Premature Oxidation in Red Wines

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Premature Oxidation in Red Wines

Postby Craig Winchell » Fri Jun 07, 2013 10:55 am

http://www.decanter.com/news/wine-news/ ... rce=feedly

This link and a discussion were posted on the main forum, but I thought I would bring it here. So many "new style" reds are made with high pH, low titratable acidity, and/or low SO2. Count many Covenant, Shirah, Brob and Hajdu wines among them- the wines that are often the most discussed. I have often discussed the limited aging potential.
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Re: Premature Oxidation in Red Wines

Postby Pinchas L » Fri Jun 07, 2013 4:07 pm

Craig,

Thanks for sharing. Hype aside, to me what differentiates good wine from great wine is its ability to gain complexity with age.

Best,
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Re: Premature Oxidation in Red Wines

Postby Adam Peters » Fri Jun 07, 2013 8:49 pm

Craig,

Thanks for the article. I find the grapes I get from California always have a high pH and low titratable acidity. I forget how much tartaric acid I added to my last batch of Cabernet Sauvignon, but it was significant, just to bring the pH to about a 3.4. It seems I made the right decision.

Gut Shabbos!

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Re: Premature Oxidation in Red Wines

Postby lewis.pasco » Tue Jun 18, 2013 3:31 pm

...how much tartaric acid I added to my last batch of Cabernet Sauvignon, but it was significant, just to bring the pH to about a 3.4.


Adam you make home wine or commercially? Because the notion of adding tartaric acid to Cabernet "just to bring it to pH 3.4"is outdated by about 30 years. While pH is not a direct indicator of a wine's acidity, a pH of 3.4, unless natural because of the vineyard location and specific growth profile, would typically be a very acidic tasting red wine. Historically Pine Ridge's Cabs had pHs like that and were blatantly too acidic for my taste. Cabs from Mayacamas Vineyards and Chappellet, historically celebrated reds from high elevation vineyards in the Napa mountains (but different mountain ranges) carried off those pHs in bright, elegant, long lived reds. But they were the rarities, not the common low pH reds...

Why do you aim (I gather from your comment) to make red wine at such a low pH?

BTW - I AM NOT a big fan of fat high pH reds, as those who know my history would guess. pH 3.4 and below (sometimes way below) is the territory of white wines and roses in my "book".
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Re: Premature Oxidation in Red Wines

Postby lewis.pasco » Tue Jun 18, 2013 3:46 pm

When I was at Davis, Helen Turley's very rich, high alcohol, and extracted reds (many vineyard designated Zinfandels which will typically have good acidities and low pH's even when picked very ripe vis a vis sugar content) were all the rage among some group of critics and consumers. I predicted at one of our student-winemaker dinners that her wines wouldn't age prettily or long and that critics would revise their opinions of her wines in time. And a few years later, Robert Parker did in fact comment about exactly that. Of course part of the appeal of Zinfandel, from the get-go, is that it has a thin skin and relatively low tannins relative to Bordelais grapes or Syrah or Nebbiolo...

Now I won't pretend to know if it's specifically the presumably high pH that caused those wines to age quickly - high alcohol can do that too (in dry wines, not Ports which age magnificently). Not to mention grape tannin profiles change as they get riper and riper, and of course big tannins are a huge factor in wine ageability, probably the biggest "single" factor. But who makes, and who would want to make, hugely tannic wines in this era? Well aside from Binyamin Cantz's Bordelais wines which require a bit of patience in the bottle.
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Re: Premature Oxidation in Red Wines

Postby Craig Winchell » Tue Jun 18, 2013 7:00 pm

pH 3.4 on a red is pretty acidic, but I have no problem having an upper limit of 3.6, or if pushed, 3.65. I can't stand the trend towards pH3.9-4.1(or more) wines, produced and bottled without acidulation. Yes, they can be appealing in their very early youth, with gobs of fruit and fat, but in the end, wine is rarely fully consumed within months of harvest. To spend big bucks on wine that won't last is a sucker bet.
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Re: Premature Oxidation in Red Wines

Postby lewis.pasco » Wed Jun 19, 2013 1:55 am

I have made an awful lot of Israeli Reds in the range of 3.59-3.64, sometimes from somewhat mis-managed or extreme location vineyards that required vigorous acidification with tartaric acid to arrive at those #s. In the end, they were all nicely balanced wines acid-wise by flavor. The vast majority of them finished with titratable acidities pretty close to 6 grams per liter, usually slightly over. Making wines with pH's over 3.7 is, to my mind, rather unappealing. Not because of the pH in itself, but for a myriad of other reasons, one of which is premature aging.

