The taste of sibling
Breeding tells but so does birth order
One reason wine is so appealing is its
humanistic character. Any trait a person
has can be found in wine.
like the family where one kid’s in jail and one’s in Harvard, no two
vintages — even from the same vineyard — are alike. I’ve been revisiting
some younger wines lately, some born just a year later than their
siblings, and the difference is amazing.
Laetitia Winery Estate Pinot Noir is a perfect example of the difference
a year makes. The winery’s located in California’s Central Coast, the
San Luis Obispo Region in the Arroyo Grande Valley AVA (American
Viticultural Area). Here, the rolling green-and-brown hills catch the
sea winds at night and sharpen the fruit. The winery used to be part of
Maison Champagne Deutz but is now locally owned, along with Avila and
Barnwood Wineries, by Selim Zilhka, a billionaire Los Angles
Laetitia vintage that caught my eye was the much heralded 2002. The
harvest began in late August and the grapes were fantastic because the
nightly temperatures were cool. The 2002 Laetitia Estate Pinot Noir was
fruity with a touch of sweetness and had a big finish of complex flavors
and layers of fruit and spice.
2003 vintage was as different as different can be. It was Burgundian,
with layers of flavor and subdued fruit, and it was not rowdy like its
older brother. This was a cautious wine, with hints of greatness to
come. It was a reserved wine compared to its Johnny Good Fellow brother.
And it had a bit of a tannic edge, just like you’d expect a younger
sibling to have compared to his outgoing, popular older brother. Parker
doesn’t rate the Central Coast’s Pinot Noirs specifically, but Wine
Enthusiast Magazine gives the 2002 95 points and the 2003 88 points. So
you can see where the sibling rivalry starts.
like both vintages because they’re so different. I’m betting the 2002
will be like your old high-school quarterback at your 15th class reunion
— bald, flabby and working for his father-in-law. But the 2003 will
stride in, swathed in Armani, running a multi-national corporation, with
an air of diffidence. All heads will turn. People will say things like
“Didn’t he used to be a geek?” “I was his best friend!” and “Dammit
Horace, to think I passed him up for YOU!” He will be the toast of the
town. People will fawn all over him.
maybe not. See, that’s the mystery of wine. How a wine tastes now is
only a mirage of what it will evolve to. One can never be sure. Once at
a private club where I worked the Club Manager stored a Jeroboam (a
large bottle that holds the equivalent of six normal wine bottles, or an
early Israeli king) of Beaulieu Vineyards 1976 Cabernet Sauvignon on a
shelf in his office. He was afraid the staff would drink it if he kept
it in the wine cellar.
of course we would have, but that’s another story. He opened it when he
retired and it was delicious! For about an hour. Everyone had a glass,
before the wine turned ugly and mean. The sediment, which is tartaric
acid crystals and tiny pieces of grape skins, filled every glass. The
tannins became offensive. People thought it a bad omen for a
long-put-off retirement. We pronounced the last half of the bottle
undrinkable. The air had affected it. It was too old. He stored it
wrong. It was the height of disappointment.
next day, Gil, the club’s beverage manager, got in early and found the
one-third-full mega-bottle sitting next to the dishwasher. He put on a
Bunn-o-Matic pot of coffee and suddenly had an inspiration. Seizing a
coffee filter, he carefully filtered the nasty crystals out, and saved
the remaining wine in a decanter. We had it at lunch. It was a shadow of
its original self, probably because the wine was past its prime when we
opened it but the tannins had moderated, and like my Great Aunt Pearl,
who at 92 was pretty much round the bend but occasionally became
coherent enough to tell some great stories about Pittsburgh during
Prohibition, it retained a hint of what it was.
moral of the story:
1) Don’t save great wine for that special occasion that may never come.
2) Every vintage is different, even from the same vineyard.
3) And rare old wine, even when corked or oxidized, is worth trying.
I’ve tilted many an empty bottle the next day to get that last drop that
escaped the night before, although I draw the line at licking it off
surfaces and the ground like the rabble in A Tale of Two Cities.
Here’s what we’ve been tasting lately:
2002 Masseria Li Veli “Morgana Alta” Salice Salentino DOC Riserva. The
best red me and the wine rookies, whose palates are getting better all
the time, have tasted in a while. $31.99.
It’s from the Salice Salentino region of Apulia on the heel of Italy’s
boot. It’s made from a grape I’ve never heard of, negroamaro. It’s a
reserve wine, which means a smaller amount is made and it’s aged longer.
The DOC stands for Denominazione di Origine Controllata, which certifies
it comes from Salice Salentino region. The higher quality designation is
DOCG, which means Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita,
which guarantees the wine’s origin. But don’t overlook Italian wines
with IGT or Indicazione Geografica Tipica on the label, which means
wines “typical of that geographic location.”
The Li Veli had such smooth tannins it could have been sanded. It was
subdued, elegant and with a flat, ribbon-like edge of fruit. Try the
Taurino Salice Salentino, $13.99, same grape, non-reserve, cheaper
price, almost as good.
2003 Artesa Carneros Estate Pinot Noir, $18.99 — man, 2003 was tough
year. Good flavor, but still a little shrill. It’ll age well and it
pairs with cheese, pizza, chicken, anything but sushi and vinegar-based
condiments and food.
Chalone vs. Chalone
No, it’s not a divorce case, just a cabernet vs. pinot noir taste-off.
Chalone Vineyards is in the Monterey region in Steinbeck’s East of Eden
country. It was part of the Chalone Wine Group that was purchased by
Diageo. They own Edna Valley, Echelon, Beaulieu and Sterling too. Pretty
much everything they purvey is quality. They also own Guinness,
Tanqueray, Smirnoff and Johnnie Walker. It’s a huge company and if I
ever get engaged I’m registering there!
the winner is 2004 Chalone Monterey County Cabernet Sauvignon, $12.99.
Dried cranberry with a hit of Marlboro smoke and a lead pencil finish
that makes this wine fine on its own or with casual food.
Tell Tim your wine stories. You can reach him at
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