcohol that is produced when grapes are mixed with Sulphur.

c.  The conversion of sugar to alcohol.

d.  Fermentation of grapes which causes higher acidity.


2.   Battonage:

        a.  Separating the solid parts of fermentation from the liquid.

        b.  Stirring wine during fermentation.

        c.  The process of transferring young wine from tanks to barrels

        d.  Removing grape skins & seeds from the juice.


3.   Brettanomyces:

        a.  Famous French scientist who pioneered cork closures.

        b.  Amount of acidity in grapes.

        c.  Instrument that measures a wine’s tannin level.

        d.  Yeast that causes wine to spoil.


4.  Fining:

a.  Sugar level of grapes used to determine ripeness.

b.  Process used to make a wine more clear.

c.  Removing microbes from wine.

d.  Pressing grapes with minimal pressure.


5.  Malo-lactic Fermentation

a.  Removal of microbes that interfere with fermentation.

b.  Developed in Spain, this process reduces free radical acids in wine.

c.  A process to remove harmful acids that cause a wine to spoil.

d.  Conversion of harsher malic acid to the softer lactic acid.


6.  Must:

a.  Unfermented grape juice

b.  End stage of fermentation

c.  Must-add components to begin fermentation

d.  First inspection of grapes prior to fermentation


7.  Lees:

a.  Naturally occurring microbes on grape skins

b.  Yeasts that can interfere with fermentation.

c.  Sediment that occurs during fermentation

d.  Calculation of acidity during fermentation


8.  Racking:

a. Evaluating when a wine should be placed in a barrel after fermentation

b.  Process of separating wine from sediment by moving it to another barrel.

c.  Stacking barrels in a winery to facilitate gravity flow.

d.  Process used during bottling to keep wine away from oxygen exposure.


9.   TCA:

a.  Destructive chemical that causes a wine to be “corked”

b.  Harsh acid that is found in the skins & seeds of grapes

c.  An array of acid compounds that are vital to the start of fermentation

d.  Test to determine the physiological ripeness of grapes


        10.   Topping-off:

          a.  Filling your glass at a wine tasting without permission

          b.  Adding Sulphur to a wine to prevent spoilage

          c.  Filling a wine barrel to its top level to prevent oxidation

          d.  Adding extra grapes during fermentation to enhance flavors 



  1. c
  2. b
  3. d
  4. b
  5. d
  6. a
  7. c
  8. b
  9. a
  10. c  

How high did you score?  

                9-10 Correct:    Wine-Know!

                7-8 Correct:   WINE OH!

                6-7 Correct:   Whine O

                < 6 correct:   Wine NO!  


Saturday, August 26, 2023

Sexy Santorini & its Sensual Wines

      All of the surrounding islands used to be part of Santorini until the cataclysmic volcanic eruption

Santorini arouses all of one's senses...even for this jet-lagged traveler who arrived yesterday.  If you’ve seen a travel poster or magazine cover with a dazzling photo of a Greek island, there’s a very good chance it's from Santorini.  This jet-setting, jaw-dropping, pleasure-bomb-of-an-island is unparalleled for its seductive beauty---think dramatic cliff-scaling white-washed villages, a profusion of bougainvillea in a rainbow of colors, all against a backdrop of crystal clear sapphire seas. 

Santorini, however, isn’t just an erotic paradise.  The island offers one of the most unusual archaeological ruins in the Aegean Sea.  Akrotiri, a perfectly preserved city from 4000 BC, is frozen in time due to a catastrophic volcanic disruption that annihilated the island’s civilization and buried the settlement in volcanic ash for nearly 400 centuries.   Greece’s version of Pompeii, Akrotiri wasn’t discovered until 1860 when earth and ash from Santorini started to be mined for use in building and insulation of the Suez Canal.

The cataclysmic volcanic explosion that obliterated Akrotiri and reshaped the entire island of Santorini (and all of the surrounding islands), left behind wonderfully rich volcanic soil responsible for producing Santorini’s voluptuous white wines.   Santorini has one of the most unique terroirs in the Mediterranean.  Growing conditions are brutal as the island’s arid climate, high mountains, and strong winds are inhospitable to all agriculture.   Vines that are able to survive, produce powerful, fleshy wines.

