Never mind the grapes, here’s the yeast
It seems I have a never-ending treasure trove of articles from the ICCWS 2016 held in Brighton this past May. There was one session that was particularly interesting (well, maybe really) and it was about yeast. Yes, yeast. That generally boring little organism that turns grape juice in to wine and for some reasons vegans seem to forget means that they shouldn’t be drinking wine as it’s made from an animal dying.
Traditionally we’ve just thought of of yeast as that thing which eats the sugar in the grapes and producing carbon dioxide and that other delicious thing, alcohol. Naturally as we put the Stone Age further and further behind us, we’re starting to learn that yeast does much more than that and is responsible for a myriad of flavor attributes to the wine. To help illustrate this point, for this session they set out 15 different wines made with five different yeasts. In doing this, they used something like 1,000 glasses so hats off to the organizers as much as the panel!
The five standard yeasts were IOC 18-2007 (an industry standard) and PDM (a commercial hybrid) and then three other experimental hybrids that cross the standard Saccharomyces Cerevisiae with other Saccharomyces to produce: AWRI 1502, AWRI 1571, and AWRI 2526. I don’t expect these numbers to really mean a damned thing to anyone (as they sure don’t to me) but I just wanted to put them out there for the truly nerdy.
We tasted through all the wines and then the chair of the session, Jenny Bellon from the University of Adelaide told us about the yeasts and the experiments they’ve been doing. This followed with a number of genetic marker charts and other items that again, were for the truly scientific folks in the room. But, here’s the kicker, the wines were from the cellars of Bolney (Chardonnay & Pinot Noir) and Gusborne (Chardonnay) in the UK, Plumpton University (Chardonnay), and then the Yalumba cellar in Tasmania (Pinot Noir). So essentially each of the three wines from each cellar (two in the case of Bolney) we tasted were actually the same base wine but each yeast had radically different taste profiles.
They had us give a show of hands as to which of the wines were preferred and the AWRI 2526 was a continual crowd favorite and this was despite the wines it was used on coming from opposite ends of the earth. Think about that for a moment as despite different climates, soils, cellars etc, the yeast made a wine in disparate locals with similar traits.
This goes a long way toward tossing a dirt clod in the face of some people who have idiotically stated that “commercial yeast are the only true way to taste a terroir” as this shows the opposite. The yeast can completely change the entire profile of the wine and it’s one of the reasons I’ve been such a fan of ambient yeast fermentation as your local yeast strains actually are the terroir more than anything else.
Work in the field is continually ongoing and I’m wondering if we’ll arrive at a point where instead of people searching out varietal labeling (as in, “Oh, I love love love Pinot!”) we’ll be looking for yeast labeling. Can you imagine that? One day a woman calling her husband at the store as he bumbles his way through the shopping list to tell him, “Sweetie, I’m really in the mood for the AWRI 2526 tonight because I’m just so tired of the IOC 18-2007 at this point.”
It’s coming, I can see it.
Álvaro Palacios - L’Ermita 2016
Very light red cherry, raspberry, tea leaves, dried fennel, light touch of anise, bay leaf, dried flowers, touch of fig compote, truffle. Exceptionally light and delicate on the palate, very very fine red fruits, integrated tannins, plush with a slightly buttery, velvety aspect, very long finish.
85% Grenache 14% Carignan 1% "Others" · 15% · 1160EUR
Ancestral Wine Cellar - Khikhvi 2014
First harvest of Khikhvi. Light apricot notes, peach skin, lemon peel. Citric in the mouth, fresh, lively acidity, vibrant. Very holistic, full and deliciously good.
100% Khikhvi · 12% · 30GEL
Álvaro Palacios - Les Aubaguetes 2016
Linear plum and dark cherry notes, powdery cocoa, orange peel and blossom, raspberry at the base along with minor vanilla and dark spice touches. Delicate on the palate, light touches of dark fruit, good wealth of tannins yet held in check, medium plus acidity, very long finish. Needs much more time in the bottle.
77% Grenache 21% Carignan 1% Grenache Blanc 1% Macabeu · 14.5% · 455EUR
Petriaant Marani - Khikhvi 2015
Bruised red apple, touch of lemon peel, limestone minerality, and some white pepper notes at the back of it. High acidity and full in the mouth. Luscious, involving, elegant wine.
100% Khikhvi · 14% · 25GEL
Aquila del Torre - Primaluce 2015
Bruised yellow apple, bit of fig compote, chalky mineral notes, and hazelnut. Light oxidized touches that work to embellish the wine. Rich palate that carries lovely texture with the age of the wine.
100% Sauvignon Blanc · 13.5%
Domaine Augustin - Adéodat Blanc 2016
Lemon and white peach, strong kick of salinity, and toasted notes. Very fleshy and full on the palate, peach notes more prominent as well as Meyer lemon, medium plus acidity and a lengthy finish.
100% Grenache Gris · 14.5% · 20EUR
AA Badenhorst - Secateurs Red Blend 2012
Forest bramble with ripe red fruit, touches of cherry, ripe red plum, tiny bit of prune, cumin, anise, black licorice, wet cement mineral note, underlying fig jam. Crisp medium plus acidity, medium tannins, medium plus length, medium alcohol, overall medium plus body that’s ripe and lively but super fresh and balanced at the same time. Bit of rugged wildness to it but doesn’t get out of hand. Easy to drink but with just enough underlying complexity so that it stays interesting.
56% Syrah 27% Cinsaut 6% Grenache 4% Cabernet Sauvignon 7% "Others" · 13.5% · 12EUR
Domaine Treloar - Motus 2015
Dark ruby, minor rim. Big, mighty bouquet of red cherry and other brambly forest fruit, vanilla, almond blossom, orange peel, and cocoa. Rich and full on the palate with a wealth of tannins still integrating, leading into a crunchy, lingering finish.
80% Mourvèdre 10% Syrah 10% Grenache · 14% · 14EUR
Terroir Sense Fronteres - Guix Vermell 2017
Crisp red cherry fruit, touch of spice, flecks of pepper, baking spice, compacted, wet earth. Delicate on the palate, stays fresh, surprising high wealth of tannins, long finish.
100% Grenache · 13% · 250EUR
Tchotiashvili - Khikhvi 2014
Apricot, yellow peach, orange peel, and a touch of honey. Quite complex aromatically. Orchard fruit much more prevalent in the mouth with young apricot notes. Rich and elegant, touch of astringency in the finish.
100% Khikhvi · 13.1% · 28GEL