December 31, 2008

The Good Stuff

All the things you hear about Anselm Selosse's wine are true. Great purity and balance. Beautiful minerality. Hints of oak, especially on the nose. A remarkable ethereal quality, especially on the finish. This is great wine, only with bubbles.

Selosse apprenticed in Burgundy and has called the vineyard "his religion." I'll genuflect to that!

This wine strikes me as one that will improve over the course of a long relationship involving a lot of bottles. The more time you spend with it, the better you know it, the more interesting it becomes.

But it's not a cheap date.

December 30, 2008

Our 100th Report!

I can't believe we've made it this far. In spite of top-heavy bureaucracy, invasive government oversight, steep drops in our endowment, and a general aversion to hard work of any sort, we have hung in long enough to reach the milestone of the Lab's centenary report.

Where are the little people when you need them? If only so I could say, "Hey, thanks, little guy. I'm sure your efforts were helpful, in some indirect and hard to quantify way."

I was looking around for someone... anyone really, to celebrate with. Then I remembered, it's the holiday break at the Lab. There's nobody around but me.

Which means I am definitely digging deep into the "good stuff" section of the Lab cellar.

When I wrote the original, Arbitrary Milestones post, I bet you had no idea it was going to be such a regular feature here at Rational Denial.

Happy New Year!

(image: © Dimensionsdesign |

December 22, 2008

Happy Holidays!

We close the Lab this time of year, so that the Lab Staff may spend time with their families.

Or go to rehab.


December 19, 2008

Hyperlink Milestone!

Yesterday's BFC post set a new Lab record for hyperlinks in a Lab Report. I believe the official tally was "almost infinity".

To commemorate the arbitrariness of this remarkable accomplishment, we broke out a bottle of L. Aubry Fils, Le Nombre D'Or Campanae Veteres Vites, 1997.

It was... well, weird. But definitely Champagne. And therefore, a highly appropriate choice with which to celebrate the equation: almost = 7.

Age is shaping this one. It has a nose of truffle oil and silver tarnish with underlayers of lychee and lemon zest. On the palate, poached pear and damp earth on the attack. The mid-palate is reductive, almost antique. Then a crisp lemon acid sets up a long, mineral finish. Great balance and structure. Elegant. But weird. Like modern dance.

Also like modern dance in that you feel cultured for having been to the performance, but probably aren't buying the full season.

The Latin on the label means "old country vines" because this Champagne is made with three of the rare and random grape varieties allowed by the AOC. Twenty percent Arbanne, 50% Petit Meslier, 30% Fromenteau (Fromenteau? Surely, I wouldn't be the first to crack-wise about a grape from Middle Earth, if ever there was one.).

The current release is from the 2004 vintage. It also has the classic Champagne varieties, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Meunier, mixed into the blend. It's a Terry Theise Selection for Michael Skurnik Wines.

It's definitely worth a twirl.

December 18, 2008

Faraway Labs

DATELINE: Perth, WA. Intrepid wine drinker, ace photographer and real and actual doctor, Dr Edward Winosapian, has embarked upon a titillating experiment at his Western Australian headquarters (link).

At the Lab today, we are marveling at his patience and wish him godspeed.

By the way, Doc... This is the image, we would have used:

( © Vladimir Vlasov | )

2008 In Review: BFC

The New Year is a time for reflection, remembrance and top 10 lists. Best of's. Worst of's. Year in reviews.

None of which I care about.

But I did want to take the opportunity to reset the Championship Ladder in the Bubbledome and this seemed a good way to do it.

As many of you know, the biggest news out of BFC this year was bad. The back-alley, midget wrestling scandal remains a black mark on the sport. And while the World Cage Match was a huge commercial success, it served mostly to confuse the Championship Ladder. I even asked around at the Lab. No one was really sure who currently holds the Champion's Belt.

After the Greek shocked the world by coming out of the cage victorious, it was throttled in its first match against a Frenchie from Alsace. Meanwhile, a brilliant Burgundy sparkler won the last official match in the Dome. So who's the Champ?

A New Year's bout has been scheduled to unify the Championship. Goisot le Bourgogne versus Becker the Alsatian.

And there's even bigger news ahead for BFC in the Bubbledome. The sport's sanctioning body has approved a new Heavyweight Division. This weight class will pit Grand Marque Champagnes (the big, famous estates) against Artisanal Champagnes from Grower-Producers. Head to head.

