Tuesday, March 15, 2011

2010 Tierce, Round II: That Selbstgefälling Feeling

by Peter Bell, winemaker

In my previous post on this subject, our heroes the Tierce Brothers (really six guys and a gal) had taken an initial, furtive stab at trying to see what our various tanks of Riesling looked like as a group.

Peter, Johannes, Dave: the Original Tierce Brothers, in a Rare Glamor Shot
This week we reconvened, minus Kelby, lugging bottles of the components that we considered appropriate for further evaluation. Twenty wines were now narrowed down to eight. The first exercise in what was going to become a long day of tasting was to see what the individual wines looked like, six weeks on.

Here’s some of the stuff that got talked about.

“The first one was fermented with Epernay, so there’s that opulence. The second was with VIN-13, which gives it an entirely different profile.”

Tricia said that. We were looking at the two Fox Run samples, and they were different enough from each other that everyone wondered how they’d gotten that way. Most of the difference came down to yeast strain. 

As it happens, Tricia is so good at picking up the particular aroma set that Epernay endows to a wine that Brandon invented the term ‘Epernay-dar’ to describe her talent. (Epernay is actually a town in Champagne, and it lent its name to a yeast strain.)

“I found these wines perfectly natural, electric, with some R.S. and a tight acid structure.”

Dave said that. We were still tasting the Fox Run wines. He gave them a thumbs up. You will see the words ‘electric’ and ‘electricity’ popping up a lot in our conversation: it is our most cherished superlative for Tierce Riesling. ‘R.S.’, of course, refers to residual sugar, and yes, there was a little more of it in the Fox Run wines.

            “Boy, these have changed a lot….ooh, these are fantastic.”

Tricia said that. Last January, these very wines were a bit acne-ridden and difficult to get a lot of pleasure from, as befits very young wine. Today, it was apparent that the Clearasil had worked, and smelling the samples was much more fun.

I know: "...but someone's gotta do it."

We went on to taste the Anthony Road and Red Newt examples, then proceeded straight to the terrifyingly hard task of coming up with some interesting blends.

How to approach the task of putting together a trial blend? It starts with a bit of deep thinking. Plunging in and making up something random will almost never work. After a few minutes of jottings, each of us, working independently, put together a blend that he or she thought might have the potential to evince Tierce. There was enough of each one for us all to get about half a glass.

Fifteen minutes later, we were ready to talk.

            “Well, we’ve certainly pushed these in different directions, haven’t we?”

I said that. With six of us seemingly on the same general track, it would appear likely that we’d end up with a set of pretty similar wines. Well, that did not happen.

“There’s a nice lift to this one. Nice sweet entry of fruit, but then it dried out. I think this is something we’ll have to come to grips with: what’s the role of sweetness here?”

Peter Becraft said that about our first glass. The subject of sweetness came up right away, though we weren’t seeing anything like obvious sugar. Tierce is always going to be a nearly dry wine.

            “The Bergerization of Riesling?”

Brandon said that. As it happens, I had just had a long phone call with the prominent California wine critic Dan Berger about Riesling in general (his favorite wine, bar none), and Tierce in particular. Dan’s effusive, fond comments about past Tierce bottlings always make mention of their daringly dry style, one that takes some getting used to. Brandon was riffing on the term ‘Parkerization’, a reference to the controversial wine critic Robert Parker, whose fondness for alcoholic, jammy monster reds has actually changed the way reds are made throughout the world. Bergerization, if it were to happen, would actually be a good thing.

We continued through our flight.

“When I try to evaluate these in terms of palate structure, they’re all nice. I’m taking into account that flavors in the mouth are way more important than aroma at this point. I like to give basically 90% of the stress to palate structure.”

Dave said that. The acne is long gone, but the aromas of these wines are still holding back a bit. Dave took that phenomenon into account here, with the unspoken addendum that yes, sooner rather than later the aromas would catch up with mouth flavors.

“I would give more weight to aroma. Maybe 50:50 at this point. We know what we want for our style, and that incorporates aroma.”

Johannes said that, by way of minor disagreement. He’s been around Riesling all his life, and perhaps brings a clearer crystal ball into the process of tasting very young wines.

“I’m more inclined to reward mouth flavors and palate structure, seeing as it’s only March. All the real aromas have yet to reveal themselves.”

I said that. The wines did smell like something, and something very fetching, but to me it was the flavors that reached my nose via my retronasal passage, along with their connection to a time scale, that told me what I needed to know.

Yes on structure as the main element.”

Brandon said that. Palate structure is hard to define, but easy to agree on. Subject for another blog posting.

“In most of the others I miss the tension, but this one has it. On the palate, it’s almost signature Tierce.”

