Archive for the ‘pinot noir’ Category

Champagne is bready from autolysis

Thursday, November 18th, 2010

Or isn’t it?

In biology autolysis refers to the destruction of a cell through the action of its own enzymes. The term “autolyse” was coined by French baking professor Raymond Calvel. The term derives from the Greek words αυτό (“self”) and λύσις (“splitting”).

Mumm Brut rosé sparkling bubblesFor making sparkling wine, autolysis involves killing the yeast and encouraging the breakdown of the cells by enzymes. It is used to give different flavours.

Steve Goodwin is a sparkling winemaker at Seppelt, Australia. He was once interviewed on the cause of the bready, yeasty character found in champagne and other sparkling wine: “most of that is just bottle-developed pinot noir character (rather) than autolysis,” said Steve. His comment contradicts the traditionally accepted view that contact between the wines and autolyzed yeast lees – i.e. broken down yeast cells – is responsible. Curiously, a former Seppelt sparkling maker, Warren Randall, claimed that the bready character came mainly from pinot meunier.

In 2008 I asked French champagne maker Benoît Gouez (of Dom Perignon) about this. He had no doubt that autolysis causes the yeastiness in champagne, adding that autolysis is expressed quite differently by different grape varieties. “However, the more fruit in a particular wine the less yeast will be evident,” he explained.

Well-known amateur sparkling winemaker, MF (those five years spent as sous-remueur – translation: riddler – at Bolli were not wasted) reckons that the bready character does in fact come from yeast autolysis — rather than aged pinot noir or pinot meunier. His reasoning? Rising bread dough and bread just out of the oven have this smell. Where does it come from? Er, the breakdown of yeast cells after the bread has risen.

Pertinent questions: Has MF ever encountered this yeasty smell in bottles of still pinot noir or pinot meunier of any age? No, never.

Has MF ever encountered this yeast lees character in bottles of bubbly that do not contain either of the pinots, i.e. blanc de blancs made solely from chardonnay? Yes, your Judgeship, often.

If so-called yeast autolysis character comes mainly from pinot noir why do sparkling wine makers waste their time and money leaving fizz in contact with yeast sediment for years, when they could just as easily add more pinot noir to the brew? Beats me, your be-wigged Excellency.

The court will rise…

To help you make up your judgment, here are related articles – at other sites:

Major grape varieties of South Africa

Wednesday, June 2nd, 2010

South Africa has a wide range of red and white grape varieties. Most are traditional vinifera grapes such as cabernet sauvignon, pinot noir, chenin blanc and riesling. They also have two varieties that originated in South Africa — Cape riesling and pinotage. The newer plantings in South Africa have been of sauvignon blanc and chardonnay — most of these having been established in the late 1980’s.

White wine grapes


It is currently one of the most popular if not the most popular dry white wine variety in the world. It is planted in almost every wine producing country and is one of the easiest varieties to grow. Chardonnay has only begun to gain in popularity and importance in South Africa in the last ten years.
Chardonnay generally benefits from oak and is especially complex when it is barrel fermented as well as barrel aged. However, over-oaking has been a common fault of some the first Chardonnnays that were produced in the Western Cape. Winemakers in the Western Cape are now careful to not let oak overpower the elegant and zesty citrus characteristics of the wine.

Boschendal Wine Estate, Franschhoek South Africa, by moby_life

Chenin blanc

This grape is the Cape’s most popular white variety with about thirty percent of her vineyards producing Chenin Blanc. Chenin Blanc in South Africa is also referred to as “Steen”. In South Africa it produces a wide range of wines from sweet to dry, including sparkling and still wines. Its dry wines are fresh and fruity and Chenin Blanc’s sweet wines and botrytis dessert wines are becoming more fashionable.


This variety in South Africa makes fresh wines with crisp acidity. They often possess tropical fruit aromas and are a good companion to seafood. Colombard isalso used in South Africa for brandy production.

Rhine riesling

This variety, from German clones, is also referred to as “weisser Riesling” in South Africa. With a little age this wine can develop a resinous or oily character that is accepted as desirable in Europe. It is more complex and scented than Cape Riesling.

Cape riesling

This variety is thought to be related to crouchen blanc a French variety used for table wine production. It tends to be steely and can develop a pleasant honeyed flavour with some maturation.

Sauvignon blanc

South Africa has recently received great attention as a world class producer of Sauvignon Blanc. There are many microclimates in South Africa ideally suited to thegrowing of this variety. The South African Sauvignon Blancs tend to be dry and grassy. Its plantings have increased since the mid 1980’s and continue to do so.

