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?


Beau Rapier said...

I wonder about "flaw" sometimes. I've no doubt that there was something wrong w/ both the Savennieres you mentioned, but I also suspect flaws and dislikes are sometimes confused.

I had Joly Clos Sacres, 2005 about a year ago and loved it. More recently we opened a bottle of the Coulee de Serrant, 2003 at the shop. It was a little hot at first but settled down and became interesting. But not great. Is it possible that 5 dudes at the wine shop (including the owner who'd had this wine before) couldn't detect a flaw? Or is it possible that none of us liked what is considered a top Chenin Blanc (and we all like Chenin Blanc)?

I feel fairly confident in detecting seriously corked wines, but I've no confidence in clearly separating flaws from my own dislikes.

P.S. Joly includes a little slip of paper in all his cases that states "do not confuse maturity w/ oxidization," and he insists his wines are never oxidized. ???

David McDuff said...

With the caveat that I'm pretty sensitive to TCA, I'm going out on a limb here and saying that cork taint smells like cork taint, regardless of the variety or place of origin of the wine. It does come in degrees, of course, but once you've come to know the smell, it's unmistakable -- a separate and distinct aroma from whatever the wine itself may still be able to express through the rotting cardboard, musty basement odor of TCA.

I wonder if what you're encountering with these "muted" flavors isn't actually a much more common "flaw" -- heat damage.

I do realize of course, based on an earlier lab test, that you actually prefer cooked wine ;-) But that was a pretty extreme example, where a wine that was probably not very interesting to begin with was subjected to heat levels extreme enough to render it jam.

Most heat damage, which occurs with alarming frequency in the transportation and storage cycles of a wine's life, is much more subtle than the lab test scenario. Just enough to rob the wine of its vibrancy, to mute its fruit, without cooking it to the point of sweetness. Food for thought....

J David Harden said...

McD- I think heat's as good a guess as any. Given the level of incidence, even in my own personal experience, probabilities suggest that the flaw would be the most common one: cooked. But here's a spanner in these works... I've had three Clos Sacres from the same box (I swap the bad ones out for new at the shop). One was really bad. One was a little bad (from the experiment). And one lived up to Joly's culty legend (so BR, I think it's more about flaw than matters of taste). You'd expect three fellow travelers to be cooked in similar fashion? So I'm still leaving the door open for a variable from the vinification left unchecked by Joly's sulfite reticence. Clearly, a FIELD TRIP will be required to get to the bottom of this.

Anonymous said...

I am just some jerk on the internet, but I (think I) know a little about TCA. As for different varieties expressing cork taint differently, I don't think that it works that way. TCA is a specific molecule, and a person is sensitive to it or not. This contrasts with Brett type taints that are specific molecules but a range of compounds produced by the organism. I concur with the other replies suggesting the wine was cooked.

On a side note, about 1/4 of all people are not sensitive to TCA at all, and a great majority are able to sense it, but are not super sensitive. TCA taint has been dropping quite a bit over the last few years if the reports are to believed, and many people (not neccesarly you) confuse TCA with brett, and cooked characters.

and just to keep rambling on, there are new microbes being found regularly that do novel taints in ways that it was not thought possible. Small bacteria that pass through all but the finest filters, and survive at wine pH, and ones that were once believed to be harmless, that produce weird taints sometimes.

J David Harden said...

Thanks Jerk! Good knowledge. You're welcome at the Lab anytime. Although clearly we need to review our security procedures if just "anyone" can get in.