Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The many types of sugar

Who knew there are so many kinds of sugar? In researching whether fruits preserved in corn syrup will ferment properly, I found this sugar list (credit to Jack Keller's website):

Types of Sugar

Bar Sugar: This sugar's crystal size is the finest of all the types of granulated sugar. It is ideal for sweetening finished wine because it dissolves easily. It is also called "superfine" or "ultrafine" sugar. In England, a sugar very similar to bar sugar is known as caster or castor, named after the type of shaker in which it is often packaged. Commercially, it can be purchased as "Baker's Sugar."

Barbados Sugar: A British specialty brown sugar, very dark brown, with a particularly strong molasses flavor. The crystals are slightly coarser and stickier in texture than "regular" brown sugar. Also know as Muscovado Sugar.

Brown Sugar: Sugar crystals coated in a molasses syrup with natural flavor and color. Many sugar refiners produce borwn sugar by boiling a special molasses syrup until brown sugar crystals form. A centrifuge spins the crystals dry. Some of the syrup remains, giving the sugar its brown color and molasses flavor. Other manufacturers produce brown sugar by blending a special molasses syrup with white sugar crystals. Dark brown sugar has more color and a stronger molasses flavor than light brown sugar. Lighter brown sugars are more commonly used in winemaking than darker ones, as the richer molasses flavors in the darker sugar tend to mask the bases flavors of the wine, but both have their place.

Corn Syrup: This is basically glucose and water, but may contain some maltose or other sugars. Common, grocery store products may have vanilla added, and/or preservatives that could affect fermentation. Read the label.

Demerara Sugar: A light brown sugar with large golden crystals which are slightly sticky. While this sugar is often expensive, it has a unique, unmatched flavor.

Dextrose: An isomer form (the invert) of glucose, actually called dextroglucose (D-glucose) with a right- axis polarization (a.k.a. "right-handed glucose") and found naturally in sweet fruits and honey.

Fructose: One of two simple (reducing) fermentable sugars in grapes and other fruit, the other being glucose. Isolated, fructose is approximately twice as sweet as glucose. In wine, a higher fructose concentration will result in a heightened sweetness threshold.

Galactose: An optical isomer form of glucose. Sometimes called lactose, although it is not lactose proper. Not desired as a residual sugar in wine as it oxidizes to form mucic acid.

Glucose: One of two simple fermentable sugars in grapes and other fruit, the other being fructose. Glucose is approximately half as sweet as fructose. An isomer form of glucose, dextrose, is considered to be glucose

Honey: Honeys vary widely, but generally are a complex mixture of right-axis glucose (dextrose -- about 30%), left-axis fructose (levulose -- about 38 to 40%), maltose (about 7%) and a surprising number of other sugars (3 to 5% -- see section below, Sugars and Honey) in water with proteins, minerals, pollens, bee parts, and other solids interspersed. Honey purity and quality also varies widely, as do the "varieties" of honey. "Variety" is attributed to the predominate flower the bees visited while making the honey (such as clover, orange, wildflower, raspberry, sage, heather, etc.).

Invert Sugar: The product of the hydrolysis of sucrose, which is glucose and fructose. Dextrose (an isomer of glucose) and levulose (an isomer of fructose) are obtained by the inversion of sucrose, and hence called invert sugar. Yeast convert invert sugar more rapidly than sucrose, such as simple cane sugar, because they do not have to break the sucrose down into glucose and fructose themselves. Invert sugar can be made by dissolving two parts sugar into one part water, adding two teaspoons lemon juice per pound of sugar, bringing this almost to a boil, and holding it there for 30 minutes (NOT allowing it to boil). If not to be used immediately upon cooling, this can be poured into a sealable jar, sealed and cooled in the refrigerator. Invert sugar should NOT be used to sweeten finished wine as it will encourage refermentation.

Jaggery: Raw or semi-refined palm sugar, made in the East Indies by evaporating the fresh juice of several kinds of palm trees, but specifically that of the palmyra.