I personally lobbied long and hard against this. Stripped of their massive marketing budgets, wine from the Big Houses is practically defenseless. But bloodsport is good for ratings and my efforts were defeated.

2009 will be big in the Dome. I can't wait to review it next year. Make some cool lists.

December 16, 2008

Do Not Deliver

I just happened to notice this. It was on the box that was used to ship the wine for our first Bottle Shock Trial.

Note the proscription: "Do not deliver to an intoxicated person."

So how'd we get it?

PS. A group at the Lab has suggested we expand our Shipping Shock trials in the New Year. More bottles, more time intervals, red/white, etc. If I don't approve their request, it might affect the quality of my Christmas gift from the Staff.

So we're on it.

December 14, 2008

Bottle Shock: The Verdict

I know you're anxious for results. Lord knows I've strung this out long enough.

But first a few words about the producer of our test wine and the stupidity of others (in this case, French others).

Jean-Paul Brun's Domaine des Terres Dorées is in the Southern Beaujolais just north of Lyon. Brun believes in using indigenous (not industrial) yeasts, restricts the use of SO2 to the minimum levels needed to protect the wine and generally believes his wines should serve as an expression of their vineyard and vintage (hint: that's terroir). Unlike many, if not most, Beaujolais winemakers, Brun doesn't add sugar during winemaking to increase alcohol levels; a process known as chaptalizing. It's something we here at the Lab like to call "cheating."

And yet... because his wines are distinctive, elegant, even, site-expressive wonders, it was recently decided that some of them must be declassified as Beaujolais AOC and sold as plain and simple Vin de Table. So if you see any, Jean-Paul Brun Table Wine on the shelves, buy it! And if you should happen to meet someone from the Beaujolais AOC committee, poke them in the eye! (if you want to read all the details you can go to the website for champion importer Louis/Dressner and search "Brun").

Now, back to our results...

We tasted the two bottles of Brun's Cote de Brouilly. Blind. And in truth, we didn't really expect to get a result.

There's no such thing as shipping shock, right?

The first bottle has nose of bright cherry fruit, stewed tomato and peppery spice. The palate has the same profile with a beautiful mineral core that lingered through the finish. This wine has structured elegance, poise and purity. It's really beautiful stuff.

The second bottle, meanwhile, has the same basic olfactory and flavor profile, but is slightly warm (meaning: some alcohol is showing) with a greenish bite on the finish.

It was the second bottle that just arrived at the Lab.

The results were obvious and convincing, if unexpected. A shipped bottle performs better after a little rest. In this case, 6 weeks. Well, as convincing as a single trial can be.

Was the second bottle bad? No. But the first bottle was better. Appreciably so. And there wasn't a single member of the tasting staff that didn't think so.

December 12, 2008


December 11, 2008

Bottle Shock Trial #1

The first of our Bottleshock Trials gives us an opportunity to highlight one of the Lab's favorite wine shops in New York City. We love the Astor Wine Center on Lafayette Street in Manhattan. They have a good collection of grower Champagne and extensive offerings from importers who have championed the natural wine movement like Louis/Dressner Selections and the outstanding wines of Jenny & Francois (sadly, almost impossible to find on the West Coast!).

Astor Wines is also really good at shipping.

On the Astor website, I found at bottle of Beaujolais iconoclast Jean-Paul Brun's Terres Dorees, Cote de Brouilly, 2007. I ordered one on October 19. It arrived via UPS Ground on the 27th. I put it straight into the cellar before going back to the Astor Wines website to order a second bottle. This bottle I scheduled for a December 1st ship date. Without so much as a follow up phone call, some guy, identified on the invoice only as "Al", filled my order, scheduled shipment for a month hence and delivered the goods intact and on time. Nice going, Al.

When the second bottle arrived, we put it into a wine fridge for a couple hours, just to bring it down to cellar temperature. Fair is fair.

We opened both and tasted blind side by side.

Results up next.

December 8, 2008

Everyone Has Baggage

Early in my oenological career, I had the good fortune to tour the Margaret River wine region in Western Australia. Taking advantage of a strong US dollar, I shipped home several cases of great discoveries. The amiable fellow who handled the shipping told me to make sure I let the bottles sit for at least a few weeks upon receipt. The constant vibration of an airplane in flight disturbs the wine, he told me. You need to let them settle down.

This was my first encounter with the horrors of bottle shock.

It's a standard practice to let new inventory received at the Lab "rest" for 6-8 weeks.

But is this really necessary? Do we really need to let our bottles sit there for all that time?

