March 30, 2009


We laid out a step-by-step protocol for this experiment.

Open Bottle #1 early in the day.
Open Bottle #2 right before tasting.
Taste Bottle #1 against Bottle #2, blind.
Decant half of Bottle #2 into a standard decanter.
Pour other half into a Waring Blender and froth for 1 minute.
Taste decanted and "vigorously decanted" wines against Bottle #1, blind.

We used one of our favorite gateway ungrafteds for the test. The Root:1 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon. The Root:1 series includes several wines, red and white. I've found them all to be terrific values. And while they are not "great" wines, they are certainly approachable, affordable examples of the positive attributes of wine produced from own-rooted vines.

I won't bore you with an account of every note for each individual taste because there wasn't much differentiation. There were subtle differences, but nothing experimentally exciting.

But there were two important take-aways:

1. Blending your wine isn't good for bouquet, but did surprisingly little damage otherwise (there's a 10 second time-lapse between each photo, just fyi).

2. Decanting for aeration produces about the same result as just opening the bottle and exposing the shoulder.

It's also worth noting than an hour after the experiment, I couldn't tell the difference between any of the wines.

March 27, 2009

Me and My Decanter

This comment:
"I personally find decanting, vigorous or otherwise, generally unnecessary" our most recent commentary, sparked a fair amount of correspondence, and a comment from Ned.

So allow me to qualify my meaning.

I don't drink much 30 year old Claret. I do drink a fair amount of Champagne. I tend to drink more white wine than red. This is because I tend to eat more fish and chicken than beef and wild game. So for me, decanting is generally unnecessary. I suspect, gentle reader, that you were looking for something with more implied controversy.

Something like: I think decanting is largely a showy bit of theater that doesn't improve a wine to any greater degree than just opening it, pouring off a taste and letting it sit.

As it happens, I think that's true as well.


Blender results up next.

March 25, 2009

Vigorous Decanting

Now that we've resolved our balance sheet issues and gotten the government monkey off our back, we can settle back into some good, old-fashioned wine science. But before we do, I'd like to make an important announcement.

When I got back from Washington, we convened a meeting of the Lab's Oversight Board. It was there decided that to avoid even the appearance of impropriety I would return 100% of my bonus for 2008. I have done so reluctantly, but with the full understanding it will be returned to me as part of my 2009 bonus when all the fuss has died down. It was also decided that we would not invite Lloyd Blankfein to any future meetings of the Oversight Board. Just to be safe. Appearance is everything.

Now, on with the oenology.

Today's experiment focuses on decanting. Our interest in this subject actually began with our first public experiment. Famed Rudy Steiner devotee, Nicolas Joly, recommends "vigorous decanting." But just what does that mean? I personally find decanting, vigorous or otherwise, generally unnecessary. Unless, as is often the case, I've stuffed up the cork removal and had to push it down into the bottle (but then I'm not really decanting the wine so much as I'm straining it).

Nevertheless, we wanted to see what would happen with some REALLY vigorous decanting. So we're putting a bottle of Root:1, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2007 into a blender.

Stay tuned.

March 18, 2009

I'm Angry About Big Bonuses

Especially the fact that I'm not getting one.

The Lab accepted TARP funds in November. We were told it was "necessary" even "patriotic" and would prevent a run on scientific institutions everywhere. I went along with the deal. It was a big error on my part and I take full responsibility for the mistake.

Now the Treasury Department is trying to dictate terms of executive compensation at the Lab.

So I'm gassing up the Lab's corporate jet to fly to Washington to give the %$#*ing money back. We'll take a short term hit on our balance sheet and be forced into some painful de-leveraging.

But we'll take back our soul.

March 13, 2009

Notes from the Field

At McDuff's suggestion, I left the safe, fortress-eque confines of the Lab and ventured out into the world to meet Guiseppe Vajra and taste the wines of his family's domain.

I need to get out more often.

Guiseppe was charming, engaging and extremely knowledgeable about his family's vineyards and viticulture. The wines he poured -- from an unexpected Piemontese Riesling to the single-vineyard Bricco delle Viole Barolo -- were exceptional.

