I don’t normally do wine reviews here. It’s not what this blog is about. Besides, the mode du temps of wine evaluation is not even in the same galaxy as the way it should be done. However, I recently bought four bottles of a wine based on past vintages and, needless to say, I was profoundly disappointed.
Last year, I wrote a piece about a round-up tasting of North American Aglianico and Montepulciano for PalatePress.com. I included reputed Italian examples of each variety as benchmarks. As my Italian benchmark Montepulciano, I used the 2007 Cantina Zaccagnini Montepulciano d’Abruzzo. The wine was clean, balanced and interesting. I liked it, as well.
While recently at World Market, I saw the 2009 vintage of this wine going for $14.99. I bought four bottles, looking forward to enjoying them with my wife and my friends. So, I was looking forward to the first taste of this wine.
I was instantly taken aback by my first sip. This wine was worse than Pathetic Red. It was plummy with prominent aromas of Brett and some oak but had none of the more typical fruit characteristics. In the mouth, it was annoyingly sweet. Two runs of Clinitest showed the wine to have 1% residual sugar (10g/L). This diminished, but did not overpower the wine’s acidity. Any tannic structure was difficult to detect. Left in a wine glass on the counter for a few days, the stuff grows mold.
According to some sources, this wine is produced for the US market. So, they probably give it a more liberal amount of new oak than stuff intended for their domestic or European markets. My best guess is that this wine was allowed to undergo a “native” or “wild” yeast fermentation, which included some Brett. It was pressed sweet but then got stuck at around 1%.
There are many reasons why a primary ferment might stick. And it happens to the best. Low YAN, high must weight and not inoculating with a cultured yeast are the most common causes.
Brett loves oak and tends to set up shop in barrels so the wine could have been pressed clean and sweet around 4% and put into contaminated barrels and then got stuck at 1%. I suspect the former is more likely.
Object lesson #1: The perils of “wild” ferments are stuck (incomplete) conversion of sugar and spoilage yeasts.
Object lesson #2: R.S.. and Brett don’t mix. It’s just gross. To avoid this, use cultured yeasts.
Corollary to object lesson #2: If you want RS in a red wine, especially a red, you might want to be super sure your barrels are clean. If there is even a minute chance they are not, just forgo oak all together.
This wine is a prime example of one of the reasons why Brett is a flaw. Brett may add some complexity in some fully dry wines – particularly young ones. But bretty wines don’t get better with time, they get brettier. There is no way to reliably and predicatbly “dose” or control the effect of brett. And it can get downright nasty. There are some who are partial to bretty wines, but that’s probably because their whole Maryland farmhouse smells like a dog fart all the time.
Ultimately, there is the issue of consistency. I bought 4 bottles of this wine because I had faith in a reputable producer. Even when making non-vintage blends, year-to-year, it’s virtually impossible to produce an identical wine every year. It’s not difficult to see vintage variation in clean, consistently vinified wines. A different population of fermentative species making the wine each year is not needed, unless the desired effect is to hide the fruit.
Finally, “natural fermentation” is the ideological darling of the crystals and yoga crowd, but it’s a gamble. The fact is that some vintners may get lucky with feral yeast ferments, but they have neither identified, articulated or shared what they’re doing right.