This article was published in The 30 Second Wine Advisor on Monday, Apr. 16, 2007 and can be found at http://www.wineloverspage.com/wineadvisor2/tswa20070416.php.
I'm not nearly as open-minded about sauerkraut aromas in my wine, a relatively rare fault that afflicted a modest white Burgundy we opened with dinner the other night.
Initially the wine, a 2005 Macon-Villages, seemed pretty typical of its genre: Appley and crisp, with a texture on the light side of medium-bodied and simple apple and yeast aromas and flavors. But what began as a subtle creamy dairy scent on the nose soon descended into something less appealing, taking on a distinct sauerkraut character as the wine warmed in the glass. The bottle and our unfinished glasses soon found their way to the kitchen for disposal.
What went wrong here? This wine suffered from an excess of malolactic fermentation, a common process that modern producers use in making most red wines and a fair share of whites, particularly Chardonnays.
Malolactic fermentation (sometimes abbreviated as "MLF" or "malo") can be beneficial or at least benign. Introducing lactobaccilus bacteria into the wine converts its naturally occurring malic acid, which often shows a tart, tangy green-apple flavor, to the softer and more mellow lactic acid, imparting a smooth roundness to the finished wine.
But lactic acid, also known as milk acid, can impart a distinct dairy character to food and drink, and the malolactic process spins off chemical components that can have even more strange effects. Diacetyl, for instance, brings the strong "buttery" flavor to Chardonnay that some love and others despise.
And, circling around to the point, lactobacillus bacteria are also the key player in the fermentation process that turns fresh cucumbers into pickles and fresh cabbage into sauerkraut. It's not surprising, then, that excessive malolactic can add pickle or sauerkraut aromas that most of us would find attractive on a Reuben but less so in our glass.
In the case of today's featured wine, I'd call the sauerkraut quality a flaw that diminshed my enjoyment but didn't render the wine undrinkable. And in fairness, previous vintages of this wine haven't shown the flaw, suggesting that it's a one-time or even a random event. But it was certainly attention-getting.
Verget 2005 Macon-Villages ($14.99)
This is a clear, pale straw color wine. Appley and slightly lactic, it shows elusive hints of dairy at first that segue into fresh sauerkraut, subtle at first but increasingly intrusive as the wine warms in the glass. Cooking apples and tangy acidity on the palate, suggesting that it must have been searing in its acidity before malolactic; sadly, the sauerkraut character and sharp acidity make it a little difficult to like. U.S. importer: Vintner Select, Mason, Ohio. (April 13, 2007)
FOOD MATCH: Better with food than on its own, its acidity cuts nicely through the rich flavors of alder-smoked salmon in a goat-cheese cream over hot, silver-dollar corn cakes.
VALUE: The lactic flaw makes this one an iffy buy, but don't turn down the 2004, which I reviewed more positively last year and may still be in the market.
WHEN TO DRINK: This simple, low-end white Burgundy isn't really meant for keeping, but a year or two should do it no harm, and it might be worth putting a bottle or two aside to see if its odd flavors come together better with time.
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The Connoisseurs' Series: Two excellent California reds
One of the small but significant pleasures of our association with California Wine Club's limited-membership Connoisseurs' Series offerings is that I get to taste a couple of really high-quality California wines every month. Connoisseurs' Guide publisher Charlie Olken and California Wine Club's Bruce Boring sort through the highest-rated California wines every month and winnow out a carefully chosen selection of excellent, balanced wines.
Connoisseurs' Series membership is necessarily limited by the tiny production of these great wines, so it's a rare privilege that 30 Second Wine Advisor readers are now eligible to sign on. Connoisseurs' Series members may subscribe for monthly, alternate month or quarterly packages. Each shipment includes two to four bottles of California's top wines, with detailed background information. Monthly shipments average $125-$175, including all shipping and handling. There's no membership charge, no long-term commitment (cancel any time), and every wine is guaranteed.
Visit http://www.cawineclub.com/connseries or call The California Wine Club at 1-800-777-4443 to learn more about The Connoisseur's Series. Feel free to tell them that I sent you ... and, if you join, please don't hesitate to contact me by E-mail and tell me what you think.
Clark-Claudon Vineyard 2003 Napa Valley "Ten Year Anniversary" Cabernet Sauvignon ($74 retail, $68 per bottle for half or full case orders by Connoisseurs' Series members)
This mountain-grown Cabernet from eastern Napa near Howell Mountain shows an inky purple color, almost black in the glass, with scarlet glints against the light. Blackcurrant cassis and a whiff of tarragon express classic Napa character. Juicy yet elegant fruit flavors add subtle back notes of anise and well-integrated oak against a background of mouth-watering acidity and firm tannins; a whiff of dark chocolate in the finish. Excellent now, especially served with rare beef to "wipe" the tannins, but it's really worth keeping, showing tremendous potential for evolution with cellar time. Two thousand cases were made. (April 14, 2007)
Roessler Vineyards 2003 "Savoy" Anderson Valley Pinot Noir ($42 retail, $37 per bottle for half or full case orders by Connoisseurs' Series members)
I'm generally attracted to wines made by restaurant owners and chefs, figuring they'll excel at producing food-friendly wines; and restaurateur-winemaker Roger Roessler is no exception. This is a dark ruby-color wine with a clear edge. Red and black cherries highlight the aroma, fresh and true. Mouth-filling and textured on the palate, ripe fruit is structured by crisp acidity and soft tannins. Balance and structure suggest good cellaring potential over the next five years, but it's so appealing and food-friendly now that it's hard to keep hands off. Brilliant with medium-rare, pepper-crusted local grass-fed rib eye. Only 608 cases were made. Winery Website: http://www.roesslercellars.com (April 14, 2007)
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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:
Exploring Burgundy - Vintage 2005 (Apr. 13, 2006)
Wine Focus: Chianti and Tuscany (Apr. 11, 2006)
Easter Bunny (Apr. 9, 2006)
Complete 30 Second Wine Advisor archive:
Wine Advisor FoodLetter: Scrambled eggs (Apr. 12, 2006)
Wine Advisor Foodletter archive: