A Study of Scarlet: A Red Wine “Conundrum” #MWWC6

Click and vote today for this submission to the Monthly Wine Writing Challenge:wine-stain1-2

Of all our adventures together, I hesitated to publish this for fear of disclosing information dire to national security and international trade.  However, upon hearing that the serial publication, Monthly Wine Writing Challenge (#MWWC6), had chosen “Mystery” for its 6th topic, I could not resist.  The following is a faithful account of one of Sherlock Holmes’ greatest cases.

We arrived at the crime scene before Scotland Yard.

My associate opened the door and we walked into a cavernous space.  It was brightly lit, like a stage at London’s Palace Theater.  But instead of costumed-actors, brightly colored isles spanned for a seeming eternity.  Innumerable produce and products of manufacture filled its shelves.  It reminded me of a Sunday market or bazaar but entirely under one roof.

I expected him to jump into action, as was his habit.  Instead, with arms folded, only his eyes studied the room as we walked.

“The telegram explicitly stated it would be here”, he murmured impatiently.

“What would be here?”

“A question, Watson.  That’s what.  A quandary.  But not just any query, the ultimate uncertainty.”

“I don’t follow.”

“You may recall that anonymous telegram we received this very morning.  It placed before our feet a seeming trifle of a riddle.”

“You mean this?”  I pulled the telegram from my waistcoat and read it, “‘Find the question which reads as clear as glass, looks as red as blood, but its many parts cannot be solved. Discover and determine what it is.  Hurry.’  What could it possibly mean Holmes?”

“You see, but do not observe, dear boy!  I loathe such riddles.  But this one holds facts: a question, glass, red, parts.  It’s all there.  We just have to find it.”

We reached the last row.  Finally, his whole body snapped into attention.  His dark eyes sparkled with mischief beneath a knitted brow.  He weaved up and down the shelving unit.  Midway, something stopped him.

“Haloo! What’s this?”

His long fingers drew out a bottle.  Something resembling a grin glimmered across his face.  He cocked an eye at me.  “We have a long evening ahead of us, Watson.  We must return to Baker Street immediately!  Do pay for this, my purse is in all likelihood left at home.  I will go to the trouble of calling us a Hansom cab.”

Back at 21b, and ₤14 the poorer, I sat at our breakfast nook and stared, quite bewildered, at the purchase:

Conundrum California Red Wine 2011


Then Sherlock burst from his bedchamber, newly attired in his dressing gown, and fell into the chaise.

“What do you make of it Holmes? What wine is this? Why Conundrum?” I ejaculated.

“Why indeed!” He then leaned in, closed his eyes, peaked his hands, and began:

“Let us start, rightly as you did, with the present facts.  The label calls it ‘Conundrum’ but provides little more than a vintage and the grammatical muddle, ‘A Proprietary Blend of California Red Wine‘.  Therein lies our question.  What wines, or rather, what grapes make up this mysterious blend?  Our unknown telegram writer needs to know.  But we cannot make bricks without clay!  Open it!”

I cracked open the screw cap and poured two glasses.  I then lifted the glass to my lips, when, to my unutterable astonishment, he dashed it to the floor.

“Watson!” he cried, “We must employ our facilities in the appropriate order.  Otherwise, we loose the thread by racing to the finish.”

Recomposed, he continued, “Let me share a bit of my method.  First, observe.”

He held out his glass:

Conundrum Red Glass

Dark as crime itself!

“Now, use that prowess of narration that has penned our many exploits with such a worrying focus on the dramatic and not the scientific.”

I searched for words, “It looks a deeply intense crimson, nearly opaque, like an inkwell, excepting a narrow, clear ruby rim.”

“Outstanding, old chap!  That implies dark-skinned grapes, such as Zinfandel or Petite Sirah, commonly grown in California.  From these, intense colors can be extracted.  Clearly, few white grapes were employed.  Now, apply your nose to it.”

I smelled it, “It smells intensely of black fruit compote, like blackberries, blueberries, red cherry sauce, cola, and tomato, followed by aromas of coconut, caramel, vanilla husk, and cigar ash.”

“Quite right!  That intensity derives from ripe fruit and high alcohols only found in grapes from warm climes such as California.  Your many red and black fruits indicate a wide blend.  The blackberries are the Petite Sirah, maybe Cabernet.  The blueberries: Zinfandel again.  The red cherry: Syrah. The cola and tomato: mayhaps an underripe Pinot Noir.

Your spice notes show it saw barrel aging.  The coconut and caramel hint at American oak, while the vanilla husk and cigar ash implicate additional French oak.  Now, you may taste it.  But don’t dwell upon the flavors.  Parcel it into its constituent parts: Sweetness; Acidity; Tannin; Alcohol; Body; Texture.”

I sipped and thought, “It tastes off-dry, moderately acidic, moderately tannic, with notable ethanolic heat, leading to a medium plus full body, and silken texture.  The flavors match the nose.”

“Hah!  Well diagnosed doctor!  Clearly this is Californian in its soft, yet full-some style.   Americans wither at the more tannic wines of Margaux in Bordeaux.  Thus, we can deduce gripping Cabernet and Petite Verdot are not the main grapes.  Its high alcohol and matching body likely come from Zinfandel, Syrah, or Petite Syrah.  Pinot Noir rarely reaches such heights. Merlot may be possible, but not probable, given that you omitted its tell-tale plum notes.”

He picked up the bottle, “This winemaker, Charlie Wagner II: likely American, likely early middle-aged heir to a winery with a predilection for camping and off-roading, has created a complicated but approachable blend of mainly Zinfandel, Syrah, and Petite Verdot, backed by minor amounts of Pinot Noir and a few other grapes.  2011 clearly is only his second attempt at a red.  The residual sugar and use of oak might distract most from this hunt.  It is neither bad, nor great, but solidly good.”

“Astounding Holmes!  You have not even tasted it!  How did you know?”

“When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.  Now, send a return telegram of our findings to this anonymous person’s address.  If I’m correct, they will be most pleased.”

Some weeks afterwards, we received a letter of thanks, again unsigned.  Holmes, noted the hand of a most august lady, but said no more.  We later heard of case shipments to a “B. Palace”.  I fancy that I could guess at that lady’s august name.

Vote today for this submission to the Monthly Wine Writing Challenge theme: Mystery: http://thedrunkencyclist.com/2014/01/14/monthly-wine-writing-challenge-6-mystery-time-to-vote/


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19 Responses to A Study of Scarlet: A Red Wine “Conundrum” #MWWC6

  1. sand110 says:

    Transported to a richer time, where perception and observation was paramount.

  2. Sally says:

    Brilliant. Gripped until the end. Coincidently read straight after watching the latest Cumberbatch episode.

  3. talkavino says:

    Very nice play on the theme! Do you have a confirmation on your grape analysis from the winemaker? : )

    • waywardwine says:

      Thanks! They will never tell, such a branded, trade secret allows them to blend whatever the heck they want and keep costs down.

      • talkavino says:

        Well, I’m sure it will come out. The grapes in the white Conundrum are known (except the exact composition, of course), so I’m sure we will learn about the red at some point.

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  5. lulu says:

    Fun read and creative play on the familiar!

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