One Lesson Learned -- Or, Adventures in Cal-Ital

As a novice winemaker, I continue to be eluded by many of the secrets of chemistry (though I'm definitely game to learn). Therefore, if any of you experienced, genius readers would like to share some scientific explanations for how a bottle of wine can change so drastically from the initial opening to one hour later -- post your comments. Really. The geekier, the better. Formulas would be cool. I need to understand what the heck happened this week.

Looking for something we hadn't tasted before, and of course, not knowing what Jody was making for dinner, I picked up this:

Jeff Runquist Wines 2008 "R" Barbera, Amador County, CA, Dick Cooper Vyd. 14.5% alcohol, $19.99

When I got home with the wine, I poured a small splash, swirled it; and immediately felt a strange heat (degrees hot, not alcohol hot) hit my nostrils. It was as though the temperature of the liquid was warmer than body/breath temp, although I dipped in a finger to make sure that wasn't the case (it wasn't).

The inital aroma ... well, perhaps the notes tell the story best on this one.

Garlic? Um, yeah, and spring onions, too.

I was afraid the bottle was a bust. When I took a sip, the palate seemed highly acidic, with spicy green peppercorn, a touch of smokiness, green plum and green olive flavors. It didn't taste flawed, exactly, but it didn't seem like this was how it was supposed to taste, either. (Did I say "green?")

The Food

Jody'd gone Mario Batali-style, with Pasta Col Cavolofiore. (Full disclosure: We were out of pine nuts, and three out of four of us won't touch raisins, so neither of those made it into the final mix.) 

Cauliflower, fresh parsley, and a saffron tea with melted anchovies, tomato and garlic ... yes.

By the time the meal was on the table, and I poured the wine for Jody, the garlic aromas had disappeared, and the nose seemed much richer and smoother. Jody thought perhaps a Paso Robles Rhone blend; or a Cabernet Franc. It was hard to tell.

With the food, as the wine opened, it was a pleasant mix -- complementary flavors, with a shared Italian origin. But 45 minutes after I'd first uncorked the wine, this Barbera of Amador County became a completely different beast. Wholly approachable on the nose, the green plums had changed to black -- summer Santa Rosa plums, splitting from ripeness, still with a golden bite of acidity inside.

So, what happened? How does something go from smelling like onions and garlic to black plums and strawberries? It was a happy turn of events ... but I must know how it works. Help!

The Lesson

Lesson learned? If a young wine's not obviously flawed (e.g., TCA), but seems odd, let it open and breathe before you guess what it is (if tasting blind), and before you drink the bulk of it. There's often some evolution that needs to occur. Patience -- always a virtue in winemaking -- just may be equally virtuous in wine drinking.

Still looking for that practical chemistry lesson, though, so have at it if you know. Until next week ... cheers!