Consistency of tasting notes across time

Not so much an experiment this morning as a collection of raw data. I was struck by the consistency of this sequence of three of my tasting notes over a three-year period, so I decided to examine other sequences. I have too many sequences of three to handle without some serious data-mining, but here is a list of all the sequences of four or more, excluding sequences that included an un-rated or flawed wine or a note written from memory.

2000 Il Marroneto Brunello di Montalcino

2008 Domaine de Terrebrune Bandol

2012 Jamsheed Syrah Beechworth

2012 Jauma Syrah Scyras Clarendon Vineyard

2013 Denis Jamain Reuilly

2014 Jean-Louis Dutraive (Domaine de la Grand’Cour) Fleurie Chapelle des Bois

2004 Château Bernateau

2010 Château Haut-La Pereyre

1998 Pertinace (Cantina Vignaioli) Barbaresco Vigneto Castellizzano

It’s a mixed bag. I don’t really have time to go through them all (have to get on a plane this morning), nor do I have the tools to analyze them in a rigorous way. The 1998 Barbaresco shows wide variation, which is reflected in the other notes, and it seems reasonable to suppose that it was undergoing change. Others are very consistent, for example the 2014 Fleurie. I have to run now, but will examine these further and perhaps add some thoughts in the comments section. I should note that I never look at previous notes on a wine before writing a new one, and I don’t remember much from tasting to tasting, so these are largely independent notes.



Breathing experiment no. 9: short decant

Following on my last Bordeaux experiment I tried a short one-hour decant of a classically styled California cabernet. Usual protocol. My notes (as always, written before the reveal):

First impression, more fruit on no. 1, more stemmy notes on the others. This  difference fades almost immediately. I began to think no. 3 was more like no. 1 after a while, but will go with first impressions again. Based on previous observations, no. 1 would be the decanter.

Well, if I had changed my mind on no. 3 I would have gotten it right; my configuration was dbd. The note on no. 1 is consistent with observations in previous Cabernet or Bordeaux experiments, that the fruit comes out a little more after a decant, or rather that the stemmy mask drops away. But the difference was very slight; it’s hard to be confident that the guesses were anything other than guesses here.

What is the difference between Côte de Beaune and Côte de Nuits?

The Côte d’Or is a ridge of limestone in Burgundy, divided into the Côte de Nuits in the north and the Côte de Beaune in the south. It’s where the most famous red burgundies come from, with the famousest (and most expensive) coming from the Côte de Nuits. Here is a typical description of the difference between the two:

The top reds from the Côte de Nuits . . . often have greater intensity and a firmer structure than red wines from the Côte de Beaune . . . . By contrast, the top Côte de Beaune reds are frequently softer and sometimes more lush. In general, reds from all over the Côte d’Or are prized for their soaring, earthy flavors, often laced with minerals, exotic spices, licorice, or truffles.

—Karen MacNeil, The Wine Bible

In the last five years I have written 1030 tasting notes on CellarTracker, 41 on red wines from the Côte de Beaune and 34 on red wines from the Côte de Nuits (as of this writing; there will probably be more by the time this post is published). So I thought I’d do a text analysis to see if my notes reflect the difference described above. I used this online utility to create a word frequency list for each set of tasting notes. From that I created a list of descriptors. This included most words that refer to the aroma, flavor, or position on the palate. Some words were problematic: for example, the word “tannin” might be modified by “strong” or “weak,” but that information is lost in the frequency count. So I eliminated words related to strength of aroma, tannin, acid, fruit, or finish. It will take a later analysis to detect differences there. I also consolidated some terms—for example forest floor, stems, stemmy, heath, brambles, bracken, leaves, undergrowth—where I thought the distinction was likely to be noise.

Finally, I computed a CDB index for each descriptor: the frequency of a descriptor per tasting note for Côte de Beaune divided by the sum of the frequencies for Côte de Beaune and Côte de Nuits. Descriptors in the first section in the table below, with CDB index less than a third, are more than twice as likely to occur in a Côte de Nuits tasting note than in a Côte de Beaune, and it’s the other way around for descriptors in the third section. The descriptors in the middle section apply pretty well equally to all wines in the Côte d’Or.

So, to take a bit of poetic license with the table, red wines from the Côte d’Or in general are complex, with aromas of berry, violet, smoke, and undergrowth, and a nice spread of fruit on the palate with a focused core and crackling acids (well, “spread” and “focused core” are contradictory, so really it’s either/or there). Red wines from the Côte de Nuits are austere, elegant, and balanced, with shy flavors of strawberry, raspberry, blackcurrant, black cherry, earth, mocha, and thyme, whereas red wines from the Côte de Beaune are rich and soft with penetrating jammy fruit and crusty aromas of mushroom, leather, and sweet spice.

