a t.a.s.t.e. of the future

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Almost lost among boxes of wines waiting for me in my locker at Seattle Wine Storage last week was a small package from Janet Trefethen. Walnuts! I thought – for years there was an annual holiday gift of walnuts from the estate. But the holidays are long gone, and so, I believe, are the walnut trees.

A note inside the box explained things. “As one of two women in an otherwise all male CEO group,” Trefethen wrote, “I have had the pleasure to get to know Tim Bucher... a tech genius who appreciates his agricultural roots, growing up in Sonoma. Tim’s company, Tasting Room Inc., has created these unique tasting samples via its new, innovative decanting process called T.A.S.T.E. Technology (Total Anaerobic Sample Transfer Environment).

“Wines are transferred directly from our finished bottles (all 3 liters in this case) into the sample-sized bottles enclosed within a sealed, zero-oxygen chamber that de-corks, decants, pours, and seals in a continually monitored environment. Each of the original bottles is tested for any irregularities before the decanting, thus ensuring the sample replicates the original. We are excited to be able to bring this new, innovative wine tasting experience to you.”

PG: The six tiny (50 ml) bottles pictured above were carefully packed in the box, along with a card featuring her note on one side and capsule descriptions of the six wines on the other side. It was headlined “Great Moments in Recent Trefethen Cabernet Sauvignon History.”

I looked at this enterprise with a mixture of interest and skepticism. I can certainly see the advantages for wineries in switching to these teeny sample sizes. One regular bottle fills 15 of the 50 ml samples. On the other hand, my tasting methodology requires considerably more wine, as I return to each bottle again and again over a period of days. But in this instance, with rare older vintages poured from a large format library bottle, the little bottles made a lot of sense. If they worked.

The six wines were all estate cabernets, from 1989, 1997, 1999, 2002, 2004 and 2005. The ’97 and ’02 were reserves. Each of these wines had won a Best of competition or a gold or double gold medal somewhere. Coming from a 3 liter bottle, stored at the winery, they promised to be in perfect condition. And a single bottle would fill up to 60 of these samplers. So – six big bottles created 60 mini-verticals. Very clever.

In fact, the T.A.S.T.E. process worked flawlessly as far as this experiment is concerned. Each of the six wines came out of its tiny bottle in great condition. There was enough wine to get a good sniff and a couple of good swallows of each. Along with providing the pleasure of a mini-vertical, they were clearly differentiated and showed vintage variation, an aging curve, and also a definite increase in ripeness and (apparent) alcohol as the vintages climbed toward the present.

My favorite by far was the 1989 – a detailed and delicious array of spice, tobacco, pepper, fennel, cigar box and mature black fruits. I would give it 94 points if I were rating it right now. In descending order, my preferences were 2004, 1999, 1997 reserve, 2005, and 2002 reserve.

I have had the pleasure of doing an extensive riesling vertical at the winery, but short of sitting down on site with the winemaker, I can’t imagine a better way to experience a vertical of any winery’s wines. It is a superb marketing tool, and seems to make the best possible use of extremely limited resources – large format, library wines. I hope more wineries will follow the Trefethens’ imaginative lead.


Sean P. Sullivan said...

Paul, I was just discussing this with someone last week who had read about these. I think there are a couple of potential different uses. One would be as trade samples, although as you mention, this would be problematic. The second would be as gifts/stocking stuffers/vertical boxes etc. I think consumers would respond to them for the sheer novelty, especially if they are well priced. Particularly if someone can't buy a bottle, providing them with a taste is an interesting teaser.

Co Dinn said...

Hi Paul,

Prior to coming to Hogue in 1996 I was the enologist at Trefethen (a great job) and upon leaving was allowed to choose some wines from the library to take with me. My favorite? The '89 Cab. I still have a magnum of it (or 2)buried in my cellar. Thanks for sparking the memory. I'm looking forward to corroborating your testimony!


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