Lactose: A sugar comprising one glucose molecule linked to a galactose molecule and found only in milk. It has a slightly sweet taste and is much less soluble in water than most other sugars. The human body breaks it down into galactose and glucose. Because it is not ordinarily fermentable until separated into its component sugars, it can be used to boost residual sweetness.

Levulose: An isomer form (the invert) of fructose, with a left-axis polarization (a.k.a. "left-handed fructose") and found naturally in sweet fruits and honey.

Maltose: A crystalline sugar formed from starch (specifically malt) and the amylolytic ferment of saliva and pancreatic juice. It consists of two linked glucose molecules and is completely fermentable. It resembles dextrose, but rotates the plane of polarized light further to the right and possesses a lower cupric oxide reducing power.

Molasses: The filtered residue of sugar refinement after the cyrstalized portion has been removed. "Light molasses" is roughly 90% sugar, while "blackstrap molasses" is only 50% sugar and 50% refinement residue. It may have sulfur compounds added to sterilize and stabilize it. This makes it generally undesirable as a sugar for wine, as it could encourage the formation of hydrogen sulfide. It is similar to treacle.

Muscovado Sugar: A British specialty brown sugar, very dark brown, with a particularly strong molasses flavor. The crystals are slightly coarser and stickier in texture than "regular" brown sugar. Also know as Barbados Sugar.

Piloncillo: Mexican brown sugar, which is semi-refined and granulated. It is sometimes sold in solid cone-shaped cakes, where the sugar is scraped off the cake as needed. The taste is quite different than American brown sugar, which is actually refined sugar to which molasses has been added.

Raffinose: A complex sugar (trisaccharide) found primarily in grains, legumes and some vegetables. It has little value in winemaking and is only slightly sweet.

Raw Sugar: Crystalline sugar obtained from the evaporation of cane, beet, maple, or some other syrup. Raw cane sugar is sold as "Sucanat." Raw beet sugar is said to be unsavory. Raw sugar should not be equated with the product "Sugar in the Raw."

Residual Sugar: The amount of sugar, both fermentable and unfermentable, left in a wine after fermentation is complete or permanently halted by stabilization. Fermentation is complete when either all the fermentable sugar has been converted by the yeast into alcohol and carbon dioxide as byproducts or when the concentration of alcohol produced reaches a level that is toxic to the yeast and they die. Fermentation is permanently halted by stabilization through several means involving intervention by man.

Rock Candy: Large sucrose crystals, usually clear but may be tinted with flavorings, Some people drop a piece of rock candy in the wine bottle before filling it, where it slowly dissolves and sweetens the wine.

Stachyose: A complex sugar (tertasaccharide) found in a few grains, most legumes and some vegetables. It has little value in winemaking and is less sweet than raffinose.

Sucrose: A natural, crystalline disaccharide found in grapes, most fruit and many plants. This is the type of refined sugar obtained from sugar cane, sugar beets and other sources which, when added to a must or juice to make up for deficiencies in natural sugar, must be hydrolyzed (inverted) into Fructose and Glucose by acids and enzymes in the yeast before it can be used as fuel for fermentation.

Superfine Sugar: This sugar's crystal size is the finest of all the types of granulated sugar. It is ideal for sweetening finished wine because it dissolves easily. It is also called "bar" or "ultrafine" sugar. In England, a sugar very similar to superfine sugar is known as caster or castor, named after the type of shaker in which it is often packaged. Commercially, it can be purchased as "Baker's Sugar."

Treacle: The inverted sugar made from the residue of refinement and very similar in taste to molasses, although treacle is generally darker. There is even a "black treacle" with roughly the same taste as "blackstrap molasses." If you like the taste, it is more useful in winemaking than molasses.

Turbinado Sugar: A raw sugar which has been partially processed, removing some of the surface molasses. It is a blond color with a mild brown sugar flavor that enhances some wine bases as no other sugar can.

Ultrafine Sugar: This sugar's crystal size is the finest of all the types of granulated sugar. It is ideal for sweetening finished wine because it dissolves easily. It is also called "bar" or "superfine" sugar. In England, a sugar very similar to ultrafine sugar is known as caster or castor, named after the type of shaker in which it is often packaged. Commercially, it can be purchased as "Baker's Sugar."

