Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Flaws in natural wine (red)

Quick post today, for the wine geeks and folks who are familiar with winemaking. I’d like to pose a question. Certain wines, often those produced with minimal use of sulphur, seem to have a malty, nutty quality to them. Occasionally they will have a bit of spritz which blows off with air; this I understand since liberal use of sulphur will discourage the formation of CO2 in the bottle. But the nutty maltiness, is that a sign of instability if it is too pronounced? Perhaps bacterial issues with the wine, or an in-bottle malolactic fermentation?

As an example, today I tasted two organic, seemingly naturally produced wines from Argentina, of all places, from a bodega named Montlaiz in Mendoza. The wines were all relatively low in alcohol (13.2% - 13.6%), not overly extracted and surprisingly dry and natural tasting in the mouth. Very cool considering that they are from one of the hotbeds of overmanipulated, oaked, lifeless, cookie cutter wines: Mendoza, Argentina. But, in varying degrees, they were also fucked up. Weird, malty, nutty, bacterial flavors dominated. Now I've come across these flavors in wines from the likes of Olivier Cousin and Jean Courtois in the Loire, as well as from producers in southern France and Portugal, but the degree to which they dominated was much lower. Plus the wines were more interesting.

Anyone care to shed some light or share their own experiences here?


Steve L. said...

I hope someone answers this! I have experienced the same flaw--I call it hazelnuts--most recently and disappointingly in an otherwise gorgeous bottle of Dard et Ribo Crozes Hermitage. When it shows up it is invariably after a bottle has been opened and exposed to air for at least 30 minutes. It seems to be present only in very low sulphur wines.

kevin said...

First off, great blog! I have thoroughly enjoyed reading about your adventures!

I am a little late to the punch but here you go...

This "flaw" that you are smelling (nutty, malty, multi-vitamins) is a naturally produced during most fermentations and is attributed to acetaldehyde. Sulfur binds with acetaldehyde almost immediately and effectively removes it as a sensory aspect of the wine. That is why this character can be common is nonsulfured wines and is rare in standard production wines. That being said, many (not all) sans soufre wines are referring to the elevage and actually receive a very small amount of SO2 right at the time of bottling. This rids the wine of the acetaldehyde and a touch of the oxygen that is introduced during the bottling process.

As for CO2, most natural wines are minimally handled thus retaining a large amount of the CO2 produced during fermentation. A quick decant or an extra minute or two in your glass will remedy this as you noted. Now if you see the level of CO2 increasing each time you open a bottle of a specific wine, then you could be having a problem with refermentation.