Can Fibonacci Sequence Un-Muddy Wine’s Cloudy Ratings Picture?

Because it’s hard not to compare things, especially (for me) barrels of wine that will ultimately fit into one of a few different categories, I developed a full-proof, easily understood rating system composed of Negative ( – ), Neutral ( O ), and Positive ( + ).

Now, of course, there have to be gradations of each of these three primary categories, right? We’re comparing a lot of wines to each other…there have to be finer shadings so as to capture the whole panoply of my tasting experience. Voila! There’s ++, +-, ++-, O++, +-+, etc. Totally transparent, yes?

Well, over the 4th of July weekend I was mercilessly skewered for my innocent little system. My wife, June, going so far as to call it ridiculous and stupid. Consequently, I’ve re-thought this whole ratings thing and decided on a much simpler system…

fib imageFrom now on each wine will be given a rating based on the Italian mathematician, Fibonacci’s sequence. Found all over nature, the Golden Ratio (based on Fibonacci’s sequence in decimal form) was used by illustrious artists like Da Vinci to define perfection. So my new system has that going for it…the third-party endorsement of one of the greatest artists of all time. It also has size.

The longer the string of numbers…what I call the F-Seq, (ef-seck), the better the wine. So, I had a Zin yesterday…1,1,2. The Chardonnay – 1,1,2,3,5. And, the Cabernet? Brilliant – an F-Seq of 1,1,2,3,5,8,13!

We’re a comparing species; there’s nothing to be ashamed of. Grab some wine, give each one an F-Seq. Grab some apples, forks, carburetors…give them F-Seqs too!!

That’s the beauty of the Steven Mirassou F-Seq System™. The System fits everything, and everything fits the System!

The next time you want to differentiate two of anything, use The F-Seq. My gift to you, free of charge.

 

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Time Marches On…

We are in one of those weird confluences that happen every year where the past, present, and future bat up against each other at one single point in space and time.

We are in the process of sending out samples of the 2011 Lineage Family Estate to the press in the next few weeks. This wine has been in bottle since early January and will be released in October. At the same time, the 2012 Lineage blend was just made on Wednesday – individual barrels and portions of barrels were racked to a tank, barrels Lineage- 4 vintageswere cleaned, and the wine was then racked from tank back into those barrels. This wine will be bottled prior to harvest this year and released in October 2015.

And while all this is going on, we have finished initial evaluations of the 2013 vintage of all of our wines (there are probably 25 different wines to whittle down to the 4 or 5 that will be part of the blend – including 6 or 7 sub-lots of just one block of Cabernet from Ghielmetti Estate Vineyard), and we’re at a point where we are conjuring a picture in our minds of what that wine can be…and then blending to that vision.

One of the amazing things about wine is its aliveness. It is living and breathing and evolving constantly. We make scores of mock blends of Lineage each year and finally have to decide on THE one that rings truest and most authentic knowing full well that the blend we have chosen has already moved on and become something else. In this crazy time of year, when three different states of wine-being are foremost in our minds, having faith in our fruit and our experience is about the only weapon we have against inevitable Time.

Lineage 2013: The Beginning

lineage-capsule.jpgOver the course of the next 18 months, we’ll be whittling a redwood down to a finely sharpened toothpick as Craig Ploof, my assistant winemaker, and I move through 213 barrels of 2013 Bordeaux varieties in 23 separate barrel groups to get to the perfect 20 that will become Lineage 2013. There are many ways of tackling the complexity inherent in this task, but I want to be sure that in getting to our

Making Mock blend

Making Mock blend

answer we don’t miss out on the joy and beauty of this most essential thing we do.

As Craig and I taste through the barrel groups we will be taking a lot of notes, talking a lot about our individual preferences and making a lot of mock blends. One of things that makes blending this way so interesting is that neither one of us tastes the same thing as the other. What may seem thin and lacking in varietal character to Craig may be overly wooded and too viscous for me. So, in the journey to craft a wine of beauty and tension and complexity, Craig and I must “battle” our own individual (and sometimes – idiosyncratic) biases to get to a point of agreement, and – more importantly – a point that most honestly serves the true nature of this particular wine.

When Lineage 2013 is released my profoundest hope is that the wine is not only spectacularly delicious but that it serves as a symbol for the way I want to make wine and live life. Hopefully, it prods and maybe even provokes a little. This wine should transform, if only to a tiny degree. And if we succeed, we will all see wine and winemaking a little bit differently, and perhaps feel it a little more deeply.

I Love Surprises: Cabernet Franc on the Blending Bench

Maybe the wine business is for me then (given the title of this post). There is very little that seems to come out the way you expect it to when you’re making wine.

I have written about the mutable nature of wine extensively on this blog. And it is a topic that I will return to many more times, I’m sure. Wine may be unique as a product in that it is a living and breathing thing. And because of this magic, it is a bottomless subject. You can never get to a point where you have learned everything about it, where there isn’t some larger truth revealed as you move more deeply into it.

