February 23, 2009

More Interesting than Good?

I was going to call this one, "What Would Otzi Drink?" Otzi was the Neolithic Hunter found preserved in Alpen ice along Italian-Austrian border in 1991.

Colleagues in archeology have recently dated the earliest wine-making to the early part of the Neolithic age. And by 'recently', I'm referring to geological time: The discovery was five years ago. When residue of fermented grape juice was found in what's now the Republic of Georgia from a vintage that's 8,000 years old. That's also recent if you're a geologist.

In a continuation of our amphora wine studies, we recently opened a bottle of Georgian wine: Vinoterra Mtsvane, 2005. Mtsvane is an indigenous, white Georgian grape, "well known" according to the back label. Like our Julius Caesar wines, this is fermented in ancient terra cotta pots (the Georgians call them, kvevri) then aged in oak barrels.

Wine made with neolithic technology on the site of the possible origins of wine-making itself... what's not to like about that?

The wine in the glass is orange, like liquid rust. The nose is super funky, oxidized and aromatic. Orange rind, nutty caramel, quince past and something like sherry/vin jaune. In the mouth, the fruit jumps, and the acid too. There's a faint sherry quality. And a coppery metallic element (reminds me of Joly's terroir signature in the Coulée de Serrant vineyard). The finish is hazelnut and river stones.

I thought this was really interesting. But was it good? I brought a bottle home from the Lab for the wife to put her super-palate on.

Her note was succinct:

Undrinkable camel piss.

Drink at your own risk, I guess.


Glen said...

All of the amphora wine that you tasted seem to have oxidation flavors. Since I cant actually find any of the wines in my little midwestern college town I just have to ask. Do you think some of these flavors are from oxidation? If it is I would wonder if the amphora wines are prone to oxidization or if producers who use amphora also don't like to use SO2.

Managing Principal, Labstuff said...

Hi Glen,
I think oxidation is an intentional part of the wine-making and not a by-product of no SO2.

Glen said...

Of course there is some oxidation in all or most wine making but I think the degree is important and I don't mean to imply that it is a negative. Madeira is oxidized and I love it. I just noticed more descriptors I associate with oxidation than is usual for the wines I drink. So I was wondering if amphora wines have a tendency to slightly oxidize because of the amphora or if winemakers who use amphora also don't like to use SO2. I think SO2 is believed to protect against oxidation in addition to protecting against (some) bacterial spoilage.

Managing Principal, Labstuff said...

Wolfgang Weber has a great piece on SO2 that appeared not long ago in the SF Chronicle. You might find it interesting.


And you're right about the levels of SO2 use being important.

In the case of amphora wines, I think it's likely a combination of natural wine-making trends and the fact that making wines this way involves more oxygen exposure than, say, a stainless steel tank with a CO2 buffer. Most of the few who use clay pots, press whole clusters, dump juice, skins and stems together into the buried amphora and then stir the mix occasionally during a lengthy fermentation period. So there's going to be a fair amount of oxidation regardless of whether or not they use sulfur as a stabilizing agent.

I'm anticipating my next report, but is there a Whole Foods grocery store in your lmc town? I recently learned they were integral in bringing the amphora wines from Vinoterra into the US. Maybe a request to the wine-buyer at the store might conjure a few bottles to the local shelves?

Cheers, Glen.

Glen said...

Thanks for the article, it was a fun read. I did notice that one of the winemakers thought using new barrels allowed lower levels of SO2. I heard an interview with Sam Harrop MW not too long ago that claimed new barrels were worse than old barrels for Brett contamination. I need to find some of these wines to see if they are a little more Bretty (I always enjoy a little Brett).

Alas, there is no Whole Foods in my LMCT (Bloomington, IN). While I am usually chained to my desk in a lab churning out data I do go to a larger midwestern college town with a Whole Foods (Madison, WI) every few weeks. I'll see what if they are interested in stocking some amphora wines from Vinoterra.

Glen said...

Sam Harrop Interview


Do Bianchi said...

Just curious: what was the occasion that you tasted camel piss in the first place? ;-)

Seriously, great post and great point... Thanks for the shout out in today's post. I'm posting tomorrow on an oxidized Fiano from Campania.

Btw, did you see Tracie B's post on Joly?


Managing Principal, Labstuff said...

Hey Jeremy, Nice to see you back at the Lab.

Thanks for the tip on Tracie's piece on Joly. That's a great post!

Aren't we overdue for a trip to Lou's? I've been in a couple times since you recommended the place and would be happy to go back anytime.


PS. Better not know the answers to some questions, I think.