Johannes said that. Along with ‘electricity’, we bow down at the altar of ‘tension’ in our Rieslings. We’ve been using that word so long that we all know what it means, even though it would be hard to define scientifically.

“That’s a pretty Selbstgefälling thing to say.”

Brandon said that, or at least tried to. Huh? Well, in a sidebar conversation, we had been talking about the tendency of certain northern Europeans to come across as a bit smug. Johannes wasn’t familiar with the word ‘smug’, so Brandon looked it up in German. Thereafter we tried to insert Selbstgefälling into our speech as often as possible without becoming too obnoxious.

            “Number four’s a little too oily.”

I said that. A viscous, oily mouthfeel is fine in some wines, but any hint of it is antithetical to Tierce. We all agree on that.

“I called it juicy. I don’t find it carries through to very much back palate structure. Where’s the vibrancy?”

Dave said that, by way of agreeing with me.

“Too much phenolic thickness.”

Johannes said that. We use the word ‘phenolic’ to refer to a mass of different mouthfeel sensations.

“Yeah, it’s flabby with a little electroshock thrown in. No cohesion.”

Peter Becraft said that. Nice.

            “Number five’s too sweet and too bitter.”

Tricia said that. Self-explanatory. The fact that she was talking about her own blend meant nothing – if this kind of project is to work, all egos have to be checked at the door; and anyway, she possesses nothing approaching a large ego.

“Flavors of anise. I’m not sure this one would work. It’s a little washed out. Let’s kick it out.”

Dave said that. He was describing the same wine as Tricia, but in a very different way.

            “I’ll weigh in on number six. Nothing yet in the nose, but really electric.”

I said that. There I went again, rewarding mouth flavors and palate structure.

“My notes say, ‘Maybe too electric?’ ”

Peter Becraft said that. There was certainly no shortage of lively acid in that wine. Did it blow a fuse in his mouth? Only his dentist knows for sure.

“I don’t think it’s too electric.”

Dave said that.

“One of my thoughts here was to play two very disparate wines off against each other. So I went for a high proportion of the Anthony Road semi-dry and countered it with the leanest of the Red Newts.”

I said that, trying to explain how I got the electricity in the wine we were tasting.

“I don’t think this wine is quite seated happily as a dry or semi-dry. I’d like to pull it into a tighter package.”

Tricia said that. Same wine, different reaction. She had picked up on that little bit of sugar that I’d dialed in using the Anthony Road component.

“One thing we can’t forget is that in 2010 we have one of the most balanced and exciting years for reds and whites. 2010 is obviously a big fruit year. I would love to see the backbone and cut of the acid, but maybe we can expect a little more flesh than usual along with it.”

Johannes said that, without a hint of smugness. This was a really relevant comment, because we kept coming back to how to, or whether to, rein in the exuberance of all these wines. Johannes was wondering, rhetorically, if we should stop being afraid of a slightly richer version of Tierce this time around.

It was time to take our favorite three wines from this round, and perform a few tweaks on them: a couple percent increase in one of the components, for example. Meanwhile, Peter Becraft stole out and came back with a bottle of 2009 Tierce, which we haven’t released yet. Delicious wine, practically crackling with tension and electricity.

 “My idea for this year’s wine has just sprung out of these glasses! I think it’s going to be like ’06.”

Dave said that. We were getting somewhere, it appeared.

What was the reference to 2006? Dave reminded us that when we were working on that blend, we found perfection almost right away, then spent the next six hours trying (unsuccessfully) to prove ourselves wrong about it.

“One of these is our wine. To me, it’s sort of, how much peach do we want, versus smoky lime?”

I said that. More thoughts on how to incorporate exuberance.

We started to focus all our energy one samples 9 and 11.

“If you just juxtapose these two wines by themselves, there’s going to be some very important information here.”

I said that. A reference to the great value in comparing one wine with another multiple times to learn more about them.

“Eleven, for example, has just the right tension, no hole. Nine has more aroma to offer, and I like the juiciness, but it lacks texture. Nine is a bit too pleasing.”

Johannes said that.

“Yeah, it’s a bit too pretty.”

Tricia said that. Wait a minute – what’s wrong with pleasing and pretty? Nothing really, but this style of wine is not meant to be in-your-face or facile. We want suggestions of things, rather than all-out flavors.

“You’ve done something original here, Dave. Talk about it.”

I said that. Dave had performed one last tweak on one of the blends.

“Well, you want a hockey puck and a stick. You want a bowling ball and a pin.”  

“I don’t quite understand your metaphors.”

“Neither do I.”

Clearly it was time to wrap up.

1 comment:

  1. A great look into what must be a really fun process. It's inspiring to see the focus on and dedication to this one wine. Thanks for sharing.