This article was published in The 30 Second Wine Advisor on Monday, Apr. 30, 2007 and can be found at http://www.wineloverspage.com/wineadvisor2/tswa20070430.php.
Park your car in the sun on a warm Spring day, and, after it's been there for a while - assuming you're not worried that your neighbors will think you've lost your mind - get down on your hands and knees and take a good, long sniff at one of the tires.
Got that smell? That earthy, dark scent of rubber (okay, it's synthetic, but never mind that) with an overlay of sulfur? It's an intriguing aroma, not entirely unpleasant. But it's not something I would really care to find in my wine.
In fact, however, it happens from time to time, most recently just the other night when a persistent, dominating rubbery aroma pretty much spoiled my enjoyment of a relatively affordable Spanish red wine that I had been anticipating. In contrast with the sort-of-reminds-me nature of many offbeat wine descriptors like "petrol" and "barnyard" that evoke, rather than precisely resembling the real thing, this was a true black-rubber aroma as clear and true as you'd get from sticking your nose into an old black-rubber boot.
What's going on here?
In their useful if somewhat dated "Wines, Their Sensory Evaluation" (1976), University of California at Davis Profs. Maynard A. Amerine and Edward B. Roessler attributed this "rubbery" aroma to low-acid grapes and nicknamed it "The Fresno odor" because of its association with California Central Valley wines of the era.
More accurately, "rubber tire" is a wine fault associated with sulfur and sulfur compounds (not to be confused with sulfites used as a natural preservative). It's often blamed on "reduction" - the opposite of oxidation - in which sulfury components with unpleasant smells that can range from rubber to cooked cabbage to swamp gas turn up in wine that's been stored in the absence of oxygen.
It's not a pleasant character, but the good news is that it's usually reversible by vigorous aeration, overnight "breathing" or even an old wine-maker's trick that sounds like an urban legend, but really is not: Drop a clean copper-clad penny (or a Euro cent) into a glass of the affected wine, swirl it a few times, and, if you're lucky, the reductive aromas will quickly go away. Or stir the wine with a shiny silver spoon. As I've reported in past discussions of this topic, it's not magic, just chemistry: The metal in the coin or spoon reacts with the hydrogen sulfide (H2S) that's causing the problem in the wine, quickly converting the smelly compound into insoluble, odorless (and harmless) copper or silver sulfide.
Wouldn't it be nice if all wine faults could be neutralized as easily as that?
Peique 2005 Bierzo Tinto Mencia ($11.99)
This is a very dark reddish-purple wine, shading to a clear edge. It starts with the distinct "rubber-tire" aroma of a sulfury, reductive wine, but time (or a copper-clad penny) banishes this flaw, revealing blackberries and plums, pleasant and rather delicate fruit, that carries over in a fresh and ripe flavor well balanced by crisp acidity. Soft tannins show mostly in the finish. U.S. importer: Vinos & Gourmet Inc., Richmond, Calif., a Jose Pastor Selection. (April 25, 2007)
FOOD MATCH: Food friendly, fine with burgers or steak. It went nicely with a variation, burgers fashioned from ground turkey thigh meat with a spicy Southwestern accent to help camoflauge its non-beef origin.
VALUE: With an asterisk about the reductive issue, which is reversible, it's a fine value - as are so many Spanish reds - in the lower teens.
WHEN TO DRINK: Once you banish the sulfury reductiveness, its clean fruit and acidic balance suggest a wine that will keep for at least a year or two, although there's no reason not to drink it now.
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