We thought it would be interesting to run some tests.

First test up next.

(suitcase: © Gino Crescoli | )

December 5, 2008

Arbitrary Milestone Indeed

I'm sitting at my desk on Friday afternoon planning the staff holiday party -- I never know how many cheese logs to get -- when a staff librarian runs in with big news:

The Rational Denial Lab has broken through the 500,000 mark of Alexa's global traffic rankings!

I have no idea what this means... But the Grant Writing department has decided to print, "the fastest growing wine blog on the planet" on the Lab letterhead. It all seems a bit far-feteched to me.

But it certainly feels like cause for celebration! I'm heading immediately for the "arbitrary milestone" section of the Lab's Champagne cellar.

As if Friday afternoon wasn't reason enough...

December 4, 2008

Moby Dirt

Dirt Searching can be expensive. It only stands to reason that the best places to look for terroir, in those wines made from single-vineyards where producers intentionally restrict fruit yields and pick by hand, are going to be costly.

But in our quest for this muddy White Whale, we recently stumbled upon an interesting experimental pair that won't set you back a small fortune.

Two wines from Castoro Cellars. Yes, the provider of vast gallons of wine for Trader Joe's also has a serious side. These wines are from the same all-organic Whale Rock vineyard in Paso Robles. One a Zinfandel, the other a Primitivo. At the Lab, we know from super wine scientist Carol Meredith's extensive DNA analysis that Zin and Primitivo are, in fact, the same grape. So we assume this bit of marketing implies some deep cellar tomfoolery aimed at making a more rustic red for the Primitvo bottling.

Either way, same grapes, same vineyard, perhaps a slightly different vinification/maturation... perfect territory for a dirt search. So we tasted the 2005 Primitivo Reserve ($22) and the 2005 Whale Rock Zinfandel ($30) side by side.

The Zinfandel has a nose of cherry and oak, and, perhaps, too much alcohol. But I'm surprised by the restraint of the fruit on the palate, this isn't nearly as obvious as the nose suggested. A complex mix of black cherry, fig and blue fruits, with a youthful, vegetal greenness and drying tannins (or is this an oak effect?). The finish has a slightly bitter, Robitussin quality.

The Primitivo is sweet cherry and plum backed by dusty clay. This is the more fruit-forward of the two with rich flavors of plum and cherry confiture. Spicier too, with black pepper and espresso.

Both of these wines stuck me as being more about the fruit and the winemaking than the dirt. And yet, there was a common hallmark. Although it's hard to say if it's the result of shared varietal characteristics or born of common ground... literally.

December 2, 2008

Tastes Like 1964

Dear and Gentle Reader, You recall when last we spoke, we were setting off to open a wine from the 1964 vintage. The year the Beatles first appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show. When Cassius Clay knocked down Sonny Liston to begin his reign as "the Greatest." MLK won the Nobel Peace Prize. Goldfinger was in movie theaters. And t-shirt icon, Che Guevara, addressed the UN.

It was a very long time ago.

We carried our little antique to a work table and gingerly cut away the capsule. We gently removed the crumbling cork and delicately poured the wine. It was an anxious moment, fraught with the many tensions of possibility.

The nose is lovely. Warm and welcoming. Sweet, ripe fig and cigar box, with light hints of peppery spice. The first impression in the mouth is sweet cherry. There is some bitter, acetic tang on the finish, but on balance it's still drinkable!

There were a few high fives and fist bumps shared by a small coterie of dedicated lab workers. I thought one of our viticulture specialists was actually crying, but he explained an errant high five had caught him in the eye.

Fifteen minutes passed before we returned to the glass. The fruit bouquet is fading. Now it just smells like a musty attic, old and waning. But the fruit is still bright on the palate, and a few secondary flavors are beginning to emerge, nutmeg spice and leather.

After thirty minutes, the secondary elements take over. The glass smells of warm bread pudding with Christmas spices.

When an hour had passed we went back again. Wow! All of the above are now twirling about in the glass together, and the palate has settled down and softened. There is no acidic bite, no acetic tang. There's even a sense of smooth, soft tannin on the finish.

Our excitement, no doubt, had more to do with not opening a bottle of vinegar than with the quality of the plonk. And it was certainly interesting to chronicle its evolution in the glass. But, in truth, it was only okay (even if it did welcome sexy and exotic descriptors).

But there is no question that drinking this was more fun than we would have had with a $20 bottle of something off the shelves at the Foodmart.