This holiday season, we've made the decision to try to look back systematically at several of the wines that we don't open that often, and try to wrap our heads around how they age and at what stage(s) they are particularly good. This information will be incorporated into the vintage chart that we maintain. Last week we took a look at some vintages of Panoplie. This week, we turned to our Vin de Paille Quintessence.
If you are unfamiliar with the vin de paille process, it is a traditional method for producing sweet wines by concentrating the grapes on straw. The advantage of this technique (compared to, say, a late harvest) is that you pick the grapes at ripeness, rather than overripeness, and concentrate not just the sugars, but also the acids, varietal character and mineral character. [For a detailed look at the process, see my blog piece from 2010: Vin de Paille: A Dessert Wine Making Technique for the Obsessed.]
The Quintessence is a wine we've made five times: each vintage between 2003 and 2006, and then again in 2010. It is 100% Roussanne, made by selecting one or two barrels out of the larger number (typically 4-6) of barrels of vin de paille we made that year. After choosing the most concentrated barrel or two, we let it age an extra year in barrel before bottling it along with that same year's reds. The time in barrel gives it extra depth of flavor, and allows it to pick up a little more oak, which we think suits this sweet, powerful Roussanne well. The wines:
I was joined for the tasting by my dad, along with Assistant Winemaker Chelsea Franchi and National Sales Manager Darren Delmore. The tasting notes (with alcohol and residual sugar listed):
- 2003 Vin de Paille "Quintessence" (9.1% ABV; 233 g/L residual sugar): A nose of candied orange peel, wheat, dried roses, and the caramel sauce from a crème caramel. There is also a little volatility to the floral aromatics that I found a little challenging, like an aerosol spray of a floral scent. The mouth is very sweet -- I found it inescapably reminiscent of golden raisins -- while others around the table called out dates and baked pear. The texture was quite thick, and my dad's comment was that he felt the wine was "not winey enough; a bit on the syrupy side". Not my favorite of the the lineup, but I'm not sure if it's a stage it will come out of or if it's getting over the hill.
- 2004 Vin de Paille "Quintessence" (14.5% ABV; 153 g/L residual sugar): On the nose, it showed older and a bit more oxidized than the 2003, with aromas of caramel, hazelnuts, and (the first time I've ever called this in a tasting note) suede leather. The mouth is fascinating: crystallized ginger, burnt sugar, maraschino cherry, and a little welcome bitterness that reminded me of pear skin. My dad's comment was that it was "not for everyone, but would be really impressive with a caramel dessert".
- 2005 Vin de Paille "Quintessence" (8.6% ABV; 310 g/L residual sugar): Dark amber in the glass, even more so than the first two wines. On the nose, brandy-soaked pears, yeasty, with some nice wood smoke (from the barrel, we thought) and a nutty, caramely pecan pie aspect. On the palate, very sweet (the highest residual sugar of the five wines) but with more notable acidity than the two earlier wines. The flavors of candied lemon peel and milk caramels were still young, rich, and massive. Chelsea called the experience "bananas foster" which I thought nailed it.
- 2006 Vin de Paille "Quintessence" (8.6% ABV; 280 g/L residual sugar): On the nose, more stone fruit than the earlier wines, with dried apricots, baking spices (someone called out oatmeal cookie), and an almost-honey character that Darren identified as "bee pollen". The mouth is tangy and seemed younger and fresher than the three older wines, with more pit fruit and dried mango, and great acidity on the finish. My favorite of the older wines.
- 2010 Vin de Paille "Quintessence" (11.5% ABV; 199 g/L residual sugar): On the nose, vibrantly and immediately Roussanne, with peppered citrus, ginger, mango, star anise, and a hoppy, savory bite that provided nice balance to the sweetness. The mouth was very fresh, with more mango, passion fruit, wildflower honey and something floral that reminded me of once when someone had shared with me home-made candied violets. There are excellent acids on the finish, which is quite a bit cleaner and more refreshing than the older wines.
A few concluding thoughts:
- I think we may have been telling people to wait too long on these wines. In general, the younger they were, the more I liked them, though there was more complexity in, say, the 2006 than in the more primary 2010. With holiday season coming up, I'm looking forward to breaking into my stash of wines I've been saving!
- The wines with more sugar (and correspondingly richer texture) seemed like they needed food more badly. It would have been interesting to have this tasting done with a variety of desserts. With something like a crème brûlée these richer wines would almost certainly have shown better, whereas they might have overwhelmed a fruit-based dessert like a peach or pear tart (for those types of dessert, the less-sweet 2010 seemed like a natural fit).
- Boy, is acidity important in sweet wines. The tasting reinforced my opinion that for wines like these, picking on the early side, and capturing more acidity to then concentrate, is highly recommended.
- I really like the change in packaging that we made between 2006 and 2010, to put the wine in a clear glass bottle.
I hadn't focused on the fact that we haven't made this wine now in five vintages (though we did make our standard Vin de Paille in 2012). In large part, this has been because of our low yields during the drought, and our desire to leave enough Roussanne for our dry wines. But the fact that there's not a huge market domestically for dessert wines has also played a role. That said, the wines really were impressive, and I've always gotten a great response when I've included them in a winemaker dinner. if we have decent yields in 2016, I'd like to take another crack at this.