Monday, October 04, 2004

TCA and Other Tales From the Cellar

John and I held our breath and pulled the cork. It crumbled in half. We looked at each other, hoping for the best. John carefully extracted the other half from the neck of the bottle and decanted the rich liquid. Sediment drifted to the bottom of the crystal vessel. We decided to give it an hour.

We shouldn't have worried. The 1991 Chateau Montelena Estate Cabernet Sauvignon was very rewarding. Swirling the wine in the glass hinted at its body and released aromas of dark fruit and earth and smoke, but the first sip revealed its complexity. The fruit sneaks up on you, gradually overtaking wet earth and warm spices as the dominant flavor; blackberries slowly give way to the darkest of cherries. The tannins had softened over the last decade and this wine still had potential to cellar for another.

But an article on "cellar funk" in the San Francisco Chronicle prompted us to open this bottle sooner than later. Apparently, the Wine Spectator critic James Laube sounded alarm bells when he detected TCA (a mold compound) in a bottle of Montelena and had a lab verify its presence. Maybe my palette isn't as refined as his, because I couldn't taste any 'chalkiness' or 'cement' in this bottle of wine.

In fact, when we paired the Montelena with seared chateaubriand, Gruyere potato gratin, and haricot verts dressed with a shallot-walnut vinaigrette, the wine exhibited nothing but classic cabernet sauvignon texture and taste. The gamey flavors bonded with the medium rare beef. Its suppleness was a lovely match for the smooth cheesy potatoes. I lament only its over the top richness, which prevented me from really savoring another glass.

We had no quarrel with this wine, and this experience confirmed our suspicion that wine critics further shake peoples' already shaky confidence in their own palettes. They've taken the fun and spontaneity out of opening a bottle of wine on a dreary Monday night and made it a commentary on the validity of their tastes.

But no matter. We finally opened a bottle of wine that we had been saving. And we enjoyed every drop.

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