Dear Madroña Wine Club Members,
Another winter is upon us (although it’s a balmy 65 degrees outside today), and our work in the vineyards with pruning and tying is taking much of our attention. But that’s not to say there isn’t excitement in the cellar where we have just finished bottling some of the 2017 vintage: Hillside Chardonnay and Hillside Riesling to be exact.
These first glimpses of the wonderful ’17 vintage are hints of what is to come…bold, beautiful and balanced. To be sure, we were one of the luckier wine regions in California throughout 2017. The intense heat throughout the state in early September didn’t spur us to pick early, and we had no fires in our area. Thus, when you taste the Chardonnay and/or Riesling in your February shipment, you’ll be tasting the extended hangtime in the vineyard with a complexity and richness showcasing in the wine. And then just be ready for the ’17 Grenache and Zins later in the year!
Having said all this, the February shipment is packed full of exciting and expressive wines. The 2015 Hillside Merlot with opulent texture and dark brooding fruit is an amazing example of a drought-year Merlot. The 2013 Signature Zinfandel with its tighter tannin structure and complex fruit highlights the difference a year can make (remember both the 2012 and 2014 vintages).
And then there’s the ’13 Signature Quintet. Having just poured this wine all weekend at our annual Quintet Blending events, it has brought up the question of how to serve wines to maximize their potential. I spent a fair amount of time over the weekend explaining the concept of integrating oxygen into wine. Of particular note for this club shipment are the above-mentioned ’13 Quintet and the ’06 Quintet in the ROC’s shipment.
I will try to write this succinctly with focus. Just because a wine is older does not mean you should decant it. And just because a wine is younger does not mean you shouldn’t decant it.
Decanting wine (or letting a wine breathe) is slowly (or sometimes rapidly) adding air to the wine. This addition of oxygen can soften the tannins and blow off undesirable characters. However, you will lose some amount of character. On a young wine, this loss of fruit doesn’t really matter since the wine already has lots of fruit. But on an older wine, this loss of character may be damaging to the wine.
Take the ’06 Quintet in this shipment. The wine is already 11+ years old with a softened palate (due to the micro-oxygenation through the cork over time). Upon opening the wine, I smell it to determine if there are any off-putting characters in the nose. To be honest, undesirable aromas can develop over time simply because the wine has been “trapped” in the same container for so long. It’s a living product, but a hint of air can help these transient notes disappear.
However, if the cellared wine smells great, then there is no need to add oxygen to the wine. Decanting (or God forbid, using an aerator) will only make the wine lose unique and interesting fruit subtleties that you’ve spent years cellaring the wine to get. And it’s amazing how quickly some of these aromas can be lost even just sitting in the glass.
I can tell you that our 2006 Quintet smells amazing poured straight from the bottle, and decanting the wine only diminishes the experience.
Now take the ’13 Signature Quintet. The wine is young with youthful tannins, but the fruit, spice and smoky characters are plentiful. This is a wine that can handle a hint more oxygen in the palate (to soften the tannins). So either I age this Quintet out for several years (for the slow micro-oxygenation through the cork), or I can decant this wine before serving in order to absorb a bit more oxygen (strictly for the tannins). Because the wine has so much youthful fruit/spice character, I’d be willing to give up a hint of that in order to make the wine more approachable. And of course, serving the wine with something rich (like braised short ribs in a wine sauce) will only make the experience more exciting.
So I’ve digressed off this month’s incredible wine club shipment in order to give a little more background on serving the wines, but I think that’s important to understand (and a bit counter-intuitive to what we’ve always learned).
Remember, decant when necessary and always taste the wine first!
Enjoy the shipment!