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Seeking value in big-name Bordeaux
Even by the relatively lofty standard of the Wine Advisor Premium Edition, wherein we talk about finding value in the upscale tier of wines that usually retail in the $30 to $50 range, it's not going to be easy to find really excellent Bordeaux from the sought-after 2000 vintage.
But is it even possible? Absolutely, if you play your cards right. We'll offer one workable approach in this week's edition of our subscription-only E-letter, aimed at helping you shop with confidence when you're considering a more pricey bottle for a special occasion. The $24 subscription price - no more than you'd pay for a bottle of exceptionally fine wine - will bring you a full year of biweekly E-mail bulletins. Proceeds go to buy these special wines at retail, and help support WineLoversPage.com too! For a free sample of a previous edition, click here:
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Bad first impressions
You open a bottle of wine, pour a glass, take a sniff and ... peeuueee! Did something curl up and die in there?
Sad to say, even in a world of high technology and industrial quality control, wine is still an agricultural food product; and a wide variety of spoilage organisms, shipping or storage abuse or wine-making flaws can yield unpalatable results in any random bottle.
We've talked about most these glitches before, including the musty, dank stink of cork taint; the Sherrylike nutty quality that comes with oxidation and its chemical opposite, the sulfury stench of reductive wine; the funky organic character of Brettanomyces wild-yeast infection, the high-toned varnish-like scent associated with volatile acidity, and many other bad things that can happen to good wine.
More often than not, that first sniff tells the tale. If your wine is well and truly "corked," no amount of swirling, decanting, stirring, spindling or mutilating is going to make that musty mushroomy scent go away, and you might as well dump the wine or, if you're up to the task and local law allows, recork it to take back to the store for an exchange or refund. The same is true of most oxidized wines, which have only more to lose on additional exposure to the open air.
But an initial bad impression can sometimes be overcome. As I wrote several years ago (April 3, 2000 Wine Advisor), the simple expedient of dropping a clean copper penny into a severely "reduced" wine and giving it a good shake can often clear up the funk within seconds.
Depending on the nature of the flaw, sometimes mere patience does the trick, coaxed along with a little swirling for aeration. This worked for me the other night, when a decent if somewhat modest Right Bank Bordeaux from the much-hyped 2000 vintage poured into the glass with a strong scent of volatile acidity so closely akin to nail-polish remover (or, idiosyncratically, the sharp dusty smell inside my great-grandfather's brass mantel clock) that it pretty much put me off my feed.
As an experiment, though, rather than dumping it I set it aside, returning to it after an hour or so, and found - somewhat to my surprise, frankly - that most of the volatile acidity had fled, leaving behind a fairly straightforward immature Bordeaux, with toasty-roasty flavors and a light touch of "barnyard" over signature Merlot black-cherry fruit.
Moral of the story: If your wine is "corked" or over the hill, you're out of luck. But some common flaws are transient, so if your wine doesn't seem quite right on the first taste, it might be worth the effort to give it a little aeration and a little time.
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Chateau Chatain 2000 Montagne Saint-Emilion ($19.99)
Dark ruby, shaded toward the red end of the spectrum, especially at the edge. Strong, high-toned scents of volatile acidity create a frankly unpleasant first impression, but luckily it blows off after an hour of "breathing" and occasional vigorous swirling, unveiling more typical "roasted" scents of bitter chocolate and black coffee along with a distant whiff of "barnyard," all over a background of dark, plummy black-cherry fruit. Rather light-bodied and tart on the palate, not overly tannic, but there's pleasant, clean and balanced black fruit behind the austere facade. Youthfully awkward, needs a little time. U.S. importer: Robert Kacher Selections, Washington, D.C. (Jan. 23, 2005)
FOOD MATCH: Shows well with braised Creole-style lamb shanks from Chef Joseph Carey's new cookbook, Creole Nouvelle, Contemporary Creole Cookery.
VALUE: Realistically priced for a good 2000 Bordeaux in the current market, with the stipulation that it may not be showing its best right now.
WHEN TO DRINK: This wine's flaws appear to be more those of youth than age. I would hold it for a year or two before trying it again, and it should last for several years under good, cool storage conditions.
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The California Wine Club: Treat Yourself!
Why not start the new year with a gift just for you? Since 1990 The California Wine Club has been introducing wine enthusiasts to California's best "micro-wineries." In fact, The California Wine Club is America's only wine service featuring real, working, smaller, family-owned wineries. Club owners Bruce and Pam Boring hand select every wine featured and every wine is 100 percent guaranteed.
Each month includes two bottles of award-winning wine and informative 12-page magazine, Uncorked. Uncorked offers an up-close and personal look at the family behind the wines, wine luminary interviews, recipes, fun facts and much more. There are no joining fees and you can cancel anytime! Just $32.95/month plus shipping.
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This month, California Wine Club's selection offers a Syrah and a Chardonnay from Sulla Bocca, a relatively new (1998) winery in Sebastapol, Sonoma County, owned by Scottish emigre Stephen Hughes. Both these wines come from Mount Oso, a little-known but promising wine region at the northern end of the agricultural San Joaquin Valley, not far east of the San Francisco Bay area. Although San Joaquin is best known for the hot, productive farmlands further south (and modest "jug wines"), Mount Oso's Altamont Canyon location boasts cooling marine breezes that foster quality wine grapes. Here's my report on the Syrah.
Sulla Bocca 2002 California Syrah ($16)
This is a very dark, reddish-purple wine with good Syrah aromas of plummy black-cherry fruit and fragrant pepper. Full-bodied flavors are ripe and tart, clean fruit nicely shaped by bracing acidity, with just a hint of fuzzy tannins to add texture. Not overly complex at this point, but good fruit, structure and balance make it a first-rate food wine and benchmark varietal Syrah. (Jan. 21, 2005)
FOOD MATCH: Couldn't ask with a better match with Creole-style braised lamb shanks.
VALUE: Justifies its mid-teens winery price with Syrah quality at a level that commands higher prices from more sought-after regions. California Wine Club members may "reorder" additional bottles at $10.50 each, at which price it's a no-brainer.
WHEN TO DRINK: Fine now, but I would have no qualms about cellaring it for several years and perhaps expecting increased complexity by the end of the decade.
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There's limited availability on Wine-Searcher.com at
This week on WineLoversPage.com
Here are links to some of our recently published articles that I think you'll enjoy:
Randy's World of Wine: The Taste of Brett in wine
Wine Lovers' Discussion Group: How long to keep a decent Beaujolais
Last Week's Wine Advisor Index
The Wine Advisor's daily edition is usually distributed on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays (and, for those who subscribe, the FoodLetter on Thursdays). Here's the index to last week's columns:
Change of pace (Jan. 21, 2004)
Wine from the villages (Jan. 19, 2004)
Memories are made of this (Jan. 17, 2004)
Complete 30 Second Wine Advisor archive:
Wine Advisor FoodLetter: Pita bread (Jan. 20, 2004)
Wine Advisor Foodletter archive:
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Monday, Jan. 24, 2005