Dauvissat La Forest By The Numbers

With the heat this week in Napa, my monthly tasting group broke from our "year in Piemonte" (or reason to drink nebbiolo with your friends once a month) theme and spent an evening tasting through a 13 vintage vertical of Rene et Vincent Dauvissat La Forest from my cellar. The fun thing about a tasting group composed mostly of wine makers (Dan Petroski - Larkmead/Massican, Steve Matthiasson - Matthiasson, Stephane Vivier - HdV, Mark Porembski - Zeitgeist/Anomaly among others) is that they and I have been trained to taste wines differently and to look for different traits within them. 

To make these tastings even more interesting when doing verticals is that we submit all of the wines, or in this case, a select few to ETS for analysis(Matt Stamp wrote about one of our tastings of Bartolo Mascarello on the site awhile back, and I added a second set of data points in the comments from a tasting later on). For those not on the supplier/production side, ETS Laboratories has been a mainstay in the Napa Valley since the 1980's. They provide analysis of wine providing data for almost anything you would want to know about its makeup, its faults etc. We would do this with every tasting we have and every wine, but sadly the cost of doing so is rather prohibitive at $115 per wine for the general panel like the ones you see below.

The benefit with doing these tastings and testings (or in some cases we test before and taste after) is to really compare what we taste or don't, and what is actually in the wines. The tasting encompassed La Forest from 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2008, 2007, 2005, 2004, 2002, 2000, 1999 and 1996.  Sadly the 1999 was corked and the 2000 was showing a bit too much oxidation (had enough to know the difference on this one between age and premox). Otherwise a truly brilliant showing of wines with the 1996 stealing the show, and the 2004, 2007, 2010, 2013 and 2014 all close behind. Truth be told the only under performer (though not  really given the vintage) was the 2011. 


Vintage FSO2 TS02 pH TA MA VA RS ALC
2014 11 47 3.12 7.3 0.17 0.39 1.3 13.1%
2010 13 55 3.12 6.7 0.24 0.44 1.6 13.1%
2007 8 43 3.11 7.0 0.31 0.39 0.7 13.0%
2005 10 53 3.29 5.8 0.27 0.46 1.2 13.7%
2002 3 37 3.27 6.0 0.17 0.46 0.8 13.2%
1996 5 44 3.06 8.5 1.05 0/53 1.4 13.5%
Some of the takeaways were the RS in these wines. One of our members believes any wine with 1.0 RS is sweet, though he will openly say every other winemaker in the group would disagree. I was a little surprised by the RS numbers myself, though at these pH numbers it would take over 3g/l RS to have any perception at all. The pH numbers, look at that 1996!!! That is some searing acidity. Intriguing with the 1996, being the favorite of the night, was the pH on it, but also how much SO2 it is still holding on to. Natural winemakers take note ;) The only wine by the numbers that didn't finish malo either.
A great tasting that for me reinforced why I buy and drink so much of this wine. Also, reinforced was how much air these wines really need.  Besides the 1990 wines, every wine had almost 3 hours of air before the tasting. With 13 bottles and 8 of us (we had extra credit bottles before and for dinner too) everyone ended up taking wines home.  I ended up with the 2004, 2008, 2011 and 2012. Every one of the wines was even better with dinner the following night after 27 hours of oxygen.
If you have any specific questions to the data and what it means let me know and I'll be happy to answer. This is another aspect of tasting that becomes very interesting as you move forward in (wine) life and deductive blinds becomes less of the focus.
  • Jason, this is great. Did you not run numbers on the 2011?
  • In reply to Kelli White:

    Alas, no. We had limited amounts of sample tubes and used them for some of the favorites, and two of the riper vintages.

  • Does MA stand for Malic Acid? Also any insight as to why it is so much higher in the 96.
  • In reply to Joe Billesbach:

    Yes it does. As I mentioned in the text it's the only wine tested that didn't finish ML.

  • Jason, thanks so much for sharing this! The Mascarello by the numbers post was amazing as well... Such a reference point to have the technical numbers to compare with what is tasted in the glass! I do miss having a lab available to run numbers on a wine with dinner... ;)
  • Wow, that is fantastic!

    Thank you for the analysis, I have a few different vintages on our list and this is very helpful.

    Also please correct me if im wrong on this -but doesn't the threshold of detection for RS start at 2g/l?
    So some of these might be (barely) brushing up against that?
  • In reply to Vlada Stojanov:

    As Jason said, the threshold for detectable of RS is generally around 2g/L but can depend on other factors, such as acidity. Elevated acid and tannin, even extraction, can both dampen the impression of RS. One trick used by some modern Cabernet producers is to leave in a little RS to mitigate tannin levels. On the palate the wine presents as dry and smooth, but chemically it is actually semi-sweet and quite tannic.
  • In reply to Kelli White:

    Aye, i'm aware of that especially with some well known Cabs.
    It took quite a bit to get used to the style after growing up on Old World stuff :-)
  • In reply to Vlada Stojanov:

    This article gets deeper into the complexities of sweetness RE acid/alchohol/tannin etc, if you want to know more: www.guildsomm.com/.../the-taste-of-wine-acid-sweetness-and-tannin
  • In reply to Jason Heller:

    Got it. I was also wondering if anyone knows why it didn't finish ML? Was this a conscious decision by the winemaker or some environmental reason?
  • In reply to Joe Billesbach:

    Very low PHs will naturally block malo.

    They also make sulfur more effective. pH is a logarithmic scale, so sulfur's effectiveness relative to pH is also logarithmic.

    Those are my guesses, but would love to hear any other guesses or insights.

    Also, just so I'm reading this correctly: RS is measured in what? That's g/l? Help

    And, yeah, the '11 Chablis are so weird. They just have very little perceptible acid. So creamy and broad generally, despite the cold difficult vintage.
  • This is awesome, Jason. The '96's numbers are really astounding. The combination of the lowest ph, highest TA and the second highest abv means that this wine was a roller coaster! Shows that the vintage really held on to acid while ripening. I wonder if that's just a wine that was harvested at truly the perfect time, or if there was a bit of uneven ripeness in the vineyard giving a mix of fruit with very low ph and a lot of malic acid and then a bit of very ripe fruit contributing to the higher alcohol. It also looks like it has the most VA, a favorable attribute for me. I am interested to hear what the more technically trained wine makers thought. Was their favorite wine the one with the most VA? That usually isn't the case. As it sounds like there was a major sensitivity to RS, maybe that wasn't the case with VA, although .53 isn't very much.

    Thanks for sharing.
  • In reply to Kelli White:

    Thanks, Kelli, for sharing that post; I am curious about "perceptible" RS (in g/L), some Frenchmen I know will say it is 3 g/L (technically / scientifically). However, as a winemaker, I believe "dryness" is less than 1 g/L. You have to draw the line somewhere.
  • In reply to Kelli White:

    One more thing, Kelli - I wouldn't call modern Cabernet winemaker's using the "trick" of leaving some RS in the wine to offset tannins, to me that sounds like "spin" to say that the ferment didn't finish and it got a little stressed at the end and never went dry and the wine was left on the skins a little longer than necessary and extracted harsh tannins, which were then smoothed over in the glass by the residual sugar. Just speaking out loud here!
  • In reply to Morgan Harris:

    Morgan is correct about low pH blocking ML. But the pH isn't that low compared to the other vintages. Not knowing the starting Malic numbers, it's hard to discern whether or not this wine went through partial malo, but the indication of a little higher VA would suggest that the wine struggled trying to convert its malic. It will be really great on anyone's next visit to the domaine to ask about the fermentation conditions of the '96 vintage.

    And yes, RS is g/L.