Sunday, August 10, 2008

Wine 14

"Memories. Sweetened through the ages just like wine."
Let me tell you, this lyric was probably written by someone who hadn't had a lot of old wine, and certainly was intended for an audience who hadn't.
As wine ages, sugars are still being converted just like they were when the yeasts were at their peak. Wines become different over time, but they famously do not sweeten. Not that that's all bad.
Today's selection was, in fact, my wedding wine, but two vintages later. This wine is not very old, for which I would apologize, but I needed two weeks of ringers after lucky 13 set me on hiatus. In my defense, two years is still twice as long as a Muscat generally ought to age in your cellar, really.
It was a beautiful ceremony.
A friend of my family, one who shares a surname with a former Most Famous English Writer of All Time, performed the ceremony. He wore a priest's dog collar with a tiny little longbow strung through it, because he loves puns. This alone would have made him the right choice, and it wasn't even his best qualification.
He was ordained through the Internet, through the authority of which august body we were joined before Friend and Family alike, and felt nervous about being the officiant of our wedding. He has an overarching sense of the appropriate, which also made him a fine choice.
When the ceremony was over, he and his wife and children partook of cake, then snuck away before the party began in earnest. He understood that the minster must maintain dignity, even if he questions it himself, a point upon which I agree, even if he doesn't. He might just have felt uncomfortable in the role of priest. I couldn't really say.
We had cake and we had wine.
My bride and I picked the wine based upon a previous exposure to it. We stayed at a B&B in Stonewall at which the proprietor stringently suggested that we partake, and as we stumbled back to the room we resolved to visit the source of this ambrosia. We did so, driving most of an afternoon there and back, and were immediately impressed. Sister Creek is a no-nonsense group and they produce a uniformly high-quality product.
Their muscat is slightly carbonated, a quality which increases as the wine ages, and this year took on a wonderfully viscous mouth feel. The flavor was undimmed, but had taken on strong notes of the peaches for which the area around Sisterdale is famous, and the sugars had softened as the carbonation strengthened. This wine, once a crisp allegro, has mellowed to a quiet nocturne, and gained a contemplative side which is so wonderfully expressed by muscat at its peak.
Like our wedding, I wouldn't say that this wine has sweetened through time, but it has become more interesting, and isn't that more important that sweetness, in the end?
OK, maybe I shouldn't be so mean to Bill Strange and Scott Davis, but they did, in fact, get this detail wrong. I know, poetic license and all that. It's an intro. It got you into and out of thinking about the wine. What do you want from me?

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Wine 13

I've made a couple of stabs at bottling. Stabs, we all know, produce blood and sadness.
This is one of my first, and wasn't a terrible attempt. The grapes grew at my house. I would take the credit for them, but the previous tenants seem to have planted them. I participated in the watering of them. My then-girlfriend and I fought off rats and sparrows, overcame drought and apathy, and more allowed than caused the grapes to grow. The vine grew up over the gate in our fence, a six-foot affair built in two levels as are so many around the neighborhood. This design, while being difficult to maintain, is the perfect place for local fauna to take up residence. For us, this included a large nest of rats and a couple of possums. I'll spare you the unfriendly details, except to say that we allowed the grapes to reach maturity in spite of their probable tastiness and Nature's love of tasty things.
Mustang grapes are a local varietal that grows more or less wild around here, but that is well-suited to the dry heat we get, as well as resistant to the mold which reproduces rampantly and grotesquely, performing unspeakable acts in full view of women and children. This makes the real trick to winemaking in this area killing the native growth.
We squeezed the grapes not 100 yards from the vine where they grew. I wish I could tell you that we stomped them while wearing festive and amusing costume in the style of the Italian peasantry, but we squeezed them cruelly by hand, holding them over a sieve and trying to keep out the stems and seeds.
As soon as the vines bore tiny, green pips, we began drinking apple juice. We picked a brand which came in thick glass jars with a gallon capacity, and drank the juice mechanically. From the very juicy grapes, we produced just over three half gallons of raw liquid, and began to ferment them with Champagne yeast. Over the course of weeks, the wine burbled and grew, and slowly became other than its initial stuff.
It became several bottles of wine. I made labels declaring the wine "Not Genuine With This Signature!" and we made up labels.
This bottle was the last one, pulled from the end of the tanks and having either loads of character or none at all.
And it has corked badly. Something truly unpleasant has happened to this poor grape juice, and I can't even bring myself to drink it. I have a second bottle which I will attempt at a later date.
While cleaning out some boxes in the garage, we found some bottles of "Flying Lemonade," a soft beverage bottled by my wife and me. Although I am a brave man, this is a raw beverage, bottled with the intent that it be consumed quickly. It was made with local lemons (which we cannot claim to have produced) and pure sugar. We brewed it with water from a spring from which flows the purest, tastiest water in North America.
I didn't even pull the cork on that one.
What does all this mean? I hope you will take from it that I really do appreciate the work which vintners put into winemaking. We labored for scant weeks. I've stabbed a couple of times at producing bottled beverages, and although not unsuccessful, the output has been paltry and the product amateurish. To make a uniform product over such a huge run must be difficult indeed.
I hope I'm not writing this to poke fun at any sort of wine maker. My goal, I really hope, is penance. I have done wrong to so many of these wines, and I hope to excise the skeletons by savoring the results.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Wine 12

