Tuesday, November 27, 2012

It's Tricky!

Wine can be tricky. Swirling a glass of wine, you might think you are playing some serious solitaire, trying to release the potential of what is in there. But it can end up being three card monte instead. You know something is up with this wine, but what is it? Is it oxidized? Or has there been extended skin contact? Maybe it is heat damaged? What do you call out as an answer? It can be hard to say. The possibilities can often look or taste similar. A lot of times I call out the wrong card. But I remember when I've been hustled, and to help you, I'll share with you what can happen. I've got your back.

Syrah and reduction.
When bottles of Syrah from the Northern Rhone are young and have a bit of reduction, there can be a flavor that tastes a lot like wood. A reduced wine normally tastes dimmed, and kind of overly contained, but not oaky. Reduced Northern Rhone Syrah, though, can taste oaky. This is a weird Syrah thing. What it can lead to is people saying "OMG! Too much new wood! I'm never buying this modernist junk again!" But actually it isn't wood, it's reduction. It goes away with time and decanting. I know this is weird. On the other hand, there could actually be too much wood in a wine. The flavors are similar, but they aren't the same thing. I thank Claude Kolm for helping me to understand this.

Riesling and sponti.
Peter Liem really helped me wrap my head around the idea of sponti, the flavor that can emerge when grapes from Riesling vines planted in slate are fermented with native yeasts. This is a lifted, kind of mineral aroma that smells a lot like sulphur but is actually distinct from that smell. I think of the sponti smell as a bit "softer" than the sulphur smell. Sponti can smell a bit like wheat or hay, as well. Very often Rieslings that show sponti are dismissed as having too much sulphur. It happens probably just about every day. I've done it. Maybe you've done it. But they aren't the same thing, folks.

White Hermitage and ageing.
Tricky! Maybe the trickiest of them all. A white Hermitage can go through an ageing cycle where it tastes too old in adolescence, and then gets fresher with age. It is something you almost don't believe, until you see it happen. If the white Rhone tastes too old for its age, don't pour it down the sink. Seriously, don't. Pour the wine into a decanter instead, and then just watch what happens. Just as a Barolo can gain weight with air, a white Hermitage can gain freshness. My thanks to the collectors who have opened up the bottles that allowed me to witness this.

Chenin Blanc and wet wool.
Young Chenin can have a wet wool character that is oh so close to the taste of TCA. If you are working as a pourer at a portfolio tasting, trust me that you don't want to work the Loire Chenin table. Every 5th person tasting through will give you the stink eye, and then be like "Um, did you taste this?" You open another bottle. Same thing. You open another bottle. Once again. And this isn't one producer I'm talking about. I've seen this situation occur at many a different portfolio event, and with many different producers. The flavors seem very similar. But they aren't the same.

Those are my tricks of the trade. Maybe you have a few to add? Please do so in the comments.


adam said...

The thing with white Hermitage is crazy. It's one of those mysteries that can't be explained, it just is. Or maybe it has been explained somewhere and I just haven't seen it.

Do you think it affects who is cellaring the wines? I would imagine it to be a tricky proposition at restaurants (as you mentioned in your linked post) where you don't know how a bottle is going to show. Is most everyone drinking the wines when they're very young because they don't want to gamble on the future?

Anonymous said...

Cab Franc can also offer a vegetal aroma that hints at TCA... but it's not. I know no way to distinguish the two other than to wait for a while: TCA will get more obvious and more bitter/sharp while the vegetal smell will stay the same.

Pascaline Lepeltier said...

great post - as always

TCA and Loire... it is funny you mentionned chenin because i got so much more the problem with muscadet - especially the Bossard one with a bit of age, or the old louvetrie and luneau... - it happens 90% of the time at the restaurant - melon on certain soils, gneiss and variations especially - have this minerality so close to TCA for the first minutes... it is why i decante them -