30 Second Wine Advisor: Older or better?

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Older or better?

Here's one of the many things about wine that distinguishes it from milk, iced tea or Coca-Cola: It changes with time in the bottle in strange and mysterious ways.

You can assume that most beverages have a brief shelf life before they turn rancid or sour. With wine, not so much.

Now, this is not to say that all wines improve with age. Most of the world's wines are meant to be drunk up right now, or within a reasonable time after you bring them home from the store.

(Only a smallish niche of mostly top-tier wines benefit significantly from aging; and if you're into that sort of thing, it's important to know the difference. Want a quick reference guide? Hugh Johnson's annual Pocket Wine Book packs a remarkable amount of information into a portable space.)

But even modest table wines will generally keep for a year or several, and within reason, you don't absolutely have to have a temperature-controlled wine cellar to watch them grow.

I recently returned for a re-taste of a French Chardonnay that I first tried about a year ago, and I found it had gained some refinement with time in the bottle.

Domaine Lafage 2008 Novellum "N" Chardonnay is a Vin de Pays that hails from the Côtes Catalanes, the hilly vine country where the Pyrenees meet the sea and France meets Spain.

It sees just a little oak, and, oddly, spends a bit of time on the lees of Viognier before bottling and early release. This wacky procedure yielded a wine that, initially, was just about overwhelming in its frooty, floral character. In August 2009 I described as "odd but slurpy," so fruity it almost seemed sweet.

Tasted again recently, it had turned the contrast and brightness down to normal. Still fruit-based, it's now more subtle, with a fully dry impression on the palate and tangy snap of lemon in the finish. You'll find my tasting report below.

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California Wine Club

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Today's Tasting Report

Domaine Lafage 2008 Novellum "N" Chardonnay Vin de Pays des Côtes Catalanes ($12.99)


This transparent, bright straw-color wine offers subtle scents of cooking apples and tropical fruit, pineapple and dates. It hits your palate with mouth-filling, appley fruit shaped up by tart, zippy acidity, finishing with a palate-cleansing squirt of juicy lemon. Drink up soon; I suspect another year or so in the bottle will see it start to fade. U.S. importer: European Cellars LLC, Charlotte, N.C., an Eric Solomon selection. (May 21, 2010)

FOOD MATCH: A natural match with chicken in a cream sauce, pork or veal, swordfish or tuna. It was fine with swordfish cubed and sauteed with onions, garlic, capers, parsley and lemon over rigatoni.

VALUE: Good value, although our local price is near the high end of the range. You may be able to find it under $10 in many markets, at which point it's an exceptional bargain.

WEB LINK: The importer offers a short introduction to the producer, Domaine Lafage, at this link.

Find vendors and compare prices for Novellum Côtes Catalanes Chardonnay on Wine-Searcher.com.

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