Friday, June 4, 2010

Wine Into Vinegar: Top Labels Turn Sour--Caymus, Nickel & Nickel, Chappellet

Why would anyone want to deliberately transform top label California and Italian wine into vinegar? Who is this twisted alchemist and insane asylum escapee?  May I introduce Thee Professor Fheel Tripod.  I’m not using his real name so as to circumvent any difficulties with his employment and professional standing, as well as preventing any shame and embarrassment to his family. Now speaking of his family: he has a pretty wife and a handsome young son; so what happened to him? It’s just one of those circumstances where the universe plays that cruel joke. OK..I hear you, stop dwelling on his physical liabilities and deformities,  and get on with the vinegar riff.
One more thing in order to better understand why he does this wine to vinegar process. Not so long ago he was relating how he managed to work for the Grateful Dead and do 349 straight gigs. Of course I had to inquire, “Yo Prof ,why stop at 349 and not hit 350?
“Well, ahh, Jerry kicked it. [Silence, staring at the floor.] You know man, Garcia dying was the best thing that ever happened to me…f**k…”
So now that we understand the mental engine behind the process, let’s take a look at the vinegars. He makes what he calls his “industrial level.” This stuff is made from lower tier labels such as Double Dog Dare Syrah from CA.,  and considered for every day use. The premium rank vinegars originate mostly from well known expensive labels such as Caymus. The mother he started out with is well beyond 5 years old. (The last link to the original batch is in a bottle of Chateau Palmer).  Currently many of the bottles are inoculated with acetobacter strains he’s been developing for little over a year. Before we head into the tasting notes be aware that these vinegars are at full strength, somewhere around 24% acetic acid. The usual range for Thee Prof's vinegars is between 14% and 26%, with a ph falling into the spread between 4.6 to 5.2. The following notes are mostly for those bottles with the premium labels and in order of tasting.

Moscato Spumante IL Cortegiano NV Dolce
This was one of the first ones he introduced to some professional chefs in the DC/MD area. I believe it was used in a reduction for a scallop dish that brought rave reviews from Robert Parker. (You all know who he is, right?) Prof Fheel uses a Barbera starter/mother (stay in the Piedmont I guess) to inoculate the Moscato. It exhibits a light rose´ color, from the Barbera. The acidity was actually somewhat soft considering it was undiluted strength. Aromatically in the nose and on the palate those typical aspects of orange blossom, honey and grapeiness revealed themselves in nicely defined layers. Very unique stuff and worth having to play around with.

Caymus, Napa 2006
            Color dark red plum. Palate very smooth with flavors of dark red raspberries.

Nickel & Nickel Merlot Oakville 2005
            Flavor of dark red plums with a note of sweetness as it finishes.

The Blend: Chappellet Napa Cab 2006, Catena Malbec 2007, Clos Apalta Merlot 2005.
            Darker than either of the Caymus or the Nickel & Nickel. Very bright brick red. Intensity of this one is medium, yet there’s some kind of indescribable subtly to it. The Cabernet dominates the blend with currants and violets. The body is medium plus. This one is extremely smooth and the most complex so far.

Casisano-Colombaio Brunello Reserva 1999 (Insane huh?)
            My favorite of all! Russet color. Gorgeous layering of tart cherries, earth and wood. Without a doubt the absolute smoothest and balanced of all. Incredible vinegar. Beg for it.

            The last time we spoke he had a quantity of the industrial vinegar working and should be ready quite soon. However his stores of the premium labeled juice sold out quickly to restaurant chefs, but he does have more evolving and should be ready in the near future. If you want to get a hold of him to see what will be released shortly, you can find Thee Prof at, or at Twitter: P3Vins.



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