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#61645 - 04-04-2002 20:27:40 TN: Some ReverseOsmosis FSU Syrahs (long/boring/geeky)
TomHill Offline
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Registered: 02-15-2004 17:42:19
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Tasted last night (4/3/02) some reverse osmosis wines:
5. Fresno State Calif Syrah JohnDeinerVnyd (14.35%) 1999: Dark color; strong blackberry/
blueberry/Syrah slight coffee/mocha/toasty/pungent almost Tensley/SantaBarbara-like quite
attractive nose; fairly soft rich blueberry/blackberry/Syrah light smokey/roasted/mocha/
oak quite lush flavor; med.short soft quite lush/blueberry finish w/ light tannins; a
bit on the soft side & lacking structure to age but loads of blueberry Syrah fruit;
a bit pricey at $31 but amazing quality for a SanJoaquinVlly Syrah. $155.00 (CB)
3. Fresno State Calif Syrah (13.35%) 1999: Nose definitely different; a bit supressed, a
bit metallic/tinny, a bit less effusive fruit. On the palate, much less balanced, a
bit tart&lean and less lush and less fruit in the wine. Easily the least of the 5 wines.
4. Fresno State Calif Syrah (13.75%) 1999: Much better than 3., more lush effusive fruit on
the nose; softer/rounder more lush & full of fruit on the palate; a big step up over 3;
no noticible alcohol on nose or palate.
5. Fresno State Calif Syrah (14.35%) 1999: A slight step up over 4.; very slightly more effusive/
lush Syrah nose; softer/rounder more balanced on the palate; my slight preference over
6., but they're very close.
6. Fresno State Calif Syrah (15.0%) 1999: A slight whiff of hot/alcohol on the nose; a bit
more of an overripe character and bit less lush fruit on the nose; a very slight bite of
alcohol on the palate and a bit less lush/round/soft fruit. On it's own, a very attractive
Syrah, but the alcohol is starting to creep in when tasted aside 5.
7. Fresno State Calif Syrah (18.0%) 1999: Slightly darker color; noticibly more alcohol/heat/
harshness on the nose; some noticible Turley-character on the nose; slight sweetness
on the palate but still essentially a dry wine; a slight hot/fumey/harsh/alcoholic
character on the palate but still loads of lush Syrah fruit; a slight bit of an overripe
character shows in the wine. On it's own, a lovely Syrah that carries its alcohol well,
but the alcohol is noticible when tasted aside the others.
3.-7. Fresno State Calif Syrah (about 15%) 1999: Made by mixing wines 3. and 7. together:
This wine smelled & tasted very close to 6., except the alcohol seemed to not be as
well-integrated and it was a bit harsher/hotter on the palate and slightly more
alcoholic in the nose. But the blend and 6. were very very close in character.
And a very long&boring bloody pulpit:
1. This was a 5-pack case that's available from DarrellCorti in Sacramento. The wine was
made for this experiment by the students at FresnoStateUniv. When I tasted this wine,
I immediately thought "Holy $hit....students made this wine?? This is not your typical
kid's science fair project"!! I've also had a Zin and a Barbera from Darrell, made at
FSU from SanJoaquin grapes, priced down around $8/btl, that have been remarkably good
and great values. Those folks down there know a bit about winemaking it seems.
2. This was a FSU and industry cooperative project. The grapes were donated by John Diener
from his RedRockRanch in FivePoints, a small burg midway between Coalinga and Fresno,
right in the heart of the SanJoaquin Valley. Harvested at 31 Brix (the 0.55 multiplier
doesn't account for the 18% alcohol) with a 2-day cold-soak, the fermentation ran for
17 days at 55-60 degreesF. Pressed at 1 Brix, the fermentation proceeded to 0.6% rs
afore sticking.
In January, the wine was sent to Vinovation for reverse osmosis to reduce the alcohol,
from the original 18.0% to 12.8%,and everything in between in 0.1% increments. The four
"sweet spots" at above alcohols were selected for aging 6 months in American oak. Each
lot completed alcoholic fermentation except the original 18.0%, stopping at <0.2% rs.
Three of the four reduced alcohol lots finished M-L fermentation. Then given a 5 micron
filteration and packaged in a slick redwood box.
3. This was a classic LosAlamos tasting. When you get a room-full of LosAlamos scientific
types together, each of whom is an expert on whatever subject happens to be at hand,
the discussions become heated, tedious, and ongoing. Not unlike the lengthy discussion
we once had on syphons and whether they'd work on the moon or not. There was at least
20 minutes of discussion on RO afore we got down to the task at hand. And, like
any LosAlamos meeting, no consensus was attainable.
And, of course, we had a voting on the best and the worst wine. And since LosAlamos
types ALWAYS have an authoritative opinion (whether they know anything about the subject
or not), we even took a vote before we took the data.... so I could gage what people's
expectations were. The voting results:
Before After
Alcohol Best Worst Best Worst
13.35% 1 12 - 14
13.75% 4 - 3 -
14.35% 4 - 5 -
15.0% 5 - 8 1
18.0% 3 5 1 2

