January 29, 2009

I Look Like a Monkey

Yesterday was my birthday. The Lab Staff, no doubt hoping to stave off inevitable layoffs, chipped in for an antique Bordeaux. A 1966 Château Ducru-Beaucaillou.

It was wonderfully aromatic, with a perfumed bouquet of cedar, orange rind, leather and dried cherries that literally filled the room.

On the palate, this is on the downhill leg with neither much complexity nor density remaining. Faint, dried fruit flavors were supported by an oddly fresh, not acetic, acidity.

I can only hope I'm holding up better than this wine.

Thanks everyone.

January 27, 2009

What a Difference a Day Makes!

After tasting the two Domaine aux Moines, Savennières Roches-aux-Moines we put the corks back in and left them in the Lab fridge. Someone (me) had opened a bottle of Champagne, so we moved on.

But the next day, after breakfast, I went into the Lab to finish some year-end expenses. I noticed the two bottles and thought I'd check in, see how they were doing.


Today, the 1994 is a completely different wine. It's even a different color. Last night, it was a pale, straw yellow. Today it has oxidized into a rich, golden hue. It now presents a sweetly honeyed nose of apple peel and pear fruit, with some citrus pith, oyster shell and even a hint of botrytis. In the mouth, the youthful, racy acidity (lime) of yesterday, is joined by ripe anjou pear. Where did that fruit come from? Yesterday I thought this was interesting. Today I find it exceptional.

Given the changes evident in the '94, it's perhaps worth noting that these wines come from a 33 hectare sub-section (lieudit) of the Savennières AOC, called Roche aux Moines. In this region, biodynamic apostle-in-chief, Nicolas Joly, also grows grapes. We've written about Joly before and his claims that his wines are better on the fifth day.

So maybe this will continue to improve into next week? I wonder if the tenure of these wines has something to do with the dirt of the Savennières? Might explain why both Napoleon and Robert Parker have championed this Loire Valley appellation.

The 2004, meanwhile, hasn't evolved at all.

Go figure.

January 26, 2009

A Decade 'Tween

A "ten-split" vertical tasting of Domaine aux Moines Savennières Roches-aux-Moines. One from the 1994 vintage; one from 2004.

As I mentioned before, my prior experience with this wine left me a little skeptical.

I'm happy to now report that the previous, "warm quartz" bottle was flawed, probably cooked. These wines do tend toward mineral-laden austerity, but tasting them both made clear that my prior tasting was a damaged wine.

I poured these blind to several from the Lab staff. None were able to identify the older wine. I would have failed the test as well as the 1994 is lean and energetic, with racy acid (lime) dominating the finish. The 2004, meanwhile, is rich with mature pear fruit and quince, with some oxidized notes and a waxy, structured mouthfeel. It was easy to mistake youth for age, and vice-versa.

The aromas of the two wines were practically identical. A muted nose of pear with beeswax and clover. This last, grassy element was slightly more pronounced in the older wine. And both need a full hour in the glass to reveal much of anything at all. The two wines shared a nearly overwhelming minerality. If you could bake away the fruit, you would, I think, be left with the warm quartz taste of the Domaine aux Moines terroir.

Drinking these two wines, side by side, was a much more interesting introduction than a single bottle -- even one without flaws -- could have provided. Each offered a context for the other. And the two together yielded a few clues about the vineyard where they both originated.

We originally conceived of these vertical tastings as a reward for our hard-working staff, or at least as something to do for those scientists with no social lives who are hanging around at the Lab on Friday nights. But our inaugural tasting suggests there is real experimental value in doing this. This is another approach to dirt searching, and certainly an interesting way to investigate the effects of time.

January 23, 2009

One for Alvin Lee

When I was in high school, some older kid I worshiped for no reason other than he was older gave me a cassette tape with Alvin Lee's Woodstock performance on it. It was a rendition of "I'm Going Home" that seemed to go on for hours. It was one of those not uncommon moments in 1960's music where a performer loses their mind on stage. Whatever I was supposed to appreciate about the track passed me by. I didn't get it.

