segunda-feira, 21 de novembro de 2011

Some wines are made by assembly line; unflawed, perfect and perfectly boring. Others are less predictable, sometimes showing the little quirks that make wine lovers shiver with excitement.

Earth, usually the mark of a European wine, can add that frisson. In Burgundy, that means leaves rotting on the forest floor. It could also be rich, loamy compost. Or the dusty smell of bone-dry corrals and wind over the barren prairie. Oh, wait, that's my lawn.

Do you like your Riesling regular or unleaded? This grape is famous for developing aromas of diesel, although some people prefer to call it honeycomb, another waxy, petrol product. Cat pee shows up commonly in Sauvignon Blanc, especially in the twangy, New Zealand variety.

These are good things. A bad one is the cork-born contaminant, TCA, usually described as musty, dank basement, wet cardboard, or dirty gym socks.

If your nose tingles from lively acid or from the black pepper odors in wines like Syrah and Grüner Veltliner, that's lovely. If it prickles from sulfur dioxide, like when you smell a burnt match, or from the vinegary sting of volatile acidity, that's a problem.

Let's recap:

Damp Forest: good / Damp Cellar: bad.
Garage: good / Locker Room: bad.
Tingle: good / Prickle: bad.

How's a neophyte to know?

Often good and bad are the same chemical at work, in different concentrations. A small amount of ethyl phenol gives left-bank Bordeaux its sophisticated, mens-club aroma of tobacco and new saddle leather. Too much, and you get sweaty saddle and the horse it rode in on.

Since a hint of this can garner very high ratings, winemakers sit around figuring out how to encourage it without letting the responsible yeast and bacteria get out of hand and take over the winery.

The "correct" amount is purely subjective. Some people like more funk in their wine than others. It tends to be a European taste.

Which begs the question: do we expect, tolerate, even like funky stuff in wine simply because for so long it couldn't be prevented? Should wine, ideally, be totally clean, tasting only of fruit?

Might as well ask if blue cheese should be bleached, or if jerky should be re-hydrated. Lots of food that began as an accident ended up a delicacy.

Once you've been introduced to the gross things in good wine, you can decide for yourself what's a fault and what's a beauty mark. The only fault we can all agree upon — by far the worst — is the one where the cork is out of the bottle and there appears to be no wine inside.


Jennifer Rosen,
Waiter, There's a Horse in my Wine,
2005