July 31, 2008

Long Term Planning

I wanted to take a moment to update you on one of the longue durée research efforts here at the Lab. In addition to the EVOLUTION program we have underway, we've also recently set out to study medium-term cellaring.

We thought we'd see how a single wine fared through a year's worth of variegated storage.

One bottle will be stored in a wine storage device set at 55 degrees.

A second will be rested in a manner designed to reproduce a fairly common storage method: The bottom of a closet. To recreate this setting as realistically as possible in laboratory conditions, we've put a bottle down in the bottom of a closet at the Lab.

A third bottle will be stored indifferently on the counter in the Lab's break room (I've noticed the cleaners like to move it around, so it may actually be on top of the fridge some of the time).

For our experimental purpose, we found a 2005 red Anjou on sale at the Woodland Hills Wine Company. It's from one of the Lab's favorite producers, Philippe Delesvaux. Delesvaux started out as a kind of Loire Valley garagiste producing his first vintage (1983) in a shed. He now has 35 hectares of biodynamically managed vineyards and makes his wines in a natural, non-interventionist mode. He is most famous for his usually overpriced Sélection de Grains Nobles Coteaux du Layon, a botrytised Chenin Blanc. He should be famous (but isn't) for his lavishly underpriced 100% Cabernet Sauvignon Anjou La Montee de L’Epine.

The Anjou we're using is 100% Cab Franc. We tasted a fourth bottle to establish a baseline against which we'll test the others in a year's time.

Herbaceous and earthy nose with notes of balsam and wintergreen. Expansive mouthfeel (lots of malo?). Fruit forward on the attack, mostly blueberry, followed by a griping mid-palate minerality and a tannic, slightly bitter, finish. The wine performed better on the second day. The tannins turned chewy and the wine in general had left behind some of it's bitter greenness and was displaying broader, brighter fruit.

Feels like this wine might benefit from some bottle age (might even improve with some driving around?). Guess we'll see.

In about year.

July 29, 2008

Footnote: A 6th Day in Joly

In a prior Lab note, I speculated that a Nicolas Joly, Clos Sacrés we tasted over the full, Joly-prescribed five days might have been flawed. Not enough to render undrinkable, but certainly the bottle fell short of expectations. Last night, a few folks were working late at the Lab, so I decided to open another Joly wine. A Clos de la Bergerie, 2003.

This bottle made a strong argument for the previous wine's flaws.

This is beautiful Chenin Blanc. A light, yellow hue of gold. Honey, beeswax and quince with hints of citrus on the nose. A palate of yellow peach, clover and river stones. Good acidity and an almost waxy mouthfeel. A tinny, mineral finish that I now expect from Joly's wines (terroir?). Worth noting that after 3 hours open, a faint, oxidative element arrived on the nose and built into a discernible fino sherry character.

Last week, I was in Greenville, South Carolina sourcing equipment for the Lab. At dinner with a sales rep from Industrial Biology, Inc, I found another Savennières on the wine list. Domaine Damien Laureau, Les Genêts, 2002. Laureau is an up-and-coming winemaker in the Loire. I've heard great things about him and his wines, but I've not had a chance to taste them. We were told that ours was the last bottle in the "cellar." What good luck!

Fortuna, however, is a cruel mistress.

The wine was off. And the reason I mention it? It was "off" in a manner reminiscent of the Joly we drank in the Lab's first experiment. In fact, I would be very comfortable saying that both suffered from the same flaw. I'd be less bold about what that flaw actually was.

Our colleague from Brooklyn wrote yesterday about corked wines. Neither of these Savennières had that wet newspaper or dirty socks smell of cork taint. But they did have the muted fruit associated with corked wines. I suppose it's possible that each varietal expresses the TCA mold differently. Must corked Chardonnay necessarily smell like corked Chenin Blanc? They don't smell the same without the mold. Why shouldn't the same be true with it present in the bottle?

July 28, 2008

A Really Expensive Bottle of Champagne

I was working on the grassy knoll behind the Lab over the weekend. And cleverly rammed a pick through a buried length of PVC pipe connected to the sprinkler system. After 10 minutes of watching the water gush out like the fountain at the Bellagio, I remembered to shut off the water-main.

