Every bottle has a story

I am not a wine expert, but with each bottle I try and share with friends, I learn more. Wine is an exceptional social drink; it is the marijuana of alcoholic beverages because it must be shared. I seek to share with you my thoughts and experiences as I drink the wine in my closet, as well as my enthusiasm for the finds that come my way and the excellent values that I find. I'd love to hear your thoughts and experiences too, so please share!

Monday, March 8, 2010

Oscar night 2010

According to my notes, I had two wines in my closet that were reaching the peak of their maturity. This is always a risky endeavor, because my closet is not an optimum storage location, but it is the best I can do. During the summer, it can still reach 75 degrees in there and it can fluctuate widely; I can only keep the air conditioner on in my bedroom for so long or I will be sending all my paycheck to ConEd. And during the winter, while the temperature becomes a more consistent 65 to 68 degrees, it can get terribly dry.

The bottle that was at highest risk was a 1999 Kopparossa Coonawarra Shiraz. It had a 90 rating from Wine Spectator and a drink window ending in 2010. This wine was an amazing find and represents a purchase made without any prior knowledge. I had originally purchased four bottles. I think it was 2004 or 2005 and I had picked them up in the wine section at the D&W in Holland. It was a marked-down wine, the original price being $35 but was on sale for $18. I initially bought one, drank it, and was so impressed that the next day I went back to the D&W to get another. When I saw there were only three left, I grabbed all three.

The other wine was a 2004 Cote Rotie from Bernard Burgaud. This had a 91 rating from Wine Spectator, and while the drink window extended into 2011, I considered this bottle at risk as well and I didn’t want to miss out on it. The experience I had with my last bottle of St. Henri taught me that keeping wine stored under the conditions I had beyond the ideal storage time was very risky. And I had never had a Cote Rotie before; I didn’t want to miss this opportunity.

Cote Rotie tends to be expensive. The cheapest I’ve seen still demand as much as $60 retail. Coming from the Northern Rhone area of France, I was fairly confident I would like it. I am very fond of Rhone wines, particularly the reds, with Chateauneuf du Pape being my favorite. In my closet (as of this writing) I have nine Chateauneuf du Papes. I also have some St. Joseph, Gigondas, and a Cote du Rhone Villages. When I saw this Cote Rotie for $40, I thought what the heck. But what was I going to serve it with? So it sat in my closet since October of 2008.

An opportunity presented itself with the annual Academy Awards, so I invited my assistant at work, Hilary Fosdal, and her husband Steve, to dinner. Besides, Hilary had recently given notice to take another job, so it was also my opportunity to do something nice and show my appreciation for her work.

The menu: pan seared and roasted bison top sirloin, about 1.5 inches thick, simply prepared with sautéed portabella mushrooms. As sides I roasted parsnips, boiled beets and prepared the beet greens with chopped red onion, garlic and cider vinegar. Hilary and Steve brought a spinach salad. All the food was quite good.

We opened the Shiraz first. The fruit was still quite strong, a wonderful sign as I feared I would catch the faint, nutty aroma of brandy, a sure indication that the wine had been cooked. Even on the first pour with minimal air, this Coonawarra Shiraz was smooth as silk, the tannins initially very soft. But as the bottle opened up, a hint of white pepper came through and the tannins firmed up giving a somewhat muscled punch to the finish. The fruit was always there, blackberry with a velvety texture. Despite the drink window ending in 2010, this wine could have stood another year I think, but I’m glad we drank it when we did. This was really delicious!

As the wine expert at Whole Foods told me, the Cote Rotie was an excellent match with the bison and the earthy, root vegetables. But it was a decidedly different wine from the Shiraz, obviously. However, it’s the same grape essentially. Cote Rotie is mostly Syrah, sometimes mixed with a small portion of Viognier. This wine was very firm with strong mineral quality, as expected. And it tasted quite young; not thin, mind you, but again, this wine could have withstood another few years in the closet. This was strange considering its recommendation had its window closing in 2011. I don’t see why this wine couldn’t cellar until 2015 or longer. But alas, I only had one bottle.

Personal ratings:

Kopparossa Coonawarra Shiraz, 1999, Australia: 9.5 out of 10.
Bernard Burgaud Cote Rotie, 2004, Northern Rhone, France: 7 out of 10.

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