The Inside Story from Italian Wine Merchants

Pour That Funky Wine

Posted on | August 27, 2014 | Written by Camacho Vidal | No Comments

The resident horse at Cupano, Cavallo

The resident horse at Cupano, Cavallo

After I read this Monday’s blog post on the role of smell in wine memory, I started to wonder exactly why it is I’m partial to wines that, well, are funky. I love wines with some barnyard, earthy notes, sauvage, wildness or funk in them. The blog post notes how closely aligned memory and scent are, and as a wine educator, I find it’s sometimes difficult to describe a smell since it is tied to this memory. It’s our own memory bank makes wine so personal and links it to our individual experiences. This personal history both makes certain wines special to us and makes it hard to always pinpoint why. After thinking about why I love funky wines, I began to get a clue.

When I was growing up my parents used to send my brother and me to Colombia every summer vacation. If school was out on Friday, by Sunday I was at my uncle’s farm with my cousins running around and riding horses. These are some of my fondest childhood memories. I love horses and I remember hosing them down and brushing them after an afternoon of riding. Horses smell like barnyards, like warm leather, like hay, like animal sweat, and like the plains where I rode them. When I smell a wine that has some of these aromas or traits it transports me to that point in time. When I host a tasting and ask people to describe what they smell in a particular wine I have noticed that when they describe it passionately it is because they have made a memory connection and have been transported.

While it’s pretty easy to get behind scents like roses, fruit, river rocks or spice, there is a bit of controversy when it comes to funky wines. The question most asked seems to be, do these characteristics reflect a bad or faulted wine or is it the terroir coming through?

The rustic aromas of farmyard, barnyard, leather and cured meat that you often get in a wine are imparted by a yeast called Brettanomyces or BRET. Some love what this yeast does to a wine and others don’t. Many wine experts argue that this is a non-desirable wine fault. Others say that it is terrior, and since BRET smells and tastes earthy and funky, it is often understood as a component of terrior—or in excess, as mistaken for terroir.

Whatever the memory or reason is, if you like funky wines the way I do, we are not alone. There is a growing population of wine drinkers who love the funk. A bit of earth leather or funk goes a long way on certain wines, so I say let the experts argue all they want. The truth is that if you love the funky, then drink the wine; it’s entirely up to your taste buds to decide what you prefer. To illustrate my love I chose two of my favorite wines that are all about bringing the funk.

Radikon Merlot 2000

This wine is not for every palate. If funk is not your thing then absolutely skip it. But if you want to taste a wine that will shock your palate and give you an experience that is unlike any other, you must taste this Merlot. When I first poured this 2000 Merlot, the first thing that came to mind was how funky it was on the nose. It smells a little like borscht soup (in a good way), or if you have ever walked through a stable of sweaty horses after a fox hunt, it will bring back that pleasant memory. Intense red, slightly hazy or opaque, this wine blow off some of its funk with some time and lots of aeration, revealing some really sweet, ripe red fruits, herbs, cocoa and a bit of licorice. The mouth-feel is incredible—the tannins are sweet and complex, rich with hints of ripe fruit with a very persistent aftertaste of cherry and spice. Over a three-hour time lapse, this biodynamic ’00 Merlot develops further to become almost a completely different wine, more nuanced, more mellow, yet still fresh.

image003Olga Raffault Chinon Les Picasses 1990

Chinon is produced in the Loire Valley of France. I haven’t had many Chinons, but and when I tasted this 1990 by Olga Raffault I fell in love. From the get-go the nose is full of leather with notes of black tea, herbs, tobacco and olives followed by iron minerality, notes of red and dark berries, smoke, a hint of eucalyptus and some game and coffee. The palate is silky but gripping almost chalky. The acidity is great followed by spice, red and black fruit and a nice lingering finish.

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