Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Wineaux: The many pitfalls of aging


From page A9 | March 20, 2014 |

You’ve no doubt seen a ceramic dish or a T-shirt or an apron inscribed with “Friends and wine — the older the better.”

Well, not always.

Some friends (none of mine, of course) become, with age, crankier, preachier, more stubborn, more opinionated, more self-centered and less fun to be around. A bit sour, you might say.

And some wines are simply not meant to hang around in your cellar or closet (or on grocery shelves) for more than a year or two. Most whites, for example. Which is why you see so many whites at Grocery Outlet dated 2010 and earlier. I wouldn’t recommend buying them. Sometimes they’re so flat, you long for a little sour.

Last week I forgot my own advice and didn’t check the date on a bottle of Riff, a quite reliable Italian Pinot Grigio. I’d had it in the past, liked it well enough, stuck it in my Nugget shopping cart. I opened it that night, took one sip, and thought, “Oh no.” It was not undrinkable, just sort of dead. I looked at the date: 2010. I should have taken it back, but it was the only thing chilled and I was tired. Besides, the last time I returned a wine to Nugget (the only time), I got the third degree and a bit of eye rolling.

The Riff on the Co-op shelves is the 2012.

But that doesn’t mean I’m letting the Co-op off the hook. I actually made just the same mistake there a couple of months ago. I excitedly grabbed a French Muscadet, a favorite of mine, without looking at the year ( it turned out to be 2008!), even deader than the Riff. I did return that bottle and told them firmly but nicely (I thought) that they shouldn’t even have the wine on their shelves.

I was, I have to say, summarily dismissed. And the wine’s still on the shelf. Don’t buy it.

The employees at both places probably wrote me off as one of those aging, stubborn, opinionated cranks. (Maybe they have a point.)

But really. One bottle of either of those past-their-prime whites and you’d never go back for another. If I were the producer or the importer, I’d be irate that those bottles were representing my wine. But enough. Our household has given up ranting — and inciting others to rant — for Lent. (Alas, we’ll never make it until Easter.)

And there’s no use crying over spilt and lifeless wine when there are so many fresh and lively bottles to try. The high point of my week was a gift bottle of 2011 Francine and Olivier Savary Chablis (thank you, Carole). Oh my. Its arrival just happened to coincide with our first-of-the-season asparagus. Roasted in olive oil with some garlic, tossed with lemon zest and Parmesan, served over linguine, it was greatly enhanced by this beautiful wine — and was, I thought, the best early-spring meal imaginable.

Francine and Olivier Savary have been making their own wines since the mid-1980s and are becoming recognized as brilliant vignerons in the Chablis region. For this wine, they used grapes from the clay and limestone Kimmeridgian soil, the source of Premier Cru and Grand Cru Chablis. Their more expensive Chablis have a touch of oak, but this one was fermented entirely in stainless steel. A French Chablis, by the way, even un-oaked, can age nicely — this 2011 still has, I’m guessing, at least a couple more good years.

If you think you’re not a fan of chardonnay, I urge you to try a good Chablis (100 percent chardonnay) like this one. It will cost around $25 (unless you venture into Premier or Grand Cru territory) but is definitely worth the splurge, especially if you have a wonderful meal to accompany it.

This Chablis is bright, intense, complex and beautifully structured. Pears, apples, melon and peach dominate both aroma and taste — and this Savary (what a wonderful last name for a winemaker!), like all good Chablis, is both distinctively minerally and very versatile. Imported by Kermit Lynch, you’ll have to make a trip to Berkeley to get it. But Valley Wine Company carries a different Kermit Lynch Chablis, which is, I can almost guarantee, delicious as well.

Early spring — and stalks of asparagus — also reminds me of the existence of rosé. Although the French drink it all year long, I tend to forget about it until blossoms appear on the trees — and rosé gets featured on wine shelves. John at Valley Wine recommended a rosé that he got in recently — the 2012 A to Z from the Del Rio Vineyard in Southern Oregon. It looked so pretty that I bought it on the spot and, that night, paired it with another early-spring favorite, pea shoots, that I sauteed in garlic and olive oil and served, with goat cheese, over penne. The second-best early-spring meal.

This rosé is, indeed, rose, brilliantly so. You can almost smell and taste the strawberries and raspberries and red currant and spring flowers just by looking at it. A rosé of sangiovese, it is, like good rosé should be, clean and crisp with a nice dry citrus finish. But unlike many rosés, it’s also full of flavor — “exuberantly juicy” might be the best way to describe it.

Though not particularly complex, it’s not monotonous either. It has some nice herbal notes and a certain richness that you don’t usually associate with rosé.

All in all, it’s great fun both to drink and to look at while you’re eating. Get it while it’s young ($14).
— Reach Susan Leonardi at Comment on this column at



Susan Leonardi

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