The senses are the winemaker’s greatest tools. The ability to smell and taste and remember what you’ve experienced from barrel to barrel are crucial in putting together consistent wines.
Outside influences, like Brettanomyces, a spoilage yeast that lives everywhere in the winery, can get in the way of the true expression of fruit and vineyard and the intent of the winemaker. Being clean in the cellar is the easiest way to keep Brett and other malign bugs at bay.
Between every barrel, we spray a 70% ethanol solution on the thief, that metal tube in the accompanying photo, that we use to steal a little wine out of each barrel.
We draw wine out into our glass, smell, taste, make notes, then sterilize the thief before it goes into the next barrel. Think of it as the prophylactic use of prophylactics…a condom for our Cabernet.
As the 2020 harvest fast approaches, we are busy in the cellar making our first official evaluations of the 2019 wines. We devote about an hour a day making detailed notes on each barrel in a specific lot, thinking about where that particular barrel may ultimately end up.
The cellar is always full of changing mysteries, and this view of ladders and staircases (Escher-like) reminds us of the ups and downs of all artistic endeavors.
Lineage is our most complicated blend; it can comprise five different grapes (the classic Bordeaux varieties) and Cabernet Sauvignon from more than 10 blocks on six vineyards. Aidan, Beth, and I start each year with nearly 150 barrels of wine, and from these, we carve aspirants away until we are down to the very best.
The process starts in a macro way. We taste through barrels from each lot of wine (a lot is created from individual blocks of a variety from a specific site) first to determine if it has the requisite quality to potentially be part of
the blend. Once we have our lots chosen, we then taste through individual barrels from those lots blind to further refine quality. It is the last few barrels that are always the hardest to say No to.
With the 2018 Lineage, our winemaking team has reached a point where we are close to “finalizing” the percentages of each variety in the blend. Finalizing is a somewhat fraught term in that we reserve the right to change the blend up until the point the wine goes into the bottle. At this point, our confidence levels in the quality of the blend and its quality vis á vis previous vintages of Lineage is extremely high. The photo below shows what my butcher paper workspace looks like after a morning of tasting and making blends. We will use this blend base (number F’) and tweak small percentages of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot until we know the blend is as good as it can be.
I’ve written in the past about the idea that making a blend is much like the Michelangelo idea of sculpture…you start with a hunk of rock and keep peeling away material until the statue reveals itself fully formed. Wines are like that too. We take away mostly, getting closer to that early conception of beauty until finally, the “perfect” wine is there in its glory. Blending is one of those unreversible decisions, like the picking date and the press date, each winemaker faces each year. Ultimately, you will find yourself out of time, where what goes in will stay in, and what you may have wanted to go in will be chalked up to a learning curve.
With all of thinking about blends and all of the mocks blends we make, the truth is that sometimes, as with the 2018 Lineage, it is the wine you leave out of your finest wine that elevates it from very good to superlative.
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. Some of my winemaking team 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…
From 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 the 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.