November 12, 2009

A Big Waste of Time

As regular readers know, we recently dug three wines out of their variegated resting places. One from the Lab's cellar. One from my closet. And one that ended up wedged behind a stack of Cup-O-Noodles in the Lab breakroom.

The wine we're testing is a Cabernet Franc from Philippe Delesvaux. As we've written previously, Delesvaux started out as a kind of Loire Valley garagiste producing his first vintage (1983) in a shed. He now has 35 hectares of biodynamically managed vineyards and makes his wines in a natural, non-interventionist mode. He is most famous for his usually overpriced Sélection de Grains Nobles Coteaux du Layon, a botrytised Chenin Blanc. He should be famous (but isn't) for his lavishly underpriced 100% Cabernet Sauvignon Anjou La Montee de L’Epine.

We tasted the three bottles blind. The results were surprising indeed.

Bottles #1 and #2 were nearly identical. The nose was harsh, almost astringent, with a noxious perfumy mix of dark fruit and menthol. Bottle #3, however, smelled of smoky blueberries and espresso with hints of white pepper. The first two tasted like they smelled, sharp and bitter. The alcohol imbalance dried the tongue. Bottle #3 was less sharp, less bitter. The minerality was more pronounced and their was a distinctive mocha flavor (barrel effect) on the finish.

In truth, the results verged on irrelevant. Because I didn't like any of these. Even the "better" bottle was too bitter and too austere to drink, even with food. And if this 3rd bottle was, in fact, the carefully cellared bottle, the improvement wouldn't justify the refrigeration expense.

Before we revealed the three bottles my hypothesis was that bottle #3 was either the cellared bottle or the bottle from the kitchen. My thinking was that either the whole cult of 57 degrees (roughly the average temperature of a basement in France) was actually beneficial. Or that the warm, but relatively constant, temperature of the kitchen might have accelerated aging and improved the wine.

Wrong on both counts. The winner was bottle #2, the one that spent the past 15 months with my shoes.

Sometimes science is mystifying.


CabFrancoPhile said...

Awesome experiment. Perhaps this was one to drink young (?), despite the pedigree of the vintage. Did you let all of them equilibrate to the same temperature before serving?

Brooklynguy said...

absurd, truly absurd. i'm tempted to start talking about how naturally made wines begin with lots of bottle variation, and so the experiment might actually be more interesting had you used something like veuve cliquot. or opened all three bottles, combined them in a big bowl, and re bottled the mixed wines before storage to "unify" the wine and eliminate starting variation.

but who cares. just shows that these things are not always so clear cut.

Edward said...

Inspirational! Like Neil mentions I think the main problem here was bottle to bottle variation.

Director, Lab Outreach said...

CFP, We did bring all three bottles down to cellar temperature before our first trial.

Neil, I did think about bottle variation, but not your elegant solution. I like it.

Doc, Indeed. I think the other main problem is that this wine wasn't very good to begin with. Time can help open closed, liven up a dumb phase, even soften a sharp tannin... but it can't cure mistakes.

And I wonder too whether the intern made a fair point. What's a year really? I think if the next bottle of Red Burgundy in the EVOLUTION series is showing too much fade, perhaps we might repeat the experiment and go for a little longer duration. Might even try to do intervals (2 bottles Y1, 2 more Y2).

hamish ablett said...

great to know - brilliant work. i also believe a red can sometimes taste all the better after being open for days. then some taste crap after being open for a day or so.

can we test that?!