What Happens at a Wine Dinner….
By: George Balling
We just held one of our monthly winemaker dinners this past week. We were thrilled to have Walla Walla superstar winery Corliss and their sister wineries Tranche and Secret Squirrel in town. As these events go the wine talk is always lively and robust with a lot of great questions on wine in general and more specifically on the wines, we are having that evening. The dinner last week was no exception with some great questions being bantered about, so what happens at a wine dinner definitely should not stay at a wine dinner, there are great nuggets of wine knowledge to come out of them.
One of the wines we featured at the dinner and the next day at our shop tasting was the 2017 Tranche Chardonnay. Mandy Mueller joined us from Corliss and explained how the vineyard for this lovely Chardonnay is located at a higher altitude above the Columbia River with stiff winds that blow across the vineyard. The winds provide not only drying to keep the white grapes disease free it also increases the diurnal shifts between very warm daytime high temperatures and cool night time lows. The Chardonnay grapes love this piece of terroir, combined with some harvesting techniques it results in the acids being fairly high in this Chardonnay.
One of the specific questions we received was, “Why does the Tranche Chardonnay present lighter than the typical Chardonnay from California?” Well, a big part of it is these elevated acids. Wines with higher acids will limit the richness of the wine and leave a cleaner impression on the finish making for a lighter bodied wine. All of the butter and oak notes are there in this wine but the acids keep it fresher and lighter. Another benefit of higher acid in the wine is that acid levels are what gives the wine longevity in the bottle. 2017 is well aged for any white including Chardonnay but the Tranche is drinking like it is in its prime with several years to go, all due to the growing conditions and harvest and winemaking mastery.
Another comment was how much it helped having tasting notes, which we provide at all of our events, and hearing both Mandy and others talk about the wine. It enabled one of our guests to more easily recognize the flavors, textures and sensations she was experiencing in the wines. We are happy we were able to improve her experience with the wines that night. It is why we frequently recommend to all wine consumers that they find others to taste with. You can do it at an event like a wine dinner or tasting or you can simply do it with friends and family at home, your expectation should not be that you will all like the same thing, that is just not the way the world works. What it will do for you though is help you to find the flavors and descriptors for what you are sensing in a wine, that leads to better understanding of wine and more meaningful enjoyment.
Chef Taylor from Beverly’s at the Coeur d’Alene Resort works with us on all of our wine dinners now and he is a true innovative talent when it comes to pairing food with wine. He works closely with Mary and I as well as the “Somm” at Beverly’s our good friend and extraordinary talent Sam Lange. The point of mentioning Taylor is how much his dishes accentuate the wines we serve. Another of the comments from last Thursday was “how much quality you can detect in the wine when they are properly paired”. We agree. Not to take anything away from Corliss Winery, they are at the top tier of wineries from Walla Walla, and that is the point. When you have dishes that are expertly designed and executed the food showcases the best attributes of a wine allowing you to detect the quality in both, a great experience for all wine consumers that bodes well for our future dinners at Beverly’s.
We received a question on why a winery like Corliss would segment their offerings into three separate named wineries, why wouldn’t they all just be called Corliss? Corliss specifically along with most wineries that take this approach are doing it for two main reasons. First, they are delineating between their different stylistic offerings. The Tranche wines are primarily focused on Rhone Varietals, while Corliss wines are more Bordeaux focused in their varietal selection.
The second reason is pricing structures. Corliss and many other wineries will offer different pricing tiers of wine with their higher end offerings being smaller production wines that receive additional ageing time prior to release and more selective choices of grapes that are included in the wine. With respect to Corliss specifically Secret Squirrel is produced from some barrels that don’t make it into the higher priced Corliss wines, a great pricing trade-off for consumers!
Our events always generate great wine “chat” and we look forward to more in the future.