Monday, April 25, 2011

Ben's Bubbly: 1994 Argyle Brut

Well, we are now at three full weeks of having little Benjamin with us.  He is starting to develop a slightly predictable sleeping schedule and he is more alert and wanting to take in all of his surroundings. He is starting to fuss a little more, especially after feeding, but he has not gotten to the point of outright crying. The cats are finally returning to their normal personalities and even investigating Ben a bit more closely. While he is still very new to us, these past few weeks seem like a lifetime and five minutes at the same time.

Thinking about how new and young Ben is got me to thinking about older and aged wines. A majority of wine is meant to be consumed within a few years of its production date. Only a small portion of the world's wine actually improves in quality as it ages. Some wineries age their young wines in oak barrels to impart aromas, flavors and tannins. This process is supposed to add complexity and ageability to the wine. Nevertheless, consumers (especially Americans) often hold on to wines long past their vintage date. There are really only four ways for consumers to have access to well-aged quality wines and the additional complexity they yield. First, and most likely, is consumers buying wine when it is released and storing it in a proper temperature and humidity controlled wine cellar. Second, some wineries actually take this step for the consumer and release their wines when they are deemed drinkable. Third, sometimes retailers keep wines for an extended period of time (intentionally or not) before being bought by consumers. Finally, one might be befriend a wine aficionado who has come by a bottle, or more, of older quality wine.

Many laws governing European wine regions dictate the aging requirements of quality wines, including sparkling wines from the Champagne region of France. Multi-vintage champagne must be aged 15 months before being released, and vintage champagne must age 36 months. After it is released, it is up to the consumer on how much longer to keep the bottle before popping the cork. Given ideal conditions, such as the bottom of a sea, champagne can age hundreds of years!

While sparkling wine from the eponymous Champagne region of France is often put on a pedestal, wine regions around the world also produce bottles of bubbly. While I was perusing the shelves of an off the beaten path wine shop, I spied a bottle of a 17-year old sparkler from the Willamette Valley in Oregon. As the price sticker had probably been on the bottle since it was released, I figured that I could take a shot and give it a try. So, for this third edition of Ben's Bubbly I give you the 1994 Argyle Brut.

1994 Argyle, Brut, Willamette Valley, Oregon

Made from the traditional champagne grapes, this wine is 60% Chardonnay and 40% Pinot Noir. While the bottle does not release as much gas as younger bottles of bubbly, the wine still foams slightly as I pour it into two flutes. A slight head covers a golden, straw colored wine. Very toasty aromas dominate on the nose, but I also sense hints of caramel, nuts and even herbs. The toast is still present on the palate and pairs with golden delicious apple, orange marmalade and a hint of woody mushrooms.  While this is a nice bottle of wine, it should have been consumed more than a few years ago. The acidity has diminished and it is lacking the vibrancy and liveliness that I prefer in my sparkling wine. Perhaps I will seek out the the extended tirage bottlings from Argyle that are meant to age longer than the simple brut offering. 13% abv Purchased $18. Good (tasted 4/21/11)

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