Vines are grown in forms that conserve water & protect from treacherous winds

The island’s signature grape is a white variety, Assyrtiko (a SEER tee ko).   While grown in a few other parts of Greece, the grape is indigenous to Santorini.  And, it’s in its birthplace that the grape is its most sensual due to Santorini’s mineral-rich, well-drained volcanic soil.   Assyrtiko is often referred to as a white wine with a red wine’s character.  Its solid acid framework means this pleasure-giving wine can also age beautifully.


Look no further than Santorini for an unforgettable experience that will titillate all of your senses.

Monday, August 14, 2023

Two Perfect Scoring 1982 Bordeaux

          Chateau Haut-Brion & Chateau Latour---don't wait too long to open your special bottles 

Recently we hosted a Bordeaux dinner in our home with some significant wines.  There were two piece de resistance Grand Crus from the 1982 vintage:  Chateau Latour & Chateau Haut-Brion.  Both of these wines were given 100 point scores by Robert Parker.  If you can find them, the Latour sells for >$2,600 a bottle, the Haut-Brion north of $1,500.  Accompanying these First Growth wines was a Ployez-Jacquemart Champagne and a Chateau Suduiraut 2000.   It was a hedonistic evening.

 Haut-Brion, one of Bordeaux's 5 Premier Grand Cru wineries, is a usual stop on Wine-Knows trips

The Haut-Brion had been brought by dear friends (merci, Carrol & Steve).  Their bottle had been purchased on futures in the late 1970’s.   After bottling, it had carefully been stored in a cool, dark area for the first twenty years, and in a wine refrigerator for the last twenty.  Our Latour had been stored in a refrigerated wine case for over 20 years, and in a temperature-controlled/humidified wine cellar for nearly fifteen years.   We weren’t anticipating any storage problems with either.

               Wine-Knows visits Chateau Latour, another of Bordeaux's 5 Premier Grand Cru 

There was a great deal of thought given by both parties regarding preparing the wine for its ceremonious uncorking.  Typically, a ten or twenty year old powerful Cabernet requires an hour or two of contact with the air to soften its bold tannins.  As tannins and fruit both dissipate with age, however, there was concern of how long these forty year old Cabernet-centric wines should be opened in advance:  too early could mean loss of fruit flavors which were already on a downward trajectory.   Online sleuthing yielded a mixed bag for when the wine should be opened.  Expert suggestions for length of time to open the wines were very outdated (nothing had been written since the early 2000’s).   We were on our own to trust our best guess based on the evolution of both tannins and fruit.

                 Chateau Latour's tasting for Wine-Knows featured 5 wines from 3 different vintages

My husband and I finally agreed to open our Latour ninety minutes prior to serving and then decanted it.   Our initial taste and smell, thankfully, showed that the wine had no flaws.  Our friends opened their Haut Brion two hours prior to dinner, decanted it, and then placed it back in the bottle to bring to our home where it remained corked until shortly before serving.  Thankfully, their Haut Brion had also weathered the forty year storm with no flaws. 

                              Chateau Haut-Brion is surprisingly owned by an American family

Each wine was served in identical large Bordeaux glasses by Riedel, side by side.  Beef short ribs cooked in a Cabernet sauce was paired with the wines.  The structure of both the Latour & Haut Brion was intact, although the two wines were beginning to head on a downward course for both tannins and acids.  Experts had predicted that both wines would be drinkable through 2030, however, both bottles should have probably been consumed five to ten years earlier for a maximum tasting experiences.   The two wines’ flavor profiles were all earth-centric---very little fruit, if any, remained in either wine.  While pleasant, both wines lacked a certain je ne sai quoi for complexity. 

The experience of these two 1982 Grand Cru Bordeaux reinforced the following lessons:

         1.  Keep your wines well cellared.

         2.  Consult the experts, but trust your gut based upon knowledge of a wine’s 

                    structural components & evolution.

                             3.  Before opening an older wine consider both structure (tannins & acids), as well

                  as fruit in determining the optimal open date. 

