Unfiltered critique

24 September 2009
By Tom Mansell

Damiani Wine Cellars Pinot Noir Reserve 2007

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Enjoying some Damiani at my desk after going over the final draft of a paper I recently submitted.  Can you see any typos?

Enjoying some Damiani at my desk after going over the final draft of a paper I recently submitted. Can you see any typos?

Appellation: Finger Lakes
Grape: Pinot Noir
ABV: 13%
Price Point: $32
Closure: Natural cork

Technical Notes: from the website, “Our favorite 4 barrels of 2007 Pinot, this unfiltered, unfined wine is sourced all from the Davis vineyard, Dijon clone 115.” Emphasis mine.

Hedonic Notes:

It’s got an intense nose, oak up front, coffee/cocoa, bit of a floral component, a bit {hot}. After a little while of adapting to the aroma, there is some very interesting sort of blueberry fruit, but it flits away quickly. On the palate comes some strawberry/cherry, with tartness reminiscent of cranberry. There is a woodiness that makes me think they may have overdone it with the oak. Acid is the support structure and it is here in spades, but it lacks the body and overall {mouthfeel} to take this wine from good to great for me. Any {astringency} present seems to be oak-driven. Cherry vanilla on the interesting but short finish, and what’s this? Not to go all Gary V. on you, but do you remember Bottle Caps candy? They were like giant Smarties that came in soda flavors. Here I get some of those Cola-flavored bottle caps.

bottlecaps

Overall, the wine is pretty good and I can see the potential for it to have been great. It just disappoints in the mid-palate, where I crave some body that I’m afraid can’t be delivered by oak alone.

Rating: corkcorkcorknocorknocork 3 out of 5 corks

Science!
A common story among winemakers is that when Robert Parker shows up to tour your winery, you hide the filter. The biggest name in wine has come out strongly against filtered wines, arguing that filtering “strips the character” from wine. It’s a controversial topic in wine (an example of a long debate about filtering and NY wine can be found here). So where is the science behind this debate? After all, you’re entitled to your own opinion, but not your own facts (a quote often attributed to the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynahan).

Filtering is often done to make wine more microbiologically stable. By running wine through a sterile 0.45 micron filter, large things like yeast and bacteria are kept out of the wine finished product. This not only protects against re-fermentation, but also against spoilage, particularly by {Brettanomyces}. Filtration can also speed up the time from fermentation to bottling, by collecting sediment like yeast hulls, skin bits, etc., that would settle out by gravity over longer periods of time. I have been told (though I can’t find a source at the moment) that consumers, especially in whites, prefer clear wines (although they exist, you don’t see too many unfiltered Chardonnays on the market).

But is other, good stuff being stripped out by the filter? It turns out there is very little scientific study about the sensory differences between filtered and unfiltered wines. From a theoretical standpoint, aroma and flavor compounds are far too small to be trapped, even by a sterile 0.45-micron filter. (For comparison with the other day’s post about reverse osmosis, those filters are on the order of 0.005 microns, about 100x smaller pores). So theoretically all the flavor and aroma compounds should flow right through the filter. It’s possible that the idea that color and flavor are stripped out of wine by filtration has to do with the fact that filter pads generally turn purple after filtering red wine. Sure, some of the color can get stuck to the filter pad at first, but the pads quickly become saturated, and the amount left on the filter is insignificant compared to the amount in the wine. Still, some winemakers swear that the wine is “stripped” by filtration. I might buy the argument that micron- and larger-sized particles left over from fermentation might change the mouthfeel of a wine, but I don’t believe, for example, that fruit aroma could disappear. Unfortunately, until we have some sensory data, it’s difficult to gauge the sensory impact of filtration.

Like most things in life, though, there’s no place for absolutes here. Not all unfiltered wines are {Brett} bombs, and not all filtered wines are bereft of flavor and aroma.

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