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Another Award-Winning Vintage
Dec 13th, 2013 by

The ribbons finally arrived.

The ribbons finally arrived.

It was another blue ribbon year for the RootsLiving wine cellar.

This time the chardonnay we made in the fall of 2012 took top prize in the chardonnay category at the Topsfield Fair. The Malbec we made in the spring of 2012 with grapes from Chile won third prize and received a white ribbon.

This was the second time we entered this contest. The first time in 2009, we won first prize for Zinfandel we made in the fall of 2008.

The ribbons arrived just a few weeks ago: better late than never. And although it’s nice to talk and write about wine, I’d rather drink it. Hic!

Micro-Winery: The Smallest Batch of Wine, Ever!
Oct 25th, 2013 by

Teresa and Frank sampled the homemade vino. The grape vines were planted along the fence in back.

Teresa and Frank sampled the homemade vino. The grape vines were planted along the fence in back.

My wine-making partner Teresa did the impossible. She planted eight grape vines in her backyard in Arlington, Mass., harvested the fruit and turned it into about 10 oz. of wine. It has to be one of the smallest batches of wine ever produced.

The grapes she used were Leon Millot, which are a red variety suited to growing in this New England climate. Her neighbor, Frank, had experience with vineyards in Italy and pruned the vines for her.

The wine had a deep, rich color.

The wine had a deep, rich color.

Teresa picked the grapes and then popped them open, using a spoon over a strainer, at her kitchen counter. The crushed grapes fell into a plastic container, stems, seeds, skins and all. She then covered the container with gauze (usually we use cheesecloth, but she didn’t have any on hand, and gauze seemed appropriate for this baby batch).

The grapes fermented for about three days (usually they ferment for about 10 days). The juice was then bottled in an air-tight glass container.

Teresa invited Frank and I over to taste the wine a few weeks ago. Ordinarily you’d wait, at least until December, before tasting the wine but Teresa grew impatient and was eager to test the fruits of her labor.

The wine was surprisingly good: a bit sweet and yes, a little young, but still delicious and made more precious because of how little there was.

Bottling the ‘09 Vintage
Apr 2nd, 2010 by

The corking machine is simple to use. You place a bottle inside the spring-loaded mechanism and then drop a cork in a hole that is perfectly to the top of the bottle. Then you press the lever down.

The corking machine is simple to use. You place a bottle inside the spring-loaded mechanism and then drop a cork in a hole that is perfectly aligned to the top of the bottle. Then you press the lever down.

Today I bottled some more of the ‘09 vintage. I tasted it again and I believe it’s as good as the previous year’s award winner. However, the grapes were a little sweeter in ‘09 and I think it may have more of a kick.

The process at this point is simple: I use a plastic hose to siphon the wine from each 5-gallon carboy to five, 1-gallon wine jugs. I use cheesecloth over a small piece of screen placed in a funnel when I do this to prevent any sediment from the bottom of the carboy from entering the bottle.

I then pour the wine from the 1-gallon jugs into smaller-sized wine bottles using a funnel. I place a bottle in my manual corking machine and place a cork ontop. (Note: Just prior to doing this I boil the corks in water to soften them.) And then I pull the lever down on the corking machine. This action compresses the cork as it pushes it down into the bottle.

The wine is siphoned out of the carboys and into 1-gallon jugs below.

The wine is siphoned out of the carboys and into 1-gallon jugs below.

And there you have it.

A label and a sleeve can now be put on the bottle if desired. But I’m a little bit lazy and only do this when corking a bottle to give as a gift. Because for me, the pleasure is more in the drinking than in the preparation and presentation. Salute!

How To Make Award Winning Wine
Oct 12th, 2009 by

BREAKING NEWS OCT. 7, 2009: THIS JUST IN — Wine made last year in the RootsLiving wine cellar took first place in the Zinfandel category at this year’s Topsfield Fair. This was the first time the RootsLiving wine cellar entered one of its wines in a competition. The 2008 Zinfandel is on display at America’s oldest agricultural fair through Oct. 12. More details and photos to come.

The judges must have liked the wine because many of the bottle on display were nearly empty.

The judges must have liked the wine because many of the bottles on display were nearly empty.

That was the excitement, just a few days ago, when we found out RootsLiving took top honors in the Zinfandel category at the Topsfield Fair. But what we didn’t realize until yesterday when we visited the fair was that RootsLiving also took a third place award in the “Wine Label” competition.

