August 14, 2008

Tomb Raider, of Sorts

Do you have a nosy Aunt Gladys who rummages through the drawers and cabinets in the bathroom to see what sort of pharmaceuticals she can find?

I do the same thing. I think this might be why no one from the Lab ever invites me over for dinner. That, and the inequality of rank can be so awkward. But I'm not rummaging around in medicine chests looking for your oxycontin or anti-psychotic meds, I'm looking for research opportunities. Bottles of wine for our FINDING FAULT program. I've found wet bars to be ripe territory to mine.

So it was at the condo my parents keep in San Diego. I found a small cache of wine in a cabinet under the sink. And, since no one was paying attention, I "borrowed" two bottles. One red. One white. Or, what appeared to have been white, once upon a time.

The white was a Sauvignon Blanc from famed film/wine-maker Francis Coppola. It was from the 2004 vintage and probably purchased on release. So it's been under the sink for the better part of 3 years.

I sent one of our research assistants down to the local supermarket to buy a bottle of the current release. He came back with an '07. We opened them side by side at the Lab.

The 2007 is pale yellow, almost clear. A nose of pear, grapefruit oil and lime. Less interesting in the mouth. Almost like grapefruit juice, including the bitter aftertaste.

The 2004 is golden yellow, more like an oaky Chardonnay. It is clearly off. It smells like honeydew melon rotting under a warm sun. And rubber bands. And a volatile element not unlike rubbing alcohol.

Because I am devoted, fully committed to the research program at the Lab, I stepped up to the altar of scientific sacrifice and drank some of the rotten juice. Just one of many sacrifices we make every day at Rational Denial.

It is surprisingly less offensive in the mouth. Flat and undifferentiated fruit and a bitter, slightly rancid, finish.

Side by side, it was obvious the wine stored in the often vacant, and so often uncooled and unheated, condo was well into the throes of madeirization. We knew this even before we'd opened the bottle. Sauvignon Blanc is not amber hued. Still, just to see, I put a glass of the cooked wine in the fridge. After a two hour interim, I tasted it again. The offensive nose had closed down significantly, not much to smell. The palate was still dull and flat. It wasn't good. But the flaws were no longer quite so glaring. It tasted more like wine at this point.

In fact, if I had no experience with this wine, and a burly, impatient waiter hovering over my shoulder, I might have hemmed a bit, unsure if it was truly off. I guess that's why they open the bottle at your table?

Next we'll try the same thing with the red. However, it's a mass-produced Merlot, so it may have to wait until we're really desperate at the Lab for something to do (my wine education clearly did not begin at home).


Dan O. said...

Appropriate forum for a question? So...I have some decent reds. I keep them in the coolest place I can: the pantry, where it often gets, frankly, warm. Too warm. Short of buying a wine fridge, can I keep reds in the refrigerator (an extra one)? My wife wants to keep other stuff in there, so I cant jack up the temp. I realize that they wont necessarily have any of the good reactions of aging, but will the cool temp harm them?

J David Harden said...

Hey Dan, It's a very good question. You can definitely put them in the fridge. Fluctuating heat is probably worse than constant heat. So getting the wine out of the pantry would be a good idea. As you suggest, you may slow the aging process (though you may not), but you won't hurt the wine as long as they don't freeze (though, we're actually doing some experiments at the Lab to see what happens to wine when you freeze it; who hasn't put a bottle in the freezer to chill quickly and then forgotten to check on it until it was Wine Granita? Some of our preliminary results suggest that freezing wine doesn't hurt it much at all in the short term). There's also this side benefit: Most people serve their reds too warm. This will no longer be a problem for you!

Dan O. said...


Edward said...

I used to put half drunk bottles of red in the fridge to try to prolong the drinking pleasure (till the next day), but stopped after getting uninspiring results and after reading McGee (McGee on Food & Cooking), who suggests that the flavour compounds in reds precipitate at low temperatures.

Director of Lab Science said...

G'Day Doc! Nice to see you back. We're currently doing some work on a "temporary closures" program (inert gas, air pumps, jamming the old cork back in, etc), so clearly we should add a temperature variable to the mix. Precipitation at cooler temps does happen during fermentation, but it's a desired effect. For half-drunk bottles, I'm not sure there's a great deal of research... Yet! But in Dan's case, with a choice between variable and warm versus constant and cool, I think the later wins.

On another matter, per your suggestion, I'm working on procuring some Mitolo under cork/stelvin. Wondering if you know off hand any of the other local producers who might also bottle in this dual fashion?

Edward said...

There was a trend 4-5 years ago for vineyards to give a choice in closure - (ie cork and screwcap offered to the same market).

Most found that the screwcap sealed bottles sold out faster, and so now screwcap is used to the exclusion of cork. (At least for the Aussie market).

Cullen (the Diana Madeline Cabernet)from Margaret River Western Australia, might still seal their flagship wine under both. . .

Director of Lab Science said...

That's interesting. I've found that the '04 Mitolo GAM is about $15 cheaper with a screwcap here in the states... I'll see what I can do about the Cullen. Was at the winery for our honeymoon, but even without the nostalgia, I'm a fan of Vanya's wines.