from a total of 17 tasters.
4. Reverse Osmosis and Spinning Cone technology: I've not yet read a really good article,
written for wine-geek types, on this technology. One should be written. Maybe I'll do it.
The technology is widely used in Bordeaux (where high alcohols are seldom a problem),
where they are called concentrators, to remove water from the must afore fermentation,
and increase the intensity and concentration in their wines in order to garner high
scores from certain Monktown attourneys, insuring high prices for their wines. Certain
Monktown attourneys do not seem to be decrying the practice with the same fervor with
which they attack filteration of wines. The use of RO&SC seems to also be spreading to
Burgundy and even Piemonte.
In Calif, the RO&SC technology seems mostly used for reducing the alcohol levels in
their wines. They can harvest the grapes at high sugar levels, increasing those ultra-ripe
flavors that garner high scores from certain Monktown attourneys, but then knock the
alcohol level down to a more reasonable level. As I understand, they send a sample off to
the company, and it's returned as several samples at different alcohol levels. The winemaker
then tastes the samples to determine his preferred "sweet spot" (which I gather is the
alcohol level at which the wine tastes the most harmonious) that he would like in the finished
wine. Then the requisite fraction is sent off to the lab, the wine is totally de-alcoholized
(more economic to monkey with only a fraction of the wine), returned to the winemaker,
and then the entire lot is blended down to the desired alcohol level. My understanding is
that the practice is becoming rather widely used in Calif, but that winemakers are
pretty loathe to acknowledge their use of the practice. Maybe the mailperson up in
Sebastopol should start making a list of who's being sent bills by Vinovation. He could
sell it for a fancy price on these boards I would venture a guess!!
5. As I understand RO&SC, the wine is put thru this machine that entirely deconstructs the
wine; removing the alcohol and the water, and leaving a sort of sludge (where the flavors
and smells are retained). The alcohol is then evaporated from the water and the wine then
is reconstructed. I'm certain this is a rather simplified understanding, but it strikes me
as a rather brutal process to inflict upon a wine.
Consequently, I was very carefully looking for, as I tasted thru these wines, evidence
that this wine had been subjected to such a brutalization. Surely, SHIRLEY, any wine that
had been beaten up this badly would show such evidence of mistreatment. Alas, I could find
NONE!!! There was nothing in smelling or tasting these wines that stood out as a common
characteristic of a wine being subjected to RO/SC. That's not good news at all for certain
Monktown attourneys if they can't identify such treatments in wine!! Maybe that evidence
will surface down the road as the wines age in the bottle, but it's not at all apparent
in this set of young wines.
Bottom line: We, as wine geeks, have often been decrying the use of RO/SC technology
as somehow wrong or manipulative or unethical or unnatural, simply because we just KNOW
it to be so (sort of like the breathing in wines). Maybe, just MAYBE, we are all wrong!!!
Maybe, just MAYBE, we don't know what we're all talking about!!! Just a thought from a very
limited sampling of data.
6. One of the beauties of this tasting experiment was examing our sensitivity to alcohol in
wines. I routinely taste wines that are 15%-16%-17% alcohol. Many people rant&rave about
how such wines taste hot/fumey/burning/alcoholic such wines taste. I seldom find that
in those wines I taste. Maybe my palate has been seared from to many yrs of high-octane
Zins (I have, of course, followed them from the very start!!).
When I tasted the barn-burning 18% by itself, I must admit that it didn't smell or
tasted particularly hot & alcoholic; the wine carried its alcohol rather well I thought.
But when I smelled & tasted thru the wines from the bottom to the top, I finally
