Saturday, December 4, 2010

Wine review--of a sort



Recently, Clark Smith had an article published in Wines and Vines Magazine concerning--are you ready--minerality in wine.

Before I waded into the muddy terrain of that piece, I had already resigned myself to the position expressed by many who study viticulture, to wit: that minerals themselves are not taken up into the vine and then deposited in the fruit.

The consensus that seems to have built is that the so-called minerality of wine is either an illusion or a simulation, put there by the interaction of acids with other components; and generally, the mineral sensation is more forward in white wines.

In his article, Mr. Smith starts with the premise that minerals are indeed among the components found in the fruit and then he goes on not to report on how he came to know this fact, but on how he came to speculate its existence. From there, it was all down hill, not so much that his arguments weren’t sound, and they may or may not be, but because I understood almost nothing of what he was talking about.

On wine forum sites, a few chemists echoed my sentiment, and some went further to call Smith’s speculations completely wrong.

Unknown to me at the time, I was heading for a direct collision with the premise of Smith’s article.

Because there are today so many “reviewers” of wine, and because I truly don’t believe that what I like should have any bearing on what someone else should buy, I rarely write wine reviews anymore. At times, however, I am moved by a wine or by a wine and food pairing and I break my rule. At other times, something else happens that makes me break my rule. This is one of those times.

At the same time that I came across Smith’s article, I was preparing to sample some Cabernet Franc wines; some that had been sent to me to review, and some that I used my own money to obtain. My aim was to see how cool climate versions of the variety compare with warm climate versions—in the U.S. It was all for my own edification with the possibility that the comparison might give me something about which to write in the future.

Two of the wines that came to me were from Diamond Ridge Vineyards. One of them was named “2007 Aspects.”

I had no experience with Diamond Ridge wines, and I had no idea who owned the label. I don’t know if an actual winery exists under that name, because the two wines that came to me were not Produced and Bottled by Diamond Ridge; they had been Vinted and Bottled by Diamond Ridge, which means they were produced somewhere in California from grapes grown in the Lake Country Appellation, but no one was saying where. The vineyards, however, appear to belong to Diamond Ridge.

Anyway, here was my impression of Aspects: subdued and no identifiable varietal nose, although a hint of pepper underneath; kind of earthy but not in a vinous way, more like the dry dust of a second base steal and slide at the Brooklyn Park Circle baseball diamond of my youth; wish there were some fruit here, although glad that the oak is tame; pH seems rather dangerous territory for a chance at longevity. To me, a $12 retail value masking itself at a $28 retail price.

My wife, who often tastes with me, and who has a fine palate, agreed with my assessment of Aspects, except for the part about pH, which she never even considers

After making my notes, I read the “winemaker’s” notes that came with the samples. I discovered that the wine included 18% Cabernet Franc, that only 89 cases had been produced, and that the 30 months in oak was spent in neutral barrels. The pH was 3.73 (to me, that borders on the high side, but I am not an authority and those stats are not unusual these days).

My notes mention nothing about minerality. The closest is that dry dirt comment. That’s because, if there is minerality in the taste or finish of that wine, neither my wife nor I were savvy enough to pick it up.

As I ventured into the mud of Smith’s speculations in that article about minerality, he made mention of his winery and of a certain wine of his that he said offers up minerals. The winery and wine he mentioned was Diamond Ridge Aspects.

Now, I am completely baffled not only by Mr. Smith’s discussion of minerality but also by my talent (or lack of talent) for assessing wine.



Copyright Thomas Pellechia
December 2010. All rights reserved.

Lifting a blog entry without the author's permission (and without recompense) is a copyright infringement--period.

4 comments:

Samantha Dugan said...

I confess that I use the word minerality fairly often when I am writing up wines for our newsletter but I don't think I was implying that there were actual minerals in the wine...more like the flavor of say, wet stones, the way they smell well I can get that same impression from something like Chinon or Muscadet. But I do believe the soil can dictate some flavors, like limestone in Chablis and parts of Champagne...

Thomas said...

Sam,

This is a complex affair, this minerality thing.

I also "believe" but scientists look for facts.

The problem arises when belief systems meet facts and they don't get along too well, or when someone tries to finesse the facts to meet his belief system.

Too many of these subjects are like arguing religion. As far as I'm concerned, whether or not the minerals are actually in the fruit and then in the wine, identifying the the taste sensation is all that matters.

The thing about limsetone: it is an alkaline agent that neutralizes acids, while Chablis and Champagne wines are usually acidic.

Vinogirl said...

Hmmm....I've met Clark several times and he's an interesting character. I'm not really a believer in his manipulation of wine e.g. micro-oxygenation. Have had two 1999 wines made from same vineyard...one wine was treated by Mr. Smith, it did not age well which I can only assume was because it was artificially aged.

Thomas said...

Vinogirl,

Makes sense to me--if you bottle age the wine before actually bottling the wine, you probably run the risk of aging it to its end point.