I then immediately popped a bottle of Champagne.

Champagne is bottled at about 6 atmospheres of pressure. Roughly the same as the pressure of the air inside the tires of a double-decker bus. To withstand the pressure, the bottle glass is thicker and the corks sturdier.

The corks doesn't always have that classic mushroom shape. The cork starts out a solid tube about 3x the size of the bottle neck. The lower half of the fat cork gets squeezed into the narrow neck. The longer it stays there, the less it bounces back to it's original diameter after opening. So I picked something only recently disgorged (I think).

I took the cork and jammed it into the puncture I'd made in the pipe. The cork quickly expanded, stoppering the leak like a little Dutch boy's fat thumb.

It's hardly a permanent fix. So I'm waiting on a repair estimate to know just how much that bottle of Champagne is going to cost. My guess is somewhere between "You're kidding, right?" and "Seriously, that much?"

Truth be known, I was so traumatized by these events, I don't even remember what I opened. Might have been a Spanish Cava or something method ancestrale?

Anybody recognize the cork?

July 25, 2008

BFC #3 : Pink Wins, Pink Wins!

There's a new champion in the McDuff Food & Wine Trail Bubbledome!

A sweet and funky Vin du Bugey-Cerdon, Patrick Bottex, La Cueille, NV has smashed the Italian champion, Ferrari Brut, NV (see here and here for past results) in a unanimous decision.

Bugey, in Southeastern France (in the Ain Department, see map below), is 20 miles up the Rhone River from Lyon and about the same distance from the Swiss Border. Historically, it was under the rule of the House of Savoy for those of you keeping track of the holdings of Renaissance kings.

The rosé sparkling wine from there, called Vin du Bugey-Cerdon, is VDQS, Vin Délimité de Qualité Superieure, which is just below the highest rank for French wine, AOC, Appellation d’origine contrôlée, but above VDP, Vin de pays (country wine), and Vin de table. Think of these as weight classes for our fighters, with the heavyweights being AOC and the table wines as flyweights.

According to the VDQS rules, it is made from either all Gamay or a Gamay and Poulsard blend. It is usually pink. In my experience, brightly so. Playful, often tasting like raspberry soda or sparkling kool-aid. And usually on the light-side, alcohol-wise, 8%. Bugey-Cerdon is a great conversation piece for a hot summer afternoon. Though rarely does the memory of the wine survive the sunset.

This wine from Patrick Bottex maps to my preconceptions of Bugey-Cerdon, except in one important category. It's awesome.

It's imported by the crème de la crème of West Coast Francophile wine importers, Kermit Lynch. You really can't judge a wine by it's front label, but a Kermit Lynch imprint on the back label usually implies a reasonable level of excellence in the bottle.

Here's the results:

A full-fizz method ancestrale sparkler, this looks (and tastes a bit) like black cherry soda. It has a sweet, yeasty nose of Mirabelle plum and strawberries. In the mouth, it's sweet, but not cloyingly so. In fact, it feels more sweet than it actually is. Your first sip you almost can't believe the big, bright, honeyed black cherry and strawberry flavors, but before the delicate, faintly chalky finish has passed, you realize it's really not as big, or ripe, or sweet as you thought. You blink, taste it again, and realize that this bottle of giddy pinkness has remarkable structure. You might even call it cultured, approaching elegant. But before you get carried away, you remember it is what it is, which is something like liquified Jolly Rancher cherry candy with a fake Pirate map label. Let's say it's like a guy in a tuxedo, eating cotton candy at the county fair. Oh, and he's got an eye-patch too.

I've seen it a few places, but I bought this one at K&L Wines, $20.

(map of Ain, France by Marmelad used per the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.5 License. Don't borrow it without checking out how.)

July 24, 2008

BFC in the Bubbledome

One of the younger guys in the Lab called me an old dork. Because, apparently, I know next to nothing about kick-boxing, the sport of the future. You may know it as MMA. Or, like me, you may have no idea what I'm talking about.

He told me if I wanted to be cool (and who doesn't?), I'd refer to our occasional battles between sparkling wines in the McDuff's Food & Wine Trail Bubbledome as BFC.

