Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Ok, short but sweet. We're finally breaking into the 2000 Beaucastel (no, not the Châteauneuf) Coudelet (Côtes-du-Rhône). I so did not want to start drinking this stuff too early. I know I'm totally out of step in this regard. Everyone today drinks wine at an obscenely young age and most of them (wines), sadly, are now meant to be consumed just that way. But really young wines still give me a headache and a nasty hangover so I'm still aging 'em.

And this one has come around nicely, assuming, well, that you like wines with a little age on them. It's a baby Beaucastel, with equal parts of Mourvèdre and Grenache dominating but with a larger dose of Syrah and Cinsault just behind. And just the slightest hint of Brett. Mourvèdre just takes longer than most other grapes to come around and Beaucastel has more of it than most other Châteauneufs. So patience is a virtue. At least in this case.

And the 2000 Beaucastel Châteauneufs? I'm not touching in the foreseeable future.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Ok, I've been punished. But, honestly, the reason I haven't posted in the past several months has been that I haven't been able to figure out how to get here. Or there, actually.

Welcome to the new incarnation of OnWine. Hopefully, I will keep more careful track of my access codes to this place. Google refuses to believe that I'm me and won't let me into the original site, so I guess it's just going to rot there for a while. In the meantime, since I've invested the time to recreate it here, maybe I'll have an incentive to post more often.

To be continued...

Monday, April 30, 2007

A few dozen words about cork taint. The nemesis of wine lovers everywhere. A ubiquitous yet sometimes hard-to-identify flaw that occurs all to often in our most beloved bottles and that is usually -- but not always -- caused by that infernal stopper that we've invested so much (time, money, effort and muscle) in getting out: to wit, the cork.

Most wine geeks now know all too well that cork taint, a/k/a corkedness, a/k/a TCA, a/k/a 2-4-6 trichloranisole, a chemical compound that originates in materials used to clean and sterilize corks and other wood products commonly found in wineries, ruins far too many of our favorite wines. Most of us also know that it manifests as a smell and/or taste of damp cardboard or paper or wet cement, a moldy basement sort of aroma, completely unappetizing, that generally strips the wine of its flavor components and renders it vitually tasteless or worse. And many of us also know that sensitive tasters can detect the taint's presence in as few as three or four parts per trillion, sometimes less, which goes to show how powerful this compound is. As I'm overly sensitive to chlorine in all of its manifestations, I appear to be one of the 'lucky' few who can detect TCA in ultra-minute quantities, which translates as many ruined bottles.

And as tonight was one of those 'lucky' nights when we opened an old, special bottle that was just tainted enough to allow of some doubt, I thought I'd share a few things that aren't always mentioned in discussions of TCA. One of those things is that it's exaccerbated by exposure to air. So even a bottle that seems almost ok when you take your first sip will become less and less attractive with each pour and, with any time at all in the glass, will deteriorate as it sits. A strange phenomenon I've experienced with many corked wines is that upon removal of the cork, there's an immediate impression of a fabulously concentrated nose, often redolent of chocolate and lush fruit, that lasts about ten seconds and then disappears. It's almost as if the flavors that the taint has extracted from the wine are hovering under the cork and flee as it's removed. At any rate, this only adds to the frustration to come.

All too often, we're tempted to resist the notion that a precious bottle is tainted, so in spite of the warning signs, we pour it and start to drink it anyway. And sometimes, the alarm was false and everything turns out fine. When it doesn't, there are other signs to watch for. For me and several other people I know, TCA manifests itself as a tingling sensation on the tongue. And this is an element of cork taint that I don't think is given enough exposure. The tingling sensation is evidence of a very real effect that TCA has on the taste buds. Because not only does it strip the wine itself of its flavor and complexity, it also tends to temporarily deaden the palate when consumed, which means that anything you eat after sipping the wine is likely to appear relatively tasteless as well. We had a delicious ostrich tenderloin for dinner tonight, but it tasted bland and dull. It wasn't until we had dumped the bad wine, thoroughly washed our glasses, poured something else and consumed a bit of the clean wine that we were able to appreciate the dinner. And that's another important thing to remember. TCA contaminates at such minute levels that it will taint any wine that you subsequently pour into the same glass unless you wash it very well after the dump. A quick rinse won't do the trick, and if you use a towel to dry a glass that's still contaminated, you may well transfer a bit of the taint to the towel and thus back to other glasses that you dry with it. Sounds crazy, I know. But it's not.

