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Looking through the aisles of my favorite wine shops I spied an intriguing green one-liter package, dressed simply, with an informative but unassuming label. It was a Grüner Veltliner, a category of wine, not a private label, I was guilty of not tasting often enough. I was drawn to it and became increasingly interested in making this Grüner Veltliner my homework, wanting to know more about the winemaker and bottle’s contents.

Berger—the producer—boldly marked in forty-eight-point font across the poster-esque label was not initially familiar to me. Just south of the dwarfed graphic and varietal name there was the trademarked tattoo of a “Terry Theise Selection, ” an importer responsible for some of my favorite French (mostly sparkling), German and Austrian white wines. It was enough to know two things: The wine would be available through Winewise Distributors for my own wine shop, and the importer read as a guarantee of quality. I purchased a bottle for no more than fourteen dollars, to support the shop and to continue my research.

I chilled the vessel down and pulled up a website where I could glean a little bit more before I tasted. I also selected an album in the interim I thought would be complimentary to the zesty Austrian wine—Lionel Hampton’s Decca Recordings.

So… by the Austrian numbers… when cold enough, I uncapped the crown top, eagerly pouring my first glass, gave my Reidel Overture series wineglass a few revolutions to release more esters, brought the stemware to my nose. I inhaled deeply, picking up a lot of citrus fruits and something reminiscent of Dr. Brown’s Cel-Ray soda, and drank a sip. Like most of the information I found on Erich and Michaela Berger’s entry level 2010 Grüner Veltliner it wasn’t loaded with complexity but then that misses the point. From nose to mouth, I sipped, closing my eyes, while the vibes sounded in the background; I tasted a melody of fresh Meyer lemon, light minerals and a slightly herbaceous note that reaffirmed that Cel-Ray perfume.

My first Grüner in a while was a great experience, fit for the oncoming inferno of July and August—in Los Angeles—but I wouldn’t relegate the crisp and vibrant Austrian white wine just to the pool or the beach. I thought instantly of its pairing prowess—bevy of dishes like flaky white sea bass or some savory mushroom and herb pastas came springing to mind. For a simple white wine it afforded bounteous opportunities, whetting my appetite for more experimentation with the Austrian varietal and bookmarking it as a candidate for an everyday sipper.

Are those little pieces of glass? Okay, its definitely not glass, but what are those crystals adhering to the cork? Tartrates… huh? Never heard of ‘em, are they dangerous? Do they affect the wine? This battery of questions follows shortly after yanking a discolored cork, encrusted with beautiful salt-like barnacles of a wine you are planning on serving. They are appropriate (but unfounded) concerns and it suggests you are paying attention. While it is true that it can be a unnerving the first time you spy the formations dwelling contentedly on the end of a stopper, let me guarantee you that it is a cooler experience than a scarier one.

So what are they? The formations are potassium acid tartrates that have precipitated out of the wine, nesting on the sides and bottom of the bottle and cork. Some casual wine drinkers will go an entire lifetime without seeing them so I like to think of tartrates positively, sharing the experience with the people around me, with the nerdy enthusiasm of an amateur astronomer viewing a meteor shower on the sands of Anita street beach with my first girlfriend.

They are most commonly found on aged bottles but can also be detected in the process of fermentation. Tartrates come directly from tartaric acid; the crystals that appear at the end of the cork are actually the potassium salt but they are a result of the sediment from the bottle in the form of lees (dead yeast cells—the same thing that makes wine soooo creamy), pulp and tannins.

The next time you encounter tartrates please do not be alarmed; try instead to embrace the glasslike chards glued to the cork of your aged seven fifty of Riesling, knowing that they are a natural phenomenon in wine.

Sweetness can be a great attribute of wine when it is in balance to the other components. Without it, the wine can lack oomph, being tired and thin. In proportion, sweetness, whether it manifests itself as pleasantly surprising residual sugar on the tip of the tongue from a sip of nicely biting Riesling, or the expected sweetness from a Port, especially in contrast to a salty blue cheese, this can be a favorable trait to cultivate.

