Upon racking the wines 3 weeks ago, I noticed the strong bitterness in the 2006 Syrah vintage we thought had mellowed to a peppery flavor. Even after the egg white fining it’s just not going to be drinkable if I can’t get this bitterness out.
I took all 3 aging vintages to Michael Richmond at Bouchaine Winery to get his opinion about what I can do to make them better.
His comments on the Merlot (07) was “going to be a good vintage”. The Cab (07) was “green bean” – he nailed that the fruit was not adequately ripe, which we knew from crush, but with aging and blending will be good enough to drink. This was the same condition I faced with the 2005 Syrah/Cab blend (Winetta).
As for the Syrah (06), he seemed at first stumped with why it was bitter and how to remedy it. He suggested I add the chemical casein to see if it would bond with the molecules causing the bitterness.
After consulting with two of his wine-making associates in the lab that morning, who also tasted all 3 vintages, he suggested up to 32oz of powdered milk per 1000 gallons (powered milk contains casein).
He also gave me 1lb of “Fermotan®” powder – this chemical is used to stabalize bitter tannins in wine and soften the wine. He suggested I use 1/2lb/1000, but in reading more about Fermotan® I understand I can use up to 4lbs per 1000 gallons safely.
He suggested I first test 3 different methods to see how they worked, and gave me 3 “split” bottles (375ml) with screw-on caps. I filled each bottle with wine, and added the chemicals in this manner:
Bottle1: 0.1g powered milk, and 0.05g Fermotan.
Bottle2: 0.1g powered milk only
Bottle3: 0.05g Fermotan only
I shook the contents of each bottle until the chemicals were completely dissolved – each bottle turned from clear to milky color, and I left them for several days.
Upon tasting I found the taste to be less bitter with the combination chemical, and that the chemicals were settled at the bottom of the bottles in the form of lees while the wine was clear.
I decided to add both chemicals to the barrel for maximum effect, and so I calculated 0.96oz (27.22g) of powered milk per 60 gallons of wine, and 0.48oz (13.61g) of Fermotan.
I mixed both chemicals in a cup of the wine from the barrel until completely dissolved, then added the chemicals to the wine and stirred it in for 5 minutes.
Now we’ll wait a few weeks and see if it’s made any difference. I can still safely add up to 27.22g of more powered milk, for a total of 54.44g, and a total of 108g of Fermotan, so I’ll add them over the next few months if necessary, carefully checking to be sure I don’t add too much.
When I asked Michael what may have caused the bitterness he asked if there were Lady Bugs in the must. I didn’t recall any Lady Bugs, but there were a lot of wasps, and although Jim and I worked for hours to remove as many as possible along with the stems, I noticed there were still a lot of them when we pressed the wine.
We believe this is what caused the bitterness so the new crush/desteming process we used in 07 should eliminate that problem for future wines.