Monday matchup: Cabernet Franc/Noiret blends

13 October 2009
By Tom Mansell

I haven’t reviewed a wine in a while, so here are two! It’s not every day you see a comparison of blends of Cabernet Franc and Noiret, a relatively new hybrid grape developed by Cornell. But this isn’t really your everyday wine blog.

Note: I tasted these two wines together, blind, in identical ISO 9000 glasses. I did this partially because I received the Stoutridge as a sample from the Hudson Valley Wine Goddess. For more details about samples, see the sample policy.

Fulkerson Winery Burntray 2007

Picture 15

Appellation: Finger Lakes
Grape: 50% Cabernet Franc, 50% Noiret
ABV: 12%
Price Point: $12
Closure: Red molded synthetic cork

Technical Notes: 9 months in French and American oak.

Hedonic Notes: PEPPER! You are the hot dog guy in BurgerTime and this wine is Peter Pepper. Black pepper but also zingy white pepper are right up front on the nose. There is an interesting floral component, too. On the palate is a structured acidity, with some dark fruit and oak around but not so well integrated. A bit of {astringency} on the gums. It’s a little bit thin for me, but if it had a bit more {mouthfeel} I would really like it.

Rating: corkcorkcorknocorknocork 3 out of 5 corks for a fun, easy drinker with a spicy edge.

I’ve already written positively about my visit to Fulkerson Winery (on the west side of Seneca Lake). Unfortunately, this particular wine is sold out at the winery, but they have just released a non-vintage Burntray, which is 66% Cabernet Sauvignon and 34% Noiret.

Stoutridge Vineyard Cabernet Franc Noiret 2007
Appellation: Hudson River Region, NY
Grape: 50% Cabernet Franc, 50% Noiret
ABV: 12%
Price Point: $28
Closure: Natural cork

Technical Notes:From the website:

We are a gravity winery, meaning we never use pumps or filters in our winemaking. In addition we do minimal chemical processing to our wines. We do not “fine” our wines with gelatins, tannins or clays. We do not add water or sugar nor do we chemically adjust the acidity of our wines. We use minimal sulfites in our wines and we do not add sulfites or sorbates to wine after they are made. The wines are very nearly unprocessed and in a very natural state.

Hedonic Notes: At first sniff of this wine, I thought something was wrong. I got this odd, labrusca-type smell. While Noiret does have some labrusca parentage, the other Noiret wine certainly didn’t have a Welch’s grape juice aroma. Then I tasted it.

Bubbles mean fermenation.  Welcome in champagne, unwelcome in this wine.  I broke the screen on Sarah's camera at the Wine Festival (sat on it), so pictures are a bit hit or miss lately.

Bubbles mean fermenation. Welcome in champagne, unwelcome in this wine. I broke the screen on Sarah's camera at the Wine Festival (sat on it), so pictures are a bit hit or miss lately.

… The light effervescence on my tongue was unexpected, as was the ferocious acidity. I looked down at the glass to see tiny bubbles around the rim, which stuck around long after I had poured. Unlike Don Ho, though, these tiny bubbles in the wine did NOT make me happy. This wine had undergone a re-fermentation in the bottle. The off-the-charts acidity made me think that it had not fully completed {malolactic fermentation}. Now, MLF can be a real bugbear for winemakers, and it’s tough to tell exactly when it’s finished without an enzymatic assay or special test strips (both quite expensive). As the technical note states, the winery strives to use low sulfites. In this case, any sulfiting was not enough to dispatch the malolactic bacteria. In addition, this wine was unfiltered, so surviving malolactic bacteria probably paraded right into the bottle, where they were able to happily convert at least a little more of the malic acid into lactic acid (releasing CO2 in the process). This was OK in my winemaking class, where we were clearly amateurs and our MLF got stuck after about three weeks, but for a commercially released wine, re-fermentation in the bottle is totally unacceptable.

I wish that was the only thing wrong with this wine, but it was also {oxidized}. The sharp tinge of acetaldehyde on the back of my tongue was unmistakeable. When wines are unfiltered, winemakers generally rely on racking to clarify wine before bottling. Racking (i.e., settling wine, then decanting it off of the sediment into another tank or barrel) exposes wine to oxygen, so additional racking steps may have led to oxidation in this wine. After a day, the oxidation was even more pronounced and getting worse, while the Fulkerson was still very drinkable 2, 3, and 4 days after opening.

This could have been a bad bottle, but something tells me there is something systematic about at least one of the faults that I discovered. This could be one of those cases where “natural” doesn’t necessarily mean “good.” Are you listening, Alice Feiring?

Rating: halfcorknocorknocorknocorknocork 1/2 out of 5 corks for reminding me of our batch of Pinot where MLF got stuck and the wine oxidized while we waited for MLF to restart.

