Sunday, August 26, 2012

Why I don't want chicken shit in my wine!

After many years of wine tasting you are a real wine connoisseur. At home you have collected an impressive wine cellar full of exquisite wines. You know all wine regions and the most common grapes. When you have visitors at home you always know how to impress people with a well-chosen bottle of wine. During restaurant visits the wine list always ends up in your hand and people are staring at you full of admiration while you are selecting a white for the starter and a red for the main course. When tasting a wine with the well-dressed sommelier standing next to you still presenting the bottle, you feel like a king!

Probably you have followed one or two wine courses, where you confirmed that you are good with wine. You are a gifted taster, at least better than your family members and many friends. Besides you are subscribed to one or more international wine magazines, out of interest, but also to discover new wines. Often you are surfing on the web to obtain extra information about a wine, winemaker or wine region, and so you end up on the holy grail of the web, the many wine blogs. The best proof of this is that you are reading this article. You already have met many winemakers and you always know what to ask them. You know the basis of wine making and you know that to obtain healthy grapes a lot of work has to be done in the vineyard. You often are involved in wine tasting sessions and when tasting blindly you sometimes make a fool of yourself, while being jealous of someone next to you who seems to be able to provide better descriptions of the tasted wines. I guess you start to sit uncomfortable on you chair by now, as you really recognise yourself in the above description. No need to, as I just described the average wine lover, and not you specificly, as I probably don’t know you.
OK, I just continue my article, well knowing that I start skating on thin ice and that some people will felt attacked. I frankly don’t care about people masturbating while looking at a prestigious wine label on a bottle. Everyone needs his pleasures and comforts, just like a baby like to suck on a piece of plastic in the shape of a female nipple. But I read and hear more and more the biggest nonsense from wine journalists or connoisseurs or even sommeliers when describing a wine. And I have to say, I am sick and tired of this bullshit. Wine tasting is reduced to a recital of subjective taste sensations: ‘red fruit, I think red berry, but very ripened, even sultry, oh but also some leather, a kind of sandal leather and after a while even development of butter... and prunes and yes, also graphite and King-mints (I am not joking)’. Tasters are just happy while detecting a smell of dry grass in their glass, where I think it is much more interesting to think about the equilibrium, purity, freshness, drinkability, minerality and stability of the wine, but also the quality of the finnish for instance. I have read wine tasting notes where the juice was still described as wonderful even having impressions of varnish, a likable paint odour, touches of turpentine, warm wood glue, Tipp-Ex, a typical rubber nose, black elastic (I am still not joking), old cheese, a smelly well, nice burned flavours (?), gasoline, hairspray or a mysterious sulphur scent. According to me those are all errors in a wine. What am I saying; those are for sure all faults in a wine that even can be explained chemically. Apparently there is a diminishing of norms taken place in the area of wine. Believe me; if these characteristics are reflected in a wine, then something seriously went wrong during the vinification. There is even a chance that the wine is already in an irreversible phase on its way to vinegar, certainly if you detect acetaldehyde (ethanal) or ethyl acetate ester. There might be the frequent use of chemicals in the vineyard and in the cellar, where after the formation of H2S in the juice other chemicals as mercaptans and/or thiols are formed, which provides unpleasant odours. Personally I find it important that any wine drinker is aware of this type of information and realise that this impurities should be avoid in a wine or any drink. There is no sane and critical person who wouldn’t scratch his head when detecting those kind of smells in a plate of food. ‘Yes, Mister 3-Michelin stars Chef, the sole with grilled, smoked and lacquered Oosterschelde eel, served with fresh quinoa with aromatic herbs and season vegetables, spider crab emulsion and dashi was delicious, especially when combined with that subtle scent of burned rubber giving the whole creation an extra punch.' To clearify my point we all know for sure that every glass of industrial orange juice with the smell of Tipp-Ex will stay untouched. I still don't rest my case...

Also when I occasionally read the international wine press, I am shocked by so much amateurism and ignorance. I recall a wine tasting note from a top wine from Rhône, written by the most loved and hated wine journalist on this globe, where he described the delicious flavours of ‘chicken manure’. Indeed, chicken shit, or rather manure, but we all know what the first phase is of manure. Probably there was an infection of the Uncinula Necator fungus, but please do not see this as something positive in a beverage. Another common attack is Brett (from Brettanomyces yeast) with ethyl 4-phenol as a notable derivate. A slight contamination will provide a nose of stable or leather. Most of the time I associate it with the smell of Geuze-beer. But with higher concentration your wine starts to smell like shit and I hope we can agree that this is not what we are aiming for.

‘Quel beau nez Petrolé’, is what you hear quiet often when describing the nose of a Riesling. This typical smell of petrol should be due to the unique minerality of the terroir some tried to make us believe. In fact the North American specialised press label a Riesling without these characteristics as atypical. Just be sure that most German winegrowers exclaim a loud big ‘scheisse’ when detecting 1,1,6-trimethyl-1,2-dihydronaphthalene in the juice, knowing at the same time that they will be able to sell the wine anyway. Look, that you and you and you and basically half the planet like the smell of petrol in a wine glass should not bother me too much, but I like it when people are informed correctly. By the way I would also advice to look up the nearest refinery in your area and to drive regularly towards it if you like that smell. Also avoid washing your hand after fueling your car. With a bit of luck you can still smell that perfume at night in bed. Not sure if your partner will like it.
Another molecule is however considered at the slightest sensation by any wine drinker as an error: 2,4,6-trichlooranisol. When detecting even a ppm of this substance in the wine every connoisseur will ostentatiously and clearly conditioned thrown away the wine and to make sure to warn everyone by a big shout of the word ‘cork’. There is absolutely no question to try to detect other sensations to this devilish wine.
To finalise this article, I would like to focus on natural wines. Let’s face it: there are a lot of bad natural wines on the market. As the demand is growing fast, there are more and more (young) wine makers who tried to make the step, sometimes forgetting that there are many obstacles to the creation of a pure balanced stable wine. Their bottles are imported by the many wine importers who are dying to get new ‘organic’ talents in their wine range. One of the biggest problems, according to me is the stability of the wines. Very often they are not, which you can easily detect, except most wine importers. This means I get more and more remarks that natural wines are awful except a few exceptions. I tend to agree with this statement!!

"En dégustation, ce qui nous intéresse, ce n'est pas la longueur, mais la qualité de la longueur. Mangez de la merde, vous verrez, c'est long en bouche!" Pierre Overnoy (winemaker in Jura) Nov 2008

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