And that's apropos of our inaugural Old/New mini-Vertical Tasting. Because we're tasting two wines from the Loire Valley's Domaine aux Moines, and I'm not sure I get these wines either. They can be austere to the point of hard to drink. I've seen them described as "ungiving and a little challenging." Alder Yarrow, wondered whether they might be "too racy" and suggested their austerity "never reaches the point of unpleasant." Winning praise indeed.

At some point after high school, someone whose wine knowledge I worship told me I should try them. So I did. And I found them like licking warm quartz (I grew up in the Arizona desert and you make some odd choices as a kid).

So why then return to the quartzy wines of the Domaine aux Moines, you might be wondering? Well, Monique and Tessa Laroche, the mother and daughter team who run the winery and make the wines, have an odd habit of holding back wines and releasing them for sale when they've reached maturity. How they can afford to do this when their total annual production is but 2500 cases is anyone's guess. But it allowed the Lab to procure a 1994 and a 2004 of the Savennières Roches-aux-Moines. So our first mini-vertical has a full decade between bottles, a "ten-split."

By the way, for those of you under 50, Alvin Lee's band was called Ten Years After. So the reference is also a clever chronological pun.

January 21, 2009


The BFC middleweight belt has been unified.

Anne and Arnaud Goisot's Cremant de Bourgogne NV easily handled the Alsatian Cremant and now, after months of tulmult, there is once again a single title-holder in the Bubbledome.

Flinty, pure and nervy. This bottle is more vinous than the last, with some red fruit evident mid-palate. The wine has stunning precision and elegant balance. The brilliant, briny, stony finish eliminated any doubt about victory.

Given this costs a mere $15, it's hard to imagine anything other than a long and illustrious championship reign.

K&L Wines has more in stock. Those guys should offer me a job.

January 19, 2009

Real Change

As part of our EVOLUTION study, we tasted the 2006 Pyramid Valley Vineyards Lebecca Riesling six months ago and then again presently.

Given the declared point of the exercise was to chart how a wine evolves over time, I'm pleased to report, we're already seeing some noticeable change.

Unlike 6 months prior when the nose was tight and the wine needed quite a bit of air to show, this is immediately open and expressive on the nose. A fresh, sweet mix of clover honey, apple peel and lime pith. In the mouth, it is less obviously linear, but more dense in every direction than before. The honeyed Gravenstein apple and kiwi fruit is backed by a bright, Mandarin acidity. There's still a briny note on the finish, but it's less obvious, and the minerality has been obscured by sweet.

This is even more like Mosel Riesling than before. Blind, I would have bet the farm on Germany as the source. It would seem that some of the wine's prior uniqueness has been buried in a bit of sweet babyfat. It is still exquisitely balanced, but the nuance of secondary elements has been eclipsed by fruit and glycerin (there is a palpable viscosity in the mouthfeel that built in the glass over time).

I am very interested to see how this goes over the next couple bottles, and it's good enough that I'm already formulating excuses for why I won't need to share with the staff. My hope is that the honeyed fruit retreats, that secondary elements emerge to provide layered and site-specific complexity to this already dense and delicious wine.

If you want to play along at home, K&L Wines has a few bottles of the 2006 left.

January 15, 2009

Evolution 2.0: Riesling Redux

Hard to believe six months have passed since we began our highly ambitious, long-term research programme (I prefer the pretentiousness of the British spelling) into the EVOLUTION of an individual wine. Regular readers will remember we set out to drink a single wine -- a white and a red -- every six months for a case's duration.

Back in July, we had the first bottle from our case of white, a 2006 Lebecca Riesling from Pyramid Valley Vineyards. It was a spatlese-style Riesling (pre-global warming) with honeyed, green apple fruit and laced with a salty minerality. The full notes are available here.

A brief and furious controversy erupted over whether it was appropriate to lay down a New World Riesling. A reader commented: "I don't know of anyone intentionally ageing NZ riesling in their cellars (German and Austrian are by far the two choices)."