I feel bad because I investigated Stoutridge after hearing a glowing recommendation from a reader about the winery (Sorry, Matt!). This wine apparently won a gold medal at the New York Food and Wine Classic, AND Debbie sent it to me, so maybe it was just a bad bottle. At any rate, I would like to try more wines from the Hudson Valley, in addition to giving this one another shot.


Science: Grape Profile: NOIRET
Noiret (nwa-RAY) marks the first {hybrid} grape I’ve had since I decided to begin my quest to drink wines made from 100 different hybrid grapes, and it’s a good one to start with. It was released by Cornell University in 2006, though it had been available for test runs by growers since 1994. It has a complex interspecific parentage, being a cross between Steuben, commonly a table grape, and the not-so-artfully-named NY65.0467.08, of which one of the parents is Chancellor. Its lineage includes vinifera, labrusca, and ruspestris grapes. Its major aroma characteristics seem to be black pepper and some dark fruit. In general, when I think Noiret, I think pepper.

According to John Iszard, Fulkerson has apparently been making wine from Noiret since 2003 and they are very pleased with its performance. I have heard through the grapevine (HA!) that vegetative growth (i.e., favoring leaves and shoots over fruit) can be a concern with Noiret, and viticulturalists at the Geneva Experiment Station are still experimenting with different rootstocks to control vine vigor. This grape’s performance so far makes it promising, especially given the complexity that a little pepper can add to a wine. Look for this one to appear as a blender in many wines in the future.

For the full details on this grape, see this bulletin released by Cornell.

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9 Responses to Monday matchup: Cabernet Franc/Noiret blends

  1. David Falchek on 13 October 2009 at 8:36 am

    Interesting (and unfortunate) review. I think noirette may have some potential as a blender, adding some depth of color and a dash of complexity for operations trying to produce passable red vinifera. 50/50 is way too much.
    Considering where noirette is planted and who tends to grow it, it’s entirely possible a few clusters (or rows) of Concord got in the mix.
    Unfortunately, poorly constructed wines like this makes hybrid-vinfira Frankenwines apostasy to many.
    Thanks for the insight!

  2. Tom Mansell on 13 October 2009 at 9:27 am

    David:

    Wow, that’s a pretty damning comment.

    I thought some of Stoutridge’s enological practices were questionable, that’s true, but the faults I describe have nothing to do with the grape itself. Viticulturally, though, there is no way one could confuse Concord with Noiret. Have you SEEN a Concord leaf? They’re as big as my hand and really light on the bottom, while Noiret leaves are much more vinifera-like. And anyone with a nose could smell a Concord vine a mile away! :)

    Seriously, though, Fulkerson has made many wines out of Noiret (one 100% in 2005, which won a bronze at the Wine & Food classic, for what that’s worth) and they have been making wine in the region for 20 years and growing grapes for 30. Stoutridge is a brand new winery (I believe 2007 was their second vintage), in a fairly underdeveloped growing region, so they are likely still working out some of the kinks.

    I don’t think it’s fair, though, to equate growing hybrids with lazy winemaking. The Fulkerson is a perfect counterexample. While the pepper can be a bit heavy in Noirets (especially 100%), the Fulkerson was a perfectly respectable wine that I would say goes beyond “passable”.

    It’s just this perception of “apostasy” that I am trying to combat by drinking 100 hybrids. Maybe after I complete this task I will be in the same camp as you, but so far, I believe that hybrids will continue to play an important role in NY and other states’ viticulture for years to come.

  3. [...] Monday matchup: Cabernet Franc/Noiret blends « Ithacork: Wine and Science in the Finger Lakes ithacork.wordpress.com/2009/10/13/fulkerson-burntray-2007-vs-stoutridge-cabernet-franc-noiret-2007 – view page – cached I haven’t reviewed a wine in a while, so here are two! It’s not every day you see a comparison of blends of Cabernet Franc and Noiret, a relatively new hybrid grape developed by Cornell. But this… (Read more)I haven’t reviewed a wine in a while, so here are two! It’s not every day you see a comparison of blends of Cabernet Franc and Noiret, a relatively new hybrid grape developed by Cornell. But this isn’t really your everyday wine blog. (Read less) — From the page [...]

  4. Michael Gorton, Jr. on 14 October 2009 at 7:59 am

    Tom,
    I liked this alot. Especially all of the references to your Winespeak section. Very helpful to someone that may not know alot of wine speak. The history of the Noiret was perfect. You don’t always see that. It gave me a better understanding of the grape and the wine. Though what I really liked was that you were humble about the 2007 Cab Franc Noiret. You may not have liked it, and it could have been a bad bottle. But instead of shrugging it off and maybe not posting it, you explained all aspects of what you tasted and how it could have come to be a bad bottle.