Red wine grapes

Cabernet sauvignon

Most of the great red wines of Bordeaux and some of the finest wines of the New World are based on cabernet sauvignon. It is often blended with Cabernet Franc and Merlot and its flavour is reminiscent of blackcurrants or cedarwood. It demands aging in small oak barrels, and the best wines require several years of bottle age to reach their peak.

Pens Party Tokara wine estate, South Africa, by Moron Noodle

Cabernet franc

This variety possesses qualities similar to those of Cabernet Sauvignon, although they are a little less pronounced in cabernet franc. It is an important part of Cape blends and is often blended with cabernet sauvignon.


Formerly known as Hermitage in the Western Cape of South Africa, it produces light wines and is most often used as a blending wine to increase accessibility at an early age. Cinsaut is one of the parents of Pinotage.


This variety takes second place to Cabernet Sauvignon in most premium red wine blends. Merlot is fragrant and usually softer than Cabernet Sauvignon. It also shows best with oak maturation, but usually requires less bottle maturation before it is ready to drink. Some believe that the growing conditions in South Africa do not require Merlot to be blended in with Cabernet. Merlot bottled as a varietal is becoming more and more commonplace in South Africa.


It is a unique South African grape made from a cross of pinot noir and cinsaut. It was developed locally in 1926. It is hardy in the vineyard and generally produces a wine that is full bodied with good fruit flavours and a distinctive spiciness, but often referred to as possessing a “sweetish acetone” flavour. Previously thought to be early maturing, it is now believed that pinotage benefits from extended maturation.

Pinot noir

The grape from which complex and elegant wines are made in Burgundy There are several new vineyards in South Africa making pinot noir that show great promise. The Pinot Noir wines in South Africa are clean and lively with the flavour of ripe cherries.


This grape is also known as Syrah. It makes a soft and rich wine often characterized by smoky and chocolaty aromas. It matures faster than cabernet and is sometimes blended with it to speed accessibility.


This variety probably originated in Southern Italy as the Primitivo grape. It is planted by only a few Cape wineries, and the first examples have been very good, especially when they receive enough oak maturation.

Louis Latour, Burgundy

Tuesday, September 30th, 2008

With all the ownership changes in Burgundy, Maison Louis Latour remains firmly in the hands of the Latour family.

Louis Latour logoThe domaines, which give it 10 percent of production, also give it some superlative wines, in particular the great Corton-Charlemagne, of which the firm owns 22 acres. Whites are generally regarded as better than the reds here, with new oak barrel fermentation giving considerable richness and complexity.

The reds, traditionally pasteurized before bottling, are more controversial. Some believe the technique ages the wines too fast, while others enjoy the immediate richness and softness. Good reds to follow are the Beaune premier cru Domaine Latour and Chambertin.

Louis Latour
18 rue des Tonneliers – Beaune 21200
Phone: 03 80 24 81 00

2007 vintage would be bad in Europe

Saturday, November 10th, 2007

In a nutshell: buy 2007 wines only from reliable producers.

Obviously a vintage is a concept: it cannot taste bad. The point here is to indicate that vine growers have had more problems this year than previous years. The quality of the wines very much depends on the vine growing — every year but this year even more so. This is the year when the serious, talented winemaker makes a big difference.

Vineyards near Gamlitz, Austria, by HalehRThe Austrian wine marketing board have published their official summary of the vintage so far, calling it ‘the winemaker’s year’. In the words of Jancis Robinson this means that ‘there have been quite a few hurdles for them to overcome – in the vineyard perhaps even more than in the winery’.

In France, the cool summer of 2007 affected everyone and the September weather saved some grapes. Micro-climates came into play and the savvy vigneron had to carefully determine the date of harvest. Rot and mildew was widespread. Keeping the grapes on the vines was a gamble many winemakers did not make.

Côte d’Or, Burgundy

Reports Bill Nanson: ‘The vintage will be as heterogeneous as the approaches and the quality of grapes and sorting’. ‘Grapes from Latricières-Chambertin needed quite some work (just like in 2004)’.
Said Louis-Michel Liger-Belair: ‘we made a hard triage’.
Reports Martine Saunier, California importer of some growers in Burgundy and the Rhône Valley: ‘beginning 25 August, the weather warmed up and the sun finally came out. Temperatures rose to 25°-30° C. The grapes started turning red immediately’.

More reports

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