Okay... Done.

But Junior, better get ready for my guillotine choke submission hold. Coming when you least expect it.

(image: © Aloysius Patrimonio | Dreamstime.com)

July 22, 2008

Original Roots [ROOTS 4]

(the series finally gets serious)

So now we're down to brass tacks. We have Keith Levenberg's list of Vitis vinifera rooted vineyards. And we know Thomas Jefferson loved Bordeaux. We're so close to the goal line you can almost taste the freshly cut grass, loamy soil and chalky, graphitic elements of the limestone (for our slower readers, that's a little tasting note joke; the bouquet of endzone). So, of course, it would be at this juncture where we hit a snag.

No one from Bordeaux makes the list.

There are a few vineyards that have proved immune to our pesky little invader. But many of the vineyards on Levenberg's list are an experimental race against time. It turns out, you can plant vines on their own roots, and grow perfectly good grapes even with Phylloxera already present in the soil. It's only after about 25 years, give or take a decade, that the infestation become life-threatening. Unfortunately, this is right about the time when the grapes start getting really good. So some vintners are willing to roll the dice, see how far they can stretch production. Others play a rotation game, re-planting in cycles. But if you have dirt as preciously over-valued as Bordeaux, you aren't playing games with it.

So what are we to do?

Come on. It's a thought-experiment. How hard could it be to think our way around this dilemma? Bordeaux is a blend of (mostly) Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc. And there's plenty of Cabernet Franc on Levenberg's list. We'll start there. Fill in the other grapes as we go.

For anyone who thinks this is cheating. Get over it. Wines made from ungrafted vines are enormously interesting. And neglected by collectors and connoisseurs. Which means you can find some amazing bargains. The Carl Schmitt-Wagner Riesling grown on ungrafted vines planted in the 19th century is $20. Twenty bucks!! The own-rooted Pierre & Catherine Breton, Bourgueil Franc de Pied is only a few bucks more. And both are sensational. Morever, as we can't be more precise, we'll just have to try to drink as many of these wines as we can. Then seek a calculus of varied experience that trend toward an answer.

That in mind, the Lab has chosen as its first "Jefferson bottle" a 2005 Charles Joguet Chinon, Les Varennes du Grand Clos Franc de Pied (K&L Wines, $43). According to the winemaker's website, "the production methods used to make this experimental cuvée, born with the 1986 vintage are still kept secret." Which is simultaneously sexy and lame. But the Joguet house employs organic and sustainable farming, picks by hand and produces only single-vineyard wines. Jefferson would have been down.

Our Lab notes: We probably opened this 10 years too early. It's a deep garnet color, almost indigo, and iridescent on the fringe. A tight, green nose of plum jam, dusty coriander and fresh turned earth. A impeccably balanced wine, even with the sour bite of young tannins. Fruit and stones turn a tight, harmonious... (given context, gotta be a) Virginia Reel. It's impossible to extricate fruit from mineral. Is it chalky cherry or plummy granite? Perhaps it's mere projection, but this wine has a discernible purity and a racing vitality. It is a subtly beautiful wine.

Jefferson would definitely have been down.

We'll be doing this again.

(antique claret image: © Mikko Pitkänen | Dreamstime.com )

July 20, 2008

The President and The Bug [ROOTS 3]

(Third in a series)

Thomas Jefferson was one of the earliest adopters of the idea that the New World could produce great wines. To achieve agricultural self-sufficiency, not to mention political independence, a homegrown wine industry was an imperative. Jefferson planted vines years before his famous declaration, encouraging an Italian immigrant, Filippo Mazzei, to plant European varietals on donated Monticello acreage. But the vines didn't take.

Probably because of a
tiny bug native to North America who feeds at the roots of grape vines. An aphid-esque, sap-sucking insect, Daktulosphaira vitifoliae. Otherwise known as Phylloxera vastatrix, "the dry leaf devastator." Sounds like something you'd need a cape and a bite from a radioactive spider to take on.

