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« The 50 States | Main | That Winey Fresh Taste »

10 August 2005

Livermore Valley II: the 5th Element

Last week I began my Livermore expedition with Murietta's Well Zarzuela.  I continued on last night and discovered a wine that claims to possess the quasi-mythical fifth flavor element, Umami.

Kalin Cellars, California's "stealth" winery, introduces us to Umami (旨味):

Roquefort_cheese_1"Western science has traditionally identified four basic tastes: sweet, sour, salty and bitter, determined by cognate taste receptors on various parts of the tongue. Culinary tradition has maintained that those four tastes combine to make all known flavors."

"..isolated and identified at least one element of the Umami taste - the amino acid glutamate. Umami is perhaps as difficult to translate into English as the French word Terroir. Linguists have suggested that Umami (pronounced oo-mom'-ee) has English equivalents, such as savory, essence, pungent, deliciousness, and meaty. "

Msg_1MSG anyone?  It's true, MSG is designed to trigger your Umami taste receptors.  It seems to be a way of making otherwise simple/plain cuisine taste more perfect, more delicious.

The big question, however, is this:  Do Kalin's wines deliver the Umami; or is it all just marketing hoo-ha?  Let's find out..

Dyquem_1Kalin Cellars is located in Marin County - north of San Francisco.  However, their Semillon comes from a single vineyard source in the Livermore Valley. Kalin's Semillon (actually 75% Semillon; 25% Sauvignon Blanc) grapes are from the historic Wente estate vineyard.  Wente's vines are the progeny of French vine cuttings brought to California in the 1880s.  The vine source is none other than the world famous Chateau d’Yquem (producers of wines that command several hundred dollars per bottle).

To my (limited) knowledge, Kalin is the only California winemaker that takes the credo, “We sell no wine before its time,” to the extreme.  It ages wine from three to ten (yes, 10) years before release.  Kalin’s 1994 Semillon is the current release of this wine.  The result is an otherworldly wine that nearly defies description. 

The Skinny
Kalin Cellars Livermore Valley Semillon, 1995 ($30)

  • Kalinsemillon_1Yellow-green-gold in the glass with some rusty brown undertones.  To my surprise, the rim seemed quite thin and somewhat watery (odd for an aged wine)
  • My brain can only come up with two adjectives after the first whiff:  caramel tomato (!!).  After 20+ minutes in the glass things got interesting.  the wine conjured up scents of butter, chalk, banana, butterscotch, and toffee
  • Kalin Semillon doesn't disappoint the mouth.  There are zero fruity flavors.  Rather my tongue is coated with earthy-funky flavors.  At first the wine seems delicate on the tongue.  Yet it kicks back with gusto to produce a tangy, caramel-y, lonnnnng finish.

***** (5 stars out of 5)

This, my friends, is a mature, incredibly unique wine.  Cough up the thirty bucks and experience something I never knew a California vintner could produce.  Umami, indeed.  Kalin Semillon is fan-damn-tastic as a wine-person experience.  However, mature wines do amazing things to food.  Try it with braised chicken & leeks.  And then tell me you don't want to try every single wine Kalin produces.

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Comments

Lenn

Beau...I actually heard about this guy at a veritcal tasting of chardonnay I went to locally (went back to 1992). A local chef (a guy who REALLY gets wine) was talking about it and the winemaker laughed and said "that guy must have enough money to wait!"

I didn't catch the name of the winery...but this HAS to be it.

Thanks for the post.

beau

You're probably right. I can't imagine there are too many wineries willing/able to sit on wine for 3-10 years before release. I'm going to get the Pinot Noir tomorrow. This may develop into a very expensive habit..

Steve-o

You've intrigued me. A shop here in NYC sells their Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc, so I'm going to check them out. How unusual!

beau

Let me (and the rest of basicjuiceblogville) know what you think!

Terry McGinnis

Did you get this at the SLC wine store?

Steve-o

Tried the Pinot last night; it was surprisingly "big" on the nose and palette - though I hesitate to use the word, as it wasn't typical-CA-pinot-noir-"big". It was just very rich in character; nearly overwhelming. Made it hard to taste in a "critical" way, there was so much activity in there.

Still plenty of red fruit 11 years after the vintage, but signs of its age were there - smoke, anise, and herbal edges.

Tannins were practically non-existant, but I rarely expect much tannin in CA reds these days so it didn't surprise me. Then I reminded myself the wine was from 1994; I imagine it had to have had a strong core of tannin in its early days, as the wine, while nearly-explosive in nose and taste, was quite balanced in structure in 2005. I expect that this wine will be good for several more years, which is fun. I rarely get to drink old new world wines...

Can't wait to try the sauvignon blanc!

beau

I just purchased the 96 Pinot today. I was amazed at the alcohol content as stated on the label (13.5%). Big indeed. I'll post my take on it later this week. Your notes made it sound very interesting. Thanks!

Steve-o

I should add that I emailed Kalin last week, just to find out if they did any direct shipping (I've been enjoying this newly recognized freedom here in NYC). On Saturday morning, Frances Leighton called me at home. I'm definitely not used to that kind of attention and service. Thumbs up for Kalin on that score.

(for the curious; they don't really do direct shipping, especially this time of year (given the weather), but will happily put you in touch with their nearest distributor so you can arrange to buy through them).

legal bud

First, I know that Cory’ s fund is empty, and that he was hoping to be able to buy his children some Christmas presents. Keep in mind, this is not a legal defense fund. Covington and Burling is covering all of his legal expenses. This is a fund that enables Cory to pay for his family to come visit him, buy things from the prison canteen, and buy gifts for his kids. You can send a check to:

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