Monday matchup: Bold statements

I follow a lot of wine people on Twitter. This post is a response to a tweet from the winemaker at Silver Springs Winery on Seneca Lake. In addition to an eponymous label, Silver Springs also makes Don Giovanni wines, their premium label. The tweet in question was as such:

DonGiovanniWine: my 2005 Bold Merlot in a blind taste test will beat all other merlots …yes I just said that…

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Today's competitors on "Drink the Wine"

I happened to have a bottle of the 2005 Bold Merlot at home, and I was actually planning on writing tasting notes for it soon. When I saw this tweet, I couldn’t resist having the winemaker put his money where his mouth is. For the opponent, I chose another wine that I had around the house, Ty Caton 2006 Upper Bench Merlot, which I purchased from wine.woot about a year ago and have been “cellaring” in the closet.

This test was done as blindly as possible, with identical ISO 9000 wine glasses. Both bottles were opened at the same time and not decanted. Wine was poured into the glasses from the bottle before the test began to avoid bias, as the bottles are shaped considerably differently.
 
 
Stats:

Wine Don Giovanni Bold Merlot 2005 Ty Caton 2006 Upper Bench Merlot
ABV 13.7% 15.7% (!!!)
Appelation New York State (fruit from Long Island and Finger Lakes) Sonoma Valley, CA
Price Point $27 $37

Here we go:
Wine 1
Looks: dark red, getting to be brick-red.
Nose: Vanilla and oak, not too much fruit. I do get some cherry, and a spicy potpourri aroma. There’s a bit of an herbal tint in there too, with a bit of tobacco/cigar box. It may be running a little {hot}
Palate: Firm but not overpowering {tannin}. Medium-short finish, and I really like the tannin structure. It’s slightly on the acidic side and oaky on the palate. There’s something really nice that comes through on the finish about 10 seconds after swallowing/spitting. It’s subtle and I can’t quite pinpoint it, but it is satisying.
Overall, not too bad. I like its {balance}, but the phenolic (“spicy potpourri”) element is the loudest singer in the bunch, and it’s a little out of tune.
Rating: 3 corks corkcorkcork

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The contestants, as judged. Post-it notes are so I wouldn't get them mixed up while tasting.

Wine 2
Looks: Darker red, with hints of purple.
nose A bit of hydrogen sulfide at first whiff (dissipated after a bit), jammy, grape soda, huckleberry pie, with a little chocolate in there.
palate Sweet, very fruity. Cheek-puckering tannin, almost a smokiness on the back end, a lingering bitterness that’s not really that pleasant. Pretty alcoholic, too, finishing with some black licorice.

This is a big wine, but maybe not in the right ways. At times it reminds me of a fruity-smelling magic marker. You know the ones I mean.
Rating: 2.5 corks corkcorkhalfcork

Results: Don Giovanni was wine 1, and Ty Caton was wine 2. In a way, this probably wasn’t a fair comparison. These wines are completely different styles, and since this wasn’t DOUBLE blind (i.e. I would have no idea which wines I was tasting at all), I had my suspicions about which wine was which right from the get-go. The DG had an aroma that I pick up in many, many FL reds, which I describe as “potpourri” only because I’m not really sure what to call it. My hypothesis is that it comes from extended maceration and/or long extraction periods, which can add a lot of color to a wine from a wet vintage, but also extract some undesirables from the skins. I’ll keep you posted. Meanwhile, the TC can come off like a typical California WAY overripe, jammy, syrupy, alcoholic mess. 15.7% alcohol? It may as well be madeira! This may be a style that some critics really go for, but for me, I prefer the Don Giovanni. That being said, it’s not without its flaws, and I definitely wouldn’t say that it could beat ANY merlot out there.


A note about blind tastings: It’s important to point out that nobody buys wine blind. Nobody goes to the store and says to the clerk, “I’ve got $20, surprise me!” (though I might do that someday, sounds like fun). With so many wines out there (on the order of 10,000 labels authorized for sale in the US in 2007), there’s no way one can try them all and buy based on experience. The more adventurous consumers will reach for varietals and regions they haven’t had before, but it seems that in general, people buy wine based on lots of psychological factors that have little to do with the quality of the wine in question. This could explain why the results of truly blind tastings can often be rather surprising, especially to the tasters. However, human psychology is rather out of my jurisdiction and I’m content to just say that people do weird things sometimes.

I’ve been to Silver Springs a few times and whenever I go, the winemaker, John Zuccarino, is pouring behind the bar. The guy is nothing if not extremely enthusiastic about wine and the wines that he makes. Many times my friends have remarked that it was their favorite stop along the way on Seneca, even if the winemaker’s presence is a bit overwhelming for some. He makes some pretty good reds, and I highly recommend stopping by there if you’re traveling up the east side of Seneca.

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This is only a small portion of the detritus floating in my spit cup after tasting these two wines.

Science!
Hey gang! Here’s an experiment that you can do at home! Make sure you get your parents’ permission, though. In the winespeak dictionary, I explain how it’s thought that the mechanism of astringency is the precipitation of proteins in saliva by tannins. Additionally, perception of astringency correlates well with protein precipitation assays (Ref: Kennedy et al.,, “Analysis of Tannins in Red Wine Using Multiple Methods: Correlation with Perceived Astringency “, AJEV, 2006) Well, if you’ve got a spit bucket, you can observe this phenomenon for yourself!  All that chunky stuff floating around when you spit out a red wine is precipitated protein, mostly PRPs (proline-rich proteins).  It’s thought that PRPs evolved as a defense mechanism against polyphenolic compounds, like tannins (Ref: Baxter et al., “Multiple interactions between polyphenols and a salivary proline-rich protein repeat result in complexation and precipitation.”, Biochemistry, 1997).

Published in: on 30 March 2009 at 3:14 am  Comments (3)  
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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I’ve come pretty close to buying blind: “What’s an under 12 red for somebody who doesn’t like reds”? is one thing I asked for. (A heavily discounted pinot noir, it turns out.)

    Luckily, human psychology is within my jurisdiction. And all I have to say is that if people were truly rational creatures, we’d all be much better drivers. THE END.

  2. i would have recommended beaujolais. pinot noir’s not a bad choice. i guess what i meant about psychology corresponds with studies that show that people will experience a wine differently when it is dyed a different color or has a different price tag on it. or a pretty duck on the label.

  3. How fun would it be if I got to say “My work is centered on the effect of pretty ducks on people’s wine-buying habits?”… Not that fun? Kind of lame? Amusing for maybe 5 minutes.


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