Sugars develop naturally in grapes, like all fruit, as a consequence of converting energy from the suns beaming rays into the plant via photosynthesis (simplified). But what happens when the grapes do not achieve their desired ripeness?

In areas of the old world (Bordeaux, Burgundy and Champagne) and a handful in the new (Oregon and the East Coast), the sun is not as prevalent as it is in our backyard of Los Angeles, the grapes do not always attain an adequate saturation of sunlight. This results in a shortage of sugars. The sugars lost, translates to wine that will not have a lot of alcohol, and alcohol in wine is tantamount to body/weight on the palate.

Winemakers cope with less-than-stellar conditions by using chapitalization—or more commonly dubbed amelioration in the states—a technique that calls for the addition of sugar to the wine, increasing the alcohol. This is a winemaker’s weapon, one of a larger arsenal, to deploy when the grapes’ sugars do not completely develop on the vine. The sugars can be added, in addition to other grape related products, to grape must, boosting body.

Chapitalization is named in honor of a Gallic chemist and Napolean’s Minister of the Interior Jean-Antoine Chaptal, the first person to support this technique outright though it was historically in application prior to his existence. He was an adamant advocate of the practice, favoring grape products to be added to enhance wine because he recognized that it was a necessary procedure in areas that do not get sufficient amounts of sunlight.

Though it is looked at with disdain, or at least frowned upon in areas where it is not required, there is a place for this body boosting method. There are also restrictive measures in place for the countries and viticulture areas that institute it—curtailing wild amounts of additives and protecting the consumers. Chapitalization, amelioration or enrichment, whatever one calls it, the technique’s application may be necessary when Mother Nature is feeling especially puckish, where she withholds optimum conditions.

It is time to define another wine term. In my crosshairs: the mighty, mighty… Jeroboam.

A wine bottle of extravagant proportions—the Jeroboam, whose name is derived from the Bible, more accurately a derivative of the name of the first king of Northern Israel—encompasses six bottles worth of wine when talking about Bordeaux and four bottles worth of liquid when talking about Burgundy or Champagne.

The Jeroboam is a large format bottle, ideal for the collector because it is believed to be a better way to age the wine slowly (especially in regards to Bordeaux), as opposed to 750ml worth of wine confined in a tight package that will not have the room to age as comfortably.

The Jeroboam may not be suited for everyone. Reserved for serious collectors (or people with serious partying habits… I kid), because you must have the space to house this enormous bottle. Cellaring also becomes a challenge, to accommodate the hefty size in shelves that may have been constructed for standard format (750ml) lighter bottles; the Jeroboam will clearly not fit nor can the racks bear the weight. Cumbersome.

Embracing the larger bottle or not, the Jeroboam is a fun word to know and throw out there at a party (like the other nonstandard size names), it is also a lot of wine to down! In the words of that famous adage and a tribute to the world’s most interesting man:

“Stay thirsty my friends.”

“Extra, Extra!” A new feature to be posted to The Maverick Palate, starting today I will be defining wine terms: la première édition:

Green Harvesting

“Green,” a damaging descriptor to a wine. When it’s assigned, the taster/ critic is saying they can tell the wine did not reach full ripeness and potential. Unfavorable. Another term exists, related only in color, and proves to be an important step to ensuring that your wines do reach their desired ripeness.

The term: “Green harvesting,” a technique employed by vineyard managers, owners, winemakers (and anyone else involved in the process of making a wine) to cut back the amount of grapes that are being produced to allow a consistent and directed ripeness to occur naturally in the remaining fruit. Taking some of the unripe grape clusters away and pruning back the suckers on the vine, allow the energy to travel through the vines, distributing it evenly. Reducing the yield avoids lack of flavor, in theory.

Green harvesting is huge in France; I have come across the term many times when reading about the successes of certain Chateaux in publications like Decanter or Wine Spectator—lauding Ponet-Canet and others for their prudence in instituting this technique and seeing it work well.

For the practical application (many of us will not own a vineyard anytime soon, if ever) think about tomatoes, cutting away all the excess suckers that appear in-between the vines may decrease the yield but you are left with more robust fruit.

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