Wednesday, May 12, 2010

What Happens When You Cellar a White?

This posting considers a:

Doyenne 2007 Roussanne ($32) and a

Doyenne 2008 Roussanne ($33), but

you could use just about any artisan-made white wine to conduct the same experiment.

What experiment?

Well, we all know that most red wines benefit from time in the cellar. Even six months can make a difference in relatively volatile wines such as pinot noir while others, such as French Bordeaux, often need years of cellaring to achieve the desired result.

What about white wines? Although winemakers often claim their whites are cellar worthy, I’ve experienced far more failures than successes in keeping whites for over a year or so -- and many are at their best soon after initial release.

But forget about long-term cellaring. How about keeping a white wine for just a year? Does it get better?

In this particular case, which involves a Washington State wine made from a grape associated with the Rhone region of France, it all depends upon what style you like and perhaps what you are having for dinner.

When our latest two-person panel blind-tasted these two wines, my other panelist, who had no idea what they were, remarked: “these wines taste similar, but very different.”

While on first blush that might sound like something Yogi Berra or Andy Warhol said, the comment was actually very perceptive.

The wines were similar. In fact, they were the same wine, but  a different vintage. Although vintages do vary, the Doyenne roussannes were “very different” mainly because one had aged for a year. I’ll explain later how I can state that with some degree of confidence.

I chose DeLille Cellars’ Doyenne Roussanne for this experiment because, based on past experience, it is well-made, complex wine that is very consistent from year to year. It’s expensive, but you can buy it with confidence because you know what you are going to get.

In this tasting, the wine in one glass was primarily notable for some fresh, citric vibrancy on top of a range of soft fruit flavors and good minerality. That was the 2008.  The wine in the other glass, the 2007, was softer, rounder and somewhat deeper in flavor, but it was also more subdued.

Which approach do you like best? We went back and forth, but in the end, I finally opted for the 2008. My companion remained  undecided.

Now, how do I know that the difference was mainly due to age and not to vintage variation?  Because after resealing and refrigerating the partially consumed bottles, we re-opened them a couple of evenings later. At that point, the 2008 tasted more like the 2007 had on the first day and the 2007 had faded to the point of being a lot less interesting.

Oxygenation, while not the same as cellaring, is often a good proxy for determining whether a wine is worth keeping around for awhile.

Roussanne, by the way, is considered – like pinot noir -- to be a difficult grape and in France, it is mainly used as a blending component.

Here in the State of Washington, where the growing season is very long east of the Cascade Mountains, roussanne appears to do exceptionally well and several wineries offer it on its own. As regular readers know, in my opinion a well-made Washington roussanne is a real treat.

Doyenne, by the way, is the label DeLille Cellars, of Woodinville, Washington, uses for the wines it makes out of grapes associated with the Rhone. The Doyenne roussanne is Recommended if you don’t mind paying $30 or more for a bottle.

For the record, this wine checks in at just over 14% alcohol by volume.


DeLille Cellars

The Characteristics of Roussanne

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