We had important work to do. There was no time for tomfoolery.
Andrew locked the doors.
The women were ready: Lisa, Jennifer Munro Clark, Inna and tiny but game Rachael.
The men were there, with hard eyes: Me, Andrew Munro Scott and Oleg.
The appointed task: Taste the damn chardonnay. No quarter asked or given. Taste the damn chardonnay until we have either composed a unified field theory of chardonnay or our tongues swell up and protrude grotesquely from between our lips. More so, I mean.
Three men, three women, a baby. Twelve glasses.
Our eyes dart nervously towards the bottles, and towards each other...
We bend our noses to the chore as the first bottle makes its silent rounds. Los Vascos Chardonnay Colchagua 1999, a Rothschild-affiliated wine from Chile. All is tense as the glasses are raised to the light. Seems to be a pale straw yellow color, a good chardonnay color. A sniff or three, and it's a bright, fresh and fruity-smelling wine, with nice yellow-grapey chardonnay hints on the nose mixing with an unripe-pear greenness. In the mouth there's some good thin diluted chardonnay fruit, but there's some bright acidity to cheer you up a bit. Simple and plain, but it has a very appealing juicy-fruity nose and there's no overt oak to speak of. I'd take this over Kistler any day of the week, but then that's just me.
Now that we are underway, the gravity of our chosen labor recedes a bit. We relax and proceed.
Alois Lageder Chardonnay Alto Adige 1997: A very good pale chardonnay color, very light. The nose is also light, giving up some good chardonnay hints of green apple and pear with some aggressive swirling, but not being too happy about it. Tasting this wine, you get an immediate impression of a glass-hard mouthfeel, tangy acidity, tart & grippy in the mouth, a lean and hungry wine. Lemony-tangy hints emerge in the midpalate and linger long enough to be a finish. Again, no overtly oaky notes to speak of, which suits me fine. Interesting. Not a wine to cuddle up with, but some fighting spirit and a lot of spine gives it some credit with me.
Domaine des Terres Dorées/Jean-Paul Brun Chardonnay Beaujolais 1997: Pale straw-yellow, some good chardonnay color. Softest nose yet, velvety lemon and yellow apple hints over a light rainwatery background; this is the softest and richest wine so far, smooth and lightly layered, turning a bit honeydewish on the finish. Small in amplitude, but very pleasant and smooth. Best yet, although I think a bit more backbone would be nice. A gentle wine.
Petit Chapeau! Mâcon-Villages 1997: Pale straw color; good chardonnay fruit and lemony supporting acidity in a lean and racy body. Fairly unremarkable, but fresh & decent, tangy & honest. A good food chardonnay (now there's a notion).
Savary Chablis Selection Vielles Vignes 1998: This wine is also pale yellow, but there is a distinct greenish cast to the color. Not aromatically exuberant--with swirling you get some nice minerally flint & lime-rind notes that suggest a reticent complexity. Silkily crisp and smooth, with a soft cushion of fat on a bright, tight framework, turning slightly lemon-creamy on the finish. I sense that this wine isn't showing all its colors tonight, as it's more intellectually interesting than pleasurable, but I'd keep my eye on it, as it seems to wink suggestively as it goes down.
With that, we take a break, sweat beading on our foreheads, before we begin the California chardonnays.
We speak in low tones, forestalling the inevitable.
Finally we can delay no further--into the Valley of Death ride the six winos...
Barnardus Chardonnay Monterey County 1997: Pale, pale gold color. Quiet nose, some light soft yellow fruit and vanilla, not much going on. This wine isn't doing it for me; soft and slightly milky in the mouth, some light vanillin oakiness emerges in the midpalate and dominates the finish, but other than that there's not much going on--it's simply and oddly neutral, marked with oakiness.
