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Friday is Roussanne Day!

by Tim Elliott on October 23, 2007

I just found out that the grapes for our open-source Roussanne will be harvested this Friday. There’s still time to join the group and participate in the sorting and crush, either online or at Crushpad in San Francisco. Unfortunately, it looks like I’ll be here in Minnesota for harvest but there will be a few group members in attendance and I’ll be holding court online.

To join us, sign up at Crushpad and join the Winecast group.

Update: Well, harvest is on Friday but because the winery is 4 hours north of the vineyard, we’ll be sorting, crushing and pressing the grapes Saturday… I think I’ll live blog the event here Saturday morning/afternoon depending on your timezone.

Target Acidity?

by Tim Elliott on September 20, 2007

The next element we need to consider for our open-source Roussanne, is target TA (total or titratable acidity). Since pH is the measure of the intensity of acidity, I will include both of these together in this post.

Roussanne is a high acid variety so we should have good acidity to work with right off the vine. If needed, we could acidify with tartaric acid which is very common in California winemaking and not something to be avoided, unless necessary, like watering back. The high acidity of the Roussanne can be blended back some with the addition of fatter varieties like Marsanne or Chardonnay which we will explore further as we go along.

So the main decision here is the intensity of the acidity, measured by the pH. The higher we go makes the wine more impressive by itself but sacrifices it’s friendliness with food. My preference is for the most food friendly wine here but I’m open to your comments and suggestions.

Next, we’ll get into yeast; such fun!

Target Alcohol?

by Tim Elliott on September 11, 2007

The next question to deal with for our community-generated Roussanne is target and maximum alcohol. This one is somewhat linked to how ripe the grapes are when harvested and which yeast we will use to transform the juice into wine. But we can always “water back” very ripe juice to lower the alcohol if required (not my first choice).

Alcohol gives the wine body and weight on the palate but too much can produce off odors and a “hot” finish. Too low and the wine is thin and watery. The range Crushpad has is between 13-15.5+%. Shall we shoot for 14% but limit to 14.5%, or perhaps aim a bit lower?

The Question of Style

by Tim Elliott on September 10, 2007

Near the top of the Crushpad 30 White Wine Plan Companion is a simple question:

Style: Describe characters you would like to highlight or downplay in your wine.

Sounds like a simple request but one that I find difficult to put into words. Sure, I’ve had some Roussanne I really liked from both California and the Rhône but what were the specific elements that made these wines something special?

RoussanneBefore we get into this any further, let me back up and talk about the Roussanne grape as this might be new for some readers. Roussanne is native to the northern Rhône region of France where it is one of two white grapes, along with Marsanne, allowed in the appellations of Crozes-Hermitage, Hermitage and St. Joseph. It’s also grown in the southern Rhône where it is often blended with Grenache Blanc, Marsanne and Clairette Blanc.

An inconsistent producer, Roussanne is not grown in large quantities anywhere in the world and there are less than 250 acres planted in California today. The name Roussanne most likely comes from it’s russet-colored berries when ripe. Wine made exclusively from this grape is highly acidic, but high in aromatics, so other white grapes are often blended to balance the final wine.

The Westerly Vineyard was established in 1995 by entrepreneurs Neil and Francine Afromsky. These were the first wine grapes planted in the Happy Canyon area of Santa Barbara’s warmest wine region. They planted 85 acres of Bordeaux and Rhône varieties and developed a name for the vineyard with their Westerly Vineyards brand. Last year they sold the Westerly Vineyard to Chicago financier Jack McGinley, but retained the “Westerly Vineyards” brand and access to the grapes grown in this vineyard. Thus, the vineyard name change and it’s unclear if we can use Westerly on the label of our Roussanne this vintage.

Westerly Vineyards Roussanne is released as a blend simply called, “W Blanc” which is mostly Roussanne (75-80%) blended with Viognier. Both the Wine Spectator and Wine Advocate have favorably reviewed Westerly Vineyards W Blanc which I will excerpt below:

Wine Spectator:

The 2004 W Blanc Estate (75% and 25% respectively) exhibits a light gold color along with a gorgeous nose of honeyed flowers and tropical fruits, good underlying acidity, and bold, exuberant, intense flavors nicely buttressed by acidity and tannin. This serious, French-styled white is reminiscent of an exotic white Hermitage. Drink it over the next several years. 90 points

Wine Advocate:

The 2003 W blanc (80% Roussanne and 20% Viognier) offers up a beautiful, crisp bouquet of rose petals, apricots, and exotic tropical fruits (passion and guava). An elegant, streamlined effort, it exhibits more minerality than most California dry whites, as well as a dry, well-delineated, ravishing style. Drink it over the next 1-2 years. 90 pts.

Although this sounds almost exactly like the style of Roussanne I prefer, it seems to lack the aromatic and flavor characteristics of mandarin orange that I find so fascinating with this varietal. Perhaps this aspect will be in our grapes or we might need to trade some juice with another Crushpad Marsanne group to introduce this complexity. I will buy some bottles of Westerly Vineyards W Blanc to taste for myself and will also bring them to group barrel tastings of our wine as a benchpark.

Whatever the final decision, what do you think we should aim for style-wise with this wine?