Yesterday I was making a final blend of our 2012 Steven Kent Winery Cabernet Franc. This cabernet franc lineupvariety, which along with Sauvignon Blanc, is the parent of Cabernet Sauvignon, is my latest obsession. The older I get, the more I prize real vitality in wine. That sense of acid in the wine, that acid that pushes fruit to the fore and sends shivers down your spine is a quality all wines need. Cabernet Franc, of all the five classic Bordeaux varieties, seems to reach greater heights when it lingers just on the acid side of balance (especially when young).

Our 2012 is a beautiful wine showing the tell-tale herbal/rose petal/coffee grounds/red fruit qualities I look for in this grape. It was also perhaps just a touch too big.

I think CF shows its most complex side when there is less wood and more fruit, an acid-based structure rather than a tannin based one. It needs to be lithe, quick on its feet. I had picked some fruit from our Estate vineyard at about 21-22 Brix because I was unhappy with the sample numbers I was getting. By picking a larger sample (in this case about 1.5 tons) I would be able to get a more accurate measure of acidity, pH, and sugar. This large sample (or samples, as I picked about the same volume of Merlot, Petit Verdot, Malbec, and Cabernet Sauvignon as well) left me with a significant amount of wine that didn’t fit into our program as a single offering. I have found, though, that it is a brilliant blending partner for both of the Cabernets.

This wine is in mostly old oak with low alcohol and a ton of red fruit and acid. One would think that the more (by percentage of the total blend) I put into a bigger wine, the less big the blend would end up being. Well, this is where one of the constant surprises comes to the fore. The opposite was, in fact, true. At 5%, the Cabernet Franc was significantly more viscous and darker fruited than it was with a 2.5% add. Why this happens is a bit of a mystery, intuition does not always have a role in the blending part of my work. The fact that results sometimes belie intuition is why we end up doing a lot of mock blending. I figure, if we exhaust the possibilities, we WILL end up finding the best expression of the wine for that year.

The 2012 Cabernet Franc will be bottled in the next couple of months and the 2011 will be available in May. I am perhaps just starting to get the teensiest bit of a notion of this grape now. The fact that it grows beautifully in the eastern foothills of the Livermore Valley is a very gratifying thing and should hopefully lead to more and more stellar wine.

What Makes a Wine Great?

What makes a great wine, in my opinion, is a sense of inevitability. Great wines are or become what they are meant to be. They have a sense of cohesion and a sense of propriety and a sense of promise. They do not show all that they will be in every sip, instead, they show you balance now and a hint at their full glory. Great wines are always in the process of becoming…perhaps an apotheosis in the greatest of examples…but always on their way to fulfilling their true natures.

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Balance is certainly a great part of it. A great wine by definition is one that on its best day is utterly whole. There isn’t anything more or less you’d ask of it. That wine has the right combination of weight and fruit and acid and tannin and length. All the corners have been sanded and you are left with a perfect sphere. Or to put it another way, like Michaelango’s David, all the excess rock was broken off until perfection was the only thing left. Unlike that statue, though, the state of perfection is unbearably transitory. And it is this quality, this briefness, this mutability, this only-of-the-momentness  that is the true glory of wine.

Really good wine gives a pleasure that is thrilling in its physical briefness, and very long in the memories that it creates. A great wine has the power to transfigure Time.

Age = Beauty?

If you read the major wine magazines such as the Wine Spectator or Wine Enthusiast most of their reviews of high-end wine are accompanied by a recommended drinking window. This “massive” Cabernet will last for 20 years; or drink from 2020 – 2030, etc.

It is thought that more than 90% of wines that are bought in supermarkets and

wineshops are consumed the same day so the drinking window (in this context) is essentially meaningless. But that’s a topic for another rumination.

What’s not meaningless, however, is the notion that part of a wine’s essential quality is tied to the perception of how long that wine can age or how long past release the wine hits its peak. This equation is influenced by all kinds of caveats, and I have spent a career thinking about its validity.

America is a very young wine-drinking culture, and California a very young wine-making area. When you are just beginning to become interested in something you tend to look to

The notion of ageability as a prerequisite for quality was formed long ago and based on a foreign paradigm that doesn’t seem relevant to me any more (viz. California wine).older examples to emulate. And Europe was the obvious place from which American winemakers and drinkers took their cues.  Bordeaux and Burgundy (Cabernet-based wine predominantly, and Pinot Noir) produced wines (generally) much harder in tannin and lower in fruit than their California counterparts. When my father really got into wine in the mid-1960s, the best examples of Cabernet were Bordelais and these massively tannic and acidic wines needed decades to soften and complex up. The same was rarely true of the California example of the grape – especially those wines made in the last 10-15 years

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when the predominant wine-making style shifted to longer hangtimes, more fruit, less acid, and less ageability.

