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14 May 2014

Sniff the Cap: Be Patient—Some Wines Just Need a Little Air

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And on the second day, it was good. Actually, better than good. And on the second day, it was good. Actually, better than good. Deidre Pike

Wednesday

On the night we open the Milano 2004 Redwood Valley Valdiguié, Dave skips his Italian-language class to stay home with me. Nice, right?

Because of our jobs, my husband and I live hundreds of miles apart. We’re together a few days a month.

The down side? Living alone; doing housework and errands and chores alone; cooking alone; and drinking good wine during our nightly Skype chats. Together—but alone.

The up side? We make the most of time together. Doing housework and chores together becomes a novelty. Meals are magical moments. When together, we drink our spectacular wines—smooth golden oldies or obscure varietals, bottles we don’t want to drink alone.

What’s not to love about a monthly honeymoon?

This month, it’s my turn to drive from my California home to Dave’s place in Reno. The house is at the desert’s edge, overlooking the Truckee Meadows and Sierra Nevada foothills. In the late afternoon, we walk the dogs out into dry hills of sage and rabbit brush, talking about everything from spirituality to parenting to our most important decision: What wine will we drink with our dinner?

Tonight’s planned meal is light: arugula salad with avocado, and baked mahi mahi fillets rubbed with cayenne pepper and smoked paprika.

We ponder a white. We have some nice ones. A Kenneth Volk chardonnay and a Holly’s Hill viognier. Because of the spice on the fish, we also might pull off a light-bodied red.

“Do you have a barbera or pinot noir?” I ask. Dave mentally checks his wine collection, noting a bottle or two of each. He maintains a list of bottles on a shared Google spreadsheet that I can pull up on my phone. If we sort the list by vintage, we quickly see our most mature bottles at the top.

Lately, we’ve been working our way through oldish reds. “Library” wines. Many California wines are released at a fine drinking time, close to their “peak.” Some varietals age better than others, so you don’t want to wait too long. A wine way past its prime can turn to sour vinegar—perhaps for use in zesty cole slaw.

Thus our conversation turns to the oldest wines on our list, one of which is the 2004 Valdiguié from the Milano Family Winery near the Russian River in Mendocino County. The Valdiguié, a single-varietal wine, was a gift from Dave’s Mendo-loving wine friend.

The production was limited to 105 cases. The bottle appears pricey but wasn’t terribly expensive when released—$14.50 a bottle. By comparison, the most recent 2006 vintage released sells for $35.

Valdiguié is a varietal from southern France, known there as Gros Auxerrois and in California wine country as Napa Gamay. Tasting notes at Milano’s website describe the 2004 Valdiguié as having a “soft fruit nose” with “huge cherry and raspberry flavors.” Full mid-palate. Soft, elegant finish. It won a silver in the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition and a bronze from the Orange County Wine Society.

I’m intrigued. Why have we not opened this bottle earlier? Is this the perfect pairing for a spicy mahi wine? Probably not. But no prob: We’ll enjoy it with some cheese before we eat dinner. Maybe with dark chocolate after dinner.

An unopened bottle of wine is an unread book. You pull it off the shelf, crack open the cover for the first time, and take a gander at the first sentence. Huh.

Not exactly what you were expecting?

That’s the Valdiguié. We open it and pour it into our decanter.

“Uh-oh,” says Dave. “Hmm.”

He hands me the cork, which smells … off, unpleasantly acidic. It’s far stretch from this odor to yummy deliciousness.

I pour about half an ounce in my glass. Swirl. Sniff. Meh. Taste.

And dump.

The remaining sip goes down the sink, and I rinse the glass.

“No good?” Dave says. “Should we dump it?”

I don’t know. It doesn’t hurt to leave it in the decanter, and see if it changes with some air. The fermented juice has been in the bottle for a decade. It’s gotta be feeling cramped.

While we’re waiting, we open a 2009 Zinfandel from Humboldt County’s Moonstone Crossing ($19). If Mendo disappoints, go north, wine-lovers. We love the earthiness of this wine. We enjoy the zing of the zin grapes that travel by pickup truck from Amador County to the Lost Coast, where winemaker Don Bremm crushes, ferments and bottles in the cool fog.

I taste the Valdiguié again before bed. It might be opening up. We pour it back into its bottle and cork it for tomorrow.


Thursday

He isn’t going to share it at first.

“You pooh-pooh’d this wine yesterday,” he says, orally volatizing the Valdiguie’s esters. He’s making what friends politely refer to as Dave’s wine “O” face.

“Yesterday, it smelled weird,” I remind him.

He pours me a glass. I don’t swirl, because the wine’s probably open enough from being in the decanter and getting funneled back into the bottle before we crawled into bed last night.

What a difference a day makes.

The flavor matches the wine’s ruddy color, rich and viscous. As for texture—what other words can be used to describe velvet? Heavier than silk, softer than leather. More body than flight. Ooh and aah.

The finish is plenty long and sultry. Tantric tannins. Shivers and goosebumps.

Tonight, we’re grilling St. Louis-style ribs. A loaf of sourdough bread is in the oven. We have olive oil and balsamic for dipping.

A crisp afternoon gale—Nevada’s zephyr wind—wafts through the warm house, rattling the blinds. Summer’s here.

We’re listening to The Tallest Man on Earth’s Sometimes the Blues Is Just a Passing Bird. The lyrics of “The Dreamer” seem a propos: “I watch the birds, how they dive in then gone / It's like nothing in this world's ever still.”

With a little bit of patience, flavors resolve in wines and in relationships. Some tastes are worth the wait.

The ribs pair nicely with the decade-old Valdiguie that’s been introduced to some out-of-the-bottle atmosphere. We eat and spend some time planning summer wine-tasting adventures in Italy. We’ll be together three weeks.

After dinner, the last of the Valdiguié accompanies a soak in the hot tub under the starry desert sky. To the west, a sliver of moon slides over the Sierra and sinks into California. Tomorrow, I’ll drive home.

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