How much of this do I believe? Well, taking the flavor descriptors with a grain of salt, I think my tasting notes bear out the distinction noted by Karen MacNeil between the firm structure of  Côte de Nuits and the soft lushness of Côte de Beaune. Beyond that, there is a savory/sweet dichotomy to the spices, perhaps some greater complexity in Côte de Nuits, perhaps some greater fruit concentration in Côte de Beaune. I suppose the next step is to do a blind tasting to see if these distinctions correctly guide identification.


Breathing experiment no 8: a win for decanting

I thought I was pretty well done with breathing experiments, but I realized there were some gaps, such as classified growth Bordeaux. So I pulled this bottle from my cellar and ran the usual protocol, just Amy and me. Amy guessed the odd wine out correctly, and I did not. My notes:

Funky note on 2, fruit clearer on 1, dbd

Which means I thought glass 2 was from the bottle, and glasses 1 and 3 were from the decanter. I was right about glasses 1 and 2, but wrong about glass 3, which was also from the bottle. I had in fact hesitated over glass 3, but went with my first impression, which failed me this time.

But notice the distinction between glasses 1 and 2. I found the decanted glass had better fruit aromas, whereas in the glass from the bottle the fruit was obscured by a funky note. This has happened twice before, once for a burgundy and once for a cru bourgeois Bordeaux. In all three cases the fruit aromas were more prominent after decanting. In this case I also detected a better fruit flavor on the palate, which I would attribute to retronasal sensing of the better aroma.

In the case of the burgundy, I quite liked the initial savory note; it’s something I appreciate in a red burgundy and I wouldn’t want to lose it to air.

For the Bordeaux, on the other hand, I preferred the decanted wine in both cases. This may call for more experiments with Bordeaux, in particular finding out what the shortest effective decanting period is. In this case the wine was in the decanter for 5 hours before the experiment. And I should extend the experiment to new world Bordeaux blends as well.

As with the other experiments, I did not sense any difference in the acids or tannins on the palate, and, as always, the differences were slight, not the sort of thing you would detect without focused attention.


Detecting typos with Newton’s Law of Cooling

It is not difficult to find ridiculously precise recommendations for the serving temperatures of different types of wine. I don’t worry too much: white wine from the fridge is a little cool but warms up quickly enough, and the same goes for red wine from the cellar (but red wine at room temperature is better if you put it in the fridge for an hour). But I was wondering the other day how long it would take me to cool a bottle of white wine for guests, so I asked google and found this article, which says:

In the fridge, it took 2.5 hours for red wine to reach its ideal temperature of 55° and 3 hours for white wine to reach its ideal temperature of 45°.

In the freezer, it took 40 minutes for red wine to reach its ideal temperature and 1 hour for white wine to reach its ideal temperature.

Which was a bit irritating because it didn’t give the room temperature, fridge temperature, or freezer temperature. And that big difference in temperature for an extra half hour in the fridge seemed fishy. More on that later.


For Science!

Not trusting this article, and not finding solace in the millions of “real-world” experiments about Newton’s Law of Cooling you can find in course websites (is the data really real?), I decided to conduct an experiment of my own. So I bought one of these.

I took a bottle of white wine at 79ºF (which doesn’t bother me for everyday drinking wines because of these experiments) and put it in the fridge at 45ºF (yes, I know, have to do something about that). I measured the temperature at intervals over the next 6 hours. (Not regular intervals, because I have work to do.) The blue dots are the data points and the black line is the graph of the solution to Newton’s Law of Cooling, which says that the difference between the bottle temperature and the fridge temperature decreases by the same factor every hour. I used a factor of 0.6 (that is, the difference at the end of the hour is 0.6 what it was at the beginning), which seems to fit the data pretty well . No, I did not do a logarithmic regression, I just fiddled with the parameters in a graphing utility (damnit, Jim, I’m a mathematician, not a scientist!). (Or is that joke better the other way around?)


Then I tried to make sense of the article.  Let’s say the fridge temperature was 35ºF. That extra half hour for white wine over red wine halved the difference between bottle and fridge from 20 to 10. So, in an hour, the temperature decreases by a factor of 0.25. This doesn’t agree with my 0.6, and it also doesn’t make sense, because it would suggest that the white wine was at a temperature of 675º when it was put in the fridge. And I couldn’t fix this by making different reasonable assumptions. After fooling around a bit, I found that all the numbers fit with my factor of 0.6 if you assume that the room temperature was 75ºF, the fridge temperature was 37ºF, the freezer temperature was 0ºF, and the 2.5 is a typo for 1.5.

So, a good rule of thumb is that the temperature difference halves every hour, plus a bit. This should also work for when you want a wine to warm up a little.