Breakfast is the best time for sagacity. Something about a little bone-colored mug of bottomless coffee and the promise of eggs and toast can bring out the best in a person. Maybe it's the sudden realization that you get to be alive for another day, and the symbolism of eating representing that on a very deep, visceral level. Maybe it's the emergence from sleep and the way that the magical reality can flavor a pancake. Maybe it's just that I surround myself with really smart people all the time.
I think that the greatest sages of the twentieth century will go largely unrecognized. Whereas Ginsberg and Chomsky, the Dalai Llama and the Pope, people will remember if only because they wrote down what they thought, some of the wisest people of the century chose not to write. Does that make them necessarily unwise? Of course not. It makes them exempt from recognition.
If the wise spent more time writing and less time living, they would be recognized by future generations, but they would also be less wise. Every word slapped onto paper, one of them said to me once, is an iota of smart you've lost. What he failed to realize, I think, is that writing is an essentially additive act, and that every word you write down is one you don't have to remember as hard next time.
On the other hand, I'm writing. In doing so, I'm demanding, although I hope not too loudly, recognition for my little piece of clever. Does that make me a bad person?
There's a question which has been a plague to thinkers for almost as long as there have been two thinkers.
“Well,” thinks the one who wishes he'd thought of that, “he's only doing it for the women. If I just wanted to be popular, I could think stuff like that, too. I'm doing this for nobler reasons, so I can live with the abject disapproval of my fellows. At least I'm not a bad person for wanting other people to think I'm smart.”
Meanwhile, the other thinker is thinking, “Wow! Women! This wins!”
I can't promise you which kind I am. I know that if I'm the first kind, I wish I were the second. If I am the second, I'm pretty awful at it, but I'm having a great time.
What does this have to do with a Cabernet Sauvignon?
Not a damn thing. This wine was bad. It tasted strongly of Cedar and Mold, the finish was all tannin, and the nose was fresh plastic and banana ester. Yuck. I'd rather think about thinking than think about this wine. It got spoiled through mistreatment. I ruined it. It's my fault.
Does that make me a bad person, or does being a bad person make me ruin wine?
Ponder on that. We'll grab breakfast some time and talk it over.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Wine 11

As a great sage once told me over breakfast, one must keep moving or drown, so here I present the fruits of my latest dive into the shadowy depths of my wine cellar.
There are Rieslings which age well and there are Rieslings which turn suddenly and violently into bottles of pure, yellow evil. This one, through the vintners' skill or luck, was the former.
As pleasant as it was when fresh, the 1999 Dr L was a really wonderful surprise nine years later. I'm pretty sure I bought this one at a local supermarket chain, and I'm equally sure I paid fewer than ten dollars for it. I believe it was purchased in a crowd, with several bottles of the same vintage and probably something less respectable. For the moment, pretend it was not Blue Nun, so that I may retain whatever vestiges of credit I pretend to.
Like so many of the wines pulled bodily from my cellar, this one has become sour. It has, however, retained the flavors of oak and still, miraculously, grape. One seldom hears of a wine that tastes like grape, but this one is distinct and tasty. The Alcohol has not become overpowering, and the wine has taken on a viscous mouth feel characteristic of well-aged Riesling. I found the finish to be very crisp and pleasant, and the overall experience to be positive.
A winner! Or, from another point of view, one which fails to be unpleasant (and is therefore a loser)!
Next week: Horror!

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Wine 10

Sadly, I must say again, Ugh. This is another bad wine. I was, however, thrilled to discover that it is so for an entirely different reason. My first thought on its nose was honey, although D---, of my brave tasting crew, quickly identified the taste as Marsala. This wine has maintained plenty of character, and perhaps accrued extra in an attempt to make up for its sad, diminished neighbors. This is a thick, syrupy wine, with a heavy nose and plenty of fruit to go around.
It is a case, though, in which the fruit has mingled and combined into a robust and overbearing mix, not unlike a compost pile. I wouldn't compare this wine to a compost pile, of course, nor wine in general, although that is pretty apt, but that is rather the method I choose to describe the intermingling of flavors of this powerful red.
In another twist making this a peculiarity, the aroma of the wine carries over strongly into the flavor. This is, though, a very dry wine, and the tannins kick through everything eventually, overwhelming the entirety of the fruit and leaving only a mildly unpleasant tingle in the mouth as if one has just committed a tactical error which one is in imminent danger of expelling.
The company was good, though, and we enjoyed this wine floating in a swimming pool, hot and nearly exhausted after a long day of wasting time. We looked very hard at racing motorcycles. We ventured onto the World Wide Web via a crawly browser through a dial-up connection. We pondered the meaning of life even as we played a game of Marco Polo in the pool in which we now soaked. We drove little cars around very fast at sunset. A good time, I hope I am being clear, was had by all.
We wrapped up the day by sitting on a porch, looking out over pineapples and pine trees and strumming a banjo, singing mournful songs about java beans and the blissfully mercurial quality of love and loss.
Now I'm headed off tired to bed, ready for another long day performing my particularly important task within society, that of the tourist. All the best, and don't be shy: if a wine has turned to garbage, you needn't feel a pang about dumping it. Sometimes, down the drain is the place for a wine.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Wine 9

