Sunday, January 15, 2012

Ancient Fire Archeology – Finding Old Wines

Before we get into this, I must define old wine as it pertains to my homemade wines. My first batch of wine went into the bottle in 2004. For the first 2-3 years thereafter most of my wine was consumed by year’s end and the few bottles that were given away were returned to me, likewise empty. As my annual production increased wine got to see shelf time for longer, I started giving split batches as gifts and friends would scurry a bottle or two away as a novelty. That last part is despite telling them not to on most occasions, but we will revisit that later. So when I say an old wine, it will be magical if it is 3-4 years old when I uncover it. I should be able to try some 5 and 6 year old homemade wines in the next couple of years.

Over the 2011 holidays I spent several days in Connecticut with my parents. My parents are very vocal supporters of my wines, as well as the beers, ciders, meads and other projects, so they’ve been the recipients of them on many occasions. In 2007 my brother and I went in together on a batch of Vidal-based dessert wine made to be reminiscent of Ice Wine, although not produced in any such way. We gave the wine to our mother as a birthday gift that year. It was, and still is one of the finest batches of wine I’ve ever made. Mom was elated and has enjoyed it many times since. I knew she had several bottles left, and I also knew I could be gambling not saying anything about drinking them yet. I hadn’t considered the storage conditions at play, after all the wine was a gift and how it was used was out of my hands.

Mom expressed an interest in pouring the last two bottles at an upcoming dinner party. I took a look at one of the bottles and it clearly had experienced a protein degradation. This is a flaw of some older white wines and is likely when you see white fluffy stuff floating in the wine. In the first few years I made wine I focused on learning how to do it better, but there is a lot to learn and by 2007 I had yet to use cold stabilization and long clearing regimens to ensure my wines were clear and would stay that way. This is why I often told friends to open the wine I gave them as gifts soon, and why I purposely opened and shared it at many parties we attended. These wines were not fined and prepared for any long term life!

I was immediately suspect that Mom’s Ice Wine would be drinkable. I suggested she open one right before serving it and have a backup wine ready. She opted to open one right then and there, my mother rarely drank before I started making the stuff by the way, which of course peaked my interest. Ignoring the floating particles, the wine was still clear, had retained the caramel/orange hued color and smelled fantastic, if not a bit hot. In the mouth the wine reminded me of Madeira wine. It had flavors of nuts, dried fruits, it was oxidative and a bit reductive. The dried fruits I expected and found in the nose had masked the other elements, but they were easily found with each sip. The final vote was that the wine was quite drinkable, but would certainly not be best described based on its original making.

This was a very curious outcome for me because I had never experienced it in older wines of mine I had come across. Earlier in 2011 friends of our found a bottle of a 2006 Pinot Gris I had forgotten I had made. I don’t know how they stored it, but it was oxidized, brown and totally undrinkable. Younger homemade wines that have passed their peak have typically been completely dried out, slightly tan or brown and not pleasant to drink.

The room my mother had stored the wine in sees a lot of sunlight and during the warmer months gets quite warm. Effectively my mother had raised the wines up to the top of the hothouse and let them cook a bit. My mother was making Madeira in her office without even knowing it! Well done, is all I could say. It was remarkable to drink it and consider how unlikely it would be for what I was drinking to come from where it did.

I have one bottle of this wine left that has been stored in different conditions. I’m hesitant to crack it open without an occasion to enjoy it, because if it is has survived it will undoubtedly be one of the best homemade wine tasting experiences I will ever had.

In the last several years I have made enough wine that some of it will get to 5 or more years old allowing I and others to enjoy many more peak wines and continue to come across interesting twists with how some of the wines age. It is exciting to think that with age wines of mine that have been well cared for could reach heights I’ve never imagined.



p.s. Happy New Year! I shared some project ideas for the New Year at the WineMaker Magazine Blog this week.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Making the Most with What You Have

The year 2011 is in the books (I am writing this on NYE so not quite yet) and looking back it was a great one for the Ancient Fire Wine Blog. I’m new to the wine blogging party in my current format and 2011 was the best of the nearly two years I've been seriously dishing my thoughts on beverages, eats, places to visit to get food & drink, my home brewing projects and odds & ends about the food & beverage industry at large. I’ve enjoyed sharing my experiences immensely and intend to keep on keeping on, but I doubt things will be the same in 2012 on my end and definitely not for readers.

