Thursday, November 30, 2023

The Purpose of Wine

This week's post was intended to be about Muscadet.  But a few things came up over Thanksgiving that I think merit a few words. 

Wine Surprises

One of the opposing realities of being an avid wine drinker is that shortly after  recognizing your passion, you become a hoarder. The number of wines multiply,   and before you know it, you have more wine than you can drink. 

Why is this a potential problem?  Because some of the wines you intend to drink may have been pushed to the back of the rack and forgotten. Or, and this is the bane of all wine collectors, you check the vintage of a red wine you want to drink, but then say to yourself, "Maybe it needs a few more months of bottle aging."


Ironically, as fate would have it, a few more months of bottle age is just what your chosen wine needs. To make my point, consider the following examples of two wines poured at the two-day Boyd family Thanksgiving gathering.

On Thanksgiving eve, we had a simple meal of calzones and salad. It wasn't meant to be a "wine meal," so maybe just a wine showing its age, past its prime, could be fun. And who knows, maybe its still drinkable. 

Tucked away, at the back of my wine rack, was a 1981 Ridge York Creek Zinfandel.  I'm thinking: This wine is 42 years old and had been moved around California and then to its final resting place in's gotta be over the hill.  

Not so. In fact, it was amazingly in very good shape!  The color was a vibrant, clear ruby red and light brick at the wine edge. There were touches of spice and dark berry, and the textured flavors offered loads of fruit, good acidity and refined integrated tannin.  Here was a drinkable aged Zin that tasted more like a mature Cabernet that was a good choice with calzones or just for sipping.

The dinner menu included a traditional turkey spread and a vegetarian Field Roast. So, I pulled a 1999 Dominus Napa Valley blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Petit Verdot. Deep ruby-garnet color, seamless Bordeaux-style bouquet, rich textured berry and black currant notes, hint of cedar, no tobacco leaf, refined smooth tannin and a long elegant finish. An ideal wine with Field Roast and turkey.
The third wine was the 2012 Williams Selyem Foss Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, from my winemaker son's collection.  He makes Cabernet but loves Pinot Noir, especially from Williams Selyem. Impeccable balance, full of black cherry flavors, a hint of boiled tea and spice, good length and structure. It was everything you come to expect from Williams Selyem. Pinot Noir, with a little age, is a great wine with turkey and it stands up to the variety of Thanksgiving sides. 
The point of all this elaboration, is to suggest trusting your wine may still surprise you, especially if your storage conditions are less than ideal.  Well made red wine usually does what it's designed to do: age gracefully, add complexity and show the patient a few pleasureable things they didn't know were in the wine. 
More on Wine and Food
In my "Turkey Wine" posting of November 17, the suggestion was to serve a light red such as Pinot Noir or Gamay with light and dark turkey meat, and save the big reds for a meal centered around red meat.  Which is just the opposite of what I describe above.

Unfortunately, when I looked at my wine cache, there were no Pinot Noirs or light reds.  So, since a "special" wine was called for, I grabbed the 1999 Dominus.
Fortunately, the 20-plus years of bottle aging had worked wonders on the Dominus, softening the tannin, melding the fruit and transforming a Cabernet Sauvignon into a pleasureable wine more like Pinot Noir. 

The Purpose of Wine

Recently, the wine press has been obsessed with the monetary value of wine. And that makes me a little crazy. Adding the bottle price in a wine review is one thing, but showing how much money a wine with a few years of age will bring misses the point of the real purpose of wine. 

For example, according to a friend, the current price of the 1999 Dominus, if you can find it, is about $300.  That's much more than I paid for the wine years ago. And while I might, momentarily, think of all those bucks, I remind myself that wine should not be a commodity but a drink to enjoy with food in the company of others.

Weighing the Wine

Another topic of concern getting a lot of press lately is the weight of wine bottles.  Simply put, the heavier the bottle, the harder it is on the environment; from mining the raw materials, to making the glass, to transporting the bottles, the environmental cost of heavy wine bottles is high. 
So, I was wondering if a standard 750ml wine bottle weighs more now, then say, 40-50 years ago, when there was less concern for the environment.  I weighed seven empty bottles, with vintages spanning 62 years, of wines enjoyed with family and friends, and here's what I found:
Ridge 1981 York Creek Zinfandel, the lightest at 15.4 ounces
Heitz 1999 Napa Valley Martha's Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, 17.1 ozs
Williams Selyem 2012 Russian River Valley Foss Vineyard Pinot Noir, 17.7 ozs
Penfolds 1999 South Australia Bin 707, 18 ozs
Dominus 1999 Napa Valley Red Wine, 19.6 ozs
Franco & Fiorino 1950 Alba Barbaresco, 23.6 ozs
Fetzer 1999 Bien Nacido Reserve Pinot Noir, the heaviest at 29.7 ozs  

Concluding questions: Between 1981 and 1999, there was a slow creep upward in bottle weight, until it nearly doubled.  As the years went by, did wineries demand heavier bottles?  Did marketers say that heavier bottles somehow suggested higher quality wine? Was anyone thinking about the cost of heavier bottles to the environment?  And, in case you were wondering, I don't know why four of the seven wines were 1999s and from different wine regions.

Finally, I read about a wine bottle weighing in at a gob-smacking 2.69 lbs!  As crazy and irrresponsible as that is, it's reassuring to know that there is a movement underway to wash and recycle wine bottles, along with innovators working to develop lighter wine bottles and bottles made from lighter materials than glass, such as paper.  Verre Vert bottles look like glass but are lighter and unbreakable.  Also, there's the non-glass Verallia Bordelaise Air bottle, 10.5 ounces. 
Next blog: Muscadet
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