As I have suggested previously, although never in print and never on this journal, I am en vacant at the moment, but my excursions into my cellar have churned up a worthy subject, one which I brought with me despite the inherent dangers.
Danger? you say. Well, naturally there are dangers in attempting to bring any sort of creature comfort away from home and bring it with you, and wine is sort of the worst-case scenario. When one's particular oenological obsession involves those of extreme age, one must be doubly careful.
I feel I owe it to this journal to make every effort to keep the wines as palatable as possible. If a wine is ruined by heat, what does that prove? The only interesting outcome of proper excavation within a cellar is for the wine to have become something entirely else, whether thought good or bad, on its own merits. It is a matter of seconds for wine to be ruined in an uncontrolled climate. Please keep this in mind as you travel this summer. If you bring your wine with you, it might be ruined. Buy local wines wherever you go. It's probably Greener, too, or something. Sorry, I'll back off my vague soapbox now and move on to the subject at hand.
As I have doubtless mentioned here, Rieslings are not to be kept. They do not survive well and they are one of the wines which will almost never gain anything of value over the course of time. This wine has proved that it is part of the larger crowd. As per my usual, I do not mean to cast aspersions on the wine itself and I do not doubt that, had it been used as the manufacturer intended, it would have produced a perfectly satisfactory culinary experience. As it stands, this has become a terrible wine.
The nose still has hints of fruit, and although the pineapple which is often cried as being present and delicious in such wines is certainly not actually detectable, my first reaction (and that of four of the six tasters at this event) was the distinct note of fresh paint. I have heard that some experts and particularians can refer to this as a lacquer note, but I, having applied both substances to several surfaces, can attest to this wine having developed the former, if it ever was home to the latter.
I thought I detected an apricot or other actual fruit overtone, but general consensus was that this was more imagination than sensitivity. The nose smelled of artificially flavored pineapple-named candy or gum, but not of the actual fruit. As the site of this tasting was some hundred feet from several actual pineapple plants, we had a point of reference and knew from which we spoke.
Upon actually putting this wine in my mouth, I suddenly joined the minority third who did not make a disgusted face. As seems so often the case with these over-aged wines, the flavor was unimpressively thin and lacked any form of nuance.
However, in the first moment of tasting, before the entirety of the wine had been exposed to air and my tongue had rejected the substance as best ignored, I am sure I tasted real, actual pineapple, sweet and juicy. The sensation was impressively short-lived and died away into sour blandness almost instantly.
This Riesling was a bit of a stinker, I admit. Wines of this character are the reason I started this journal, mostly by way of warning, to be quite honest. Better wines, though, I remain confident, are yet to come.
From Vacationland, I wish you best of luck with your wines, and don't forget to throw out your old Rieslings. Don't even cook with them. I'm quite serious.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Wine 8

This week, a real treat. This was a pretty typically light and fruity Mosel Valley Spätlese Riesling, twenty-odd years ago. Now, it's taken on a very serious character, and the overt fruity tones typical of that region have softened. The wine carries the slate soil of the region on its earthy nose. There is a hint of something curious on the wine, almost the smell of algae and old books. The fruit, although muted, is still present, and has picked up apricot and, very distinctly, celery.
This Riesling, sweet and late-harvested, has taken a sour overtone which is not at all unpleasant. It tastes immediately of Granny-Smith apples, tangy and crisp, and softens to a smoky, oily finish that has, unfortunately, begun to cork a little. The flavor resolves to a gentle tobacco flavor, and lingers quietly at the back of the nose. This is the rare white that seems able to stand up to twenty-five years in a cellar.
I'm pretty sure I haven't been treating this wine as well as it deserves. I think it would benefit from spending time in a proper cellar. My storage is out of direct sunlight and the temperature remains pretty constant, but probably not at what you'd call “right.” I'm sure that, were I an expert or even willing to do the research necessary, I'd probably keep my wine in an enclosed room with carefully controlled circulation, 50% humidity controlled by an electronic system and a special thermostat to keep the wine between 55 and 57 degrees Fahrenheit.
But I don't. I keep my wine in a back closet, in a rack (which does, I'm not a barbarian, encourage air circulation), out of direct sunlight. My house is probably closer to 78 degrees and the humidity changes with the whims of the Texas breezes.
Despite this, the wine has held up remarkably.
I'll admit, this is a kind of curiosity in my collection. I didn't buy this wine in 1982. I probably bought it a scant 8 years ago, in honor of my younger brother's 21st birthday, he having also been born in 1982. I bought several bottles for him, and a couple for myself. I still have a few held back for his upcoming 30th, and I'm hoping the rest hold up as well as the one I've opened today.