Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Striking Terror in the Heart of the Wine Drinker

Last Wednesday night I opened a bottle of Yangarra Estate Vineyard 2005 McLaren Vale Shiraz. A big, powerful wine, heady stuff, but with an unnerving streak of upfront acidity that cut right through the wine to the finish. On Thursday night that acidity made the wine unapproachable and I discarded it in favor of something more suitable for dinner. The Casa Quemada 2004 Syrah from Spain. Uh, oh. The cork came out with a red streak along its length. Pouring the wine into a glass revealed burnt, pruney, notes and a sharp acidity with a distinct note of oxidation on the palate. OK, I thought, its just a poor cork but Miranda’s comment of “It tastes like vinegar” didn’t help. Let’s open something else. How about a Chateauneuf-Du-Pape? The cork on a bottle of Domaine Pontifical (Francois Laget-Royer) 2003 came out stained red all over and the wine, even with its whiff of barnyard, also carried a dominant acidic flavor that sliced the palate to pieces. Simply not a pleasant drink. This was getting worrying. Two wines with evidence of leaking corks, both overly acidic and a third that developed the same character overnight. All three looked like they had prematurely aged. Has the cooling unit in my cellar failed? Normally its not a concern because I’m in and out of the Vintage Keeper almost daily, but we had been away for a month. Had the unit overheated during that time, shut down but then recovered before we came back? Foil cutter in hand, I went back to the cellar, that question gnawing at my gut. The tops came off four random bottles and all showed no signs of leakage. Feeling only slightly less concerned I wandered off to bed, only to lie there wondering if I shouldn’t go and open a couple more bottles. A little flash of wisdom came to me. If the cooling unit had failed and the cellar had heated then the corks on my bottles of vintage Toro Albala Don PX should have leaked because they are pushed in only three-quarters of their length and held there by string. Back to the cellar. Yes, the wine was along the full length of the cork inside the bottle, but there was no leakage. Maybe I’m OK. Let’s sleep on this and open some more wine tomorrow.

Next day. Crunch time. If this wine is stuffed I’m really going to be pissed-off. Encouragingly, the foil cutter crisply cut the top of the capsule and every turn of the Screwpull brought out more and more of a pristine cork marked only the words Penfolds St Henri 2002. Beautiful, but the faint orange/brown edge wasn’t cheering. A little riper and richer than the normal vintage of St Henri but all is in balance. Its not falling over prematurely, in fact, the depth suggests this will keep until the cooling unit does fail! I’m not going to need the Tums tonight. Even more encouraging was a glass of the Domaine Pontifical. Reaching past the poop and the drying tannins, it was now quite drinkable, the acidity subdued by twenty-four hours under vacuum. It looks like I just had a bad run of a few wines. That’s a relief because we have guests this weekend and I’m planning on opening some nice bottles. Still I wish that gnawing in my stomach would go away!

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