MATHS – THE PART IT PLAYS IN
SPARKLING WINE APPRECIATION!
I recently spent a good half-hour, probably more, in a very well stocked, dedicated wine shop in Teulada, Alicante. My mission – to select some cava for a wine appreciating friend’s birthday. I was grateful to the maths teacher of my second year in secondary school, Southport, Lancashire – all those years ago, for helping me choose!
Why? Well, when choosing any sparkling wine it helps to have a grasp of what was called, Mental Arithmetic, in those less than halcyon days (it was a dreadful school!). However, it could all be made easier, if the sparkling wine producers played their part. Some do, but many don’t!
Sparkling wine has a shelf-life, which starts from the moment it is disgorged – that is the time when the bottle (talking Traditional Method here) is taken from the cellars where it has been resting upside-down, for at least the minimum amount of time prescribed by the authorities, and the restraining cap is removed.
The ice cube (the neck of the bottle and its contents are frozen at this point) that contains the lees (the sediment, the dead yeast), is jettisoned by the pressure inside the bottle, which is then topped up and resealed with the distinctive cork. It’s now that the clock starts ticking!
The sparkling wine is ready for consumption and will be for a length of time still – but how long? It’s here that producers can help consumers with their maths, but, for commercial reasons, many choose not to.
Clearly, we cannot even have an anything like educated guess at how long the bottle we select from the shelves will have at its optimum time for drinking, if we don’t know the date when disgorgement took place. Sparkling wine is at its peak for a certain time after disgorgement, determined by the length of time it has spent on its lees – the less time, the fewer months it will be at its best.
Unfortunately it’s not an exact science – there’s no definite equation, but there’s a general ‘rule’, providing some guidance, at least. For example a young cava which has spent the minimum 9 months ‘en rima’ (upside-down on its lees) will happily last for probably a year, perhaps a few months longer, after it has been disgorged. There are other factors involved, e.g. the age of the vines whose grapes were used to make the cava, but as a general guideline, the above is useful.
Carrying on with cava – a Reserva, which has to have had a minimum of 15 months en rima, will last longer still – certainly two years, often longer. And, a 30 month minimum, Gran Reserva – well longer still; and in all cases when the minimum time en rima is exceeded, as it often is, the cava’s longevity will increase proportionately.
But, without knowing the date of disgorgement, we are popping in the dark!
However, if other information is available, those in the know, and with a certain mathematical aptitude, can make some educated guesses. And so it was for me, when making my choice the other week.
Some of the cavas I considered did have the important date on the back label. However, I decided that I wanted a Magnum – none displayed the date of disgorgement. One, apparently, had some sort of code, which, if the consumer goes to the website, will reveal the date. But come on, who has the time to do this? How can it be done at point of sale? Who can be bothered? It’s clearly just a sop to informed consumers, a get-out clause where the producer can avoid any criticism for withholding information!
One magnum advised that the wine had enjoyed 40 months en rima, so, a Gran Reserva, with extended lees contact – but no further information. A help, when allied also to the fact that it is a magnum. Magnums hold the equivalent of two bottles worth of wine, but have the same sized neck as bottles. This means that the tiny amount of oxygen that passes through the cork, as a part of a wine’s aging process, is the same, but influences twice the amount of wine – thus allowing greater longevity. However, there is still guesswork needed here.
Another magnum of cava had its vintage date on the label and proudly stated that it was a Gran Reserva. So, I knew that I could add on at least 30 months to the date of the vintage, not far off three years, and see how close that took me to 2018, again bearing in mind the size of the bottle. But this took me only to 2014 – it would probably be good still, the more so if the minimum en rima time had been exceeded (I’ve tasted Gran Reserva cavas which have aged thus for five years and more!).
But, it’s still guess work, no matter how good is one’s maths!
My thanks for contributions from: @Wine_Cuentista, @VictordelaSerna, @SorchaHolloway, @ADHalliwell