In the
early 1860s, almost a century after Jefferson's failed experiments in New World viticulture, Phylloxera was inadvertently introduced to the Old World. A no doubt villainous Monsieur Borty of Roquemaure in the Côtes du Rhône (ironically, this is also the place where the French classification system for wine, AOC, was born) is held to blame. Within just a few years, the little yellow pest had devastated vineyards from Portugal to the Crimea, conquering Europe faster than Julius Caesar.

To the
rescue came a French botanist and an American entomologist. They saved the day, not to mention the European wine industry, by grafting European grapes (Vitis vinifera) to the Phylloxera resistant roots of American vines (Vitis labrusca).

And there -- the pun is inevitable -- lies the root of our problem.

The first vintages of grafted wines were deemed "undrinkable," perhaps even imbuvable in some quarters. At the time, there were many who believed the wines of Jefferson's cherished Bordeaux would never regain their pre-bug quality. There are some who persist in this belief today.

So to really drink like Jefferson, we must map a return to that
Age d'Or of pre-Phylloxera wines. Which leaves us two choices: 1. Spend vast sums buying old vinegar at auction. 2. Find wines made from grapes grown on ungrafted, or own-rooted, vines. But how to find such fabled vines?

Fortunately, Keith Levenberg, a true connoisseur (there is no single name that shows up on more pages of CellarTracker
tasting notes I visit than Levenberg's; I often feel I'm walking in his winey footsteps; does that count as stalking?) and the author of the highly erudite, always clever and often times funny Picky Eater, has sourced a list (scroll down) of wines made from ungrafted vines. Which cuts us quickly to our end.

"So now can we drink?"

Almost, grasshopper. A little more patience.

(vines image:
© Willyvend | Dreamstime.com)

July 18, 2008

A Letter from the Staff

found this on my desk this morning:

Dear Dr Ambien,

Hope you're enjoying your time in Esotericaland. The navel-gazing is said to be outstanding this time of year.

While you're gone, the rest of us have been grinding out "actual" science. We've set up protocols to measure various storage modes; we've leased equipment to recreate the "lightstrike" wine flaw; we've filled out multiple grant proposals (in triplicate, see attached) and otherwise occupied ourselves in the usual occupations of the Lab.

When you get back from your scintilating trek through Pointlessville, we're all set to get going. We just wanted you to know. And if you don't get back soon, we are resigning en masse together.

The Staff


my reply:

My Darling Colleagues,

There are, no doubt, countless reasons I am in the corner office and you work in cubicles. Continue going about your dreary lives, and I'll call if I need anything from you.

You misspelled scintillating.

All best and etc...

PS. My name is not Ambien.

PPS. The Jefferson thought-experiment concludes after the week-end.

July 17, 2008

Jefferson's High-End Inventory [ROOTS 2]

(Second in a series)

We actually have a pretty good idea what Thomas Jefferson was drinking. He was a fastidious record-keeper and a manic archivist. He kept everything. Letters he received, copies of letters he sent, receipts, invoices, inventories. He was a Pack Rat of the highest order.

Before his first junket to Paris in 1784, like the rest of his countrymen, Jefferson mostly drank Madeira, some Port and the odd Portuguese table wine. In France, with the help of Ben Franklin and John Adams, Jefferson discovered better wines. By the time he took a celebrated tour through vineyards of Europe in 1787, Jefferson had developed an expensive palate. His archives reveal a great fondness for Bordeaux from the chateaux of Lafite, Margaux and Haut-Brion, Sauternes from Yquem and Burgundy from the famed villages of Meursault and Montrachet. After this trip, he began to order wine directly from the chateaux (proto mail-order), requesting his order be bottled and packed at the estate (bottling at the vineyard would not become commonplace until the 1920s!) to insure that brokers and other middle-men weren't messing with his juice.

So we could, in theory, consult Jefferson's detailed and much published wine inventories and invoices and drink just what Jefferson was drinking (This also assumes a theoretical absence of budgetary constraints at the Lab; Jefferson's favorites are horribly expensive).

But in the view of almost everyone at the Lab, this misses a big and important detail. We're not interested in the quiz answer to "What was Th: J. drinking?" We're more excited about imagining what was in the actual glass. What did it taste like? How was the bouquet? And none of the wine that Jefferson drank at the turn of the 18th century was grown on vines grafted onto American roots. So matching contemporary brands against Jefferson's ledgers wouldn't leave us drinking the "same" wines anyway. Almost all of the wines imported from Europe today are grafted onto New World rootstocks.

