Sunday, December 09, 2007

Another Rubbish High Alcohol Wine

“There is much experience and scientific understanding to verify that these wines age poorly.” Clark Smith, Grapecrafter.

I’m currently in Australia, but before I boarded the puddle-jumper from San Diego to LAX, and then QANTAS to Sydney, Miranda asked me to select some wines from the cellar that she could drink in my absence; she didn’t want to fall afoul of cellar theft! I thought that was very considerate of her so I put together a mixed group of mainly reds that will suit her palate and those of any friends that visit. In the course of searching out these wines in what is quickly becoming a very disorganized cellar I found a wine that we had not tasted for quite a while. There were three bottles. We could try one with dinner and the other two would be added to her little stash, after all it was a wine that she had purchased when we toured Napa and Sonoma 4 or 5 years ago. Besides the label said 15.5% alcohol and described the wine, when young, as “a ripe port-like wine”. And as all the experts will tell you these high alcohol wines are just rubbish, and they don’t age anyway.

The wine was to accompany a very tasty beef pie; that would send the evening even further downhill because, as all the pundits cry from the rooftops of their ivory towers, these high alcohol wines just don’t go with food. Before the pie was served I decided to decant the wine which was approaching its 10th birthday. There was not a lot of sediment, but enough to warrant the ceremony. The anti-high alcohol league will call that another waste of effort.

The color of the wine was vibrant, with a mahogany red center that faded to orange/brown at its edge. A few sniffs revealed an enticing and charming bouquet that continued to change during the evening. First caramel sweet toffee, then spices, tobacco, pepper, and licorice. And then Bonox, and then raisins: I just couldn’t keep up!

On the palate the wine was full bodied with excellent carry of flavors and the remaining drying astringency carried through to a lengthy finish that was enhanced by a note of sweet cold tea. Juicy acidity framed the package with a hint of sharpness suggesting that the wine had approached its zenith some time before. But it was still a palate pleaser, well aged, and refreshingly complex. In style it could almost be an aged Shiraz or even a Petite Syrah. Would it go with the beef pie?

I have tasted very few wines that have been so abundantly transformed by food. The markers of age, the slightly drying tannins, and the faintly piquant acidity dissolved and were replaced by a fullness and roundness that grew on the palate; it literally seemed to seduce my mouth. That sweet, spicy bouquet exploded in wave after wave of flavor. The meal became a simple process of eat a mouthful of pie, sip some wine, and then sit back and let the senses enjoy themselves. Rubbish high alcohol wine. Who could possibly enjoy this?

What was the wine? Hop Kiln Russian River Valley Zinfandel (Primitivo Vineyard) 1998. This bottling was the first from a replanted vineyard, but when I visited the winery site online to see if more recent vintages were available I could find none. That should please the anti-high alcohol league.

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