Let It Breathe
Posted: July 09, 2009
Toward the end of the work day yesterday, the California wine buyer asked me if I would like some wine for the night, and set an open sample bottle of Axios 2004 on my desk. Outstanding, I thought. Then I noticed that a coworker across the hall had the Axios 2006 on her desk. Time for a side-by-side comparison. So I ended up with two glasses of Axios sitting in front of me. These are expensive wines, and the 2004 didn't receive very positive press, so I wasn't sure what to expect. The 2004 had a nose of very tight fruit with little else. The fruit was bigger on the palate, with licorice layered in, but then the wine thinned towards austerity on the finish, with a sort of coppery minerality. The 2006 had an even thinner nose, with some funkiness, and more herbal undertones. Both wines seemed angular, almost austere, with big tannins. I then poured a small amount of the '04 into a much larger glass and let it breathe for 45 minutes. Maybe it was the glass, or the time, or just me, but the fruit seemed a little more present. Still, the wine remained herbal and tannic and angular. It made me think about how I taste wine; about mouthfeel, and about separating the skeleton of wine (acidity, tannin) from the flesh (fruit, oak, alcohol). Which was something I had on my mind already, since attending a White Burgundy seminar on Tuesday. It was an opportunity to try a great range of wines, to experience the similarities and the differences of the white wines from across the legendary French region. (Plus the speakers were good and knew their stuff.) The highlight (though not the favorite) of the seminar was the 2006 Bonneau du Martray Corton Charlemagne. The wine was surprisingly austere, not what I expected at all very quiet nose, very little fruit, just a monolithic mouthfeel and acidity. It was explained that this wine isn't about aroma it's about texture. Texture and development with age. Again, the guys that gave the seminar were just great. Total class acts. Just fantastic. Handsome and charming, too. I was again thinking about this as I poured the 2004 Axios for the third time, at home, with dinner. The barley soup I had been dreading turned out to be a delicious Italian-style blend of barley, broth and bulk-buy canned organic tomatoes with tiny bit of garlic and onion, served with a delicious grilled Vermont cheddar sandwich. The wine got better and better; with time the black cherry and plum fruit filled out in the nose and palate, still balanced by herbal qualities like tea leaves and a hint of menthol, without losing the tannic power it had before. Is the Axios worth the asking price of upwards of $125? Hardly. My fiancee guessed it at about $20 and didn't believe me when I told her the MSRP. I'd peg it more in the $35-$40 range. Maybe it's all subjectivity. Maybe it was the wine's exposure to air. Maybe it was the fact that the food was fantastic, I was home and comfortable and had Frank Black playing on the stereo. Maybe it was because I actually started to swallow the wine once I got home. At any rate, what I experienced was a wine that improved throughout the day, getting better with each taste.