Thursday, July 9, 2009

Growth with age

OK, maybe not the kind of growth you were expecting. The growth I'm talking about it the growth of micro-flora on the top of the cork that you sometimes find on wine bottles. This usually occurs after some period of aging in a dank, dark cellar. This, by the way, is the recommended storage condition for wine. It creates havoc on the labels, but remember, you're not drinking the label.

This has been a wet year for us so far, and the Allegro cellar is showing it. Our roof is leaking in a couple spots--we're putting a new roof on this year--and the fact that we're underground has added to the humidity level in the cellar. If relative humidity could go past 100%, we'd be there.

There are positive side effects to all the moisture. First and foremost is the fact that our barrels don't evaporate off as much wine and hence don't need to be topped as much. (In some wineries, topping of barrels occurs every couple weeks. So far this year, I think we've topped three times.) The wetness also adds to the typical "cellar aromas" you get when you walk into our place. The place smells like a winery. And that character comes out in our wines at some level. I like it.

But the downside of all this is the aesthetics. We sometimes get mold growth on the tops of our corks. It doesn't happen uniformly across all bottles. Some wines never show it. But some do, and this is disconcerting to some customers in this age of blatant sterility. Keep in mind that you're not drinking the cork, you're drinking the wine. If the wine tastes good, then it is good. Simple as that.

Back in 2002, John wanted to open a 1983 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon for me. He pulled the bottle out, and as he started to remove the cork, we noticed what terrible shape it was in. Moldy and black and wet. And it smelled. Bad. He was about to go dump it out, when I asked that we at least put a little in a glass to get a sense of the wine. Heck, it was almost 20 years old and deserved at least that.

Turned out the wine was a beauty. Totally surprised us both. One of my more remarkable wine-drinking experiences. It just goes to show, you can't just a wine by its label. Or its cork, for that matter.

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