A New Wave of Umami Wines Blooms Under Flor

October 19, 2018

By Katherine Cole, Seven Fifty Daily

New World winemakers are utilizing the yeast layer to create savory, unfortified wines that reference Old World regions.

In 2017, Barnaby Tuttle, winemaker at Oregon’s Teutonic Wine Company, received a completely botrytized load of Riesling from Crow Valley Vineyard in the Willamette Valley. The fruit clusters were so furry with mold, he recalls, that “they looked like tribbles, or guinea pigs.”

Instead of turning the fruit away, Tuttle paid extra for it (to account for the lost water weight), and began thinking about how to put those fuzzy tribbles to use.

As he turned over the ideas of fungus and fermentation in his mind, Tuttle thought about Momofuku chef David Chang’s quest to distill umami flavor through experimentations with mold and bacteria: “I thought, I’ll bet there is a lot of potential glutamate—a savory component—in that fruit.”

Tuttle crushed the botrytized fruit and allowed it to macerate for four days. “It had the appearance of mushroom soup,” he recalls. Then he pressed and inoculated with a pied de cuve from Crow Valley Vineyard. Though typically not a fan of bâtonnage, he stirred the lees on this wine “to get a lot of that fungal flavor.”

The icing on the cake came when an assistant noticed a healthy population of flor—the yeast layer best known for its role in Sherry-making—growing in a nearby barrel of Pinot Noir.

Tuttle’s team spooned the flor film out of the Pinot barrel and into the Riesling barrels as a culture-builder, then watched the flor flower. “When we got a good film, we would stir it in, and then let it grow back, and stir it down again,” Tuttle recalls. The end result: a Riesling with an aldehydic, Sherry-like character that might be considered a flaw if Tuttle hadn’t worked so hard to achieve it.

Tuttle’s curious Riesling turned out sweet and savory, with surprising and delightful umami notes. It’s in the current Teutonic lineup, labeled as Candied Mushroom, and the response has been enthusiastic enough that Tuttle has asked the vineyard owners to refrain from spraying for botrytis moving forward. ”I hope it won’t be a one-time thing,” Tuttle says. “I want to do this again.”

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