Funny how that works out, eh? Roger Boulton actually taught us well.
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Re: Premature Oxidation in Red Wines

Postby Craig Winchell » Wed Jun 19, 2013 10:21 am

Yup. Lewis, the trend now is not to adjust acidity, but instead to make the wine a pure revelation of what the vineyard has to offer in terms of unspoiled terroir. Along with that goes tiny open fermentations, with loving cap management methods such as raking or hoeing rather than punching down, and minimal SO2. These wines are at their peak within 6 months of bottling, but that's ok, because they sold out within 3 months of bottling. OK, perhaps it's a bit of hyperbole, but perhaps not. After all, these guys don't always have refrigeration capability for cold stabilization on a super-small scale, so they preserve a bit of acid that way.
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Re: Premature Oxidation in Red Wines

Postby Yossie Horwitz » Wed Jun 19, 2013 12:44 pm

While making more natural wines (especially with respect to acidity) is a trend in many locations, my understanding is that in Israel many of the wines still have acidity added to them to bring them in line with consumer expectations and allowing wine makers to continue experimenting with varietals that may not be best suited to Israel's climate...
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Re: Premature Oxidation in Red Wines

Postby lewis.pasco » Wed Jun 19, 2013 2:39 pm

A couple of further points.

Yossie, I don't think the modern trend of making red wines from very very ripe grapes without acidification to supplement low acidity to a more traditional level, and not using (or using less) SO2 in such a wine has anything to do with making wine more "naturally" or (Craig) preserving and delivering a specific place's terroir to the glass. Just the opposite really. It's a conscious effort to make wines that taste more and more like Coca Cola or some other processed sweet drink - a taste we've grown to love because we have been raised on processed foods with unconscionable levels (from public and personal health standpoints) of sugars and process fats added to them.

Leaving out (or lowering) the SO2 level is actually a natural consequence by thoughtful winemakers, when the wines' pHs are above 3.75 or so. Why? Because at that pH the amount of free SO2 needed to give it any real anti-microbial activity would be impossible to maintain without exceeding legal limits for total SO2 levels.

As for as delivering the special terroir by harvesting ultra ripe and with minimal manipulation vis a vis acidifying or otherwise, I find that hilarious on 2 accounts: 1) wines made from very, very ripe grapes tend to taste more and more alike each other and diminish the distinguishing effects of not only specific location but also specific variety of grapes! 2) Once the pH is high and one has almost no way to prevent post fermentive microbial activity, bret is likely to make a home in your winery. Bretty wines are again another layer of flavors that really should have nothing to do with terroir, per se.

Yossie - if the majority of Israeli wineries and winemakers stopped adding acid to their wines, we'd pretty soon have a rotten mess of lousy wines on the market here. And I'm not a big fan of trying to remove Cabernet and Merlot from Israel in favor of grapes that might be considered more climatically appropriate because of higher natural acidity like Barbera or Carignane. There are more characteristics I'd look at to define whether or not a grape is "suited to a climate" than simply natural acidity at harvest.

Though I do think both Barbera and Carignane are good grapes for our climate...
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Re: Premature Oxidation in Red Wines

Postby Craig Winchell » Wed Jun 19, 2013 11:27 pm

Lewis, I guess I need to point out that I was being sarcastic vis-a-vis terroir. It's true, then, that sarcasm is not distinguishable on the web.

Let me point out that Gabe Weiss disagrees, at least somewhat, with that which you and I agree. He points out that Covenant '03 is drinking beautifully right now, and he reckons it was well above pH 4. Me, I cannot remember ever having had that vintage, so I can neither confirm nor deny his observations.

