ON THE WINE ROAD: Looking back on a year in wine

There is nothing like wine for conjuring up feelings of contentment and goodwill. It is less of a drink than an experience, an evocation, a spirit. It produces sensations that defy description – Thomas Conklin

By Michael Venezia /// Photography by Katherine Frye

Wine has been a part of my life for a long time, and as I sit down to begin the process of writing my final Cobb Life Magazine post for 2015, my thoughts focus on the wines which made me stop and think about the true nature of wine.

Bottles that were once full are now empty but somehow a strong memory remains so vivid that the perception of smell and taste exists locked in sensory recall.

I have chosen to share with you three special wine moments which were enjoyed and shared with friends and loved ones. Two of the wines stood four square after 30 or 40 years while the other was a wine of the moment. While not all wines will age gracefully, and I hasten to say most wines are meant to be consumed sooner rather than later, all these made serious impressions.

Sharing these wine experiences is somewhat cathartic as it allows one to attempt to describe in words the time spent with the wines in question, and describe for you some characteristics which form the wines personality.

Tasted in September with a group of fellow wine tradesmen, the Clos du Bois, Marlstone, 1985 was a magnificent example of a perfectly matured Alexander Valley Red Meritage blend. The term Meritage is used to identify wines that are produced from a combination of the classic Bordeaux varietals. It represents the finest wine made by the winery.

Sourced from hillside and vineyards, the blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Malbec was soft as velvet on the palate with ripe plum fruit flavors and subtle herbal notes. This limited production, made by John Hawley, a pioneer in the region during the 70s and 80s, was elegant and refines.

Served at a dinner at Stem Wine far in East Cobb County on March 25, the Iron Horse Vineyards Rued Clone Chardonnay, 2012 accurately expressed the cool, foggy climate of the Russian River famed sub appellation called the Green Valley. The vineyards geological composition includes the rare Gold Ridge soils and the “Rued” clone of Chardonnay is particularly suited to their growing environment. The wine was very crisp with firm acidity while layered with mouthwatering citrus and fruit flavors such as peach and nectarine.

It was perfectly paired with braised rabbit leg, Parisian gnocchi, spring mushrooms and a parmesan brodo. I was thrilled to enjoy the meal with Joy Sterling, CEO of Iron Horse Vineyards and her surprise guest, Ted Turner. During the dinner our conversation ranged across many diverse topics. From bison herds on Turner’s ranch in Montana, sailing the yacht Courageous to victory in the 1977 America’s Cup, or the founding of CNN, the time together will always be linked to the wines produced on the beautiful Iron Horse Estate.

As a principle of Ted’s Montana Grill, we spoke about the importance of wine in today’s dynamic restaurant industry and it became very clear to me that Chef Doug Turbish’s cuisine, the flavors of the Iron Horse Chardonnay, and my dinner companions all contributed to this memorable wine experience.

Years ago, when bottles were allowed to be carried onto an aircraft, I traveled back from France with a vintage Sauternes given to me by a kindly Bordeaux vigneron who I knew for a short period of time in the fall of 1980. Sauternes is a lusciously sweet wine produced in a unique climate south of the city of Bordeaux. It is often a blend of the white grapes called semillon, sauvignon blanc and muscadelle. These grapes are allowed to enjoy extended hang time and are attacked by a friendly airborne fungus called Botyrtis Cinerea.

Called the “noble rot” by the French, these very sweet grapes lose a considerable amount of liquid, have a higher concentration of sugar and acid, and have extraordinary aging potential. These wines can develop over decades and the Chateau Latrezotte 1976 did not disappoint. It was shared with friends Jim and Jacquelyn Foley at their East Cobb home early in the spring.

In addition to being gracious hosts, the Foleys are talented Cook’s Warehouse trained chefs. Enjoyed with a selection of desserts, the wines’ exotic aromas of crème brulee, enhanced vanilla and orange peel with glazed marzipan were magical. The wines 24 karat gold color was similar to the sun depicted in several Van Gogh paintings. It was simply the essence of the grapes expressed in this golden liquid.

Often the case with older wines, the cork was fragile and I was compelled to let it slowly slip into the bottle. Thankfully it didn’t affect the wines taste. The cork is now captured in the empty glass bottle, suspended in time forever. After closely examining the label, the faded script barely visible in the lower left corner, the winemaker was identified as Alain Querre.

Much to my surprise, Monsieur Querre was the man who gifted me the wine 35 years ago. He was with us in spirit at Foleys enjoying dessert. While sipping the wine, I could see him, hear his voice and taste his creation so many years down the wine road.

Keep in mind that every wine enjoyed can be a way to connect with people, places and things, which transcend the borders of space and time. I am anxious to begin the 2016 quest and I wish you all a pleasant wine journey.

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