So pay attention to those warning signs, and remember that they may not always be apparent at the first pour. Subjectively, I find that drinking corked wine (out of sheer denial, usually, until I can't deny it any more) tends to give me a headache, but that could be purely the power of suggestion. The good news is that many (although not all) wine merchants will take back corked bottles, especially if they know you and have faith that you're not just bringing it back because you didn't like it. So as soon as you suspect a problem, it's a good idea to stopper the bottle and open something else. Try a little sip again the next day. If it's ok, it was likely just some stuff that needed to blow off. If it's even worse, stopper it back up and take it back.

Finally, while I've become a big fan of screw caps due to being, er, screwed by far too many corked wines, I realize that it's not a perfect solution. Stelvin closures appear to be pretty good, but they have yet to be tested over the really long term. More important, there are sources of cork taint in wineries that are unrelated to the cork. Several wineries in recent years have had to virtually recall entire vintages due to the discovery of TCA in their bottling facilities, usually generated through chlorine cleaning compounds interacting with wooden structures at the winery. The good news there is that (if you follow wine news) you're more likely to hear about it before you go to drink the bottle (if the bottle even makes it to market), and in those instances there should be no problem with returns. The bad news is that, even with a screw cap, the threat isn't totally eliminated.

Yeah, that was more than a few dozen words. So sue me.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Oh, my! Now I'm ordinarily an instant gratification sort of person. But the thing is, I don't much care for headaches or hangovers and young tannic red wines tend to give me both. Which is why I generally just stick (red) stuff in the cellar for a decade or so before even trying it. And so it was when I came across a few bottles of 1994 La Jota Howell Mountain Cabernet Franc several years ago. I stuck it in a rack and forgot about it. Until tonight.

Tonight we were having a grilled eland chop for dinner (eland is an African antilope and if you want to know more about it, just plug it into your search engine or, ok, here's a link). Anyway, I was looking for something that was dramatic but soft enough to go with this very elegant meat. And for some reason I thought of a Chinon or a Bourgeuil from the Loire Valley. Unfortunately, I'm fresh out of those (big mistake) but there was the La Jota sitting quietly in its rack, waiting. Why not?

I don't pretend to know a lot about Cab Franc. I just don't get many opportunities to drink it in its pure state. I understand it's supposed to have violets on the nose. Well, violets on the nose is one of my favorite things and this didn't have it, at least not at first, but what it did have was a wonderful seductive nose and palate that suggested exotic forests and nuts and berries and earth. And in the background, yes, forest flowers. It was a great match for the eland, bringing out the most primitive yet positive of its gamey notes and hinting at highlights of the diet the animal might have consumed. For a vegetarian, that probably sounds pretty gross. For a game meat lover, it's kind of the essence of what we seek in a meal.

This wine was just delightful if you like them a bit earthy. It had a huge, rich but subtle mouthfeel and, surprisingly, it threw almost no sediment and was delicious down to the last drop. And, yes, toward the bottom I did start to think of violets. I don't have a lot of these and I frankly don't know which direction they're headed in right now, but I doubt I've got the willpower to resist my last few bottles very long.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

So this blog has a new look. Hey, there are still some kinks to get out, but it's way overdue.

As long as I'm here, I might as well mention that we popped a 1995 Sauselito Canyon Zinfandel with a few braised beef short ribs tonight. This is a wine that I went nuts over when I tasted it on release at the Talley Vineyards tasting room, but the case I ordered when I got home never quite hit the mark. I've got one left. Not bad but nothing special. And I doubt that there's anyone else on the planet that still has any sitting around.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

So get this. Last night I find a bottle of 1990 Chateau Souverain Zinfandel in the rack. That's got to be bad, I think. Why ever did I hang on to it so long? No way will it be drinkable. Right?

Wrong. While I won't say it was the best bottle of zin I've ever had, it had an amazing amount of fairly fresh fruit and was still an incredibly vibrant shade of red for a sixteen year old $5.99 wine that's, you know, not supposed to age. Pretty darn good.

Worth coming out of retirement to mention. Oh, and there's still a 1990 Ridge Howell Mountain sitting in the same bin. I'll get back to you on that one.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

So much for promises...

Anyway, to pick up where I left off, who was it again that said Zins don't age? We were back to 1991 Lytton Springs last night, this time the Ridge label. I didn't take notes. I was just too busy enjoying. This one was still big and ripe with plenty of that deliciously mellow dark fruit that really good old Zins get, but plenty of backbone that just begged to accompany something hot off the grill. Not a bitter note in the bottle.

Will the wines they're making these days will get this way. Will I live long enough to find out? Stay tuned (if you still are).