Wine Time with Aaron the Wine Guy

Hello Prince Albert! In order to make great wine, the vine must suffer! I’m heavily paraphrasing this French winemaking saying but these words (or the meaning behind the words) rings true for almost any winemaker in the world. You might be thinking: “But surely, the healthier and more nutrient-rich the growing region, the richer and more magnificent the grape!”.  When it comes to simple table grapes (the type we eat as food), this may be true, but in relation to grapes for wine, it is the opposite. How is this so?

Logically, it makes sense to think that plants and fruits will be hardier and full of flavor if they receive proper nourishment and support during growth but picture an apple tree that puts all of its energy or nutrients into growing leaves and roots. What happens to the fruit? If the tree focuses solely on growing its roots, branches and leaves, the fruit does not develop correctly, and you can end up with under-developed or woody apples. The same situation can happen with grapes on the vine.

If the root system of a vine has plenty of rich soil to grow in, the roots will continue to grow as far and as thick as they can, meaning that grape development can be delayed or the delicate balance of acidity, water and sugar can be affected. Also, with too much water in the fruit, the flavors of the grape can become diluted which affects the concentration and richness of flavors. In order for the grape to grow as intended, the plant must fight to survive. This means that many viticultural techniques must be used in the vineyard to maintain the appropriate level of struggle for the vine.

Another example of unchecked growth would be the heightened amount of sugar found in California grapes. How can winemakers stop the production of sugar in grapes when they face the intense California heat? Many growers use tarps or coverings which only allow a certain amount of light in while others may opt to employ clever trellising options to keep grapes in the shade while also preventing the over-growth of leaves or dangling vines. As sugar develops in a grape, acidity drops in a corresponding manner; this makes it vital for grape growers to protect their grapes from the sun at times.

The wines of Bordeaux like the Chateau Bel Orme are usually a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc (among many other available grapes) but each grape varietal must be grown separately, and care taken to maximize the character and quality of the individual varietal before it is blended. This is why balance is so incredibly important when growing grapes. If growers simply let the grapes become full, sugary and plump, the resulting wine would certainly be fruity and juicy, but the wine would lack the ability to age, taste flat and would not have the balance found in the great wines of the world.  

So, what am I trying to say? Like almost all worthy things in the world, grapes must develop character and must struggle to do so before they become viable. I see this reflection when it comes to people as well. Those that struggle and face challenges develop inner strength and character; they take on a depth and resilience that would not have been possible without the fight. Roots search for water, leaves reach for the sky and grapes struggle for their place in the sun. Here are my wine and beer picks of the week!

Chateau Bel Orme Tronquay de Lalande Cru Bourgeois 2010: (AOC Haut-Medoc, France). Dry red, deep ruby color with visible fading at edges. The bouquet of this French wine is full of perfumed black fruits (currants, blackberry and plum) with an earthy, gravel-like mineral and notes of cocoa, pencil shavings, chocolate and forest berries. The impact is less intense on the palate, but the full body and smooth, creamy character of the wine stand out immediately from the first sip. Flavors of cooked plum, blackberry, earthy cocoa and black cherry sit beautifully on the tongue during the long mid-palate which starts to morph into flavors of spice (cloves, pepper) and oak. The finish transitions smoothly from the mid-palate and soon, warming spices and gripping tannins coat the mouth with surprising intensity. While the tannins are high at first, it is readily apparent that they have softened with time in the bottle, and they leave a delightful fuzziness on the edges of the mouth and teeth. There is enough acidity in the wine (medium) to balance the flavors and the wine leaves that satisfying tint of color on the lips and tongue. I was very impressed by how well the dark fruit has integrated into the flavor profile and 14 years of aging have mellowed the tannins slightly. This wine will lose even more intensity with age so you might as well drink it now. Very good! $40, 14% ABV   

Delerium Tremens Belgian Ale: (Belgium). This fruity, yet dry Belgian ale has a hazy orange appearance with a solid inch of white foamy head on top. The beer fizzes nicely in my Delerium-branded pink elephant glass while scents of apricots, peaches, yeasty bread and stone fruit rise. On the palate, the beer has some decent carbonation which makes it very refreshing to sip on. There is a touch of acidity which enhances the clean flavors of stone fruits (nectarine, peach) and notes of yeasty, freshly buttered bread intertwine between the fruit and mild malty flavors. This beer has a full body which makes for an interesting experience. As most crisp and clean brews tend to be light in body, Belgium impresses with many classic beers combining expertly created flavors with amazing craftmanship; as a result, we get to taste beer that is refreshingly simple while also being worthy of contemplation. Very good! $6, 8.5% ABV

Cheers and thanks for reading!