Wednesday, July 1, 2015
DISCOVERY TO TABLE WITH CHANTICLEER WINES
By Master Sommelier Catherine Fallis, aka grape goddess®*
CHANTICLEER wines are subtle, understated, compatible with food & capable of aging.
You’ve discovered a great wine, visited the winery, scored a spot on the mailing list, and the wines are now in your hands, ready to deliver pleasure to you and your guests. Yet it is at this very point that joy gives way to anxiety. How long should it be aged? What is the proper way to store it? When will it be ready to drink? As these questions go unanswered, it is often easier just to leave the little buried treasures behind and move on with life. The convenience of having your favorite wines at hand is forgotten.
A very basic cellar is as simple as a laying down a few boxes in an existing dark cool place in your home such as in the back of a closet or under a staircase. Wine bottles should rest on their sides, keeping wine in contact with the cork to prevent it from drying out. If the cork dries out, oxygen may get in. This would prematurely age or even spoil your wine. Ideal spots are also free from vibration and extreme temperature fluctuations. A nice homey option is to convert an existing piece of furniture. If you are thinking bigger, your options are either to convert or build a room, or to purchase a freestanding wine cabinet. 52-56° is ideal for serving whites and storing reds. Noted wine expert and gardener Hugh Johnson says “When humans need air conditioning, so does wine.”
Install a thermometer/hygrometer (about $20 at Radio Shack) in the area you are considering and check for temperature and humidity spikes at times of extreme weather in your area. Stable patterns slightly higher or lower than the target 55-65°F/65-75% humidity range are better than wild fluctuations, which are more damaging to the wines. The refrigerator is not a good place to store wine for more than a few months. Wine doesn’t like being agitated by the constant vibration, which mutes character, and may lead to premature aging.
When is the right time to open your wine? There are a few things to consider, the most obvious being grape type and color of the wine. Another is the raw quality of the fruit. A great wine comes from healthy, ripe fruit grown in an ideal environment, or “terroir”. It is easy to make great wine with great fruit, and plenty of bad wine is made with great fruit, but great wine cannot be made from inferior fruit.
Great wines will generally age longer than inferior wines. Then there are the wine’s structural elements, things like acids, tannins, alcohol, and sugar. Wines need acidity for longevity, especially whites. Tannins (components from grape skins or oak barrels that give the wine an astringent, drying quality) and pigments are preservatives as well. The best reds for long-term aging have had extended skin and/or barrel contact so that their tannin levels are initially high. Wines with high levels of residual sugar, or very sweet wines, have a very long life span.
Balance is critically important when evaluating when to open your bottle. As any fruit ripens, its acidity drops. Think about tomatoes. At peak ripeness they are so heavy with sugar they end up on the ground. They truly taste like fruit, and have little tartness left. Grapes that are allowed to ripen to such extreme have so much sugar that the yeasts, whose job is to convert that sugar into alcohol, can’t do the job alone. They need a starter, runner, and closing colony to complete this conversion. The resulting wines have low acidity and therefore are not necessarily getting better with age, but more likely are deteriorating. In this category we find many cult wines, or “big time” wines that get very high ratings from the more well-known American wine critics.
Chanticleer’s winemaker Chris Dearden has always bucked the trend of making “Big Time” wines, instead making wines that are subtle, understated, compatible with food and capable of aging. I have known and followed Chris since he was winemaker at Benessere. While I have professionally evaluated nearly every wine he has made at Chanticleer, I recently tasted the complete line-up of Chanticleer Cabernet Sauvignon, from 2000 to 2010, all at once, to see how the wines had progressed, changed, matured, and transformed over the years. I did this at my leisure, over several days. I sampled and resampled the wines over this three day period.
