Thursday, May 30, 2013

Duck Walk 2011 Sauvignon Blanc Cuvée Select

Producer: Duck Walk Vineyards
Name: Sauvignon Blanc Cuvée Select
Varietal: Sauvignon Blanc
Region: Long Island, USA
Vintage: 2011
Tasted: May 13, 2013
ABV: 12.5%

How often have we heard Sauvignon Blanc described as "crisp"? Other adjectives are negotiable: Sauvignon Blanc may be sweet or dry; grassy or tropical; spunky or reserved; light or rich; mild or profound. To be sure, those dichotomies are legitimate, having to do with where the grapes are grown, how the wine is made, and no small dose of chance. But "crisp" - well, one who spends enough time in the wide world of wine will be excused if he comes to think that a picture of Sauvignon Blanc appears next to "crisp" in Merriam-Webster's. There is no escaping the phrase. Wine reviews, wine surveys, wine labels, wine advertisements - they all, without fail, are sure to explain just how crisp this or that Sauvignon Blanc really is. It is no less fundamental a description of the wine than "white".

But what do we mean by "crisp"? It is not easy to describe. As with any other adjective whose implication people take for granted from a very young age, to define it without resorting to mere lists of examples and roundabout categorizations is a most mischievously exacting task indeed. (If unsure what I mean here, try to define "red".) To simplify for the sake of convenience and brevity, I find that "crisp" generally refers to a distinct, even sharpness, or else the palpable potential thereof. This phenomenon is most commonly associated with the senses of sound and touch, such as with apples, paper, and autumnal air, but may certainly apply to any of the other senses as well, in this case taste via the olfactory nerves. (Most of what people taste in wine, coffee, and a hefty menu of other foods and drinks, are in fact sensed through the olfactory nerves, not the taste buds.)

The next question is, if a wine is to be called "crisp", what does that mean about the wine? Is it the flavors that are crisp? The texture? Does the liquid itself slice about the mouth? A Sauvignon Blanc may have any or all such aspects of crispness. The 2011 Cuvée Select by Duck Walk Vineyards on Long Island, New York, displays a smooth body, but a distinct sharpness of flavor that exemplifies what a Sauvignon Blanc is known to be.

Before it ever occurred to me to dissect the word "crisp" as above, I made the following note on this wine's color: "Clear, crisp, medium goldenrod. A bubble or two, but otherwise smooth." The first aromas are of melon: sweet, smooth, and deep. After a few seconds, it opens up a little, and citrus appears, but in an easygoing sort of way. It is not acidic. The entire aroma, even the citrus, is rather tropical.

In the mouth it is quite different. Riding on a full body, the citrus is much more dominant here, with notes of lemon zest and quince. An emergent acidity gives the wine a spark on the tongue. The remaining melon flavor, and a new note of nectarine, are very subtle. The texture here is smooth, but the flavor - fruity, but not tart so much as tangy - is not. By no means spicy, it is just as strong as though it were. It is pungent, in a sharp sort of way. It is - crisp. The finish is of lemon zest and pears, and it, too, is strong and pungent.

After aerating for twenty minutes, the wine is mellowed out some. The aroma is still of tropical fruitiness. Disappeared from the nose, the citrus is still dominant in the mouth, though the melon and nectarine have grown in prominence. The flavor as a whole has smoothed out to match the texture. It is still strong, but not pungent; maybe "full". My notes say "swirls of fruit". The finish now has added to it some melon.

As anyone familiar with Sauvignon Blanc has likely discerned by now, this wine can pair with a wide variety of foods. Like many whites it is also good, if chilled a bit, for simply sipping in the sun now that the warm weather is upon us. You will probably sip it among friends or family, in a backyard or similarly intimate venue to relax as a group, all convened after an busy Sunday of brunch, errands, baseball, and crossword puzzles. As you start to realize that it is almost dinner time, someone will right away reach for the wine, and someone else will get the glasses as the bottle is opened. The first glass will be about halfway finished before somebody serves snacks, then barbecue. Then the sun will signal that it will be setting any hour now, and some dessert will be served, maybe a strawberry shortcake, or a melon carved into a funny shape. Be sure, as you sip the wine, enjoying its rich texture and complexity of fruits, to take a brief moment - a pause in the conversation, a shifting of seats as someone gets up, or, best yet, a momentary retreat from the gossip for just long enough to glance over to where the lower ridge of the big, red sun is shimmering and shaking and digging the hole in the horizon into which the entire orb is about to descend - to truly enjoy it.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Organic Bai Mu Dan

