Growing, and Olfactory, Pains -- Or, Spritz in the Barrel and S*&t in the Bottle

All three garage barrels of the 2009 vintage are now going through their natural malolactic fermentations. As the malic acid in the young, fresh wine makes its way through the conversion to lactic acid, it again produces carbon dioxide, which makes the wine "spritzy:" a tad fizzy, tingly on the tongue. 

It also means the color is cloudier, and the flavors are changing. Like a young teen who goes through phases of trying on different attitudes and styles -- discarding them when they don't fit anymore -- our wine is growing up, and needs to get through its awkward stage before it comes out at the end as the beauty we know it was born to be.

This is all part of a wine's life cycle. As the winemakers/parents, we step back a bit now. We give the wine its space to stretch out, to grow, and to look and taste a bit silly while it does so. We keep a close eye on things, but as long as nothing harmful's going on, we don't interfere. These are the lessons of the journey.

The Double-Double-Blind Food & Wine Pairing

I arrived home from work and the wine shop with wet hair and a brown-bagged bottle to the unmistakable smell of chili simmering on the stove ... Jody's dinner didn't keep its secret long. He'd prepared organic beef & three-bean chili, and sauteed the beef beforehand with onions, shallots, chili powder and cinnamon.

Here's where I'd normally put a picture of the food. But unless you have a test kitchen and a professional camera crew, photos of chili are always going to look like dog food. So you'll just have to imagine the cinnamon-infused deliciousness yourself.

The Wine

"This has a wicked nose," Jody said. (The meaning of "wicked" remained undefined.)

I smelled violets and tar; leather; wet asphalt; tobacco leaf; old saddle. On the palate, it tasted of lavender and licorice. Here was a surprisingly young wine that was about everything other than fruit. (You wine geeks are nodding your heads right about now, aren't you? You know.)

Talia, 10, took a whiff. "It smells like it smells right before it's going to rain in Florida!" (Ozone?)

Elijah, 6, stopped by and stuck his nose in the glass.

"Hey! This smells kind of like a toilet!"

All together now, fellow geeks: Chinon. (With a lil' side of Brett.)

2007 Les Pensées de Pallus / Chinon (Cabernet Franc) / Loire Valley, France

While I don't think it ruined the wine at all, based on the sensory characteristics, it's probably true that it contained some level of Brettanomyces yeast.

Brett can come from the wild, or from contaminated barrels and winery equipment. It's harmless to consume, and people's individual threshold for detection vary widely. Some enjoy its characteristics in lower levels ("sweaty saddle"), but in higher quantities it's known to impart some pretty nasty aromas. Like toilet. Or the unflushed contents thereof.

The Pairing

By the second pour, in time for dinner, the aromas of the wine seemed to have rounded out somewhat.

During the meal, the spice and acid of the chili, and the smooth creaminess of the beans, softened the wine's rougher edges and made it much more pleasant. (And, for what it's worth, I didn't think it smelled like a toilet.)

It wasn't a wine you'd necessarily sit and sip without a hearty meal, but as a food wine, it was an unexpected success. Even Jody thought so. And he had told me after the first pour, and the reveal, that I could "take this chi...non back."

Until next week, friends!