Both the wine and label were on display at the fair in the Fruits and Vegetables Farmer’s Market building — the same room where the giant pumpkin was on display.

Below are links to seven previous posts which trace the victorious journey of last year’s batch and also document the creation of this year’s batch, which was created the same way and now awaits Mother Nature’s magic in the RootsLiving Wine Cellar. Will we have another winner on our hands?

I took the photo used in this label last summer from Long Beach in Gloucester.

I took the photo used in this label last summer from Long Beach in Gloucester.

Wine Entered in Topsfield Fair Competition (Aug. 10, 2009)

Nature is Key in Making a Good Batch of Wine (Sept. 20, 2009)

Preparations and Equipment Needed to Make Wine (Sept. 21, 2009)

Getting the Grapes (Sept. 28, 2009)

Crushing the Grapes (Sept. 29, 2009)

Shhh! Listen and Watch the Wine Ferment (video) (Oct. 1, 2009)

Taking the Wine Out of the Barrel and Pressing the Grapes (Oct. 7, 2009)

This Win is For My Father (June 4, 2009)

(Photos by Gabriel Micheli)

The Grapes Are All Crushed
Sep 29th, 2009 by

Standing on a small wooden chair I drop the grapes into the grinder stem and all.

Standing on a small wooden chair I drop the grapes into the grinder stem and all.

The easy part is over.

On Friday, I purchased 13 cases of grapes: 10 old vine Zinfandel; 2 Muscato; and 1 Alicante. I’ve been using this recipe for years. My father always said to add the white Muscato grapes because they’re sweeter and will generate a higher alcohol content. The red Alicante grapes, he said, are good to add color.

On Sunday, with the help of some good friends, I crushed all 480 pounds. To crush the grapes, you just put them in the grinder, which sits on top of the oak barrel, and turn the crank. The grapes are not really crushed: the grinder merely pops them open and drops them into the barrel.

After the crushing, I covered the barrel with cheesecloth to keep out the dust.

It usually takes a few days before the grapes start fermenting. Fermentation starts when you hear a low rumbling noise, similar to water boiling. However, this batch started fermenting early.

This morning when I woke up, I went down the to the RootsLiving wine cellar, pressed my ear up against the wood barrel and heard the most beautiful sound.

Tis the Season
Sep 21st, 2009 by

My father put a wooden cross on the wine barrel to bless the batch. And we've been blessed ever since.

My father, who passed away in 1999, put a wooden cross on the wine barrel to bless each batch. And I've been blessed with good wine ever since.

The grapes are in!

Here in the northern hemisphere, winemakers are dancing in the streets because this year’s crop has been picked and shipped and ready to be crushed into a joyous purple concoction of bliss.

I make wine the old school way: no special cleaning chemicals, no preservatives, no sulfates. I simply crush the grapes into an old wooden barrel and let nature do its work. After that, it is simply a matter of changing the wine from glass container to glass container over the next several months to allow the wine to mature without sitting on the lees.

This week, I’ll buy the grapes which have been shipped across country from California to the Chelsea produce center outside of Boston. But before then, I have to prepare. And so now is a good time to explain the process for anyone considering doing this on their own.

The first thing I do is prepare the old charred out oak barrel which has been sitting in my cellar, drying out over the past year. I bring the barrel outside and scrub it good with cold water from the hose. I then fill it up and check for leaks: at first there are always many leaks, but as the wood swells, they close up. I help this process along a little by using a hammer to gently tap on the wooden planks and iron rings that keep the barrel together.

The outside of the makeshift wine room in the RootsLiving cellar.

The outside of the makeshift wine room in the RootsLiving cellar.

The inside of the RootsLiving wine room.

The inside of the RootsLiving wine room.

Once the barrel is filled to the top, I let it sit and let the water slowly trickle out of those leaks. Over the next few days, I fill the barrel up and repeat the process until the wood is completely sealed and all leaks have been plugged.

This Saturday, I plan on crushing the grapes and I’ll keep you updated on that and the rest of the process over the next several months. For now, here’s a list of the equipment I use for making about 25-30 gallons:

  • A makeshift room in my basement, where I can close the door and keep the heat out from the furnace.
  • An oak barrel. I use an old charred out oak barrel, which has produced some excellent vintages, despite warnings from the local wine hobby shop that using one of these will ruin the batch.
  • A grape crusher that fits on top of the barrel.
  • Cheesecloth to cover the barrel, once the grapes are crushed.

