Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Visiting An Old Friend

One of my oldest wine books is a beat up copy of Frank Schoonmaker's Encylopedia of Wine, the fifth edition, reprinted in 1974. That's when I started getting serious about wine. It was an A-Z compendium of everything one needed to know, from Abbocatto to Zymase with 91 pages of appendices covering everything from breakdown of wine production per appellation to food pairings.

This battered book also houses my tiny label collection. Labels were a pain, especially California bottles. Europeans seemed to use more water based adhesives and were easier to steam off. I only have two California, a Ventana Chenin Blanc, which only brings back a vague sense of unease and disappointment and a 1979 Chalone Chardonnay, which always brings a smile to my face.

1979 was the year our first son was born, but Chalone was our special occasion wine, bought for anniversary and birthday dinners. It always had a great expression of ripe California fruit, but the finish was always long and rich with a wash of mineral keeping the flavors bright. Chalone also always seemed to be just beyond what I wanted to spend. It was always what we took to the cabin we used to rent in Oklahoma's Kiamichi Wilderness. After arriving in the dark we would boil some shrimp and drink a bottle of Chalone.

But that was years ago. The Chalone Wine Group was publicly held, Susan's dad was a stockholder, in Dallas it was only available through Sigel's. In our house it was eventually replaced by lesser expensive brands until I entered the wine business and now the sky is the limit!

AND SO IT WAS that I was invited to a Chalone seminar and tasting a couple of weeks ago. After a discussion of Chalone's history and terroir (it truly is one of the great terroir driven California wines) we tasted three vintages of Chalone, then compared blind to a Premier Cru Chassagne Montrachet. All the wines were terrific. Some felt the 2007 Chalone was getting too old, but I found it round, fat and full of flavor, with its typical mineral driven finish. The younger vintages featured flashier acid profiles, but also came from colder vintages. The Chalone certainly held its own against the Chassagne as both wines tasted true to type, Cali is Cali, Burgundy is Burgundy.

We also tasted Pinot Noir, both from Chalone and from Burgundy. None were as outstanding as the Chardonnays. My old friend has held up well. Chalone is now owned by Diageo, but still seems to retain it's identity. The current winemaker, Robert Cook, is only the fourth winemaker in the modern era of Chalone (that is, since Richard Graff resurrected the property in 1966.) Chalone is still in essence a monopole, as it is the only winery in the Chalone appellation.

However, I find no entry for Chalone in Mr. Schoonmaker's Encyclopedia.

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