Can we talk in a meaningful way about the difference in taste between wines which cost €70 and €35? And why are there differences in taste? The previous post (Talking about wine) throws some light on the general problem of communicating about tastes. In this one, let’s focus on two types of speech about wine.
To simplify matters, let’s talk about the two top wines, from the left, Ca’ Marcanda (named after the estate) and Magari. They share quite a lot in common – they are made from the same grape varieties, the grapes are grown on the same estate and they are vinified in similar ways under the same winemaker. But while they are both premium wines, one costs twice as much as the other. For most people price is very important. If the top wine is going to cost twice as much as another pretty expensive premium wine, then it should taste different! And how do we talk about that? When we talk about these wines we can either go by the knowledge route or by describing the flavours and sensations.
The knowledge route goes something like this and does throw some light on the price difference:
Ca’ Marcanda €70.
- Grape varieties: 50% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc – ‘international’ grape varieties are more expensive in Tuscany than local ones, but that applies equally to Magari
- Site: all the grapes are grown on the one estate but the Ca’ Marcanda grapes are grown on the white soil (limestone, stones, pebbles), the stoniest areas
- Usually, there are lower yields for top wines to increase the concentration of the resulting grape juice. Lower yields mean less return from your expensive piece of land in Bolgheri and therefore a higher price per bottle. But the leaflet about the wine doesn’t give any information so we only guess that this is a factor.
- the top wine is the product of greater attention in the vineyards and in the winery and/or using only the best fruit at harvest time, again greater expense
- the wine is matured in new oak barrels for 18 months and then at least 12 months in bottle before release. Each new 225-litre barrel costs €600 which works out at €2 a bottle, plus of course the investment in the storage, the staff to look after them and cash flow which has to be financed. Not releasing wine until three years after harvest is a costly business.
- 50% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Cabernet Franc. While the same grapes are used, in this wine there is rather more of the lusher, herbaceous Cab Franc and less Cab Sauvignon. So the wine is going to be ready to drink earlier.
- the vines for Margari are grown on a mixture of soils – white (limestone, stones, pebbles) and dark (loam and clay)
- 18 months in new and second-year oak barrels and at least 6 months in bottle before release – so again the wine is released a year earlier
All three factors mean that the wine is going to taste different to Ca’ Marcanda and that it costs less to produce.
What did the wines taste like?
Magari 2005 lovely nose of red and black fruit, velvety, even sumptuous and full in the mouth, the flavours derived from oak not very evident.
Ca’ Marcanda 2005 had powerful aromas of black fruit (especially blackcurrant) and tobacco; dense fruit, high astringency and acidity, a wine of serious structure, and great persistence
There are of course connections between the ‘knowledge’ and the attempt to talk about taste. The luscious drinkability is due to the greater presence of Cab Franc in Magari and the relative absence of Cab Sauvignon, while the great backbone of Ca’ Marcanda reflects the amount of Cab Sauvignon in the latter, along with greater use of new oak with its tannins.
And of course, the great thing about wine is that there is always another level of interest. Which wine did I prefer? Tasting the 2005s in the summer of 2009, the Magari, made for shorter-term drinking, outshone the more much expensive Ca’ Marcanda. But you might get a completely different outcome in ten years time when the Ca’ Marcanda will be fully mature. Or it might be that you just prefer the smell and taste of either Cabernet or Merlot … and as Adrienne Lehrer showed, you will then talk up the qualities that you liked in the wine you preferred. Let’s keep drinking and talking!