July 29, 2009

I do know Jack!

I might be having a mid-life crisis.

Lately, science hasn't had the same appeal. I don't get giddy with excitement about a new experiment the way I once did.

Yesterday, I was thinking about selling the Lab and sailing the Pacific when I opened a bottle of Sam Tannahill's strange "white" elixir Jack (2005).

Jack is a mix of Pinot Blanc and Gris and Chardonnay. It is, allegedly, a Josko Gravner inspired wine. Six months of extended maceration (where the juice remains in contact with the skins). And then a long spell in oak barrels (not clay amphora).

It is striking to see in the glass, a sort of dusty orange wine, but with a radiant pink core that seems to shimmer magically when it catches the light. On the nose it is apricot marmalade, clover honey and something grapey (as a side note: anyone but me find it strange how rarely "grape" is used as a wine descriptor?). I first tasted this a year and a half ago and it has fleshed out considerably since then; the then subtle orchard fruits have swelled into bright white peaches and apricots. There's still a strong mineral backbone and a tannic tingle on the long lingering finish.

But this wine is more than its parts. It defies precise analysis. It resists the experimental impulse. Jack just is. And it is a wonderful is-ness.

What did William Hurt's character say in The Big Chill? Sometimes you just have to let art flow over you...

Maybe that's the way out of my crisis? I need a break from analysis. I need to let a little more art just flow over me.

Or I could buy a Ferrari?

July 13, 2009

Message in a Bottle

Or three bottles. To be more precise.

Regular Lab provider, K&L Wines, has an interesting palate training exercise on their shelves.

The biodynamic producer Champagne Fleury has released three versions of the same wine from the 1995 vintage and K&L has them in stock. These are identical wines, except that each has a different level of dosage: Extra Brut, Brut and Doux.
Dosage (n, doh-SAHJ; from wikipedia), immediately after disgorging but before corking, the liquid level is topped up with liqueur d’expédition. At this time, it is common to add a little sugar, a practice which is known as dosage.
Fleury's wines are outstanding. Dense, earthy, often with alluring red fruit flavors. So we jumped at the opportunity to taste these wines, with their different dosage levels, side by side.

These wines were exceptional. Rich and complex, but also open and approachable.

The Extra Brut was my favorite. A bright, energetic mandarin acidity dominated the palate. There is a strange and wonderfully unique minerality on the finish. Not chalk. Not limestone. Not sure what, but it's really good.

The Brut had similar orange-y acid, with jasmine and silver tarnish on the finish. The sweet is more pronounced but the overall balance of this wine is better than the Extra.

The Doux was also good, but showed a bit like a watered down version of the Brut. It had similar flavors but with less intensity. However, the fact that this has at least 42.5 grams/liter more residual sugar than the Extra Brut is remarkable. The wine is sweet, but the sugar is remarkably well integrated.

The most surprising observation of the evening (and thanks again Alicia!) was the nose on each wine was practically identical. If I were a fake journalist instead of a psuedo scientist, I would have tried to discover if Fleury used cane sugar or concentrated grape must (MCR), because the liqueur d’expédition seemed to have no effect on the olfactory character of the three wines.

Perhaps more controversially, I would also observe that the Extra Brut was the most expressive of site and vintage. The sugar in the Doux, while integrated, seems to obliterate any signs of the vineyard.

July 8, 2009

Dude! Where Have I Been?

Many of you have no doubt read about California's current budget situation. More than $26 billion in arrears, the state has commenced issuing IOUs to employees, service providers and other debt holders.

It's not wholly unexpected. In California, mandatory term limits for state office holders provide that a regular cycle of political amateurs are in place to manage our government. And our most exciting laws are scripted by Joe Citizen and approved by mob rule. God love popular democracy!

To solve the current crisis, clarion calls have begun to increase the State's revenue base by finally taxing California's most profitable natural resource. And we're doing our part here at the Lab. To help ease the state from its current predicament, the Lab has begun an entirely new category of research.

I'll admit, we've gotten a little lost in our current set of experiments. But what are you going to do? Duty calls...