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Mira Winery Removes 2009 Cab from Charleston Harbor after Three Months & I Tasted

There have been some recent discussions and buzz about wine cellared in the ocean. Based on the finds of wine in ship wrecks from the last century, or even millennia ago, the question has been “Is there any change from time spent in that environment?”  And if so, is it a good one?

 

Last year, for example, I presented a seminar/tasting for an export agent representing Spanish wine, and one of the producers, Castrocelta from Rias Baixas was experimenting with the idea.  But the Albarino in question was not available for tasting. That seemed to be the story…. folks know about it, but like the unicorn, no one had actually seen it. In the last year I’ve probably spoken to twenty people about it, and the response has been the same: blank looks and no solid sensory information.

 

Fast forward to a month ago, when I got an invite to be in a lottery where 15 curious palates would get to compare two Mira Winery 2009 Cabernets (5% Cab Franc), one of which spent 3 months in Charleston Harbor. Otherwise, the wines were the same. I threw in my name, and made the cut.

 

The winery uses a custom crush facility in St. Helena and sources all fruit from other Napa growers. The owner of Mira is Jim “Bear” Dyke, who lives in Charleston; the winemaker is Gustavo Gonzalez. Plenty of information about the winery, sourcing, tech sheets, experience, awards and the 8 varietals produced can be found at www.miranapa.com.

 

 

By way of background information, and culled from the PR about the “process,” here are a few ideas that had been tossed around, that might affect the wine, as well as my interpretations, from before I tried the wines

1. Pressure under water might affect the wine. The wine was 60 feet down, which is an additional 2 atmoshperes of pressure, but the bottle is not compressible and the cork was not displaced. Therefore, inside the bottle, the pressure must have been same as air aged.

2. Temperature under water was very stable, about 47 -55 F. Actually the wine was pulled up when the water temperature rose as spring turned to summer. Since well controlled cellars have constant temperatures, I don’t think this would cause much change, either.

3. Salinity of the ocean might intrude into the wine. The bottle tops were sealed with wax, in addition to having corks, so this seems like another improbable cause for difference.

4. Low oxygen environment underwater would protect the wine and keep it fresh. Sealed in wax would do the same thing, as would a screw cap closure. Gas exchange through a land based closed wine is slow enough, so that 3 months would be tough to taste anyway.

5. The wines bottles were mounted on plywood backing, and allowed to move around in and with anchored underwater cages, each holding a case. This, to me sounded like the only thing that might affect the wine. Three months of gentle sloshing around could affect some noticeable change.

                                                      

Now, on to the tasting: Two glasses, each with about an ounce of wine had been pre-poured and labeled “A” and “B.” We were told that one of the samples was the “land only” wine and the other had spent three months in the water, the “aquaoir” sample.

 

Everyone looked at color, sniffed and swirled, tasted and cogitated on their own, writing notes, coming to some conclusion and casting our votes on which was which. During the discussion that followed, everyone seemed to use the same rubric to identify the “aquaoir” wine: whichever sample seemed more mature, softer or complex got the vote for the ocean sample, because that was where the magic was supposed to occur.

 

But, like in all subjective matters, it always comes down to taste. We were 16 tasters, and the vote was split: 9 for “B”and 7 for “A”, statistically even. From my own point of view, I found the wines virtually identical. Nothing shouted at me, or even whispered at first sniff and taste. I had to work to try to find a difference. It was not at all obvious, perhaps imaginary.  After going back and forth, I judged “A” almost imperceptibly more refined, “B” a little more obvious in alcohol with tannins a touch coarser. So I voted “A “as the “aquaoir,” along with half the group. I wish I could say that I was correct, but it was not my day.

                                                   

Those that got it “right” used the same logic, only they thought that “B” was a bit more refined and evolved. The rational was the same, but their subjective data was different. We were told that the results from the prior two events (NYC was the third) were similar: no overwhelming ability of the tasters to discern a consistent difference. Also, Jim and Gustavo reported that lab work on the two versions were virtually identical. As the tour continues, more data will be available, and all participants are supposed to get the total results, and it should be on Mira’s website.

 

Just checked here: http://miranapa.com/aquaoir-wine-tasting-survey-results/   but was disturbed that the results did not include the breakdown between those that chose “A” versus “B.” Only shows that everyone (100%) made a choice and tasted a difference, which makes it seem that a difference was obvious.  We were instructed to choose which we thought was each; “both the same” was not an option. As presented this published data is therefore misleading, and I am disappointed in this regard.

 

So, at this point, at least with this one red wine, I can’t see any advantage in the method. But three months is a short time. It takes courage to lay it on the line and test something like this, and for that the community should thank them. I know I do. They are now preparing to do a 6 month submersion. After all, as they said, this is a test because there is no baseline of information on this technique. I just hope that future reporting is more transparent. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, and this one is completely mine.

 

I’ll keep you posted. If anyone else has had any experience with wines like this, get in touch, or leave a comment.  Also, if you’d like to see a list of others trying the same thing, take a look at:   http://winefolly.com/update/aging-wine-underwater/

 

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