By the way, he is leaving me after next week to pursue Shirah full time. I want to say publicly that I wish him hatzlacha rabbah, and a great life. If success were only dependent upon the amount of work one devotes to his wines, then there would be no doubt as to his immediate and long-term success. He will be releasing new wines and vintages soon. Buy early and often!
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Re: Premature Oxidation in Red Wines

Postby lewis.pasco » Fri Jun 21, 2013 1:39 am

My friend Craig; for the somewhat tone-deaf thick skulled like myself, sarcasm is indeed difficult to read on the web without a better, more intimate knowledge of the specific poster. Hopefully I will get to know you better and I should have at least half guessed your intention.

Mr Weiss "assumed" Jeff Morgan's and Jeff Moore's 2003 Covenant was over pH 4? Assumptions make me nervous. I know Jeff Morgan, he's the public face and part owner of Covenant, along with Leslie Rudd (the money) and Jeff Moore (the winemaker.) Jeff Moore was, I thought, Davis trained, and a partial resume of his is spelled out here - http://www.m2wine.com/partners.html . You should be familiar with him and or his work since you spent so many years as neighbors in the Sebastopol area of the RRV. I know Morgan a bit, not Moore (except for some of his work at Z. Moore). But I have the sense that it wouldn't be in Jeff Moore's nature or background training to crank out a top line Cab Sauv with a pH over 4.0. His work at Lynmar must have overlapped with my old UCD roommate (Hugh Chappelle's) tenure as Lynmar's Director of Winemaking - and i can't for the life of me imagine Hugh cranking out pH 4.0 Pinots from RRV grapes from a vineyard that was ultra managed to the levels of removing shoulders from individual grape clusters. Not to mention Hugh simply didn't crank out blockbuster style wines there so I doubt Moore did either...

Morgan is also pretty good friends with Dave Ramey, an old pal and mentor of mine, and one of UCD's shining stars over the years both for his body of work at various wineries (now his own ultra top shelf brand) and for his thoughtful approach to winemaking. Frankly I would be surprised (not shocked, but surprised) if they let Covenant run away to pH's over 3.70 - you know why - let alone over 4.0.

Now whether or not Covenant claims to make "natural" wines without adding tartaric acid I have no idea, but keep in mind Jeff Morgan comes from the publishing - journalism - marketing side of the business. Who is sticking a pH meter in their wine or searching their winery for sacks of tartaric acid? (Last I heard they didn't have their own facility but rather custom crushed within big wineries with fully technical capability.)

I apologize for rather a rant, but Morgan is a friend or at least very pleasant associate and I don't think making assumptions about his wine's chemistry and broadcasting it is appropriate unless you have some real knowledge about it. Buy a bottle of Convenant and stick a pH meter (well, just a probe) into it!

All that said, maybe Covenant tastes like a pH 4.0 wine, I don't know I've never tasted it and don't suspect I will until Jeff gives me some or I buy it on a company account and taste it blind vs my own top effort. Jeff had ample opportunity to let me taste it once with him - but haha I suspect he didn't want to compare it to a 2005 Recanati Special Reserve... As noted he comes from a journalism - publicity background!
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Re: Premature Oxidation in Red Wines

Postby lewis.pasco » Fri Jun 21, 2013 2:27 am

One last note, one example from my own wines this year. I harvested a Cabernet Sauvignon from Shiloh this year from a lovely well managed block at an elevation between 650-675 meters (over 2,100 feet). At the crusher, it was 27.3 Brix and ph 3.58. It was crushed to 3 tanks for fermentation. The largest tank, probably the most ripe wine from the top corner of the block (with the stoniest soil and lowest yield) that reached the highest pH level, soaked up after 2 days to 3.78. We added 0.67 g/L of tartaric acid to that tank, 0.5 to another and 0.25 to the 3rd, overall the acid addition averaged out to ~0.5 g/L of must. It has finally settled now, after 7 months in barrels, to a pH under 3.60 overall, and has a lively fresh fruit taste.

The message here is that well managed vineyards in good locations don't require a lot of acid "correction". 1/2 a gram per liter would be a pretty darn normal, even light, acid addition in most of Napa's better Cab Sauv vineyards harvest that ripe as well.

To anyone who will taste my wine and claim they can taste "added' acidity, I'd say BS. Of course what one shouldn't taste is a high extract coca cola tasting wine, as I have designed it. At least I hope not!

Thank you for reading and Shabbat Shalom!
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