How did that happen? Many of you already know, but for the rest, we have one more chapter of the history to cover before we start drinking...

(image credit: © Maksim Esin | Dreamstime.com)

July 16, 2008

What Was Th: J. Drinking? [ROOTS 1]

I've recently read The Billionaire's Vinegar: The Mystery of the World's Most Expensive Bottle of Wine by Benjamin Wallace, Crown Publishers, 2008. Soon after, I found a Cliff's Notes version of the same events by Partick Radden Keefe in the September 3, 2007 issue of The New Yorker. It's a good story whether told in several hundred pages or just twelve.

The gist is this: A guy who calls himself Hardy Rodenstock claims to have found a cache of old wines hidden in a bricked-up basement in Paris. These wines are from some of the most famous vineyards in France, Lafite, Yquem, Mouton and Margaux and are purportedly etched with the initials Th.J. So clearly, the third President of the United States left them there on one of his several sojourns in France.

Kip Forbes thinks so. He's Malcolm's son and a good argument for leaving your money to your pets. He bought a Jefferson bottle from Rodenstock (via Christie's) in 1985 for 105,000 Pounds; $156,000 in the fat dollar 1980s. The Forbes family then put the wine on display in a case under a hot lamp (see the Lab's report on what happens when you "cook" wines this way). The cork fell into the bottle and nobody ever drank the wine. Several of Rodenstock's "Jefferson Bottles" have been sold at auction for enormous sums.

I'll leave it to you to find out how exactly the whole mystery turns out. But I think it's safe to assume that if you're dumb enough to spend $100,000 plus on a bottle of 200 year-old wine, you shouldn't be too surprised to find out later that it's either vinegar or fake.

Forbes isn't alone. Really old bottles of wine seem to play a big role in the separating of fools from their money. Since 1998, more than 19 magnums of 1947 Lafluer (fancy Bordeaux) have sold at auction. Unfortunately, only 5 magnums were bottled by the vineyard in 1947.

And apparently the fakes can be good. The renowned wine-scorer, Robert Parker, gave one of Rodenstock's magnums of 1921 Petrus (even fancier Bordeaux) a perfect, 100 point score. According to Petrus, they didn't bottle any magnums in 1921.

Reading about rich guys buying and (usually not) drinking wines gets tiring. Quickly. But the issue of Thomas Jefferson's wine connoisseurship does raise, at least for me, an interesting question. It's a simple one.

What was Th J drinking? By most accounts, he's America's first wine-wanker. Jefferson was the guy who sat at the end of the table in Early America, swirling his glass, forcing you to try to smell the cherry stems and vanilla in your glass. He probably banged on about malolactic fermentation while you stabbed your leg with a fork too.

Drinking an actual bottle from Jefferson's cellar (even if it were the real thing) amounts to historical fetishism, a secular Last Supper-ish communion with an icon of liberty. But it would not be drinking what Jefferson waxed on about from his table at Monticello. Because whatever he was drinking, it definitely wasn't 200 years-old. Like the rest of us, Jefferson drank his claret not long after buying it.

There must be a better form of communion with the past possible, some way to transport ourselves into Jefferson's cellar. The Lab is typically focused on more practical research (not that time-travel isn't practical). But this sort of thought-experiment seems a worthwhile diversion.

Stay tuned (first in a series)...

(image: © Istar55 | Dreamstime.com)

July 14, 2008

Lab Report: THE INDEX

We were doing some paperwork at the Lab over the weekend when, like a bolt from the blue, it struck me that an INDEX of the Lab's experimental efforts -- delineated by category -- might be useful. Might have been helpful if we'd laid this out at the beginning, but you're dreaming if you think we're capable of that level of organization.

