Tuesday, April 22, 2008

In Vino Veritas: Science, Wine, and Science-y Wines

Obviously there is a lot to be said about oenophilia, and in particular about the delightful absurdity of its vocabulary. It is easy to get distracted when your technical terms are words like "supple" and "hollow" and "chewy" -- which rightfully have no place in beverage descriptions -- and before you know it you're slinging around your favorite uncommon adjectives -- wistful! sly! insouciant! -- with a complete disregard for accuracy and comprehensibility. Nor does it help in the quest for clarity to note that many varietals have specific aromas that have been identified seemingly at random: for instance, the pencil box note in a glass of Cabernet Franc.

Much as I love this mode of language, I need some sort of anchor if my oenological leanings are to progress. For a while I stood by the German Rieslings, which are invariably delicious, but now I'd like to investigate the reds and the drier whites as well. But where to start? Even if you ignore the less common varietal grapes (Carmenère, anyone?) there's still no obvious place to begin. All you have to go on is a hunch and the impression made by the design of the label on the bottle. Therefore I have decided -- where is my triumphant horn section crescendo? -- to investigate wines with science-y themes.

It is entirely appropriate that the first wine I choose is called Educated Guess, from the Roots Run Deep winery in the infamous Napa Valley. The label approximates an old blackboard, with hexagonal molecular structures and chemical processes chalked out attractively in white on the black background. The winemaker's description is as follows: "Rich, ripe and focused with juicy blackberry and boysenberry fruit, all tied together with a creamy french vanilla middle and a lingering finish." Mine is much less evocative: delicious. Of course, they're talking about the 2005 vintage, and the bottle I tasted was the 2006, which appears to have a much stronger spice than the earlier bottle. For the first time, I have a sense of how the spiciness of a wine can play with both its fruitiness and its sugar level: the peppery note here provides a sharp opening note supported by the rich velvet tone of the fruit, and a smooth lingering sweetness binds the two together like a silk ribbon tied around a stack of love letters. In fact, the more I drink of it, the more I like it -- so much so that by the end of the bottle I have bestowed upon it the title of Favored Red, a title heretofore only possessed by L'Ecole 41's Recess Red.

The varietal here is Cabernet Sauvignon, one of the reds I am growing more interested in, and one which for years was thought to be descended from Roman grapes. However, more recently its true lineage (a blend of Cabernet franc and Sauvignon blanc, just as the name would suggest) was revealed by, of all scientific things, a DNA test.

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