Monday, November 21, 2011

Wine Spectator's Top 100 wines of the year

The list is here.

I've offered (or tried to offer, but could not buy at wholesale) wines fairly recently from eleven of the wineries on this Top 100 List.

Kudos to Don, who spotted and owns #6 and #15; he has a great eye for quality (those wines, BTW, were not available to me at wholesale).

Please note the '09 Owen Roe ex Umbris Syrah, which placed #25 on this list of the best wines of the world (where quality and price are both considered). I sold a lot of this one in the past month; hope you got some.

And please don't ask me to find these--they are all already probably sold out this morning, due to the issuance of this list. You might be able to scrounge around at the grocery stores and be the first to find some of these, before they are identified and snatched up by other sleuths.

Here are the wines I have offered, or at least tried to buy, or I offered other wines by the same winery:

#1. Kosta Browne Pinot Noir
6. Baer Ursa
15. Efeste Julie Bouche
20. Mondavi Cab
21. Georges Debouef
25. '09 Owen Roe ex Umbris
38. '09 Rex Hill Pinot Noir
39. '07 Tamarack Cab
55. '03 Roederer L'Ermitage Brut
85. '08 Domaine Serene Grace Vineyard
94. '08 Chateau Brown (Bordeaux)

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Cruise In Diner


Here's a plug for a great little burger diner. It's Cruise In.

What's special about it, besides the vintage car motif and oldies music?

They serve local grass-fed beef burgers, local buffalo burgers, local Dave's Killer Bread buns, local beers (12 microbrews on tap), homemade desserts, and local wine (Cooper Mtn and Oak Knoll, though they also serve 14 Hands wines, in order to capture the warm-weather red grapes).

The burger patties are THICK; kind of interesting. Grass-fed beef, and buffalo, have no unhealthy saturated fat (grain-finished beef--feedlot beef--is full of artery-clogging saturated fat). Yes, a vegetarian diet would be better for us (and they do have three different veggie burgers), but if you want a beef burger it can't be healthier than this. You can get just about any kind of burger toppings there that you can name.

The fries are fried in rice bran oil, which is free of trans fats and has a high smoking point. Check out the rice bran oil's maker here.

The fries are bottomless (all you want to eat). They are CHEAP.

The desserts are divinely good, homemade, and CHEAP.

The burgers are pretty good; they're kind of lean so I have to add stuff like cheese and mayo. Prices for them are I think very fair, given the high-quality ingredients.

The staff is friendly and they tell groaner jokes (what did the daddy buffalo say to his male child, as the dad headed off to work? "Bye, son." )

The only drawback is the remoteness: Go out Highway 10 from Beaverton, through Aloha and go a few more miles through the countryside, and you'll find Cruise In at the intersection with River Road. But the drive is worth it!

Here is the diner's website.

I know of NO other place in Portland Metro that is so committed to healthy and local food, while still serving good burgers and fries. They deserve our support. (Burgerville and McMenamins are noteworthy for serving Oregon Natural Beef, but those cows are finished on grain and thereby they develop lots of unhealthy saturated fat. All the other mass market burger places use grain-fed beef from cows that spent too little time in the fields and received antibiotics and hormones. If you do nothing else in your life, at least avoid the mass market burgers, as they will kill you.)


How to almost overload your vehicle with wine


We went up to Kent WA to place a large order from a business that was selling off the wines of bankrupt Whitman Cellars. Our combined wine order (thanks to our wonderful customers) was large enough that I had to figure out whether our Toyota Highlander (a mid-size SUV) could carry it all. That depends on two things:

1. The physical space inside the SUV: I knew that 18 cases would fill the rear cargo area, one layer deep, with the rear seats laid down, and there was room for a second layer of cases on top. So, purely on a space available basis, the SUV can carry 36 cases of wine and two adults up front.

2. The weight-carrying capability of the SUV:
The Gross Vehicle Weight Rating is 5800 pounds.
The Curb Weight of the SUV (including gas and oil, but not people or cargo) is 4045 pounds.
That leaves 1755 lbs for people and cargo. My spouse and I weigh about 340 dressed. Our overnight bag was about 20.
That leaves 1395 for wine.
It's tricky: cases of wine vary from about 35 to as much as 48 lbs. I assumed 40 lbs, which means: 1395 / 40 = 34.8 cases.

