Wine: November 2005 Archives

Found a 1999 Mourvèdre in the cellar the other night, a bottle I had completely forgotten about. I must have picked it up during a swing through Paso Robles, because it was from a Ken Volk second label, one used for Rhône-style wines before he sold his Wild Horse Winery. When I see varietal Mourvèdre –meaning a bottle of wine with that grape on the label, meaning it’s at least 75% Mourvèdre – I buy it. Doesn’t matter who made it, or when, or where.

And you thought I was really selective, right?

Well, this habit of mine really is an example of high selectivity. Years ago, in the first wine class I ever took, the instructor poured a Mourvedre during a session on California Rhones. He didn’t know the wine himself, because he had picked it up in a shop on the way to class. I remember the look on his face as he took a quick sip himself while the wine was being poured for the students in the room. His eyebrows went up. When the pourers got to me, I asked for a little extra.

That wine was Ancient Vine Mourvèdre from Cline Cellars, and I went out and bought some the next day. Started buying Mourvedre whenever I saw it. Still do. The reason? That grape just happens to fit my palate perfectly.

You might say the grape selected me, because when I discovered that I liked it I had very little knowledge of French or Californian wine. In other words, I didn’t decide that I liked it for any particular reason, because I didn’t know what the reasons were for liking wine. I just… liked it.

Today I have more knowledge, but it doesn’t change what my palate wants. I know that Mourvèdre’s long ripening cycle means it’s can’t become a super-ripe fruit bomb, its acid structure means it’s always going to have some grip in the texture, and its berry size means it’s going to have pretty good color. Turns out I like these things in all red wine. Mourvèdre just happens to have them in spades.

In fact I still have that empty Equus bottle on my desk as a reminder. Because the holidays are approaching and I now see that I can give my family and friends a very short, bullet-proof wish list. Doesn’t matter who made it, or when, or where. Just give me a bottle of Mourvèdre.

- Thom Elkjer
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Rockin' Dessert

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I love dessert wines, and not because I was a Kool-Aid junkie as a kid. I love them because of how they subvert a lot of the conventions of wine in general.

I got a fresh hit of this the other night at a dinner a buddy of mine threw to celebrate buying a cellar from a guy in Germany who had a couple of strokes and had to stop drinking. This gentleman, Ludwig Balz, had spent 40 years collecting dessert Rieslings called “Trockenbeerenauslese” (which means, roughly speaking, “hand-selected, late-harvested berries dessicated to almost pure sugar by bunch rot”). Now the whole collection’s in San Francisco at Dee Vine Wines on Pier 19.

So let’s consider how these wines, known as “TBAs” for short, knock down stereotypes.

Riesling is pretty pale in color, right? Well, the TBAs we had at dinner the other night were not pale. They were not even close to white. They were gold-, caramel-, and Coca-cola-colored.

Wine is supposed to smell like fruit, right? These wines smelled of dried dill, fabric softener, marshmallows and motor oil. I mean they smelled divinely of these things, along with apricots, roasted chestnuts and caramelized walnuts.

You know how Riesling is generally pretty thin stuff? These flowed like maple syrup.

Dessert wines get drunk after a meal, right? We drank these TBAs as perfect complements to some cheese, a fois gras appetizer, and a main course of fancy chicken and potatoes. (Okay, we had some with dessert, too. But you get the point.)

Best of all, there is no way on earth to make wines like these to order, the way so many wineries in so many countries are making Syrah and Merlot and Chardonnay to a chemically calibrated standard, like beer, so they can ship it 10,000 miles and sell it at Safeway.

You make one of these babies, you are sending a ship out on the ocean that will make landfall in some other dimension of time and space as a completely different creature. No one can predict what it will be at that moment. I can only salute Herr Balz and my pal Dade for bringing a whole flotilla of these miracles into a harbor near me.

- Thom Elkjer
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