A Novel Wine Fault

Once a year the Queen of Cuisine accedes to my taste for goose.  I get a fresh one from my friend Stanley Janacek of White House Meats (on Bayview Avenue in Toronto.)  This year it was a 18 1/2 pounder, the largest such specimen Stanley had ever seen.  Her Majesty steamed, braised and roasted the bird, producing moist and delicious meat under a rich crispy skin.  (If you’ve had goose that was dry or greasy, you’ve had it prepared wrong or used a frozen bird.)

I wanted a special wine to go with my special goose, so I dug into the cellar and found a Domaine de Villeneuve Chateauneuf du Pape 2007.  The producer has been reliable in the past (I have fond memories of the 1989) and the ’07s, from a roasted vintage, have become at least approachable over their six years of life.

When I pulled the cork on the Villeneuve I thought I saw a froth rise to the surface of the wine in the bottle.  I sniffed at the drip ring but detected none of the off-odours associated with bacterial contamination–no vinegar, no mouse smells, no bad smells at all.  When I tasted the wine it was distinctly spritzy.  The Queen and one of the Princesses actually enjoyed the effect.  I found it a bit distressing and noted that the underlying wine seemed fruity but simpler than what I would have expected from an ’07 CDP.  It had a surprisingly Champenois note.  What was going on here?

My first clue came from discrepant alcohol measurements on the front and back labels of the bottle.  The front (winery) label claimed 15% alcohol by volume.  The back label, which could have been applied anywhere between the Domaine and my liquor store, stated that the alcohol level was 15.5%.  Said alcohol is fermented from sugar in the wine grapes.  In ’07, hot dry sunny conditions during the growing season pushed sugar levels high enough that more residual sugar than intended would have been left in some batches of the wine after fermentation.  A stray yeast could have started a second fermentation in the bottle, the original technique for producing sparkling wines still used in some regions.  The result would have been a fizzy red with no off-odours.  Eureka!  I’ve tasted sparkling CDP created by a second fermentation of very sugary wine in the bottle.

I don’t need to taste it again.  I’m just pleased that I got the chance this once.  And the goose (and Indian spiced cauliflower fritters) were wonderful.

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About iwolkoff

Irvin Wolkoff is a psychiatrist and wine journalist who has been a wine enthusiast and collector since his university days.
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