We brought back 35 cases and had enough room in the second layer to preserve a narrow "vision tunnel" through center of the SUV to the back.


Thursday, November 17, 2011

Paper Wine Bottles

Thanks to Jen for sharing this article. An inventor in England brings out wine bottles made of recycled paper. They have a plastic liner to keep the wine from leaking out. Paper wine bottles will hit the market next year. Apparently it takes less energy to recycle paper than glass, and if these replace plastic bottles as well (for water? soda?), that will be a real "green" achievement.


Sunday, November 13, 2011

Wines of Clark County

Yes, there are wineries a-plenty in Clark County, Washington--eleven and counting.

I visited two in Battle Ground yesterday:

1. Olequa Farms: You can get some organic, free-range eggs there for $4 a dozen (and by "free range," I mean the chickens have two fenced acres to themselves, where they can eat bugs and grass and organic grain). You can also find some pretty interesting wines. Most of his fruit is from Columbia Valley WA. Brian the owner/winemaker is a chemist in his day job, which is good training for winemaking. Of all his wines, there were two I liked best: a Cab Franc rose (very full body; nice red fruits; slight RS; would be a great T'giving wine), and a Cab Sauv/Syrah blend (his most-expensive red). It's a small operation; a nice tasting room and I got a great quick winery tour.

I like Brian, and he offers very fair wholesale prices. He's growing some M.Foch onsite, which is also cool. I would encourage him to keep pushing on learning grapegrowing, because that will help him become the best winemaker he can be. It might seem like two separate specialties and in many ways they are, but I firmly believe that knowing the vineyard helps in the winery.

The bar is always being raised. Worldwide competition for higher and higher quality is brutal. There is always more that needs to be learned. This means that the winemaker should be his or her worst critic. However, the tasting room person needs to be an enthusiastic seller; perhaps one person can serve in both roles but that must be emotionally difficult.

2. Heisen House: A pretty and historic barn and farmhouse. Michele the winemaker is a former enology student of a winemaking friend of mine. She has sure learned a lot in just six years; it was great speaking with her. I thought the prices were high, but the red wines have nice structure and clean crisp fruit, and would pair well with foods, given their acid backbone. My favorite is their Cab Franc, though the Sangiovese is also up there; they're just too expensive for a remote new winery in a place not known (yet) for wineries. (Oddly, the fill level on the Cab Franc I paid $27 for is substantially too low; they need to pay more attention to quality control.)

Both these wineries are serving some wines that I viewed as on the lower end of commerciality; making good wine is HARD and this is not unusual. You just need to sort through them and find your favorites. Also, with just a few exceptions, the wines I tasted did not have aromatics to match their flavors. I am more bouquet-driven than many wine lovers are, and bouquet in wine can be difficult to capture (and it can be driven mostly by vineyard practices, foremost among those being crop yield and physiological ripeness), but since many makers do capture it, I hold it up as one indicator of whether a winemaker has reached a global competitive level.

In sharp contrast, there are other wineries in Clark County that are below the above level in terms of quality. One, East Fork, lies in a neato former cold storage building which it shares with a GREAT seafood shop--maybe one of the two or three best in the entire Portland metro and I kid you not -- but their wines were flawed, at least when I visited. Confluence has better wines than that, but at least the ones I sampled did not quite ring the bell.

But it would be fun for you to make a day trip and sample the wines of Clark County.

Amazing fact: Studies indicate that, due to Oregon's restrictive growth practices and Washington's more-freewheeling capitalism, in another 20-25 years Vancouver and points north will have more population than all of Portland metro that is located in Oregon! That seems amazing, but it makes sense. We love Oregon, but every year I notice that the roads are more and more congested, in more and more non-rush hour periods. Oregon refuses to build enough road lanes for its current traffic levels. Unless the city will put in 100mph trains that serve every neighborhood, with changeover stops never longer than five minutes, then over the long haul, the inadequate roads will crimp the city's growth. Of course, the highest state income taxes in the country don't help, either. And Portland needs to figure out how to attract more industry; its current tax structure seems to be driving industry away.

