Tuesday, January 15, 2013
while i was in new york a few months ago, alice feiring mentioned that she'd come across some deeply discounted bottles of pinot noir and riesling from domaine binner at brookline liquor mart. when tory asked if i wanted a ride to BLM on saturday, i seized the opportunity to pick up as many of the binners as i could find. while i was there, i noted many fairly old bottles of wines i would like to buy and almost no new ones. perhaps the BLM demographic is shifting. in any case, i also snagged many bottles brought in by jenny and francois that were priced to move and a few cut-price bottles of single vineyard syrah from the berkeley garagiste winery a donkey and goat.
binner is a no-sulphur biodynamic viticulture native yeast winemaker. these types of wines can be divisive: i find they range unpredictably from undrinkably flawed to fascinatingly weird to transcendently gorgeous. it is difficult to bring one of these wines to a party unless the other drinkers are natural wine nerds or extraordinarily polite.
which is a fine excuse to open a bottle before starting to write a new chapter. as soon as the cork popped free, a miasma of perfume, the stench of those giant spotted lilies that seem to show up in every funeral floral arrangement, erupted from the bottle. the reality is only a little less dramatic than that: the room smelled of lilies for hours. i vigorously aerated a glass of the stuff but the lilies would not go away. it was tannic and off-balance, undrinkable. the colour in the glass—a pale brick— suggested advanced age, but BLM had told me that the bottles had been stored for almost a decade at the bottom of a stack of cases in their climate-controlled warehouse. i resealed it and stuffed it in the fridge.
the next night, you can imagine my surprise on pouring a glass: the lilies had totally vanished and the wine was in fact becoming quite lovely. it had a light funkiness but smelled mostly of red and sour cherries and a bit of sugar. the wine was nearly totally dry but had an apparent sweetness from the fruit, and the acid had balanced itself out overnight. not only drinkable but deliciously drinkable. in the interim, i'd sent a few emails out to my wine advisors, none of whom had experienced anything like this before. a post on a wine bulletin board (remember those from the dawn of the interweb?) attracted some comments that suggested that these odd aromas might be a characteristic of binner wines and identifying some of the characteristic aromatic molecules in lilies as lower terpenes.
fast forward to 20 minutes ago, when i poured the last of the bottle. it is now a seriously beautiful wine: light-bodied but persistent, smelling of just-ripe cherries. only one bottle of the binner pinot left, but this is more evidence of a pattern i've noted of low-sulphur, native yeast wines needing long periods (sometimes many days) of cold airing to show well—for instance, brignot's envol de la fille (lovely to start, more lovely on day 5) and some of gahier's jura chardonnays (undrinkable to start, beautiful on day 3), and a lapierre 2010 morgon (brilliant on day 4). and it isn't just that off-aromas are blowing off; the perceived flavour and acid balance of the wine change as well.
a topic for further inquiry, and a call (as if we needed one) to return to a slower way of drinking wine.