Wine — Beware The Hot Bottle

Beware the hot bottle

Seeking a wine with constant perfection

By Tim Protzman [] 

The best bottle of wine I ever had was a 1989 Chateau Grand-Puy-Lacoste, a fifth growth Bordeaux.

I got it for myself as a Christmas present. I opened it Christmas Eve and decanted it. The flavor was supreme. The aroma was different, like newly mowed hay and band-aids. The wine had structure, layers of taste that revealed themselves as I swallowed.

Little déjà vu-like hints of flavor —espresso, the raisins in hot cross buns, chocolate and au jus-pricked my palate. Each sip full of evolving flavors, transforming from the front of the tongue to the back. This wine was a living thing, changing in the glass. It went well with simple cheddar, cocktail shrimp and a small rib eye. When the wine’s that good, don’t crowd it out with flashy food. The color was deep garnet. There were tiny crystallized dregs at the bottom. I remember everything about that wine.

Months later I went back to the same wine shop to purchase another bottle. It was still in stock. I opened it at a dinner party. Maybe it was the food or perhaps the company, but the wine was different, more dry tannins than I remembered and less layers. It was still good, but not great. I mentioned this disparity to the clerk and he told me his theory of the “hot bottle.”

The “hot bottle” theory: occasionally, due to whatever conditions-a-perfect cork, a superior foiling job, the location of the bottle while aging in the rack of the wine cellar-a-super bottle is created that epitomizes the grapes, soil, sun and craft of the vineyard so thoroughly that it stands above the rest of its compatriots.

It sounded good, and the clerk was very knowledgeable, but I suspect he just wanted to keep me from asking for my money back. I proposed my own “cold bottle” theory on the second one and ended up with a 10 percent discount on some Burgundy. But for whatever reason, the “hot bottle” theory had an effect on me. If I find a bottle of wine that seems too good to be true, I force myself to try another one, just to make sure. Here are two wines that have successfully passed the “hot bottle” test, proving their staying power.

MontGras 2001 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, from Colchagua Valley of Chile. Two years ago most Chilean wines were where California was 20 years ago. Now they’re not.

I’d never quite caught the South American bug. Now I have.

The MontGras vineyard is almost new, having been planted in 1993. Their web site lists the usual information about the vineyards and the tourist events. All wineries look for the tourist dollar to help maximize profits and encourage restaurant and bed and breakfasts to open. They describe five tiers of wine: the Estate, the Reserve, the Quattro (an interesting blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, carmenère and malbec) Limited Edition, and the single vineyard wine, Ninquen — their premier wine.

The Reserve was $11.99 and had big California style fruit with a developing structure. Only a hint of tannin came through. The fruit was dry and concentrated; tart elderberries,

and dried cherries. The color was dark red. The perfect marriage of Napa and Pauillac styles. I look forward to trying the Quattro blend and more wines from Colchagua, which lies 120 miles south of Santiago, the capital. This valley is protected from the Pacific by a range of Coastal Mountains, similar to California. And like California the wines will just keep improving with time, skill and investment.

I found the second wine to pass the “hot bottle” test nestled in a rack with its $40.00 brothers and sisters. It was a white burgundy, a premier cru. In Burgundy they label a wine according to its region, then the village, then the vineyard. But by law any wine produced in the Montagny region of the Cote Chalonnaise that’s above 11.5 percent alcohol can call itself a premier cru or first growth. Grand crus are the top of the line and usually just the name of the vineyard appears on the label. But this wine was $12.99. It was produced by Le Troncey. After giving it some thought, I grabbed it and wow! It definitely made me want to drink more white wine.

2000 Le Troncey Montagny 1er Cru. $12.99. No butter or oak in this chardonnay. Green apple and lemon meringue pie tastes notes, a bite of mineral and a whiff of chrysanthemums. A wonderfully approachable Burgundy for the pinot grigio drinker.

A real food wine that begs to be served with French peasant fare, like chicken and rosemary. 2000 was a good year, not a great year for Burgundy so look to see some bargains in that vintage.

Tell Tim your wine stories. You can reach him at

Find the wines discussed in Hippo’s food section at state liquor stores. For exact locations of your favorite juice, go to

—Tim Protzman

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