In 2011 I confirmed much of my own suspicions about how my effort at expanding my knowledge and promoting my blog with social media could pay off. I’ve made lots of new connections, attended many events, have sampled fare from all over the world and more people actually read my blog. I cannot complain one bit. My expectations for fun continue to be exceeded. When I’m out an about I’ve come to realize that my blog is the least relevant part of my interest in the world of beverages and food, and since people aren’t running off to read it right when I meet them, it doesn’t matter. That means I can spend less time blogging and I lose nothing.

I started writing in 2008 as a means to share cellar updates from my home wine & beer making projects. I’ve made cider and mead many times as well since then and the projects keep coming. In 2011 I shifted my writing on the wine slice of those projects to Wine Maker Magazine where there is a natural audience for the tales. I’m still making lots of homemade beverages and jump behind the bar at home to mix up cocktails, punches and sample unique spirits from all over the place pretty much weekly. There are two aspects to these activities that are most important and will be the focus of my efforts in 2012.

( My wine cellar in 2009. Multiple by 3X currently. )

( Pressing grapes with friends. )

( The krausen on a batch of freshly brewed beer. Real geek stuff. That's me! )

First, the projects take lots of time. Research time, planning, trials, full batches, application in social settings and finally consideration of lessons learned and the “what nexts”. If I’m going to do some of these things I certainly want to use the time I have to make the most of them. If I don’t want to do them I’ll do something else like read, take a walk or play ball with my dog.

( Mack's Apples Pie Competition in 2011. )

( Survivors Rule! Volunteers, fundraisers, marathon walkers. We've raised almost $75K since 2003. 
Cancer Sucks so we Fight Back! )

Secondly, most importantly, and this is where I am most happy to be reflecting on, I get enjoy these activities with the people in my life that I want to spend time with. Margot and I are learning how to make better beer together. We rock! I am meeting new people in my local area that enjoy the same activities and want to hang out and learn from each other. I can’t pass this up. And all the in-real-life trips that I plan and take will reconnect me with birds of a feather from elsewhere. These are “my people” as Margot calls it.

( Grilled pizza party in the backyard. So much fun! )

( Beer tasting at The Drinkery in Londonderry, NH. )

( Bus 1, 1a and local wine drinkers from the Wine Bloggers Conference in Virginia. No sleep till Portland! )

( Cocktails with friends. Loved working the bar! )

( Wine tastings with friends at home are consistently the most fun events we host. )

So, what next? I am going to write when I’m inspired and tweet when there is a conversation to be had. I’m going to be out there doing all the things that I could write about, but without of the stress of “having” write about them or share them on Twitter. I’ll read about what others are up to when I can. The live story and the live event is where I’m going to be focused. Sorry to all if that means I’ll share less of what I am up to post by post, but on the flip side planning to meet up somewhere for a conference or to crash tasting rooms has us making memories together. See, that’s way better!

( I play a salsa judge on TV. International Chili Championship. )

( Getting out for walks in Vermont is one of the things I look forward to the most. )

( Crashing the beer tent or the tasting bar with friends is always a good laugh! )

( Dinner with WineMaker Conference friends. Cheers to Cheryl & Christina. See you in June! )

( Working local harvests is great way to meet other winemakers and wine lovers. )

( Get out! The beach or the mountains, it doesn't matter. Go! )

( The Boston Brunchers at the Harvard Common Press. )

No decision is made without consequences however, and this one comes with anxiety over spending less time interacting with so many people I’ve met through my blog and Twitter. Less time with the people who have been readers and friends along for this ride. Spending less time blogging and on Twitter means I can’t support the efforts of many others who I have been a reader of as well. It makes me sad, but I've got to deal with that. I've created solid ties locally and those will naturally continue in real life and online. Relationships take time and I have to focus on the immediate ones to focus my passion and enthusiasm optimally.  This is the unfortunate result. This is going to mean some disconnectedness’ for me, and keeping tabs on the buzz about events I attend is going to suffer. The rejiggering here is going to take some careful work.

A huge round of thank you’s and appreciative gestures are due to all my readers, friends, followers, likes, et. al. Sharing my adventures with you, interacting with you in comments and following you as well has been a blast. Cheers to meeting up in front of a glass of something exciting in places along our continued journey’s.


One other thought is worth closing with. Making personal choices is the right and privilege of everyone. I applaud any person who makes choices and lives with obvious happiness in the offing. Everyone’s circumstances, personal makeup and resources are different, so each of us has to do what we feel is best for us to make the most of what we’ve got. We also then just need to go do it. It’s the most positive way to live. That is my wish for good health for you in the New Year.

And with that I'm off! Gotta clean and prep for a house full of people on New Years Day.