started the see the alcohol character in the wine at the 15.0% level. So it was, if
nothing else, a good training experiment for my alcohol sensitivity.
But I was noticing that other tasters were showing higher sensitivity to the alcohol
than I was, some noticing the alcohol becoming obtrusive or noticible at the 14.35%
level. Different strokes for different folks.
7. This was a wonderfull tasting experiment to perform, especially for a LosAlamos type.
I would encourage others (even Monktown attourneys), with more perspecacious palates,
to do this tasting experiment as well. I'd like to be proven wrong. Bottom line: maybe
we're getting all hot&bothered over something we shouldn't be???
8. This tasting was NOT performed blind by most of us. Two of my tasters wanted to do them
blind, so they were accomodated. Their choice of the optimal alcohol level was very
consistent with what the rest of us found, and they were able to pick out the two
extreme ones as well.
9. The wine: This was a Syrah that fermented out to 18.0% alcohol naturally, made from
SanJoaquinValley grapes. The wines were damn good wines, I must admit. I was struck by
two things: Wow.... that San Joaquin grapes can produce a Syrah that's this good; and,
for a 18.0% alcohol base wine, I was totally unable to pick up any raisened or overripe
or pruney character in the wines that would normally be found in wines from grapes of this
high a sugar level.... no real identifiable LateHarvesty character in the wines.
Very impressive on both counts.
10. Vinovation: Winemakers are very reluctant to acknowledge the use of this RO/SC
technology because they know that they would be attacked and critized by consumers and
certain Monktown attourneys for their lack of ethics and manipulative winemaking practices.
I think it would be to both their and Vinovation's (and the other companies that offer up the
the technology) advantage to make more of experiments such as this available to
consumers to make their point that maybe this technology is not as abhorrent as we first
believed. Maybe such a seminar at ZAP or HdR would be worth doing, or at any of the
many wine festivals around the country. Of course, most winemakers want to be known for
their use of "natural and honest" winemaking techniques, and thus may be reluctant to
participate in such a seminar.
11. Further experiments: I would love to see FSU repeat this experiment, using Zin grapes
from a better growing area, like Paso or Sonoma. I plan to buy another 5-pack from
Darrell and repeat the experiment 4-5 yrs down the road, just to see the effect of aging
and if it makes the RO treatment more obvious; not that these wines will benefit from
much aging. I'd also like to see the same wine totally deconstructed by RO and the
reconstructed up to its original alcohol level, and then taste them side by side against
the un-RO's one. And do the experiment again as the wines age in the btl. That should show
if the RO is brutalizing the wine as much as we expect.
Finally, the assumption behind the use of RO/SC technology is that the grapes at riper/
higher sugar levels give superioor smells and flavors. I would like to see the grapes
harvested to give, say, 14%; and then ripen them to give, say, 16%. Then RO/SC the alcohol
wine down to the 14% level and taste those two side-by-side. That would be a good taste
of that assumption.
My guess is that many of these experiments have already been done at Vinovation and
elsewhere. But we consumers, certain Monktown attourneys notwithstanding, would certainly
find such experiments useful for our own peace of mind over the technology.
12. My big fear in this experiment was that one of the wines would be corked. But we lucked
out, none were.
13. Bottom line: My "sweet spot" for these wines was at the 14.35% level. Others preferred
the 15.0% version. I liked it, too, but recognizing the presence of the alcohol (which
I wouldn't have by itself) detracted a bit for me. But none of us were able to either
smell or taste anything that we could identify as a wine that had been brutalized by RO/SC.
TomHill (at his geeky best today)