One of the great truths and part of the essential nature of the greatness of wine as a thing is that it does CHANGE. Wine evolves; it matures; it lives out its life sometimes grandly and over a great many years and sometimes its nature is that of the May Fly. How wine practically changes is for a long chemistry conversation and is fairly well known. But HOW a wine is going to change or AGE is fraught with so many tangential but crucial questions I’d argue that it is knowable only within a range, and not even very well at that.

Storage conditions – temperature (absolute temperature and temperature range), humidity, absence of vibration and light; quality and integrity of the cork; wine variety; reputation of the producer; winemaking style; appellation; hillside or valley floor…all of these factors will influence the wine’s ability to age, practically speaking. Then when you take into account your personal preferences (freshness of fruit, like or dislike of tannin and acid and wood, desire for tertiary aromas and flavors brought on by bottle bouquet and age) age-worthiness as a signifier of quality becomes much more complicated and ephemeral a conceit.

The wine press and the avid wine consumer have taken a simple Old World reality that high-quality wines needed time to become enjoyable to drink and did their transmogrifying voodoo on it. What we are left with is a tarted-up New World notion that ascribes excellence to a dynamic that began as a purely pragmatic realization.

I would contend that there are no objective measures where affairs of the heart ( and of the palate) are concerned. I can measure the amount of titratable acid there is in a wine, the pH level, the amount of alcohol by volume, and a bunch of other things. What I can’t measure, though, is how these things make you feel, how all of these individual planks combine in your mouth and your mind and your heart to create your individual sense of the wholeness of the thing.

All wine’s can age. Not all, in fact, – most – are not meant to age for a long time. Each time you drink a wine, you are getting only a snapshot of its life; the quality of that life, however, is purely a product of your own needs and desires. Just like the color orange, expressing in words the essence of the thing you are tasting and smelling is nearly impossible.

Great wines tend to get more complex the older they are. Primary fruit and the impolite, exuberant structure of youth give way to integration and propriety and a depth we associate with maturity. Neither state is inherently more valuable or more worthy than the other. These states are not even individual stops reached in the whole span of life; they are only moments in time, fated to change even just a moment later. Really good wine gives a pleasure that is thrilling in its physical briefness, and very long in the memories that it creates. A great wine has less to do with how long it can live and more to do with its ability to transfigure the Time that it has.

Winning the Jackpot Without Betting a Dime

I’ve never seen the odds in cards or craps or slots. Too little control, too much to lose.

Too little control when it comes to sucking the marrow out of the Las Vegas experience

Short Rib Ravioli - Marche Bacchus

Short Rib Ravioli – Marche Bacchus

too…but everything to gain.

June and I LOVE Las Vegas. We go to eat and to relax and to bring Lineage and The Premier Cabernet out to like-minded sommeliers at the great restaurants in town. And as transient as the restaurant business is, we have now begun to create some really great relationships with folks that we’ve dined with a number of times.

Las Vegas is the kind of place you want to have your wines. There are more Master Sommeliers here than in New York; the quality of the restaurants attract people who are passionate about food and wine; and the traffic is truly international, so there is that chance that someone at CarneVino or Bouchon or Delmonico’s will taste our wines here and bring back a great memory to their home an ocean away.

On this most recent outing we ate at Jaleo in Cosmopolitan and had amazing Tapas. The Chorizo with olive oil mashed potatoes and Endive with Orange and goat cheese were amazing dishes. We didn’t know until recently that one of our good friends is the sister-in-law of Jaleo’s owner and master Chef Jose Andres. Small world. That’s another great thing about Las Vegas too.

Another first time spot for us was Restaurant Guy Savoy in Caesar’s Palace. Classic French cuisine; classic (and utterly spectacular) service. Chef Mathieu Chartron prepared one of the great foie gras dishes I’ve ever had and the soups were rich and light and perfect.

Year of the Horse: Bellagio Conservatory

Year of the Horse: Bellagio Conservatory

And as great as the food was, the people (true professionals!) who took care of us were every bit its equal: at once, gracious, on point, and warm. It was as if your friends decided to put on the perfect ballet in your family room. Just an amazing experience. Thank you General Manager, Alain Alpe, and your team!

Marche Bacchus off the strip was a great lunch choice. About 20 minutes away from the Bellagio, this restaurant is also a wine shop (and one with an amazing selection of some of the best wines in the world). June and I had a table in the enclosed patio that looks right out onto a lake where black swan, ducks, and turtles meander a few feet from you.

photoWe finished off the weekend, as we always do, with brunch at Bouchon. One of Thomas Keller’s bistros, Bouchon has the best roast chicken to be found, amazing pastries, and a stellar wine program. One of our friends, Paul Peterson, is the sommelier here, and he treated us to a great tasting of Loire Valley and California Cabernet Francs. He was incredibly generous with his time, as well. This is THE perfect spot to finish up a trip to VinCity.

I’m a very lucky man to be able to combine the things I love to do most with the woman I love best; I’m sure there are Las Vegas trips ahead…here’s to hoping they’ll all be as great as the one that just ended.