Wine critics, known for their fast paced, assembly-line approach, and even wine judges including myself, often create sometimes life-changing reviews based on only a snapshot of the wine, when it is in the glass in front of us. We swirl, sniff, sip, and spit, pen or tablet in hand, entering notes furiously so we can get to the next wine. I have always preferred doing only the initial tasting this way, ideally in the morning, in my lab, where the natural sunlight is ideal and the environment is free of strong odors, then tasting the wine with food later in the day. Then I simply place the cork back in the bottle and taste it the next day, and the next day again. Call this the grape goddess 3-day rule if you like.
For starters, I can see where the wine is on its aging curve, and when it most likely will show its best. Secondly, a wine that stays fresh after being opened for a few days is ideal for many people who want to enjoy only a glass or two with a meal. Thirdly, the most beautiful surprise in the world is that shy butterfly who, after a couple of days getting familiar with their surroundings, speaks up so magnificently. So it is with the Chanticleer wines.
As expected, the older wines held their own, those in the mid-range of age opened nicely, and the youngsters in the crowd showed well at first but then dramatically improved after breathing naturally for 48 hours. In fact, most young New World Cabernet Sauvignons actually get better after being opened for a few days, and doing nothing to them other than drinking the odd glass or two. The slow aeration, or oxidation – the wine is drinking it in – or technically breathing it in– actually helps to soften tannins and lift up the wine’s true character. For example, in Piedmont, Italy, the guest of honor gets the dregs of the Barolo from the night before. This is the same idea.
Despite their moderate prices, the Chanticleer wines, especially the reds, are age-worthy and may be laid down for some time with good results.
Pinot Grigio (Decanting unnecessary)
This medium-bodied dry white wine is ready to enjoy upon release, but will mellow further for another year or two.
Sangiovese (Decanting for a short time is beneficial)
So much joy is in the bottle, it is hard to resist. Go on, give in to temptation. But if you wish, the wines may be aged for up to 4-6 years.
Riserva (Decanting for up to an hour is recommended)
This nearly equal blend of Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon tows the line between the lithe, tart Italian varietal and Napa’s showpiece, manly Cabernet Sauvignon. If it is on the menu tonight, decanting for aeration will help soften the edges. A simple carafe or pitcher will do. Otherwise, it may age well for 6-8 years.
Cabernet Sauvignon (Decanting for an hour or more is recommended)
There is no other place in the world so ideal for ripening Cabernet Sauvignon to its fullest than Napa Valley, but a sense of restraint is necessary to achieve that elusive balance, something Chris Dearden seems to do in his sleep. Chanticleer Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon will absolutely benefit from decanting when young, and will mellow, soften, and come together beautifully, expressing their full range of characteristics at up to 8-10 years. If decanting older vintages, watch for sediment.
Thirteen Years of Chanticleer Cabernet Sauvignon Excellence
2012 - PG 96 May age well for 7 or more years
2011 - PG 95 May age well for 6 or more years
2010 - PG 98 May age well for 9 or more years
2009 - PG 100 May age well for 8 or more years
2008 - PG 98 May age well for 6 or more years
2007 - PG 98 May age well for 8 or more years
2006 - PG 96 May age well for 4 more years
2005 - PG 98 May age well for 2 – 3 more years
2004 - PG 98 May age well for 3 or more years
2003 - PG 92 This wine is at its peak
2002 - PG 96 Drink now or over the next 2 – 4 yrs
2001 - PG 92 Drink now
2000 - PG 98 Drink now or over next 2 years
Read recent Chanticleer wine reviews here:
*Master Sommelier Catherine Fallis is a nationally known wine judge, lecturer, author and advisor. She is Master Sommelier at Planet Grape® LLC - www.planetgrape.com, a wine consulting firm providing education, entertainment, content, and sommelier services. Catherine created her alter-ego, grape goddess®, to help bring wine down to earth for consumers as well as those entering the wine industry. She is the only person in the world to hold both the Master Sommelier and Advanced Certified Wine Professional credentials, and is the world’s only Master Sabreuse, opening Champagne with a sword.