Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Frankenstein Wines

Remember "Northern Exposure" the early 90's TV show set in Alaska? There was an episode where one character broke a bottle of old Bordeaux and secretly replaced it with a generic bottle that she doctored up with peat moss, cedar dust, and ink (for color). Now I don't know what that says about common tastes and descriptors of French wine (okay I do, but this post is going in another direction for once) but I was reminded of this episode when I tasted two bottles of Petite Syrah the other day.

The first was California appellation, and as soon as the first pour fell into my glass, I knew something was odd. The color had an iredescent pink hue around the rim of the wine. Not a natural color at all (I've seen some fresh Malbec before that seemed to nearly "glow" but not with the rest of the wine having such deep, deep color). The nose and palate were a muddled mess with too much sweet dark fruit, lots of acid, and some oak. None of it went together or seemed balanced at all. On the finish there was nothing, nothing, nothing, then (bam!) Sawdust. I'm don't know if they used oak dust or oak chips but the finish certainly gave that impression.

The second Petite Syrah was the "reserve" and while it was a better wine (it didn't seem so "cooked up in the lab") with better fruit depth and integration of components, it still had that odd color and dusty finish.

While I realize that many producers at all price points make Frankenstein wines of varying degree with grape concentrate, powdered tannin, acid additions, and oak dust or chips, most of them are able to integrate the "adds" in such a way that they improve the wine and integrate with the other components. Some of the Napa cult cabernet producers are said to force their employees to sign confidentiality agreements to prevent to loss of such "trade secrets". Please note that I'm not against innovation or experimentation...by all means, I'm in favor of it! It's just that the outcome of those experiments should be an improved wine, not an awkward swill.

However, these Petite Syrahs were far and away the worst culprits I've had to taste. Some keys to spotting Frankenstein wines:
  • The label says "Caution: consumers should filter through a dust mask before drinking"
  • The back label says "Vinted and bottled with a grant from Dow Chemical"
  • Jim Laube liked it
  • You spill some on your shirt and the acid burns a hole in it
  • You smell concord grapes (may be Ok on the East Coast)
  • Neon colors
  • You find a big splinter in the bottle
  • Your chardonnay has lots of tannin ('you got your tannin in my chardonny' 'you got your chardonnay in my tannin')


Blogger Bridgette Bordeaux said...

Great article! I recently had a wine from a poor vintage that had every possible thing done to it! I felt sorry for this poor baby, it was pushed & pulled to the limits.

June 11, 2007 3:36 PM  

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