    The grape crusher sits on top of the barrel. Grapes are put into it, stems and all, and then you turn the crank, which just pops the grapes open and dumps them in the barrel.

    The grape crusher sits on top of the barrel. Grapes are put into it, stems and all. Turning the crank pops the grapes open and dumps them in the barrel.

  • A wooden board or an iron poker to push down the grapes each day while they ferment in the barrel.
  • Six, five-gallon glass carboys.
  • A plastic hose for siphoning, attached to a skinny wooden dowl.
  • A funnel.
  • Corks, wine bottles, and plastic cork sealers.
  • Plastic air-release valves
  • A corking machine.

Until Saturday, Salute!

After a day or so, the grapes begin to ferment in the barrel. The juice rumbles and the grapes rise to the top. Each morning and evening the head of floating grapes needs to be pushed down into the juice with an iron poker or with a clean wooden board.Once the wine stops fermenting, it is siphoned out leaving a mushy mess of grapes. I then take those grapes and press them, squeezing out a few more gallons.

The grapes ferment in the wooden barrel for about 10 days. Once the wine stops fermenting, it is siphoned out leaving a mushy mess of grapes. I then take those grapes and press them using a wine press (shown above), squeezing out a few more gallons.

Wine Entered in Topsfield Competition
Aug 10th, 2009 by

Wine is made in the RootsLiving wine cellar without any preservatives.

Wine is made in the RootsLiving wine cellar without any preservatives.

It’s official. Wine from the RootsLiving wine cellar has been entered into the Topsfield Fair wine competition.

The fair doesn’t start until Oct. 2 but the deadline for submitting the wine is Aug. 12.

started making wine 13 years ago with my father, following some old recipes that were passed down from his father. My favorite, and the one I submitted to the judges, is zinfandel.

I get the grapes from California and zinfandel is one of the better varieties produced there. The wine grapes that they send east are probably not the best in the lot. Those, I believe, are reserved for wineries out there. So my logic tells me that if I can get the worst of the best grapes from California, then I’m doing the best I can to produce a good wine.

Wine grapes are available only in the fall, so this year’s batch was made last October. The wine I make is a pure wine, free of all chemicals, which means no sulfates or preservatives of any kind. The 2008 vintage is a good one: a strong, mellow flavor of red fruits, featuring a dark red color with light raspberry-colored highlights, followed by good strong legs (the streaks that form on the wine glass when the wine is swirled).

I also entered the wine label contest at the Topsfield Fair by making a label using this photograph. Wine, under this label, is appropriately called, "Thatcher Island Zin."

I also entered the wine label contest at the Topsfield Fair by making a label using this photograph. Wine, under this label, is appropriately called, "Thatcher Island Zin."

This is the first time I entered my wine in any competition. I’d rather drink than compete. You know, make love, not war. But over the years friends and family have praised the wine and I thought it would be good to get the opinion of some impartial judges. (After all, I end up giving a lot of my wine away to friends and family. What else are they going to say?).

Last winter I had the pleasure of meeting another contestant, John Misuraca, and his wife, Sandra. His family has been making wine at his home in Gloucester the old fashioned way: by crushing it with their feet. We met over an unbelievably fabulous dinner (one worthy of being mentioned in any high-end food magazine, such as Gourmet or here on the virtual pages of RootsLiving) at Mary and Ray Hilshey’s house in Gloucester.

We both brought bottles of our homemade wine to sample. John’s red was great and took second place the last two years at the fair, so I know the competition is going to be tough.

Wish me luck.

(Photos by Mark Micheli)


In Search of a Good Rose
Jul 17th, 2009 by

Michael Beier of Ruby Wines held a wine tasting at Brix Wine Shop this month.

Michael Beier of Ruby Wines held a wine tasting at Brix Wine Shop last night..

There’s a lot of talk in the wine world these days about roses. These pale pink concoctions used to be snubbed by many because of the bad rep they got from cheap, jug versions that were often bubble-gum sweet and left you with a pucker worthy of biting into a raw, tart lemon.