#61646 - 04-04-2002 20:41:17 Very Cool, Tom
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Tremendously interesting. Appreciate the effort. FYI, here's the Vinovation web page on dealcing.<br><ul><li><a href="http://www.vinovation.com/alcadjustment.htm">Vinovation Alcohol Adjustment</a></ul>

#61647 - 04-04-2002 20:51:45 Tom are you posting this on other boards?
Bob Davis Online   content

Registered: 12-13-2000 08:00:00
Posts: 4579
Loc: Steeler Nation
Robin's and Mark Squires? It would be great discussion.

I've admitted before that I really don't care how the wine was made as long as it tastes good. Ageing? That's another big consideration that needs to be addressed.

#61648 - 04-04-2002 20:53:57 Since it's Reverse Osmosis, Tom, does that mean.....
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.....that you've been following these wines from the VERY END?!?!?!?!?

Anyway, now that we've gotten the frivolities out of the way, thanks for the experiment. Clearly, it's just one set of data points based on RO on one wine, so we can't make any sweeping generalizations.

Oh, who am I kidding, of course we can make sweeping generalizations. I thought it was interesting that people started to notice the alc. levels anywhere between 14 and 15%, depending on palates. It was also interesting to note that at least for this wine, the RO process didn't seem to "brutalize" the final product, to use your term.

Sounds like a fun experiment worth repeating with another wine, like a Zinfandel.


#61649 - 04-04-2002 20:56:09 Yup.....
TomHill Offline
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Elvis Has Entered the Building!

Registered: 02-15-2004 17:42:19
Posts: 10228
Loc: LosAlamos
Posted it to Robin's WLDG as well. Don't go to Mark's board much anymore, so didn't post there. Since it's a RP Board now, don't know how well the comments would be taken there.
But feel free to post it there if you want.

#61650 - 04-04-2002 21:26:33 Thanks for the extensive notes...
Ken Zinns Offline

Registered: 12-15-2000 08:00:00
Posts: 3127
Loc: Oakland, CA
Sounds like it was a very worthwhile experiment. I'd be interested to see a similar experiment with Pinot Noir or another varietal that might not handle harsh treatment as well as Syrah or Zin.

#61651 - 04-04-2002 21:35:54 Thanks for suffering through the lineup :-)
Bryan Gros Offline

Registered: 03-28-2001 08:00:00
Posts: 1340
Loc: Oakland,CA
All in the name of science I guess.

You listed the obvious follow up experiments, and it would be neat to read the studies. Maybe I should head over the Davis and hang out in the library one Saturday.

#61652 - 04-04-2002 21:53:40 I was really enjoying this whole thing until...
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the very last paragraph in which you referred to your personal sweet spot. There are some things none of us need to know, Tom. I also resemble your constant references to that Monktown pied-piper as the "Monktown Attorney". Obviously you find it amusing to associate and link his character to the fact that he has a law degree. I will remind you that the man barely ever used his law degree before finding an easier way to convince others of his prowess, tell them what they want to hear, and make good money in the process.

#61653 - 04-04-2002 21:57:12 PinotNoir....
TomHill Offline
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Registered: 02-15-2004 17:42:19
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Very seldom do you look for levels of ripeness over 15% in Pinot,
the flavors are not very good. So not much incentive to do it with Pinot.

#61654 - 04-05-2002 01:28:45 Re: PinotNoir....
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There are Many, Many California Wineries applying this technology to their Pinot Noir program.


#61655 - 04-05-2002 17:13:13 Re: ReverseOsmosis
John B-Wood Offline

Registered: 12-14-2000 08:00:00
Posts: 3323
very interesting post, Tom. Thanks for taking the time to describe the details.

#61656 - 04-05-2002 22:15:56 Re: TN: Some ReverseOsmosis FSU Syrahs (long/boring/geeky)
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I was able to attend this tasting, and got a big kick out of it. For me the most important aspects of the tasting were to a) see how widely varying were some people's tolerance for alcohol, and b) to discover that my tolerance was among the lowest of the group.

My favorite wine was the one adjusted to 13.75% alcohol, closely followed by 14.35%. The latter _was_, in fact, smoother than the former, but the alcohol was obvious as a separate ingredient in both the nose and the taste, and its effect was to cover up the fruit. The wines above 14.35% were very overtly alcoholic, and the alcohol didn't contribute anything additional that was positive (for me) in either of those wines.

Clearly, most people didn't have that reaction, but it helps explain why I have been so much less tolerant of Turley zinfandels, for instance, than other people have been.

I also feel that Tom's description of the basic wine they started workig with, at 18.0% alcohol, might lead some of you to think it's actually a good syrah. It's good for what it is, an overripe wine from the San Joaquin valley, but I can't imagine anyone wanting to buy it to drink, even at much lower cost. $10 wouldn't be low enough. And the original, 18% version, was so loaded with alcohol it was a joke! I was stunned to see that for two of our tasters it was the favorite. For me it was the worst of the bunch.

Also, Tom's conclusion that the wine was not brutalized by the reverse osmosis is unjustified, in my view. If his conclusion were that the wine wasn't ruined, then I could concur. And if we'd had a version of the wine which had been subjected to RO, then topped back up to the original 18%, so we could compare it to the untouched wine, we could reach some kind of a conclusion there. Though even with that experiment, you're talking about a very freaky wine, so "brutalization" that might be evident in a better, more subtle wine might not be evident in this lab sample.