Better late than never, here's a list:

: Our continuing quest for that elusive, magical thing called terroir wherever it may lurk.
2. WINE CHEMISTRY: General experiments about the composition of wine. As well as a rigorous application of the scientific method to evaluate common beliefs about booze.
3. PALATE TRAINING: Fun and stupid things to do that may (or may not) expand your tasting skills.
4. FINDING FAULT: Experiments focused on a better understanding of the flaws that sometime occur in wine. After to really have an appreciation of good wine, you need to have some experience with bad wine.
5. EVOLUTION: A roughly semi-annual tasting of a a bottle from the same case (one red, one white, and perhaps one with bubbles), in an attempt to chart a wine's progress over time, to learn something about how age impacts the juice.
6. OLD/NEW: Experiments in what we like to call, "wide-gap vertical tasting." Note: Old/New often overlaps with Dirt Searching, is also often good for Palate Training and sometimes covers similar territory to experiments conducted under the Evolution heading.*
7. ROOTS: An historically-minded thought-experiment investigating ungrafted vines, pre-phylloxera wines and the limits of empathy.*
8. BFC in the BUBBLEDOME: BFC isn't really scientific. Just an obsessive quest for a great sparkling wine at a (maybe) reasonable price.
* Lab note: Results of these (continuing) studies have not yet been formally released to the public
For truly geeked-out devotees of the Lab's research, we tag each experiment with its category. Thus creating a fully searchable database of lab reports. Want to read everything we've done on wine flaws? Search "Finding Fault," then read bottom up to get the chronology right.

By the way, the Rational Denial Lab is open and Open-Source. So feel free to suggest experiments you'd like to see us do. Or tell us about experiments you've done yourself (nothing with cats and/or kerosene, please). And so long as you attribute the materials with © Rational Denial Lab, 200-, you're welcome to use, pilfer, reprint or otherwise abuse our research any way you see fit (though keep in mind, some of our images are not Lab property and, therefore, have rights all their own; when in doubt, just ask.)

(image: © Yvanovich | Dreamstime.com)

July 11, 2008

Bubbledome #2: A Spaniard in the Dome

Main Event in the McDuff Bubbledome:

Today, the Gran Sarao Brut Cava NV from Spain takes on our current champion, Ferarri Brut NV, from Trento, Italy.

The Italian took the belt in the first-ever battle in the B-dome with a solid, Champenoise nose and autumnal palate. (click here to see the tasting notes.)

The challenger is a Cava made from a blend of mostly traditional Spanish varietals, Macabeo, Xarel-lo, Parellada, and a dose of Chardonnay (10%). It's produced by the Mont Marçal winery in the Penedès wine region and bottled and branded as Gran Sarao for the importer. The Penedès dates the origins of its wine production to the 6th century BC when Phoenicians brought Chardonnay to the area. So it's not like they're José-come-lately to the wine game.

A couple of my favorite sparkling wines are Cavas from Spain. In general, I'm a fan. I bought this one because the tasting notes at K&L Wines made it sound exciting even if the label design is basically lame. I know there's no relationship between what's on the bottle and what's in the bottle. But I couldn't help lowering my expectations. I even bet one of Lab's chemists a week's pay that the Italian takes the fight in a wash.

But the Cava was surprisingly good. Dominating citrus and lemon zest on the nose with hints of almond paste and honey. It was austere, almost elegant, with zippy acid, muted golden apple flavors and a chalky, nutty finish, which, unfortunately, turns bitter at the end, morphing into something like ground peach pit on the tongue.

Not quite the complexity of the Ferrari and lagging behind in structure as well, but the Gran Sarao only cost 8 bucks! That's a huge advantage in the value category.

If it weren't for the bitter finish (and the fact I didn't feel like losing my bet), we might be crowning a new champion today in the B-Dome. But the Italian sparkler had enough stuffing to hang on to the title against this very inexpensive competitor. And I've got a chemist who will be working for free next week.


(bullfight image: © Chantal Ringuette | Dreamstime.com)

July 9, 2008

Evolution 1.0 : One Down Eleven To Go

This is a 2006 Riesling from Pyramid Valley Vineyards in New Zealand. Like all the wines from their Grower Collection, it's a single vineyard wine, in this case "Lebecca Vineyard." It's an Old World style spatlese (which means the grapes were picked late in the harvest) from a New World producer. And in the interest of full disclosure, I know the people who made it. I am an unabashed fan of their wines.

