In our tireless efforts to combat the premox (premature oxidation) problem coming out of Burgundy and provide our customers with the best bottles and most current information on the subject, as related to our inventory, we routinely go through our white burgundy and assess the color of the wines that fall within the limits of the afflicted years (1995-?). Over the past few years since the problem became widely discussed MFW has “graduated” its entire staff from the school of premox detection through tireless and repetitive comparison of the many bottles of white burgundy in our collection.
The most obvious and simple method of premox detection is tasting and it is almost always a part of MFWs “cull or keep” process. How does it smell and how does it taste? The answer is most often plain to see, or rather smell/taste. If you have ever tried a prematurely oxidized white burgundy you know how obvious it is. However, this method cannot be solely relied on if there is to be any mid-late 90s wine left to pass on to customers because by nature the process requires opening and thus “destroying” the bottle in question.
A different technique is required in order to assess bottles and keep them intact, that method is based on using much less obvious visual cues for analysis. Part of what makes the eye test more complicated than the taste test are the many various colors and shades of glass that are in used in Burgundy. These variations make the task of assessing the clarity and color of the wine nearly impossible for the uninitiated. Is the color due to age or premox? To make a long story shorter, the key to successful premox detection by eye is the clarity, in addition to color, of the wine. This can really only be accurately judged by those with reference points born out of experience. Through trial and error MFW has become very skilled at the art of detecting premox.
In this most recent round we came across a few old/rare bottles of the above wine and fell immediately to the task of analyzing the juice. In this instance Faiveley uses a brown glass for the 2,780 bottles produced of their Corton Charlemagne. In part a choice to defend against sun exposure, the use of brown glass is the most difficult glass through which to detect and assess the health of a white wine. What is an age appropriate gold/deep gold color and what is borderline-flagrant premox? In this case we found Faiveley’s Corton to have not only survived the scourge but to have thrived in its older years.
Note: The wine has a deep golden color with the clarity of a healthy wine. Fully mature, the nose offers up complex aromas of mellow, creamy citrus, subtle cinnamon and faint whiffs of petrol. The palate is soft and luxurious with a creamy, rich mouth-feel and notes of golden yellow apple, honey and again, subtle spice. The wine’s firm acidity is key to the protection and presentation of its generous sensory experience as well as its longevity. A true delight from an unheralded vintage.
Following on my previous Sine Qua Non post, which in passing references Califonia’s most expensive 750ml bottle ever produced, it follows that the other “cult producers” of California’s top wines deserve mention. While the 1992 Black and Blue, a unique Syrah/Cabernet blend, is the most rare and sought after single bottle of California wine ever made, Sine Qua Non only barely makes the list by coming in at #10. Krankl and SQN so often defy tradition and buck logical trends that it is not surprising they almost constantly find themselves outside of defined conventional parameters, as nearly happened with the list below.
This particular ranking system was created by wine-searcher.com on the basis that eligible wineries have produced at least five consecutive vintages and have a minimum of 20 retail/auction offers active on the website.
1) Screaming Eagle
2) Schrader Cellars
3) Harlan Estate
4) Bryant Family Vineyard
5) Abreu Vineyard
6) Dalla Valle Vineyards
8) Sloan Estate
9) Colgin Cellars
10) Sine Qua Non
The origin of the phrase Sine Qua Non comes from Late Latin, it’s first recorded use was in 1602. For those who are not versed in Latin, never-mind the origin, consider this phrase to have been plucked from relative obscurity and pressed into its most popular modern usage by California’s quirky Austrian transplant Manfred Krankl. It literally means without which not and refers to something that is absolutely essential.
Sine Qua Non’s first official vintage was in 1994 but Krankl’s most legendary wine was created in 1992 out of Havens winery and has become the single most expensive bottle of California wine ever produced; that is a story for another post. Starting in 1994 with four and a half barrels of syrah and a handmade label for his inaugural wine called Queen of Spades, Krankl took a shot and sent a bottle to Robert Parker Jr. with a handwritten note. The rest, as they say, is history. Parker scored the wine 95pts and was compelled to to call Krankl after the tasting. His advice to the future star of new world Rhone varietals, rethink your plan to give out your home phone number because “you’re going to get a lot of calls!”
In 1995 Krankl released 4 new wines, each with a new name and new label, no Black & Blue or Queen of Spades. This was to become the calling card of Sine Qua Non, to never repeat wine names but rather to create something new, artwork included, each vintage. This once seemingly insane “marketing” strategy is now considered remarkably clever. As Krankl points out “it’s funny when the outside world perceives something from different directions depending where you are on the curve of success.”
Many factors contribute to the continued success of Sine Qua Non but two stand out above the rest. For one, he was a protege of the late-great Austrian winemaker Alois Kracher and clearly derives much of his passion and winemaking acumen from this friendship. Secondly, is financial freedom; this is perhaps the most important piece of the puzzle for Sine Qua Non. Without financial concerns Krankl is able to focus unrelentingly on quality and disregard all else as secondary, if not totally superfluous. For his yearly journey to perfection, these and many smaller considerations have combined to achieve 12 100pt scores from Robert Parker.
Manfred Krankl is a unique man on a unique trajectory, his wines mirror that reality.