Being an old Rude Boy and just having seen the reunited Specials in concert this past weekend (the boys were in top form), I though the title of an old Selecter song for this blog was apropos.
The topic is pressure, barometric pressure to be exact, and its impact on how wines taste. We’ve ‘seen’ it with our own palates, just how different the same wine can taste when its cool and sunny outside (good) as opposed to wet and rainy (bad). It’s something that for years we never even considered. Rain or shine, we thought that the wines we tasted on a particular day were just the wines and that was that. But over the last few years we’ve been proven wrong.
The first time we noticed? Actually, we didn’t notice but an importer friend whose palate we admire was holding a tasting that we attended and remarked on what a great, bright, fresh sunny day it was! He was literally rubbing his hands together like Snidely Whiplash knowing that sales of his Barolo and Barbaresco wines (which are particularly sensitive to this phenomenon) were going to skyrocket. He remarked that the wines were fresher and tannins sweeter under high pressure. We didn’t make much of it at the time, but boy, those Nebbiolo wines were rock stars that day! We did buy a bunch, filed his comments in the back of our minds and moved on.
Fast forward to the 2005 Bordeaux tastings in Los Angeles sponsored by the Unions des Grands Crus. Same deal, the tasting was at the beach, the weather fresh and breezy, the air light, and the wines showed even better than they had at our En Primeur tastings; powerful, lifted, with sweet tannins. It was more than just the supernal quality of the vintage, many Bordelais remarked on how lucky they were the weather rocked.
Next occurrence, a rainy, cloudy day in San Franciso for the annual Zinfandel (Z.A.P.) tasting. The air was heavy, the wines were heavy, it was unbelievable just how much tannic, blah Zin we tasted that day, the wines were even more rough and tumble than usual, the alcohols accentuated, the tannins roughed up (like Zin really needs it…). We walked away tired, bitter, in need of cold beer.
Now back to Bordeaux. The 2009 vintage has ended up being a bit more polarizing among the wine press than usual. All indicators pointed to a vintage of the century, but we’ve been seeing mixed signals at best among the pundits who have tasted the wines thus far.
Examples? Jim Suckling from the Wine Spectator tasted the 2009 Ch. Larmande St. Emilion and gave the wine 92-95 points commenting the wine had, “Blackberry and sweet tobacco on the nose follow through to a full body, with soft and silky tannins and a very pretty finish. Balanced and refined. Nicely done.” Neil Martin, Wine Advocate’s Bordeaux reviewer-in-waiting, tasted the same wine and gave it 83-85 points, noting, “Prune notes on the nose that is lacking definition and is far too ripe. The palate is quite tannic and seems rather over-macerated, the finish lacking freshness and definition.”
Wow. Quite the difference. And when you consider that the difference between ’83′ and ’92′ is more seismic in its impact than a mere nine points you get the picture. The question. What was the weather like on the days these two gentlemen hunkered down and had a look at this suddenly controversial wine? Quality of samples aside (considering that critics tend to get freshly drawn samples at the times of their tastings), could it be the weather that accounted for this drastic variation in scores? We know from our own Tristen Beamon who was in Bordeaux around this time that the weather was horrible: cold, windy, rainy, dreadful. He remarked it had a definite impact on the wines. Neil was in Bordeaux at the same time as Tris, and Suckling had in fact tasted many of his wines earlier when the weather wasn’t so bad and the barometric pressure much higher.
After doing a bit of research on the internet (for what its worth) we did discover that two symptoms of wines tasted under low pressure are a flattening of the wine (prune notes?) and accentuation of tannins, both commented on by Martin during his tasting. Not to say anyone is right or wrong, but it would be interesting to find out just what the weather was the day both pundits raised their glasses.
Food for thought.
So, the next time it’s muggy, heavy and raining outside, you may want to pull a page from the biodynamics handbook and give the wine you’re drinking the benefit of the doubt. It could be a victim of old Mother Nature.
Or just drink on bright, sunny days. But that would mean folks in Seattle would have to give away all their wine…and we wouldn’t want that.