I've tasted this once before, and enjoyed it. You didn't think I was going to commit the Lab to a box of booze for the next 6-10 years without some prior research, did you? (see my prior post) As it turns out, it was better than I remembered.

This arrives on the palate with a luscious, honeyed texture, supporting bright, green apple fruit. There's a coy, almost elusive, minerality. A tantalizing, feminine acidity ties it all up on the finish. The nose was tight at first, yielding only some green fruit, and fading white flower. Then after 20 minutes in the glass, a briny, perfumed scent took over, something that reminds you of climbing on the rocks at high tide. During the same time, the chalky, mineral elements came out of hiding and swirled around the fruit. This is elegantly integrated wine, with great balance and structure.

I'm not at all sad about having to drink 11 more. Next one in early January.

Ted & Kristen Talley import this into the U.S. through their Terra Firma Wine Co. If it's not available in your neighborhood, they might be able to help you out.

July 7, 2008

The Beauty of Age?

Any wine enthusiast knows that age is prized. Oenophiles build cellars and buy fridges to "lay down" their bottles. They know the greatness of past vintages. 1982? A classic year in Bordeaux. A '47 Lafitte? Trade you my sister for it. Age is beauty.

But the vast majority of wine is consumed within a year of its release. And most bottles within 24 hours of purchase. For wine that costs less than $20, these majorities are definitive, well over 90%. And the reality is that these wines were designed for exactly this kind of consumption. Winemakers aren't stupid. They know what you're going to do with their wine. They build it to drink now, not in 10 years. Only serious wines get better with time.

Most wine scientists will admit that the chemistry of aging is little understood and largely unstudied. So why this fetish for old booze? Especially amongst people who don't often (or ever) drink it.

We don't know. But we thought it would be worth some investigation at the Lab. So we bought 2 cases of wine from varietals recognized for their ability to age. One red, from Burgundy. One white, a Riesling. Each costs more than $20 a bottle (if just), and so can be considered serious. Our plan is drink a bottle every 6 months. See what happens. Learn what lessons we can about a wine's EVOLUTION through time.

Like watching paint dry. But with alcohol.

Up first: The Riesling. (coming soon.)

(* I rescued the 1970 Yquem in the photograph from my wife's childhood home in Australia. Her father bought it on release, stored it indifferently and eventually forgot about it. It was in a box with "other old plonk we're pouring out." Now it's at the Lab. Until I open it, it is a very serious wine, a symbol of good fortune and ripe with magic potential. After, it'll just be some vinegar I've been keeping in the fridge. )

July 3, 2008

A Mantra for the Lab

Quote of the Day:
If you don't think about your wine when you drink it, then it merely becomes an alcohol delivery vehicle. When you think about the drink, at least you have the opportunity to be a contemplative drunk...

We've written this on the wall in the Lab.

July 1, 2008

Postscript to a Fight

After the excitement of our inaugural battle in the Bubbledome died down around the Lab, I noticed two things. Both worth mentioning, as very wine-geeky footnotes to the big event.

1. The Ferrari Brut lied about its age. Certainly not grounds for disqualification, but when I was checking receipts, I noticed I had bought the bottle at Winebid.com, a wine auction site that I find utterly addictive. The Ferrari is NV, and the problem with non-vintage wines is that you can never really be sure where they've been, or for how long. The cork on the Ferrari had 2004TN printed on it. This could be the date the bottle was disgorged. Which would suggest this wine had some bottle age. Or, it could mean nothing at all. I went to K&L Wines in Hollywood over the weekend and I bought a new bottle. I'll add another footnote with what I find when I open the new one.

2. I googled Puzelat's Vin Pétillant and read quite a few tasting notes. Each seems to be a description of a totally different bottle of wine. There is clearly some wild fluctuations bottle to bottle. Several notes claimed the wine was undrinkable. Maybe it's something to do with the vinification. After all, the secondary fermentation upon which the méthode ancestrale depends could be construed as an intentional flaw, as secondary fermentation is a flaw when it's not intentional (huh?). Or maybe Puzelat just needs to disinfect his tank hoses. Either way, I'm pleased to note that we seemed to have gotten one of the good ones.