Carla and I have shared a bottle of wine with dinner practically every night for the better part of the last thirty-plus years. It’s rare that we don’t finish a bottle. On the odd occasion that we don’t, it’s usually because there’s a time constraint on dinner, which is rare these days at the compound. Otherwise, it means mal vino, as in something wrong the wine. That happened the other night when we didn’t make it through a bottle of Cru Beaujolais.
To go all geek on you for a moment, in the last ten years or so certain producers in Beaujolais have elevated their game to new heights. Thanks to various importers and the press, notoriety and recognition for these producers and their wines from the ten Crus—top appellations—have increased significantly. Not surprisingly, so have the prices, which have more than doubled in some cases. But I think it’s justified. These winemakers—and others in their respective Crus—have been making superb wines for decades and were unjustly overlooked and underpriced.
Also worth noting is the fact that some of the producers make wine without fining, filtration, or added sulfur. All are worthy aspirations with the caveat that the juice in the bottle has to be microbiologically stable. That’s because whenever you send a bottle sans soufre (without sulfur) out into the world, bad things can potentially happen. In the case of our bottle, the culprit was Brettanomyces, a type of yeast that originates in the vineyard and ends up in the winery environment and ultimately the wine.
The presence of Brett, as it is called, in wine is highly contextual. In small amounts, it can add a richer texture, earthiness, and some complexity to a wine. However, too much Brett and the dark side appears. Now it makes itself known in the form of fecal, barnyard, and small rodents covered in Band Aids. There’s one more thing about Brett. Human tolerance for it is highly individual. Some actually like the smell and taste of Brett while others loathe it even in trace amounts.
Back to dinner, which featured cheeseburgers from the grill and a salad. After setting the table, I retrieved a bottle of Morgon from the small 36 bottle wine fridge, which is next to the dining table. A wine fridge is mandatory here behind the adobe curtain because the climate is about as inhospitable for wine as it gets. It’s either too hot or too cold, and it’s too dry all the time.
Once the burgers were ready, I opened and poured the bottle of Morgon. Initially, the temp of the wine was on the chilly side—50-degrees, which is the setting on the fridge. It would soon warm up, much to its detriment. More on that in a moment.
After finishing the burgers, conversation ranged from events of the day, which included our daughter Maria getting a new job with School of Public Health at the University of North Carolina, her undergrad alma mater. We then chatted about other happenings of the day and more. I also mentioned a book I was reading by Italian physicist Carlo Rovelli. It’s a collection of essays called “There Are Places In the World Where Rules Are Less Important Than Kindness.” A long title, but a good read.
I own all of Rovelli’s books. He’s a brilliant physicist, one of the best of his ilk. He’s also a superb writer, able to explain high fallutin’ theories like quantum mechanics and black holes. One of the chapters in his book touched on Einstein’s theory of how time passes at different rates depending on multiple factors. I told Carla how Einstein proposed time passing more quickly, although minutely, at high altitude vs. sea level. Hence people living at high altitudes age more quickly than those living at sea level. She looked at me skeptically the whole time with the Spock one raised eyebrow.
“That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard,” she said after the fact. “You mean to tell me that time passes at different rates according to altitude?” I answered to the affirmative. “So what about watches and other things that keep time? They don’t change their function depending on the altitude.” I had to agree. But I also had to remind her that I was just the messenger and not the author. Also, that physicists after Einstein had confirmed his theory as being true.
Carla responded with a harumph, saying “I reject Einstein’s idea.” Then she took a sip of wine, frowned, and put her glass down. “Does the wine taste weird to you?” I quickly smelled my glass and said that there was a lot of Brett. And that as the wine warmed up in the glass, the Brett had really start to come out. Mind you the wine was fine when I first opened it. But oxygen has a funny way of revealing any cosmetic flaw in a wine.
I then tasted the wine and quickly confirmed what Carla had said. The Brett in the bottle was about to stage a coup and overwhelm the entire character of the wine. Think militant marauding livestock. The wine was changing color too, turning brownish right before our eyes.
“I’m not so sure I like this wine,” Carla said. “Then you probably wouldn’t like the part in the book about flying donkeys either,” I said. “Flying donkeys?” she responded, giving the eyebrow a work out. “Yeah, there’s a chapter in the book where Rovelli writes about the Australian philosopher David Lewis. He put forth the idea that there are an infinite number of parallel universes. That being the case, there is at least one alternate universe where donkeys can fly. Maybe more than one.”
The idea of flying donkeys was too much for Carla. “I’m going to go finish my sudoku,” she said, “and I’m going to have a gin. This wine is not good.” I immediately put my nose in the glass and had to agree. The Brett palace coup was complete. The wine smelled like sweaty gravy and had turned a rosy brown in color. I even saw the color brown internally when I smelled it. On the palate it was redolent of beef broth, livestock, and bitter metallic.
After Carla left the table, I pondered Einstein’s notion of time passing at different rates. And how the theory had been proven to be true by other physicists. Still I thought it was a good idea to question new scientific findings. After all, that’s what scientists do. And if our watches really do go tick tock slower at sea level than at the top of the ski slope, we should know about it. At least somebody should be able to explain it better than I can. As for mal vino, once bottled, wine without added sulfur can be a crap shoot. Otherwise, Neil Young once said that Brett never sleeps. He was right. And microbes always bat last.