The Vajras farm organically and pick by hand. The wines are beautifully expressive of their terroir. And they have some sensational parcels, including vineyards in the Serralunga across the autostrada from Bruno Giacosa's famed Le Rocche del Falletto.

The 2007 Langhe Bianco is made from Riesling vines that Guiseppe's father planted in the early 80s. When I said I hadn't realized that Riesling was allowed by the Langhe DOC, Guiseppe told me, "They allow it, but it's not recommended." Should be. This is sensational wine, a very serious dry white, and a definitive triumph of vineyard over varietal. The finish is so purely mineral that you can differentiate between limestone and granite.

The domain's tête de Cuvée is a single vinyard Barolo, the Bricco delle Viole planted just after the Second World War. Guiseppe poured the current release, the 2004 vintage. The wine is densely structured, with layers of fennel spice, red fruit, dark berries and a clear vineyard signature. It is very young, but unlike other "traditional" Barolos I know, this is extremely approachable even now.

The whole catalog is worth seeking out, especially the rustic Langhe Rosso Kye made from Friesa, a traditional Piedmont grape perhaps related to Nebbiolo. And if you get a chance to taste with Guiseppe, you don't want to miss that opportunity.

Elvino sourced Piemontese cheeses and fresh bread to pair with the wines. And Bart Miali's shop and inventory is looking better every time I stop in.

I will definitely try to make a habit of getting out of the Lab.

March 9, 2009

Lab Field Trip

Tasting note wunderkind, David McDuff, called the Lab to let us know that Guiseppe Vajra will be in Venice (California) pouring wines from his family's Piedmont (Italy) estate this Thursday at Elvino on Abbot Kinney.

I called Bart Miali, owner of said Elvino, to confirm the event. Guiseppe will be there from 6PM until the shop closes (which is when everyone leaves, but not before 8PM).

McDuff has some details on the Vajra line up here, if you're interested.

March 5, 2009

Too Good To Be True?

I was googling around to find out how much the staff paid for my birthday present.

What? Like you've never done that.

While I was searching, I happened to stumble upon another old Bordeaux. A Chateau Petit Faurie de Soutard, 1966. I'd never heard of the producer, but it was $25. So I bought it.

Ullage is how aficionados refer to the fill line. And they have a further set of terms to describe exactly how full the bottle is. Old Bordeaux can be "mid shoulder" or "low shoulder." Old Burgundy doesn't have a shoulder; the bottle is different, so the ullage is measured in centimeters.

This bottle had a very high (although not unheard of) ullage for a wine of its age: "Base of neck" (see photo). The bouquet smelled surprisingly young, bright cherry fruit, though with time in the air, it would evolve into a more age appropriate nose of baked tomatoes and cedary spices. In the mouth, this was really exceptional; bright cherry and other red fruits with interesting secondary flavors of orange rind, spearmint, burnt sugar and some few dusty, still breathing, tannins.

On this data alone, I'd assume the wine couldn't have been over 40 years old. Forgery in old Bordeaux has been a big business lately. But who has time to make fake claret that sells for $25?

There were, of course, clues that supported the vintage on the label. The wine was the brick red of antique Bordeaux. The cork was stained almost all the way to the moldy end. And came out in 3 pieces, then crumbled.

But the wine didn't taste old. At least, it didn't until all the fruit fell away and the acid swelled. After an hour in a decanter is when the magic died.

I put it in the fridge which knocked down the acid. After a couple more hours, some secondary elements emerged, mocha and mint and the fruit came back, but tasted more like dried cherries.

So was this the real deal? A forty-three year old Bordeaux?

I think it's likely.

Although I couldn't say for sure.

March 1, 2009

Word of the Day

organoleptic (adj): Pertaining to the sensory properties of a particular food or chemical, the taste, color, odor and feel, i.e. mouthfeel.

Use that in a sentence 3 times today.

I dare you.

(cfr. Wikipedia; E. Rose)

(blue tongue lizard: © Brooke Whatnall | )