Tuesday, January 4, 2011
Do fruit and root days really affect how a wine tastes?
It’s taken me a while to get round to posting again as I’ve been preoccupied with the issue of tasting days - more particularly the issue of whether a wine made in the southern hemisphere according to one biodynamic calendar would taste as well as one made to a northern hemisphere calendar tasted on the same day.
For those of you who are not familiar with the concept Steiner divides the calendar into four types of days - flower, fruit, root and leaf of which flower and fruit are supposed to be best for tasting. Flower brings out the aromatics, fruit the, er, fruit.
Obviously the timings will differ slightly between northern and southern hemisphere. The bible for the former is When Wine Tastes Best by Maria and Matthias Thun which is available as a booklet (£3.99 Floris Books) and as an iPod and iPad download. (Brian Keats is the Antipodean guru according to Julian Castagna, below)
We tasted a couple of wines over the Christmas holiday and found our impression of them varied from day to day but not specially according to the calendar. One for example, the Insolite I wrote about the other day, had been open for 24 hours in a half empty bottle by the time we tasted it the second day, surely a far more important factor?
Many retailers now try to organise their tastings on fruit and root days but are they right to do so when the wines may have come from different time zones? I asked a number of winemakers, retailers and wine writer Beverley Blanning who has recently written an excellent introduction to biodynamic winemaking Biodynamics in Wine for their views.
The general consensus was that biodynamic calendars are an imprecise science but most agree that wines do indeed taste different on fruit days if for different reasons.
Julian Castagna of Castagna vineyards in Beechworth, Victoria bore out Blanning’s own view that it’s where you, the taster, are that counts not where the wine was made.
"The only thing I know for sure is that I seem less able to make value judgments on some days - it was a revelation when I worked out that these moments always occurred on root days. I suspect that this is probably more the effect of the moon on my body rather than on the wine [an opinion] but understanding that fact has removed much doubt [confusion] from my winemaking. So I guess my opinion is that it is the influence of the moon where you are that makes the difference not where the wine was made."
Vanya Cullen of Cullen Wines in Australia's Margaret River actually suggested that it was the ‘live’ quality of biodynamic wines makes them respond better than other wines to changes in environment
“I don’t think it would make any difference where they are tasted as the wines are alive and respond to the energies around them In fact it would be a reason why wines made in this way could look better with travel around the globe.”
Doug Wregg of Caves de Pyrène which has many natural wines in its portfolio reckons on the other hand that the more ‘natural’ wines are the more they are likely to respond to the biodynamic calendar:
"We've been doing quality control assessments after major (and smaller) tastings for several years now and the wines appear to taste better on fruit and flower days. They can also, however, taste fine on other days. I suspect that the wines that will vary most will be the most natural wines as they are the most "living wines" with still-active yeasts. We find these wines blossom or close down dramatically according to the day.
However, there are a whole bunch of factors you have to throw in to the mix: 1. weather 2. the condition of the wines themselves and 3, the palate and mood of the taster. Wines definitely show better when there is high pressure and when the sun is shining. Secondly, bottle variation is a factor when it comes to assessing wines. Finally, our palate is never exactly the same on two days, nor are the conditions of tastings identical no matter how precisely they are copied."
Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon in California holds a similar view:
"I would pour (all things being equal) on a fruit day where the tasting is to take place. I have certainly noted some differences between the way a wine will show on a fruit vs. a leaf day (the two most striking comparisons), but honestly, I think that there are other phenomena that may well have a effect that are more dramatic - certainly rising barometric pressure seems to show most wines off to better advantage."
And echoes Wregg’s comments about mood:
"There are also some days when people just seem happier, more satisfied with themselves, the world - I'm not quite sure what this correlates to - and on those days, sure enough, the wine does seem to show better. My own rather anecdotal, skewed experience is that on a given day, reds will show better than whites and then vice-versa."
Beverley Blanning agrees:
"In my own experience, I have found that the choice of wine will have considerable bearing on the impact of the calendar. For example, leaf days seem to be less of a problem for whites than for reds. The day of the launch of the BD monograph [her booklet] was a leaf day. We had a tasting of four whites and four reds. I asked the attendees (who didn't know it was a leaf day) what they thought of the wines. Their views concurred with mine, namely that the whites were all good (especially the 'leafy' Sauvignon Blanc), but that the reds were variable.
One person noted that the only red that really didn't taste good was the Pinot Noir and others agreed. On the other hand, the Cabernet Sauvignon was fine. Burgundian biodynamic growers have told me that the worst possible day to taste Pinot is a leaf day - for obvious reasons. Leafiness is highly undesirable in Pinot, but far more acceptable (at least to many of us) in Cabernet Sauvignon and a good number - or even most - white wines."
All fascinating stuff. I also wonder about the question of expectation. If you know it’s a leaf day do you steel yourself for disappointment - or expect the wines to be show well on a fruit day which could be a self-fulfilling prophecy? How significant is it if the wines have been decanted - rare in a retailer’s tasting? Or, failing that, how long the bottles have been open? And in a domestic situation where you’re drinking rather than tasting, the food you’re eating is obviously going to play a part.
Do tell me what you think.