The Mystery of a Wine Label

It was Colonel Mustard in the cellar with a wine bottle.

He was perusing labels, trying to determine which wine to decant for his dinner party at eight.

Peking duck was the entrée. The cook, Mrs. White, had hung the duck with a rope near the stove to cure it for the required 48 hours. It was a dish he had enjoyed many times in the Far East. Ah, but duck is a dense red meat. He needed wine with some heft to it, not too strong, but with infinite balance. And it had to be red, even if it was fowl.

He picked up a bottle to read the label: Los Bravos Mendoza Malbec 2009. An Argentinean wine harvested in March 2009, the Malbec was a young wine made in the new world style, meaning it would have quite a bit of fruit up front. The alcohol level was nicely balanced at 13.5 percent, making the wine not too hot and not sweet.

The Colonel stood there looking from the Malbec to the Barbera d’Alba. The Barbera, from the Alba region in northwestern Italy, was also young and being mountain grown, had plenty of acidity to stand up to the duck. However, the label said 14.5 percent alcohol.

This is a wine that could pack a wallop.

He put the bottles down and picked up a bottle of Bordeaux. With a decent alcohol level of 13 percent, was too old for the dish — there wasn’t enough fruit left in that left bank Cabernet to balance the richness of the duck.

Remembering the timeless adage: “Old before young; white before red” and most importantly “dry before sweet”, he rummaged around in the white bins. Preceding the duck was a little bit of sole, a simple white fish.

A Sardinian Vermentino, light and crisp, or a German Riesling in the Kabinett style from Berkasteler — not a really sweet one he could tell from the alcohol level. At 12 percent, the yeast had converted most of the fruit sugars to alcohol.

The New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough was a bit too strong in flavor for the delicate sole.

The 5-year-old Chablis caught his eye. Made from the Chardonnay grape and grown in limestone soil in northern France’s Burgundy region, the Colonel decided it was a great match. Oak is used sparingly and the alcohol is in the right parameters – 13.5 percent. It’s crisp yet silky; has perfectly balanced acidity, alcohol and fruit.

And Chardonnay was the favorite grape of Miss Scarlett.

That settled he went back to the red labels. The California Zinfandel always has a fantastic quantity of fruit, but the alcohol level on the Turley was 16.9 percent! Even though it was a favorite of Professor Plum, it could be a bit hot for the duck.

Lastly his eyes settled on a Washington State Syrah from a winery in Walla Walla. The grapes were harvested from Sagemoor Vineyards, one of the oldest vineyards in the Columbia Valley. A very nice pedigree.

A few years of age, and not too over the top with the alcohol, according to the label.

“I say, this could be the one,” he said out loud.

The pleasure of a port, a mature, vintage port after the meal would be an outstanding culmination to the dinner, he thought.

This sumptuous, mellow fortified wine’s quality is due in part to the quality of the brandy used to kill the yeast before it converts all the sugar from the grapes into alcohol. The yeast just can’t live in such an environment. This arrest of fermentation, that leaves unfermented sugars in the wine, is the answer to port’s sweet, high alcoholic (20 percent) flavors.

It would be best enjoyed with the saltiness of the Double Gloucester and toasted walnuts Miss White would serve after dinner.

Since a vintage port is made only in the best of years, anything with a year on it would do nicely. The Reverend Mr. Green was particularly fond of the 1997 vintage, so the Colonel picked up a Dow’s and smiled in anticipation of the night’s festivities.

To be continued…

(Want more clues? Return to “Cheers to You” tomorrow).