Thursday, May 03, 2007

Bottle Variation

I've been thinking about bottle variation lately, the differences that can exist between bottles of the same wine. I mean wine of the same vintage, same producer, same everything - you can buy a few bottles (some of us buy cases, I've done that only once) of a certain wine from the same store, and the individual bottles can show differently.

I am not complaining about this, so don't get me wrong. Actually, I think it's kind of cool. To me it reflects the fact that wine is not uniform in aroma and flavor when it sits in wooden, cement, or steel vats, and that carries over to the bottle. That might be a romantic notion - I bet it is, in fact. The real reason for bottle variation is probably something more along the lines of variation in the amount of oxygen that passes buy individual cork closures, or something like that.

It might be the effect of enjoying wine with dinner and friends, as opposed to sipping by yourself on the deck with no food. I definitely think that the environment in which I drink wine has a big impact on my experience of that wine. But I am trying to account for that when I consider bottle variation.

Whatever the reason, I think of bottle variation as something that comes with drinking wine, like getting wet feet when you go fishing, or burning your finger when you cook. It happens sometimes and you deal with it, and besides being a momentary annoyance, it actually can become part of the overall experience, contributing in part to your love of that thing.

I might be not be so magnanimous, by the way, if I was one of those guys who buys Latour or Rayas or Mugnier, and one or two of the bottles are just not as good as the others. At those prices, should a producer ensure that one bottle tastes and smells like every other? If so, then why not a $12 bottle? How would a producer do that anyway? Would they pour all bottles into a vat, stir well, and then re-bottle? Isn't that what happens before bottling anyway? Maybe not, maybe there is variation in barrels and each barrel is individually poured into about 288 bottles or 24 cases of wine. Should barrels be combined before bottling?

Do we really want uniformity in bottles?

I am not sure how I would answer these questions, except to say that I am fine with the way things are. I just find it interesting when I experience bottle variation. I hope, though, that the few expensive bottles I have taste as they "should," as the wine tasted when I decided, based on that taste, to buy more of the wine for cellaring.

Here is a recent experience I had with bottle variation. I opened my second bottle of dry Romorantin by Francois Cazin the other night with a lovely salad that included golden beets, roasted asparagus, cucumber, and a little bit of grilled chicken breast (making a very rare appearance in our house). Here is what I wrote in this blog on April 17th about this wine:

2004 Cazin Cour-Cheverny, $12. Rough and tough, an acidic and briny wine, very good with shellfish. Not easy to drink on its own though, and needs food. I'm not yet sure how I feel about this bottle. I liked it more at the Real Wine Attack tasting than I did at home with dinner, and that's the opposite of what usually happens with me. I have another bottle so we'll see in a few weeks...

But the other night we loved this wine with our salad. It showed lovely green apples and melon smells and flavors, hints of citrus too, with great minerality. It was very pure, with that rainwater sensation that I love in good Loire whites. An incredible value at about $12, and worth seeking out. So which is the real 2004 Cazin Cour-Cheverny? I have one bottle left, and I'll let you know. If the real one is the one I had the other night, I might have to buy a few more bottles...


Unknown said...

Great post. I think Kermit Lynch is right when he says that wine is a living thing. Wines from more "natural" wineries tend to have more variation, and wines from more modern or industrial producers will probably have less.

As for me, I like the variation. It's all part of the mystery that is wine.

Marcus said...


I've tucked away a Romorantin from 2001 at the back of my fridge. I'm wondering how long it'll stick around for... Extreme variation!

Anonymous said...

This is big frustration, especially with older and old wines.

I think the key is to buy wines that are produced in small quantities. You still have random fill levels and random storage conditions, but at least you can feel that when they left the winery, the wines were most likely, hmmm, not uniform, but pretty on it.

Brooklynguy said...

Hey John - thanks for your comments. I agree with everything you're saying, and I guess its a good thing then that I experience variation. I just hope its truly variation in the wine and not in my tasting of it.

Who made your Romorantin Marcus? I hope it's good stuff.

And that makes perfect sense to me too Jack. Even then, though, if the small batch wines are natural wines, as John above mentions, there might be some significant bottle variation. Comes with the territory I guess. Thanks for your comments.

Marcus said...

It's Dom des Huards, from Cour-Cheverny.

Anonymous said...

For the 2004 Cazin Cour-Cheverny, perhaps it's bottle #2. I had this only a few days prior to your first post, and was perplexed by your description. Your description of bottle #2 is nearly identical to my tastin notes.

Brooklynguy said...

Huards...I hope you let us know how it is when you taste Marcus.

Hey Nick - glad that it's good wine then, I had hoped as much. Thanks for stopping by.