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MLB Quenches Thirst for Team Wines

Plus, can chemically-enhanced yeast replace barrel aging? Also, winemaker Mike Grgich gets a key to Chicago, and more
There's now a Mets California Cabernet to help Bartolo Colon wash down his post-game feast.
Photo by: Robert Taylor
There's now a Mets California Cabernet to help Bartolo Colon wash down his post-game feast.

Posted: May 28, 2015

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• With the hockey and basketball seasons drawing to a close, it won't be long before we wine-loving sports aficionados turn our attention completely over to baseball's boys of summer (OK, yes, we'll still have golf to get us through our Sunday afternoon couch naps). We're more than a quarter of the way through the Major League Baseball season already, though, which means all those promising young hopefuls are starting to get called up from the farm for their Major League debuts. It also means that we've got a new and bigger-than-ever crop of MLB Club Series wines making their debut, with 19 teams represented, up from last year's seven.

Produced by Wine by Design, some of the wines are even sourced from wine regions near the clubs (most of the rest of the wines are Californian). The New York Yankees are back with a Finger Lakes Riesling made by Anthony Road winery, the San Francisco Giants continue to partner with Mumm Napa, and the Seattle Mariners' Columbia Valley red is made by Richard Batchelor of Maryhill winery. The Philadelphia Phillies have added a local red to their lineup, made by Chaddsford winery, and the Diamondbacks, Braves, Orioles, Reds, Indians, Rockies, White Sox, Royals, Twins, Mets, Pirates and Nationals have each had their numbers called for the 2015 wine season.

With a few exceptions (the Mumm Napa Limited Edition Giants Championship Brut is $99), most of the wines, available through mlb.com/wine, are priced at around $20 a bottle, which is about the right price for a decent tailgate wine. Just don't try to take them into the stadium—they've got Zipz cups on the other side of the turnstile for that.

Better Drinking Through Chemistry?

• Of all the problems associated with imparting the aromatics of oak to wine, the cost (in terms of raw materials and time) is the one that frustrates winemakers and their accountants the most. It's not so much a problem for a $200 bottle of wine. But for a mass-market wine in the competitive $10-a-bottle category, oak barrels at $1,000 a pop along with cellaring for six to 24 months simply isn't an option. A partial solution some wineries have resorted to is the use of oak chip “tea bags,” which addresses the financial cost of barrels but doesn’t fully solve the issue of time: Even oak chips need time to percolate through the vat.

There may be a solution on the horizon in the form of wood-infused lees. In a study published in Food Chemistry in March, a group of researchers from the Enology Lab at the Polytechnic University of Madrid have essentially taken lees, the sedimentary dead yeast cells leftover after fermentation, and steeped them in a sort of “tea” made from various wood chips: oak, acacia, chestnut and cherry for the purposes of this test. The “aromatized yeast biomass” was then washed, dehydrated, added to test batches of Tempranillo wine and allowed to do its thing for a month.

The results were promising: Through sensory analysis (man) and chromatography (machine) the wines were proven to have received levels of phenolic and volatile compounds associated with the more expensive and lengthier process of barrel aging. Sensorial analysis identified marked increases in wood (obviously), ripe and fresh fruit notes, smoke, mouthfeel, balance and even acidity. Conversely, bitterness was reduced in the wood-infused samples. In short, all the things one typically tries to impart to wine by way of barrel aging.

Mike Grgich's New Key—to Chicago

• We're all familiar with the Judgment of Paris tasting by now, when the 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay made by Croatia-born Miljenko “Mike” Grgich bested its counterparts from Burgundy. Less familiar to Unfiltered is the Great Chicago Showdown of 1980, in which Grgich's 1977 Grgich Hills Chardonnay prevailed as the best among 221 Chardonnays from around the world, including France. Earlier this month, on the 35th anniversary of the tasting, events in both Chicago and Rutherford, Calif., honored the achievement and legacy of Grgich.

During a gala held at the Signature Room at the 95th floor, in Chicago's John Hancock Center, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel declared May 7 "Great Chicago Chardonnay Showdown Day" and bestowed upon Grgich, through his daughter Violet, a key to the city. Notable Croatians including Archbishop of Chicago Blase Cupich and Croatian ambassador to the United States Josip Paro came to show their support. The following week, U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson, who represents Napa, issued a congressional proclamation in recognition of the tasting's anniversary at a celebration held at the Grgich Hills winery in Rutherford. Susan Ungaro of the James Beard Foundation was present, to express gratitude to Grgich for creating the JBF-affiliated Miljenko “Mike” Grgich American Dream Scholarship, as was Tony Butala, of The Lettermen, a friend of Grgich's, and yet another fellow Croatian.

Wishes Come True in Sonoma Wine Country

• The 17th annual Sonoma Wishes in Wine Country event brought together more than 40 restaurants and wineries, from Korbel to Kendall-Jackson to Martinelli, for a charity tasting, dinner and auction to benefit Make-a-Wish Greater Bay Area. Over 800 guests gathered at Sonoma-Cutrer Vineyards on May 16, noshing on bites from local chefs, sipping Sonoma wines and playing croquet on the winery’s lawn. The highlight of the evening came when attendees were introduced to Lola Wiley, a local 8-year-old girl who suffers from lymphoid leukemia and who had recently returned from a trip to Disneyland funded by Make-a-Wish, inspiring attendees to make donations and bid on the wine-themed auction lots. Proceeds, along with ticket sales, totaled a record $936,000 for the event, which will go toward granting the wishes of other Northern California children facing life-threatening illnesses. “There is no better honor for us at Sonoma-Cutrer than to be able to host the Wishes in Wine Country event for such a great cause,” said Tracy Thornsberry, brand manager of the host winery, in a statement. “Make-a-Wish is making such a difference for amazing and inspiring children and to get the chance to be a part of it is so special to us.”

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