Friday, August 4, 2023

Croatia’s Venetian Gem

                Tiny Trogir island will be the starting point for Wine-Knows' yacht week in Croatia

Did you know that Croatia’s coastline was controlled by the powerful Venetian Empire for 350 years?   One of the most enchanting of all Venetian settlements along Croatia’s 1,000 mile coastline is the small island of Trogir (“Tro  gear”).  In fact, it oozes so much Venetian charm that Orson Welles chose the island to film his movie the Merchant of Venice in the 1960’s.   While many movies have been utilized Trogir as a backdrop, it has recently skyrocketed to fame for the island's use in the Game of Thrones.

                       These stunning buildings in Trogir could easily line Venice's Grand Canal       

Located just off the coast near the city of Split, Trogir is joined to the mainland by two bridges.   In 1997 the United Nations' cultural arm decided that the entire island was of such historical significance that it was granted special protection as a World Heritage Site (UNESCO).  This basically means that it now takes an act of God to change anything on the island.

                Trogir's main square is the antithesis of Venice's St Mark's in a good way

Trogir is a treasure trove of Venetian architecture from the 13th - 18th centuries.   Wander its tiny backstreets and you’ll swear you’re in an authentic Venetian neighborhood (today, that’s an oxymoron as few Venetians can afford to live in Venice).   You’ll know you’re not in Venice by the absence of endless souvenir shops, designer boutiques, and hordes of tourists jockeying for a table on its main square where small orchestras entice visitors to stop for a $20 coke or cappuccino.  Trogir’s far more simplistic main square has rustic charm for a fraction of the cost (and minus the pigeons) of St Mark's in Venice.

                 This scene is < 50 meters from Trogir's central square...not a single tourist in sight

The island of Trogir was purposely chosen by Wine-Knows as the boarding location for our private yacht.   For travelers arriving early a walking tour with a local guide is recommended as the best way to experience charming Trogir.   (Guides can be hired in advance via the web, or once you arrive on the island the concierge at the Brown Beach Hotel can assist with booking).

See you in Trogir!

Tuesday, July 25, 2023

Prosecco, Pear Vodka & St Germain

                                    This quickly assembled cocktail is perfect for a summer's eve

This is the final article in a trio on enticing summer cocktails.   I serve this one typically in a Champagne flute, however, the drink could be served in a chilled martini glass.  On the other hand, if the weather is really warm you may want to consider serving it in a highball glass with ice and perhaps a splash of sparkling water (imbibing any high alcohol drink too quickly is not a good idea so serving it with ice & water is a prudent idea on a hot summer’s day).

                               St Germain boasts floral flavors laced with tropical fruits

No doubt everyone knows the first two ingredients listed in the title of this article.  For those who don’t know St. Germain liqueur, you should know it.  An uber fragrant floral liqueur made from the tiny elderflowers, St. Germain’s Art-Deco bottle alone is worth the price of admission.   (St. Germain is not a one-trick-pony as it can also be used to add a very special je ne sais quoi flavor to desserts.)


The drink is super easy to make (we’re talking 4 ingredients).  It’s all about ratio’s.  Here’s the recipe I use for the Champagne flute/martini glass version.  


2 oz chilled Prosecco (or any other dry sparkling wine)

1 oz chilled Pear Vodka

1/2 oz chilled St Germain

Artful twist of lemon (or thinly sliced piece of a pear)


Poor, stir gently, top with twist of lemon and voila!


Happy summer….

Sunday, July 16, 2023

Limoncello Spitz

                           Thyme & blueberries add the perfect note to this summer spritz

This is the second article in July on summer cocktails.   Summer is here and with it comes a profusion of lemons & blueberries, as well as a garden full of thyme in our San Diego area home.  My thought is when life serves you up a bounty of lemons, why not make limoncello?   So, that’s exactly what I did.   If you don’t wish to make the ever-so-easy limoncello (recipes online), buy a bottle and make yourself a cooling summer spritz as follows.


Serves 5-6

Add the following to a glass pitcher and stir:

    ~ 1 bottle cold Prosecco

    ~ 1 cup limoncello (from the freezer)

    ~ ½ - 1 cup cold sparkling water (start with ½ cup & taste)


Fill clear glasses with ice (so that guests can see the beautiful colors), then pour in the contents of the above mixture.  Garnish with blueberries, sprigs of thyme (or basil), and thin slices of lemon.   If you really want to have a show-stopper and you own a dehydrator, add a dehydrated slice of lemon (dehydrating really intensifies the lemon flavor).