Trials and Tribulations

If harvest is about getting dry wine to barrel as quickly as possible, then elevage is about thoughtful tinkering. Like layering different spices in a curry, each barrel has a different personality and brings a unique element to the final blend. Sometimes I play around with varietals, like adding petit sirah to zinfandel. Other times I experiment with trials that increase or decrease acid, change the mouth feel, or alter the texture. Even if ultimately I add nothing at all, it’s important to be rigorous and explore different options to make the best wine possible. Plus it’s always fun to play in the lab. Last week, I started dabbling around with the 2012 zinfandel. I knew exactly where to begin. Back in December, I’d noticed a framed sign beside the free candy bowl at Scott Labs. It advertised a product that “maintains fruity aromas while helping to round out the mid palate.” And who doesn’t like a round mid palate? The more I researched their catalog, the more I was intrigued. In addition to mid palate amendments, one might consider something “volume enhancing…while also reducing perceptions of bitterness and acidity.” I don’t want to be perceived as bitter or acerbic. Nobody likes a mean girl, a brackish shrew with a sharp tongue. Surely this product could make me a better person. In the end, I left Scott Labs with enough fairy dust to improve my personal constitution while also enhancing “feelings of volume and fullness in the mouth.” The fact that my 2014 New Year’s decree resolves to diminish “fullness in the mouth” is notwithstanding. So I stashed my contraband licorice in the back of the pantry.

Each product (a mannoprotein) can be added across a range of doses, from small to large increments. And when you’re playing the field, that’s a lot of samples to mix. I aimed to create a framework of low, medium, and high dose additions. With 5 different products to sample, I mentally rallied to taste through some 20 glasses of wine. (Reason #5 why winemaking “work” trumps pathology). It’s always best to taste blind. But I had too many products across too many dosages for meaningful work. So instead I tasted each product at different doses against the control in groups. Then I tasted the top contenders blind against the control. The results were unanimous.

Both my tasting buddies and I picked the unadulterated control over product, even blind. The forthcoming 2012 zin has a wonderful fresh, bright fruit component that was dampened by product additions. Sometimes the texture or mouth feel was indeed broadened but always at the expense of the fruit forward deliciousness or aromatics. In the end, I believe the aromatics always come first. Bruliam Wines should seduce you from the first whiff. The only real change to the 2012 zin versus years past is the petit sirah addition. Back in November, we blind tasted 5%, 10% and 15% additions. 15% dampened the aromatics and the 10% add tasted too thin. So we split the difference with a 12.5%/87.5% ps/z blend. We plan to bottle right around Valentines Day, because we “heart” zin.