But no more: Gourmet Magazine recommends eight great rose wines this year. And a Los Angeles Times critic wrote in May that “there is simply nothing better on a warm afternoon, a salve for sun-drenched, heat-driven thirst.”

Free Wine Tasting

So with that in mind, I decided to get re-educated in rose by attending a wine tasting at the fashionable Brix Wine Shop on Broad Street in Boston. Four roses, all from France and all 2008 vintages, were available for tasting:

  1. Sancerre, Pinot Rose, made by Lucien Crochet for $34.99 a bottle.
  2. Cassis, made by Domaine Du Bagnol for $26.99 a bottle.
  3. Cotes du Ventuoux, made by Chateau Valcombe for $16.99 a bottle.
  4. And Syrah, made by Yves Cuilleron for $17.99 a bottle.

My favorite was one of the cheapest at $17.99 a bottle. Still, I wouldn't call it a bargain.

My favorite was one of the cheapest at $17.99 a bottle. Still, I wouldn't call it a bargain.

Surprisingly, the most expensive ones were not my favorites. They were very tart and without a clean finish. The cheapest Cotes du Ventuoux made with cinsault, grenache, and counoise grapes was mellow and not too tart. But my favorite was the next cheapest, the Syrah: medium-bodied, yet light and refreshing, with no pucker.

Does Price Equal Nice?

So does my love for cheaper wine mean my palate is off or not yet perfected? Certainly not.

“One of the enduring myths of wine appreciation is the idea that price is the greatest measure of quality. I can say with utter confidence that you don’t always get what you pay for - sometimes you get more!,” wine critic Robert Whitley wrote this month.

I’m still looking for more. Although the Syrah was decent, I know I can find better. I’ll continue to look over the summer. Meanwhile, if you have found an exceptional rose, please let me know.

(All photos by Mark Micheli)

Read more about wine at MakingVino.com

A Good (and Cheap) Summer Wine
Jun 23rd, 2009 by

I first discovered this in a budget bin at a wine specialty shop. A few weeks later I read about it in a Wall Street Journal article which recommended it.

I first discovered this in a budget bin at a wine specialty shop. A few weeks later I read about it in a Wall Street Journal article which recommended it.

Just because the economy is bad and your income may be taking a hit doesn’t mean you can’t sip good wine this summer. One of my favorite summer whites is Casal Garcia, a portuguese “vinho verde”, which literally means green wine, which translates to young wine.

It’s made by Quinta da Aveleda, a successful family winery in Portugal.

It’s light in color and on the palate. It’s crisp without being too citrusy. It has just a bit of a fizz (It’s not sparkling). It finishes clean. And it’s only $5.99 a bottle at Kappy’s in the Greater Boston area.

Serve it chilled. And hey, at these prices, if you can’t wait for the fridge to work its magic, add a few ice cubes. I won’t tell.

(Photo by Mark Micheli)

Find more bargains at YourCheapFriend.com .

Frank’s wine
Jun 4th, 2009 by

Video: See how he makes it

Video of Frank making wine. (Photo by Mark Micheli/Video by Franco)

Video of Frank making wine. (Photo by Mark Micheli/Video by Franco)

Last month I had the pleasure of visiting my friend Frank Pallaria as he made wine in his basement in Haverhill, Mass.  Frank has only been making wine for about one or two years now, but already, he’s got a great setup and an energetic work ethic.

Unlike most home winemakers, Frank doesn’t make wine just once a year. He makes it twice a year when the grapes are ready in September in the northern hemisphere and again in May when they’re ready for harvesting in the southern hemisphere. So when I visited him last month, he was crushing grapes that came from South America — Chile and Argentina, to be exact.

Frank embodies the attitude and true spirit of rootsliving . He is an avid gardener who turns out a huge crop of tomatoes each year that he crushes and cans. I have been trading my wine for his tomatoes for more than five years now. However, I didn’t actually meet Frank in person until about year or two ago.  He’s a friend of my friend, Joe Gemellaro, and Joe has been acting as middle man for our bartering: collecting an extra bottle of vino or jar of tomatoes in the process.

Frank always tells me he loves my wine. But I’ll tell you there’s nothing better than opening up a jar of Frank’s tomatoes on a cold day in February and using it to make a hearty red sauce. The scent fills my kitchen with memories of summer.

(© 2009 Mark Micheli)


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