Fear and wine do not seem like two words that should be together. I will grant you that there is a certain amount of braggadocio about my character perhaps from my DNA or my Zone 9 environment from Southwest Detroit. I have been pondering this word and how I should go about writing concerning the latest challenge in the “Monthly Wine Writing Challenge.” The more I thought about it, was that there is a certain amount of “fear” or trepidation when opening a bottle of wine for company for a dinner with family or friends.
Easter morning as the house was in a mild state of anarchy in preparation for everyone coming over to our house for the Easter meal, as well as celebrating all of the April birthdays as is a usual custom here; I went into the cellar to see if I could find a likely candidate for this theme. When one has a decent size cellar, and ours is not immense, but it is ample with about thirteen hundred bottles of wine to select from, there are certain bottles of wine that may get overlooked as they acquire that patina of dust that is indicative of a wine cellar. I found a bottle of wine, that was highly touted at the winery as a great wine for cellaring and at the time, it was probably the most expensive domestic white wine that we had bought. My Bride may not remember every bottle of wine that we have purchased or drank, but there are certain wines that she remembers and sometimes she feels that a wine is too dear to be opened at a given event. This was one of those bottles.
On one of our trips to Carmel, California we had gone and toured and tasted at different wineries as is our custom while on holidays. One of the wineries that we had visited, in fact a couple of times in our trips was Chateau Julien, and we have bought wines each time that we had gone there. We bought a bottle without a taste, as it was part of their library of wines and we were told it was made to be cellared. The bottle was Chateau Julien Private Reserve Chardonnay Sur Lie 1994 and since it arrived in our house, it has rested on a rack waiting for the day, it would be opened. As I was in the cellar looking for a candidate, this one caught my eye and I thought to myself, this will make a good theme story, no matter the outcome.
When we were at the winery, we were told that this particular wine was made like the classic Chardonnay wines of Burgundy, hence the “Sur Lie” indicated on the label. Sur Lie is the French wording meaning on the lees. If one has never seen this, is just means that the lees (skins, seeds, stems etc.) are kept with the juice during the fermentation and they settle to the bottom of the vat and allows deposits of dead yeast to accumulate for a secondary fermentation. Rather then racking the juice into another vat or barrel this mixture is kept together and stir occasionally, this is a filtering method that is found especially with Chardonnay grapes popular in the Burgundy and Champagne region to create a more nuanced wine with more emphasis on a yeast finish, rather then a barrel (oakey) taste. This type of vatting can be anywhere from weeks to twenty-four months depending on the vintner.
The wine bottle was very cool to the hand as I grabbed it, but I though that a little time icing it may be beneficial. I also looked at the bottle and saw that there was very little leakage as the bottle appeared to have a full amount of liquid, which I thought was a good sign. As I went to open the bottle, the cork crumbled which is not a good sign, and even my foil corkscrew was of no use, so I had to decant the bottle as the cork had fallen into the bottle. As I was in the process of decanting the wine, a few people remarked at the golden color of the wine, instead of a very pale straw yellow of most of the Chardonnay wines that we have served over the years. I calmly mentioned to the onlookers that white wines darken as they age and that red wines lighten in color as they age. There were no takers to try this wine, so the duty of being a guinea pig fell into the laps of my Bride and me. There was no foxiness in the nose of the wine, which to me meant that it had not oxidized, which was a good start. I had no idea of what to expect when I tried the first taste, and I can not still describe the taste. There was no butter or cream, there was no crispness either, it was just a very mellow wine, totally agreeable, but I could not identify any trace flavors, which mystified me. It did not taste like any of the great white Burgundy wines that I have had in the past, and it did not taste like any Chardonnay either. My Bride and I got to enjoy this wine during the final preparations for the meal, and I opened up other “safer” bottles of wine for the company that had arrived and that were still coming in through the front door.
So the fear that could have prevailed in a form of angst never got to rear its apparent character and the rest of the day was a fine meal and time with family and friends. All is well until the next time that there may be some fear or trepidation of opening another questionable bottle of wine.