Thanksgiving Wine and Ullage

Thanksgiving is always interesting from a wine perspective,
because you can do so much, and because you want to do so much, but …

 

Hi kids! 
Welcome to Mr. Robinson’s Neighborhood.  Yes, for those of us of a certain age, this is a reference
to Eddie Murphy’s Saturday Night Live skits, where things didn’t always go as
smooth as Mr. Robinson would like. 

 

Well, for our Thanksgiving day skit, our word of the day is
“ullage”. 

 

I thought I had the Thanksgiving wine situation under
control.  Thanksgiving was going to
be great, with both boys and their families coming (all three grandchildren) as
well as my parents and Lori’s mother. 
No problem.  Let’s start
with a little bubbly, then move into the still whites.  That should get the afternoon rolling
fairly well.  Then as we get closer
to the meal, I was going to open up 3 different 2006 Dutton Goldfield single
vineyard Pinot Noirs, and we would do a blind tasting.  Then we’d have the Pinot with the meal;
usually a pretty good bet, Pinot Noir and turkey.  (This year there was both turkey and turducken, but that’s
another story.  Ask Lori for that
one.)

 

Anyway, I had a great plan, which I told to the wine
providers (my father and Winemaker B so that they could plan any wine they
wanted to bring to fit into that framework.  And Winemaker B did bring a bottle of his 2012 Armida
Gewurztraminer, which fit in pretty well with the still whites.  And he also brought an old bottle of
Gamay Beaujoulais, which he didn’t really have much hope was any good, so it
wouldn’t disrupt any other plans. 
But my father – argh, my father – he’s past the point of anyone being
able to control him, except my mother. 
And she doesn’t interfere in wine matters. 

 



Well, my father got it into his head that since we are
rarely in Southern California to drink wine with him, he was going to bring up
some of his old wine to share.  So
two 25 year old Cabernet Sauvignons came up north, for the express purpose of
being opened on Thanksgiving with all the family.  It is pretty hard to say “no” to those old bottles, and even
harder to say “no” to my father when he’s on a roll. 

 



Ah, you thought I had forgotten about ullage.  Well, ullage is the distance between the
level of the wine in the bottle and the bottom of the cork.  For old wine, a look at the bottle to visually estimate the
ullage is a good way to guess how well the wine has been kept.  The closer the wine level to the cork,
the less evaporation has happened. 
If wine has evaporated through the cork, then air, and with it nasty
oxygen, has come through in the other direction, and has accelerated the aging
of the wine. 

 

Unfortunately, evaporation is not the only sign that an old
wine is bad.  You can have a bottle
with minimal evaporation and it can still have gone bad.  With these bottles there wasn’t
excessive evaporation, so we thought there was a pretty decent chance of some
good wine. 

 

With old bottles, decanting is a must, so there went my
three decanters (previously earmarked for the Pinot Noir) for the three old bottles.  With the decanters being used for the Cabs and the Gamay,
and wanting/needing to wait at least an hour to see if there was anything good
there, the blind tasting went by the wayside.  In the end, only the William Hill Cabernet Sauvignon was any
good, and at that it was past its peak. 

 

We did end up grabbing a couple of random bottles of Pinot
Noir from our cellar to have with the meal, which partially rescued the wine
situation.  Actually, the bubbly
and the whites were really tasty. 
Here’s a list of the bottles that were opened over the course of about 6
hours of snacks, appetizers and main meal: 

 

Mitchell Katz Non-Vintage Sparkling Wine, Livermore Valley

Armida 2012 Gewurztraminer, Russian River Valley

Armida 2010 Sauvignon Blanc, Russian River Valley

Optima 1985 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley

William Hill 1986 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley

Louis Martini 1987 Gamay Beaujalais, Napa Valley

Desmond Estate Vineyards 2009 Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley

Soquel Vineyards 2005 Pinot Noir, Santa Cruz Mountains


Next year I think I’ll drive down before Thanksgiving and
raid his cellar myself.  


L’Chaim,


Larry


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