Monthly Archives: November 2010

Giving thanks for great wine

Anyone with a cellar stocked full of wine probably has several special bottles tucked away that have such

The holiday table is the perfect stage to present one of your special cellar selections.

prestigious pedigree that they couldn’t possibly think of actually opening and enjoying a bottle.

I had a small bottle of aged single malt scotch that sat on a shelf for years because I couldn’t bring myself to open that special bottle, my father has several cases of the good stuff just lying around untouched and dusty and my in laws have a great collection that heaven forbid they open.

But this Thanksgiving my wife and her sister were able to convince their parents to open a few of those special bottles. Because, as my wife says, every bottle has a story and when it’s opened the wine and its story come alive, or perhaps are revived as good wine never dies.

On the Friday after Thanksgiving I gathered with my wife’s family to have a second Thanksgiving because my wife and I celebrated with mine on Thursday. Two Thanksgivings ain’t a bad deal, especially as we’d be enjoying the meal with a ’59 Bordeaux and a magnum of ’87 Napa cabernet. The Bordeaux was Chateau les Conseillans where my father in law worked a harvest after studying at the Bordeaux wine university. Our discussion with that bottle touched on harvests in France, the wonderful aging potential of Bordeaux and the winemaker at the chateau who was my father in law’s mentor and one of the top wine researchers in France.

The magnum of Napa wine was a Pahlmeyer that was very different compared to the French wine. Of course, the two are of such different ages one couldn’t make a fair comparison but it’s always interesting to taste a Napa wine with a French. As my father in law said, “it’s like football compared to soccer.”

Fifty years old and the wine had almost no sediment. The cork was a real challenge to pull, but Christine is an old cork pro.

The French wine had a light body and restrained flavors but with a rich mid palate and a smooth finish. As expected, the Pahlmeyer had “more” of everything from more fruit flavors to more oak and a little more alcohol heat even though both wines had less than 13 percent alcohol. As we remarked on the differences of the two wine, the conversation turned to a winemaker friend of the MacLeans who worked with Christine’s mother and went on to find great success in the industry. It was an interesting conversation of family recollections and wine industry gossip.

My favorite wine of the night was indeed a special treat. Christine’s father pulled out a 1969 French brandy. This particular brandy was Domaine du Castagnet, an armagnac that had been aged in oak for two years. I never have tasted anything so rich, intense and lovely. The brandy had an dark amber color and it was a bit much for the rest of the MacLean ladies but I thought it was delicious and the perfect ending to a Thanksgiving feast.

A little bit of brandy does wonders on fighting that turkey coma after Thanksgiving.

Every year you can read through dozens of the same article on what to pair with the Thanksgiving, or any holiday, meal. Each expert has their own opinion that seems to change every year. In my opinion, a large meal with all your family gathered is the perfect time to open some of those old, special bottles.

Now I just need to start working on a cellar collection and having the patience to allow some bottles to age.

Diary of a Cellar Rat: Harvest is Done

Wait let me get this straight, Californians elected Jerry Brown governor and to keep weed illegal?

Is it 1974?

Coming back to the real world after harvest is a little odd. You find yourself with the luxury of a two day weekend and with an enormous amount of free time. My hands are little by little losing the the dark, almost black, stain of wine. However, the heavy base and caustic chemicals we use in the celler as well as the natural solvent alcohol still has them dried out, cracking and occasionally bleeding.

Ah this new career, my delicate hands used to just ply a computer, now they are cracked, calloused and gnarly.

But we got all the grapes in, and it will be an interesting vintage. The cool summer and storms in late October forced some winemakers to pick before they were entirely sure about ripeness. The result could be “greener” wines that don’t have all the ripe dark fruit flavors California wines are known for, but more vegetal, bell pepper notes. This past growing season has been charitably referred to as Bordeux like, but who knows.

My role this vintage was a mix of lab work, celler grunt work and a little bit of logistical and administrative work. Some days at the height of harvest, I’d spend about 12 and half hours of work in the celler working on yeast innoculations, additions, must adjustments, pumpovers and fermentation checks. After all that, it would be back to the lab to enter the data as well as check my e-mail for any pick specification sheets. I would have to save these into a database and then update the producation winery’s calendar for receiving fruit and then generate a crush work order for processing the fruit. Just another 14 hour day.

The challenge this year was that in addition to the tough physical work I had to also remember to have a cover page on my TPS reports.

It was a great learning experience, and I’m looking forward to a more regular routine at the winery to build on my knowledge.

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone out there, and it’s going to be nice to return back to the real world and get back to The Uncorked Life.