    I hope to read more posts like this, well written, understandable and educational. Thanks for this.

    ~Michael

  5. Polprav on 16 October 2009 at 1:40 pm

    Hello from Russia!
    Can I quote a post in your blog with the link to you?

  6. [...] in 1972 and has been the most successful hybrid wine grape Cornell has released (The others are Noiret, Corot Noir, Valvin Muscat, Melody, Horizon, Chardonel, GR7 (Geneva Red 7), and Traminette, along [...]

  7. Steve Osborn on 25 March 2010 at 6:13 am

    Hi,

    I just wanted to clear up some of what I think are misunderstandings about this wine.

    The wines at Stoutridge are never pumped or filtered. The bubbles you saw in the wine are because the final bit of carbonation from primary fermentation is never knocked out of the wine. Without agitation or heat application the CO2 remains. There is no way around it. The wine had not undergone a secondary fermentation in the bottle, and had completed malo-lactic fermentation in cask. This wine had no free sulfites for 12 months in a cask in the winery before bottling. Malolactic bacteria had finished their job. There are telltale aromas that occur with malo-lactic in the bottle and this wine has none of them. It is highly likely that this is the first bottle of wine you have had with zero pumps or filters, and why the bubbles led you to think malo-lactic.

    Also the wines at Stoutridge are not fined. One of the reasons is that, especially hybrids like Noiret, can contain a fair amount of pectins and proteins which mask the perception of polyphenolic bitterness. I want this effect because making unprocessed red wines in New York usually means very harsh and bitter wines. This is also one of the reasons for the high percentage of Noiret, as the Cabernet Franc portion of this wine has very little of this “softening” effect. I believe this is why you found the wine to taste “light”. The polyphenol (tannin) level in this wine is actually surprisingly high, as is evidenced by the deep purple color, it’s 8 day, 3x a day punched down fermentation on skins and seeds, and zero fining during the winemaking.

    As for the oxidative aromas you found, the wine does have some Brettanomyces from Cask which gives it a certain nuttiness. I don’t believe it is a fault at the level in this wine. I don’t get any acetyl-aldehyde in the nose even upon extended exposure to air.

    So I am not trying to defend the wine really. I am just trying to explain it. Our wines are often misunderstood because they are so different. I am not sure which questionable wine making practices you are referring to, unless to make wines in a wholly unprocessed manner and with great care to retain as much of the vineyard taste as possible is somehow questionable. In our day and age I suppose it is. In a very real sense these wines are not commercial items. Without filtering, fining and sulfiting, they really cant be. I never make a wine thinking of how it will compete in the wine market. My customers want more than that. It is one reason why our wines are sold only at the winery. The are unexpected.

    Regards,

    Steve

  8. Dileep Gangolli on 7 October 2011 at 2:12 pm

    Hi everyone,

    If anyone is still following this thread which I found by Googling “Making wine with Noiret Grapes” then let me add a few comments.

    I just got back from Michigan where I bought close to 200 lbs of Noiret to make wine. Having made wine this past year for the first time, I had been using frozen grapes. I am also buying CAB FRANC grapes so it will be interesting to try to create a blend from these two juices.

    I have to make one comment in defense of Stoutridge wines though I have never tried them. What they seem to be doing is similar to what I encountered on a recent trip to SONOMA where I met with people who run the NPA in Santa Rosa.

    I was stunned when I tried this wine because it was so different. Many of the traditional wineries in the area pointed to those guys as nut cases but what I found was a wine that was fruit forward and much like what most peasants and countrymen must have drank in centuries past before the industry succumbed to commercialism and visual and marketing appeal.

    I have tried to model much of my wine making in the same way so am anxious to try a Stoutbridge wine. What David has described above seems to me to be the purist form of wine making that is totally noninterventionist. It involves risk due to issues around spoilage and it most likely will not keep for more than 6 months with lack of sulfites or non use of stabilizers to stop fermentation.

    However, once one gets used to the taste, this type of wine is a very different experience than what we now think of as wine. Lower in alcohol, each pressing has a very different character when made in this manner. Truly unique rather than consistent.

    Also, storage temperature may have been a factor. This type of wine must be stored in very cool temperatures (60 Degrees) or it can start bottle fermentation and one has sparkling wine.

  9. Tom Mansell on 7 October 2011 at 2:25 pm

    Dileep:

    This wine was oxidized beyond recognition. I don’t have a problem with natural winemaking per se, but it is the winemaker’s job to make sure that faults like oxidation and re-fermentation don’t obscure the true nature of the wine.

    My observations on this wine were not due to a lack of experience. Rather, it was training that allowed me to identify exactly what was going on. It’s not Brettanomyces, though I don’t doubt that it would be in there. This wine might be Brett city if you tried it now.

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