Overall, though, a very informative tasting experiment. There's a lot more to learn here, particularly since it looks like a lot of wineries will be using this process.

#61657 - 04-06-2002 00:45:36 Re: TN: Some ReverseOsmosis FSU Syrahs (long/boring/geeky)
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Hey Tom,

Funny you'd post this when you did...SERENDIPITY!!! I have just stumbled upon a "promotional binder" from Clark Smith @ Vinovations. Interesting fellow.

I'd be glad to fax you the section on R.O. (about 10 pages.) It might offer some insight/intrigue.

R.O. is quite an effective tool for high VA wines (that is...VA removal.) I've tasted wines (and I know you've tasted the same wines...without
knowing of the RO process used...) which earned huge praise in WS, etc.

The VA reduction (using R.O.) section in the binder is pretty long, as is the micro-oxygenation section...maybe we can find a way to get you the info.

I've just started using micro-oxygenation technology at one of the wineries I make wine for. I am VERY excited about the potential quality improvements with this process...a bit esoteric, but next time you're in town...I'll fill you in. You'd like this...no rocket science, just a common-sense idea with technology which has (finally) risen to the challenges of "production realities."

The only alcohol reduction technique I've used is the "Spinning Cone" process (which is not a Vinovations service.) Amazingly "easy" on the wine...especially considering what the wine goes through.

Next time you're in Paso, I'd be glad to let you check this binder out. Interesting stuff!

Best to all...

#61658 - 04-06-2002 21:10:41 Overripe Syrah....And A Friend...
TomHill Offline
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When you get Zin to that ripeness level, you usually start to get the pruney/raisened/overripe smells & flavors. I got none of that in this Syrah.
What Mike Officer has to say on the subject:
<b>Another thing, it's virtually impossible to get syrah to taste pruney or
raisiny. Our syrah last year was around 31 brix as well. Not a trace of overripe character. I'm not sure why syrah behaves like this but might have something to do with phloems
cavitating around 22 brix. It's definitely a physiological issue unique to syrah.</b>

As for the quality of the basic Syrah, at the 13.75% or 14.25% level, I thought it was pretty good. Much better than any RHPhillips EXP or even the basic Cline Calif Syrah. Jeez... I'd even prefer it to the Qupe Central Coast Syrah. It's damn good FRESNO Syrah.

And I agree on the experiment that would show whether RO/SC brutalizes the wine. Take a 15% Syrah, de-alc it down to a few %, then reconstitute it back to the 15% and taste them side-by-side. My guess is that the differences will be pretty hard to taste. I'm working on this one.


And FWIW: Larry & Laura lost a very good friend Thurs afternoon, as did many of us that frequent their household. LBD was put down Thursday afternoon. LBD was one of the most lovable Basset hounds I've ever known, but his hip was failing sooo bad...."Limbs of straw, but a heart of steel". He will be greatly missed.
LBD stood (originally) for LittleBrownDog. With maturity, it became LargeBrownDog. When he came charging out the door to protect his owners, it was LoudBrownDog. In his middle-aged yrs, when one of his favorite pastimes was to hump the (neutered) cat, Ajax or Sampson, both of whom regarded LBD's activities with a great deal of alacrity, it was LasciviousBrownDog. But always, end the end, it was LovableBrownDog.
He could give you this baleful look with those large eyes that would melt even a heart of granite. Especially when he was working the crowd around the dining table. He knew that I was an easy touch. He'd come up to me at table and give me this solefule/pleading look "My owners havent't fed me for days and days.... can you help a poor/starving puppy out??". An evil eye across the table from Laura would say "Don't buy into that story".
So he would sit there and drape his jowls over my beshorted/bare leg, leaving slime dripping all over the top of it, until eventually I would slip him a rind of brie or Epoisses. This slime-bonding with LBD meant a lot to me. Fortunately, it was LBD's owners who had to face that foul dog-breath in the morning, not I.
LBD was a special dog....the world is a lesser place today because of his passing.

#61659 - 04-06-2002 21:16:31 Thanks, Robert....
TomHill Offline
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but I'm going to get in touch with Vinovations and ConeTech and try to better understand their respective technologies, and then write up something for the wine-geeks here in this neighborhood.
The VA reduction is very effective I understand.


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