At the Lab we remain true to the original definition of "maverick" (the new definition seems to involve panic, bad decision-making and humiliating loss, so we are definitely referring to the old definition), and we plan to solider on, see what happens when we intentionally age New Zealand Riesling.

Cause we're crazy.

Results from evolution white # 2 up next.

January 12, 2009

No Resolve

I'm not big on resolutions. They seem so small and trivial compared to other things you can declare, like... Independence. I'd rather spend my time on manifestos and social contracts.

That said, I do want to highlight a few things we'd like to get around to doing during the Lab's 2009 Research Calendar.

1. We hope to finally get our, old/new mini-vertical program off the ground; where we taste the same wine from two different vintages, side by side. We have "Ten Splits" to indicate two wines separated by a decade; "Wide-gaps" when one wine is really old and the other really young. There's "Tight-knits" when the vintages are just a few years apart. And "Three-fers" where we have a vertical featuring more than two wines. I think this sort of thing can be very educational, but mostly we do it because it's fun to name the pairs.

2. We thought it would be interesting to recreate the Lab's inaugural experiment but this time with a rigorous control in place. We'll pit the crazy-funky and long lingering wines of Nicolas Joly against a wine that doesn't come with instructions "to decant vigorously" and drink after several days standing on the counter. Which leaves a lot of wines to consider as the control.

3. And of course we'll continue our tireless search for dirt, weigh in on topics we know almost nothing about, train our palates, and extend our pointless investigation into time travel, voyaging to ancient Rome, fin de siècle France, mid-century Paris, amongst other fanciful destinations.

And just maybe, we might even get around to that manifesto about ungrafted wines we keep threatening to write.

(image: © Janpietruszka | Dreamstime.com)

January 8, 2009

More from the Holiday Break

We drank these two as well (see the last report for context).

Drinking our way through all this Bordeaux gave rise to this idle thought:

Why is there a controversy about giving wine a score?

I'm curious about this debate. Mostly because I don't understand who has time to worry about it.

But maybe I don't get it. Maybe it's not like some 15 year-old pop star picking up a trophy at the Teen Choice Awards in front of a sea of confused and adoring fans and yelling, "You can't judge art!" Which is a great ideal to hold onto when you're 15. Not as great as, "Let's end hunger and poverty." But it's up there.

You can judge art. In fact, you have to. Otherwise, you're just a Golden Retriever.

I do understand that most anti-scoring sentiment is about Robert Parker. But I don't understand why people have time to worry about Parker, either. Unless this is their worry:

My palate is just like Robert Parker's, so I always seem to overpay for wine.

That would be a legitimate concern.

January 6, 2009

Holiday Report

Running a bleeding-edge, oenological research centre (I prefer the more pretentious, British spelling) isn't something you every really get away from. But I did manage a few days of indulgent respite over the holidays.

Which means I drank my way through my brother-in-law's Bordeaux cellar without writing a single tasting note (although I did take a picture of a few of the empties).

I don't have much experience with Bordeaux (I've often noticed a division between the people who drink Burgundy/Barolo and those whose who drink Bordeaux/Rhone reds; I locate myself on the Champagne/Riesling half of that divide). So it was a real treat to sample a range of different wines, all from the 2000 vintage.

Back at the turn of the century, my brother-in-law read an article championing that vintage in Bordeaux. For fun, he decided to buy a case from one of the best producers in the region. He bought the wine, en premeur, or as "futures". Which means this is likely the best investment he's made this decade. Bordeaux is sold in tranches. And tranche to tranche, price equilibrium shifts according to demand. Demand for 2000 Bordeaux was unexpectedly strong, so it was never cheaper than when he paid for it. It had actually increased in value substantially before he even received any of the bottled wine.

Even more fun (for me), he also decided to buy several mixed cases of the various Bordeaux wines that he discovered while researching which single wine he would buy in bulk. Several of these have reached their drinking window.

So we drank them.