Name: Organic Bai Mu Dan 
Type: White Tea
Purveyor: You, Me and Tea
Preparation: One teaspoon steeped in about eight ounces of 180-degree water for 4:30, sipped plain

Bai mudan means "white peony" in Chinese. The Chinese have other words for "peony" in addition to mudan, among them fuguihua ("flower of riches and honor") and huawang ("king of the flowers"). We might reasonably expect, upon learning this, that if they were to name a tea after this important symbol, they would reserve it for a premium variety. And indeed they have: whereas the other main grade of Chinese white tea, bai hao yinzhen ("white hair silver needle"), is made just from leaf shoots, bai mudan is prepared from shoots with young leaves on them. Bai hao yinzhen is very popular for its lighter, gentler flavors, but bai mudan takes no back seat with its more robust flavor profile, which, because it is robust only relative to white teas, results in a delightful beverage that offers nice, light tasting notes without devolving altogether into a glorified cup of barely flavored water.

The dry leaves of this organic Bai Mu Dan from You, Me and Tea are hazel colored. They are sizeable, and really do not appear terribly withered or curled up. The leaves smell very much of citrus - sweet citrus - maybe with the slightest wisp of white table grapes. They brew into a light, gentle, sprightly beverage that shakes about playfully as the vessel gets moved around. It is not at all unlike the color of a white peach.

The aroma is sweet and malty, smooth, with clear notes of citrus and melon, along with a side of very mild tannins. The first thing noticed upon sipping it is the light body, followed immediately by the delightful citrus and the practical absence of tannins. The beverage is not brisk, but one can discern that if there were a few more tannins about, then it would indeed be brisk, and that would not be such a bad thing. After a few sips, one notices a maltiness beginning to poke its way about, sneaking up from the back of the palate. It never overpowers, but with each sip it becomes felt further and further up the mouth, until soon malt is forming an underlying context in which all of the other tasting notes, heretofore independently frolicking about, are now playing together.

Thinking about it for far longer than anyone with something useful to do ought to spend thinking about it, I have found that this organic Bai Mu Dan bears a vague resemblance to a first flush Darjeeling tea.

In fidelity to the traditions of elegance and beauty that brought this tea about and have tended to its continuing prosperity, the tea has a lovely finish that rewards those who explore it most thoroughly: florals emerge for the first time, and form a lovely scene on the palate in which, if one waits just a moment or two extra, light notes of citrus and melon pass through with a breezy flourish.

Despite being lighter and more energetic than traditional tea-time teas, which tend to be deeper, smoother, calmer, and more thoughtful, thusly lending themselves to relaxation and quiet contemplation, this Bai Mu Dan is recommended more for the afternoon than for the morning. It is caffeinated and will work just fine for a chemical wakening agent, yes. However, its personality is much better suited for someone who is already about the day. The Bai Mu Dan is playful, energetic, almost cute in its childlike get-up-and-go. To get the most out of it, one should approach it already awake, in good humor, excited at the very thought of unshouldering the burdens of the day and expending the rest of one's energy in sweet recreation. Have an extra few minutes on the way to your kid's baseball game after work? The Bai Mu Dan is eagerly waiting to accompany you along the way. Done with your chores and errands for the weekend and looking forward to yoga class? This BMD just wrote your name on itself, and in your favorite font at that. Come to think of it, morning sipping may work after all: if you are one of those lucky devils who continues to spring out of bed with bountiful verve every single morning, and find yourself having just finished your jog at sunrise and now preparing to tackle the preposterous challenges with which a phalanx of bosses and coworkers has schemed to bombard you before you have even traversed the office parking lot - then a little Bai Mu Dan on the way there is just what the doctor ordered.

Pick some up today, and enjoy.