Friday, January 30, 2009

Chateau Haut Bessac Bordeaux

Chateau Haut Bessac
Grand Vin de Bordeaux
Merlot, Cabernet
Bordeaux Superieur, France

$21.65 -- Vino 100, Lakeway, TX

Color: Rich ruby red
Nose: Licorice, plum, cornbread
Body: Medium
Front: Cassis, almost lemony tartness
Middle: Vanilla, caramel
Back: Cedar
Burns clean?: Yes
Cap: Cork

This is a delightful wine; not an overpoweringly rich or complex Bordeaux, but a good one. Still, it's tight--the 2005s are going to last a long time, I think, and this one is no exception. Be patient with it and let it unfold if you drink it now. In a couple of years it'll probably be softer at the initial part of the palate and even more complex flavorwise overall. It should make folks who like wine happy--neophytes will probably be a little startled by it.

Instead of talking too much about this wine, I want briefly to address an interesting phenomenon which may or may not be new. In the airport last week, I stopped for a glass at Vino Volo, a new airport wine-tasting chain with good food. They've got a tasting guide for each wine, done into a simple cartesian diagram:

Vino 100's chain stores also have a guide like this, represented on a line rather than a grid. Vino 100's lacks, interestingly, the emotional descriptors like "brooding" or "bright." After a few minutes of pondering whether I liked Vino Volo's Fruit/Complexity scale more than Vino 100's Fruit/Body one, I realized that what was hanging me up was perhaps the whole graphic representation. Rather than thinking about why they chose Fruit-Complexity-Body instead of, say, texture (tannins make a huge difference to some people, for example), I decided to pull back the lens a little farther on the question. (For you Marxists out there, they're not owned by the same company.)

These systems are retail-oriented, and that's cool as far as it goes. Wine, though, is at least four-dimensional. It unfolds in time, which has lots of implications, from the evolution of a single bottle as it's open over an hour or three, to the choice of vintages (which sometimes exhibit common features more dominant than certain varietal differences), to the state of hunger a drinker is in, to the bizarre, subtle, but noticeable difference between drinking wine at one time of day versus another. The pleasure it gives is also affected by the social moment in which it's consumed.

This isn't to say that the peak features of the wine don't matter--and certainly it's not to say that a ludicrously happy social moment at exactly 5:47 p.m. on a warm, early spring day on a friend's balcony in Charleston, after precisely one hour and eight minutes of decanting, will redeem a bottle of Thunderbird. But it is to say that Thunderbird has its moments, and it's the goal of most retail systems to sell you something from inventory, not to make you happy. So I'm a big fan of getting free taste samples from a joint until you find something you like, then ordering a glass.