Starting Out Stinky

Pee ychampi.jpgew - burnt match aromas, even a bit of rotten eggs. What a wine! Well after a few minutes anyway.

The 2006 Domaine Fouet Saumur Champigny is a beautiful cabernet franc. Spicy and fresh with brush strokes of wild herbs and tiny wild strawberries as it lifts and refreshes the palate. Lighthearted, but not unsubstantial, it is charmingly just powerful enough to let you know this is a serious wine, but is confident enough to not hit you over the head with its own self-importance. This is the kind of wine it’s so hard to find produced outside of Europe. Flat out delicious.

The thing is that, like so many wines like this, when the cork is popped and the wine is first poured into the glass they can be a bit stinky. The free sulfur, which is added to virtually all wines, can be a bit pungent as it takes some time to escape (blow off) and for the slight reductive characteristics of the wine to open and clean up letting the real character of the wine show through. Wines like this are waiting for something. Like a genie waiting to get out of his bottle, minimally processed wines, like this excellent Saumur Champigny, are waiting for oxygen to finish the winemaking process. After five minutes the sulfur had disappeared. After ten minutes the fruit unfurled itself in the breeze and after fifteen minutes I had an exceptional, exciting and rewarding wine in my glass. Yes, I had to wait, but if they scrubbed it clean in the cellar before bottling this wine would have never reached the pure complexity it achieved by being a bit stinky for the first few minutes. Cramming wine into a bottle is a torturous process for a natural wine. To live for a long time in the bottle it needs to be deprived of oxygen. To fully live again it needs time to breath and let the clean air back into its lungs. You have to wait for such wines to catch their breath before drinking them.

We live in a time when consumers expect things to be squeaky clean with no effort on their part. To achieve this we give up a lot. When you cut off all the edges of a wine you end up with round, dull wines. The winemaker can really only complete 95% of the winemaking process. That last five percent is up to the consumer. If you can’t become part of the winemaking process and contribute to the last steps required to finish a wine you’re doomed to industrial wines with the souls ripped out. They may be clean, but they have no heart. On the other hand, if you are willing to become part of the winemaking team and finish the job by serving the wine properly you’ll enter a whole new world of wine, which you are a part of instead of being passive spectator. Natural wines need time and care and only you can complete the process started by the winemaker.

Heirloom tomatoes may look ugly, but they taste great. Natural wines can be a bit stinky at first, but with a little patience they blossom into beauties. Superficial charms do not make delicious wines or tomatoes.