The First Winemaker’s Academy Wine Tasting
This past weekend (July 7th 2013) my wife and I hosted the very first wine tasting showcasing the wines produced during The Great Riesling Yeast Experiment (part i, part ii, part iii). It was held at our house with just one other couple we invited over.
The point of this wine tasting, and the point of the experiment, was to determine if you could produce distinctly different wines by fermenting the same grape juice with different strains of yeast. I split a six gallon World Vineyard Riesling kit into two three gallon batches and fermented them separately, one with RHST and the other with W15 yeast strains.
Setting The Stage
The wine tasting was conducted blind so no one knew which Riesling was which. I didn’t want my wife or I to have any prejudgments based on previous bottles we had consumed. Because each bottle was labeled with the proportions of the blend it contained I had to cover the bottles. To do that I simply taped a sheet of printer paper around the bottle and gave it a number.
Each taster had a place-mat with five glasses on it and the wines were poured in order from one to five. This way we would each be tasting the same wine at the same time and could share our thoughts along the way.
The Wine Tasting
We tasted each wine in turn taking the time to chat about what flavors we were picking up and how it came across. All five wines were identical in color which was not really surprising given that they came from the same grape juice.
Between each wine we snacked on club style crackers to clear the palate. In hind sight I would have liked to have more pairing foods to go with the wines, however, more flavorful foods may have interfered with the objective of this experiment.
As the wine tasting progressed it became apparent that each of the five blends was in fact quite different from one another. Our guests, who are not wine fanatics like we are, commented that they definitely could tell a difference in the wines.
The 100% W15 and 100% RSHT Rieslings of course showed the greatest difference in flavors as these were the unblended wines. In general if someone preferred the 100% W15 wine they also favored the blend that contained 75% W15 over the blend with only 25% W15.
This was a great indicator that everyone could honestly tell the difference between each of the blends and there weren’t any issues playing with their perception. Some times during wine tastings your taste buds get worn out after a few wines and the later wines you drink all taste about the same. However, this was not a problem as indicated by the taster’s preferences.
My wife liked the 75% W15 / 25% RHST blend the best while I preferred the 100% RHST. The husband of our guest couple preferred the 100% W15 and his wife also liked the 75% W15 / 25% RHST blend. So there was a bit of a spread between us.
Most interesting to me was my wife and I’s preferred wines. When we bottled these wines we both preferred the 50% W15 / 50% RHST blend over all the others. Now, neither of us were too excited about that one.
These wines were bottle aged about four months which is pretty reasonable for a white wine from a kit. As time marches on and we drink the remaining bottles it will be interesting to see if their flavor profiles assimilate or if they maintain their individual character.
The most valuable take away from this experiment is that the yeast you choose, without a doubt, has an incredible impact of the flavor profile of your wine. I was really surprised at just how different the two unblended wines were and how different the blends were too. I expected the blends to be more or less the same yet they were each unique.
While I still believe that most of the characteristics of a finished wine come from the vineyard, a winemaker’s choice of yeast is critical in shaping the finished wine. Picking the right yeast is probably the most important decision a winemaker must make, second only to what grapes you want to ferment.
When I started this experiment I was expecting these wines to have some subtle differences, perhaps even undetectable to the untrained palate. However, this wine tasting proved that you can not only create incredibly different unblended wines, you can also blend those together in varying proportions to create many unique flavor profiles.
I strongly encourage you to try this experiment if you’re so inclined. This experience has taught me volumes about crafting unique wines. Most importantly it has taught me that choosing a wine making yeast is a critical decision.
While I really like what the RHST yeast brought out in the Riesling the W15 yeast I would probably not use again. It’s things like this that you just can’t learn any other way aside from experimenting with your wine making methods.
If you’d like to give this a try yourself, please check out The Great Riesling Yeast Experiment posts (part i, part ii, part iii) for more details. Also, I’ve detailed the exact procedure I used to pick the yeasts I went with in this article: How to Choose the Right Wine Making Yeast.