Note: WA charges sales tax on wine, but if you flash your OR drivers license, you should be able to avoid sales tax.


Saturday, November 5, 2011

Oak wine barrels


Storing wine in barrels has at least two advantages:
1. It allows a slow transfer of oxygen into the wine, which enables maturational processes; and
2. It imparts flavors such as vanilla, "toasty notes," and tobacco into the wine.

However, barrels are expensive. They're not so very "green," as they require old oaks to be chopped down. They get leaky and they can become infected. They only last a few seasons, then they're trash.

Long ago, I decided to put the oak into the wine, instead. I have oak staves from an old wine barrel (a good one, from France--mine was used at Argyle), and I plane those off and toast the wood curls, then put them into my wine, which I age in glass carboys. What's not to like about that? It uses a lot less oak and is greener, and it's also more sanitary and can't leak.

However, I've noticed that my oak staves, after a few years, have dried out and no longer impart much oak flavor or aroma. Hmmm--so I checked with some winemaker friends and learned that over time, oak tannins break down. Mystery solved (partly); now I'm trying to learn if there is a way to preserve the oak tannins, or must I buy white oak every few years? (I could use American; white oakgrows here in Oregon--never use red oak or else your wine will taste and smell like cat pee. Fun facts to know and tell.)

Here are some extracts (pardon the pun) from this article:

The chemistry of the oak barrel can impart differing amounts and qualities of flavor and
texture depending upon the barrel manufacturing techniques and type of oak used.
American oak (Quercus alba) versus French oak (Quercus robur), sawn versus hand-split,
air-drying vs. kiln drying of the staves, and the use of boiling water, steam, natural gas, or
wood fire to bend the staves are among the most important variables in the manufacturing
process. As you can imagine, the barrel makers and wine makers all over the world hold
widely differing opinions on the best way to make a barrel! One thing we can all agree on is
that barrel making is an extremely complicated craft - there are no amateur barrel makers!

The Cooper’s craft
The word “cooper” originates from the barrel makers of Illyria and Cisalpine in Gaul,
where wine was stored in wooden vessels called “cupals,” and the maker was a “cuparius.”
If your surname is “Cooper” or “Hooper” you can bet that some of your ancestors were
employed in the time-honored craft of cooperage.

Organized coopers’ guilds originated in Rome well before the Christian Era. They grew and
flourished throughout medieval Europe and reached the apex of their membership in the
late 19th century, before dwindling rapidly in the years following World War I, as other
materials, first metals and then synthetics, replaced the wooden vessels formerly used
throughout the household for washing, churning, eating, cooking, and storage.
To understand why this profession is so highly skilled and specialized -- with an
apprenticeship even today of seven years’ duration -- let’s go through the steps required to
make a wine barrel. Keep in mind that both the procedure and the tools have remained
relatively unchanged for the past three thousand years.

(and the article goes on to describe barrel making)

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Effect of bottle size on wine maturity


Some friends of mine recently held a tasting experiment: They opened three bottles of fairly-high quality Oregon 1999 Pinot Noir. The bottle sizes were 375ml, 750ml, and 1.5L (magnum).

They confirmed that the smaller bottles aged the wine quicker, as a result of the greater ratio of: (a) surface area exposed to air (which is actually quite a large surface area, when the bottle lies down) to (b) liquid volume. The magnum has the lowest ratio of the three, so it ages the slowest.

Also, in the case of this excellent vintage, none of the wines showed as well as they did in past years, further proving that most Oregon Pinots cannot age, on average, more than maybe 8 years or so. If you have only the vintage date to go by, I advise that you should drink the wines by 8 years old, and preferably from 3-7 years old. (Factors varying that advice include the winery, the vintage characteristics, and the temperature of the wines' storage.)

I personally elicited a comment, in 2001, by a Burgundy maker near Dijon, who said that Oregon Pinots might be excellent wines, "but they do not age as well as ours do." Speaking generally, I cannot dispute that statement.