Clark Smith and his Roman wine
Last night I met Clark and Susie Smith, thus fulfilling one of my long-held ambitions. Clark is the guy behind www.vinovation.com, a hi-tech wine consulting company in California, and I've wanted to meet him ever since I wrote one of my early Harpers technical pieces where I interviewed him by phone. But he isn't advocating using technology to spoofulate wines. Seeing technology as a useful tool, he then sets about using his tool kit, which includes microoxygenation and reverse osmosis, to make more interesting and tasty wines. Not convinced? Well, I'll do a lengthy article soon on this subject, which I hope will explain what I'm getting at.
We tasted a range of wines before dinner, including a 'sweet spot' tasting of an Amador County Syrah - the same wine at 15.4%, 14.2% and 13.75% alcohol. The differences were striking. We also tried Clark's own wines - which effectively act like business cards. WineSmith is his high end range; Cheapskate the everyday stuff. In fact, the Cheapskate wines are the best $8 wines you'll ever taste. At least that's what I reckon. After the tasting we headed over to Tendido Cero, one of my favourite eating places, where we ate and drank well (my choice - a bottle of the 2004 Finca Sandoval from Manchuela - dark, spicy and mineralic, with a bit of the new world and a bit of the old).
Tonight's tipple is the dregs of one of the wines tried last night. It's the WineSmith Roman Syrah 2003. The remarkable thing about this wine is that it is made without any addition of sulphur dioxide, the almost universally used wine preservative. Clark explains how he made this wine on his own Grapecrafter blog:
"To be safe, I began with a wine that could serve as its own preservative, one that would consume oxygen and oppose a microbial takeover on its own, and also a varietal type for which microbial complexity might be regarded as a plus.
I decided to work with a high altitude syrah which had a lot of reductive strength from two sources: tannin and minerality. Raw unpolymerized tannin has the ability to gobble tremendous quantities of oxygen when wine is young. A beneficial side effect of micro-oxygenation is the creation of a rich, light structure which integrates aromas. Oxygen is the wire wisk in creating a tannin soufflé. This is going to keep the wine from smelling spoiled later on when the microbes have their party.
Paradoxically, working properly with oxygen doesn't oxidize the wine -- rather it increases its ability to take up more oxygen. The chemistry of phenolic polymerization is well understood, and in this case, Vern Singleton's 1986 paper on the vicinyl diphenol cascade explains why polymerizing tannins become more reactive than their precursors. "
It's a really thought-provoking wine. There's some aromatic purity and elegance, with sweet dark fruits that have a brooding depth to them. The palate is very unusual and interesting. It's expressive and angular, with firm tannins and a meaty, spicy sort of rasp. These jostle with some funkier, herby, tobbacoey sort of elements. It finishes savoury and spicy. It's a wine that seems to show you one thing and then another. It's not a wine for everyone: some will find these bold, savoury flavours just a little too dangerous. But I like it a good deal.