Fri 15 Dec 2006
Occasionally in the daily, weekly, monthly, yearly rounds of tasting wine and making notes, one longs for something different, a wine that possesses a sort of odd authenticity and character that goes beyond the usual run of sauvignon blanc, chardonnay and riesling, merlot, pinot noir, cabernet sauvignon and syrah. Not that there’s a damned thing wrong with those grapes and the sometimes wonderful wines made from them. I fully realize, and so does every other wine-writer in the world, that we occupy a privileged position: People send us fabulous wines! They invite us to tastings of fabulous wines! They want to know our opinions about their fabulous wines!
They also send us — naively? cluelessly? — crummy wines, but that’s another story.
Anyway, the week before Thanksgiving, I was in a retail store looking at the vast array of white wines from California and there on a shelf were three or four bottles of sauvignon blanc from Kalin Cellars in Marin County. Now if you’ve been around the block a few times in the Golden State, you know that the mad-caps at Kalin hold their wine before release an extraordinary length of time. In fact, this label said Kalin Cellars Sauvignon Blanc 1995, Potter Valley. That’s right, an 11-year-old sauvignon blanc. The wine manager at the store said, “No joke,” though later I checked on the winery’s website (http://www.kalincellars.com) and found that the current release for Kalin’s Potter Valley Sauvignon Blanc is 1996.
So, I bought the wine (about $22); I mean curiosity alone would have impelled me.
After Thanksgiving, in the first blush of abstemiousness that comes after the annual feast, I used the ravaged carcass of the turkey, resembling a cathedral after bombardment, to make broth, simmering it for eight or 10 hours with carrots, celery, parsley and an onion. I strained the mass through a colander and three times through the chinois — yes, we are a household that owns a conical, three-layers-of-fine-mesh “Chinese hat” strainer — to achieve a broth with as much clarity as possible. A motivation in making the broth, in addition to wanting something clean and pure, was that my wife was recovering from a bad cold; there’s nothing like a hot flavorful broth to soothe the throat and provide nourishment
She suggesting opening the Kalin Sauvignon Blanc 1996, and I promise that it was a revelation. This was a fully mature wine, possibly leaning over the edge a bit. The color was mild golden-yellow, and the bouquet, which was not oxidized, offered a weaving of lemon curd and orange rind with undertones of caramel and butterscotch and a touch of sherry; an unpleasant earthy quality quickly blew off. In the mouth, the wine balanced liveliness with a moderately lush texture, delivering flavors of lemon curd, roasted pears and ginger, bolstered by a hint of dried herbs and a gentle limestone element. Taking a bit of getting used to, the wine turned out to be not just intriguing but delicious, and it was striking how appropriate it was with the turkey broth.
While I would be highly suspicious of 10-year-old sauvignon blanc wines and chardonnays and pinot noirs from the majority of wineries in California, it’s clear that the proprietors of Kalin Cellars operate by a different philosophy than immediate gratification. It’s worth the risk to try their wonderfully eccentric wines.