Plumpjack Chardonnay Reserve Napa Valley 1997: Pale gingerale yellow-tan color; soft, creamy nose of light pear, fig and caramel--seems a bit oxidized. We're getting into some lumberjackerry here, toasty vanillin notes dominate this fairly dense, creamy-textured wine. There's some decent acidity, and the wine has balance, but too much wood for the good chardonnay fruit to handle, and vanilla is the impression that lingers on the finish after the fruit has faded.
Testarossa Chardonnay Bien Nacido Vineyard Santa Maria Valley 1997: Pale lemon-yellow. Hello there, here's a big, tropical nose that just dances around inside my glass. Very interesting, pineappley-pear-lemon, vivid and happy. Weighty in the mouth, with a glyceriney feel, but lots of good chardonnay fruit, a judicious use of oak and a nice smooth lemon-creamy finish. Enough acidity to get by tonight, but I wouldn't try aging this. Very smooth and exuberant, a big wine that this confirmed Calchard-hater has to admit is his favorite of the assembled chardonnays. Just goes to show you... well, something or other, surely.
The experimental phase of the evening being done, we fall to haggling over the explicit details of the unified chardonnay-field theory, but that kind of heavy mental lifting only brings on dizzyness. A chair is broken somehow in a manner that escapes me (hey, I've lost three pounds!), and all the while we're slowly but determinedly attempting to eat Andrew and Jennifer out of house and home.
In the end we can only agree on one thing: to drink some more.
Some reds, then.
Bonny Doon Le Cigare Volant California 1996: Medium garnet color; light tobacco & leather suggest themselves shyly over a base of muted, slightly candied black-raspberry redfruit. Tastes smooth and balanced, medium-rich and flavorful, but also seems a bit tight and monolithic right now, a little hard. Not sure what to make of it. Seems to have enough spine to develop a bit, but who the hell knows?
Jim Barry Shiraz McCrae Wood Clare Valley 1996: Dense, blackish matte-purple. Hoo-boy, this smells way jammy--blackberry/plum jam on toasted-coconut oak bread. Hints of pepper and menthol, but just jam city. It tastes much like it smells, fat jammy fruit, vanilla & toasty, turning dusty and licoricey on the finish, with some pointy acidity poking through the fat fruit like a tack in a pat of butter. Not too good. I'm generally a fan of Barry's 'The Armagh,' and I expected a bit more from this wine (even at one-third the price), but it has all the oak and none of the concentration and depth. As it is, it's fairly generic overripe, overoaked shiraz.
Joseph Phelps Cabernet Sauvignon Eisele Vineyard 1979: Slightly murky matte garnet, still looks fairly young, only a slight bricking at the rim; pretty, rich nose--plenty of smoky cassis here, along with hints of tar and oregano, delicate yet rich and beguiling. This is a beauty to taste, full of feathery, mineral-tinged smoky good cabernet fruit, clear and crisp and layered. Light-feeling in the mouth, well balanced with nice crispness, it settles slowly on my palate in soft waves of flavors leading up to a long, slow finish. Beautiful, and my wine of the night so far.
Château Terrey-Gros-Cailloux St. Julien 1983: Translucent medium-light ruby color. Light nose, small hints of smoky, slightly faded red fruit. Plenty of structure here, but the fruit seems to have waned a bit, if it ever existed in the first place. Tart and crisp, a bit watery, but a decently-drinking small claret, not bad for a Cru Bourgeois from 83. Drink 'em up if you got 'em. And I mean NOW! Hurry! I'll wait...
B. Delaborde Sauvigny-Les-Beaune 1982: Pale ruby, lightly colored but what's there is still a decent shade of red, not showing its age at all. Light cherry-beet-clovey hints on the nose, this still has life. Tastes a bit thin and tart, with a slight bitter astringency on the finish. Not bad, but more a curiosity than a pleasure. Drink 'em yesterday if you got 'em.
So, having utterly failed in our scientific theorizing duties, we disperse into the cold eastern night, the alcohol in our bloodstreams doing double duty as antifreeze to keep us alive as we shiver at the train station. What sacrifices we make in the name of research!