After a long drive on PCH, we pull into a place we have been to many times. We valet the Porsche (a vintage 1984 Cabriolet) andwalk in to the bistro. The smell of fresh seafood being prepped hooks our senses. They have been expecting us. The man who runs the front of the house escorts us outside. From atop the cliffs and as far as the eye can see, are green and blue hues of the Pacific. The California sun lightly toasts our skin as we are seated and a gentle breeze carries the unmistakable sharp smell of the ocean water to us. From our table, we watch large waves crash on the jetted rocks below. A muddled thud echoes as the surf breaks and it sounds like an elephant jumping out of a tree.
The waiter greets us and asks if we would like something to drink. I open the much worn leather wine bag I brought with us and hand him a bottle. He looks at it, nods and leaves, returning with a silver bucket filled with ice and holding two bowl shaped wine glasses. He uncorks the wine and I tell him, “Just pour. There is no need to test the quality. Not this wine.”
Our glasses are filled midway to the rim with a near perfect chardonnay. Shawn Marie leans in and I follow, moving the basket filled with fresh baked bread. I meet her in the middle of the table, kiss her slightly and we toast the moment. “To us my friend.” I say to my wife. She smiles, noses the wine and smiles wider. She parts her lips and takes a small sip of the cool white grape and she stares at me for a moment. Then, she closes her eyes and swirls the wine around and around in her mouth. After a long pause, she swallows, opens her blue eyes to me and says. “Every time, every year, Helen Turley gets it right.” I sit back and sip.
On The Nose
Marcassin is my kind of winery. They do not care what you think. In fact, they could give a damn whether or not you want to buy their wine. They don’t sell to the public and you rarely see their wine on the menu at restaurants. I’ve written about this winery before and went into great detail on what they do. Marcassin is owned by Helen Turley and her husband John Wetlaufer. They have been bottling under the name Marcassin since 1992. Helen is probably one of the most influential women in the wine game. She has consulted for some amazing wineries, including Peter Michael Winery & Vineyards, Pahlmeyer, Colgin, Bryant Family Vineyard, Martinelli, just to name a few.
They grow primarily Pinot Noir and the prices can range from $300 - $350. The also make Chardonnay and those can fetch around $200 - $250. Double or triple those prices if you happen to find them on the menu at a restaurant. I’m not yet on their mailing list, so for now I buy my bottles at wine auctions. Their wines garner very high ratings from critics and with only 100 or so barrels of their pinot and chard produced each year that puts them in a cult wine status.
The nuances of a Marcassin chardonnay are unlike any wine of the same varietal. I’m going to break it down, from the nose to the finish. I’ll be using my wife’s tasting notes along the way, since her palate is among the finest I’ve encountered. By the end of this piece, I will have taken you through what a wine reviewer experiences, when putting each bottle under the microscope of censure.
I’ve allowed the uncorked wine to sit open for about twenty minutes and with this well-aged chardonnay, I have some tasting plates in front of me. On them, an array of assorted foods, items that help me find the tiniest details in the wine. The first plate has various cheeses; ranging from sharp to mild, from stinky to sweet. The second plate includes Italian and German cured meats, sliced thinly and stacked neatly next to my prosciutto, Triscuits, the most versatile of all crackers. Next to that is a pile of plain wine crackers, the ones that look like miniature marshmallows. The third and final plate is much smaller than the others, but very important, as it holds mixed chocolate pieces, from rich dark Brazilian and Swiss to my all-time favorite, the classic American Hershey bar.
The open beauty before us is a 2010 Marcassin Three Sisters Vineyard Chardonnay. I purchased it, along with nine other various vintages of Marcassin, through an online wine auction I follow. The closing price on this bottle was $195. It has been well cellared for the last six years. Two of those years have been in my care. This is a full-bodied white wine and it could easily go another four years in the cellar, and if I were to do that, it would keep changing its structure along the way. That is one of the magic things about wine.
A wine cracker, a small piece of sharp white cheddar and a nibble of salami are my first munch. Now, it’s time for the juice. As the wine is poured into the glass, it glistens with a hue of melted clarified butter. You know the butter they give you in a small cup when you have lobster. The wine is that color. Gorgeous. I hold the glass up to our kitchen light (a do-it-yourself mini-chandelier, that one rainy day, took me six hours and four bloody fingers to assemble, just as a side note). Beyond the color, I’m looking for its clarity. Sight is the first component to tasting. The visual appearance is where I first begin my opinion of the wine. This 2010 is considered near bright. Some wines are crystal clear, others cloudy, and this one has very fine particles (sediment) swimming about. This is because Marcassin does no filtering, fining or cold stabilization.
To the scent we go. After a few swirls of my glass, allowing it to open up a bit, I dive my nose in. I have on occasion, by accident, inhaled too hard and the wine went into my nose, and down my throat, which resembles waterboarding. Avoid this if you can. I’ve done it more times that I can remember, and of course, never while alone. Oh no. Usually at a nice dinner with friends, The French Laundry comes to mind. I’m deep in the glass and I sense honey, citrus fruit and something else. What the hell is that? I look at my wife’s tasting notes and she found mint. Holy crap! How did she find that? I inhale deeper. Damnit, I cannot find it. It’s more of a green flavored gummy bear, which is what? What flavor is the green bear? Come on. You know this. Yes, that is correct, watermelon. Not a fruit melon, but a candied one. I don’t find the mint. But this is of no surprise. Everyone smells and tastes differently. If I said it smells of old man feet, I might be the only one who gets that. This is why I tell everyone to drink what they like, not just those that are highly rated or have been praised in some tasting article.
A Touch with the Tongue
The chardonnay has been open for about thirty minutes. I gave it some time to stretch its legs from the cramped bottle, where it’s been sleeping for the past six years. After a bite of cracker and cheese, I bring the glass to my mouth and I take a small sip of the wine. I want to leave room in my mouth for the juice to move about. I want to get a feel for the body, of the wine’s viscosity. I swallow and follow that with another small sip again. I want my palate to get a feel for the wine, the acid and alcohol levels. How sweet is this juice? These are the first appearances I notice, with every glass I drink.
The intensity of flavor is all over the place. This wine is tight; meaning the flavors are all over each other. A bit more swishing and down it goes. I know that etiquette calls for me to spit the wine into a bucket and allow my empty mouth to find the finish of the wine, but at $200 a bottle, every drop matters. Besides I’m not at a Grand cru tasting in front of hundreds of wine critics. I’m in my kitchen, watching To Catch a Thief on Turner Classic Movies, wearing surf trunks, a tank top, and my Porsche baseball hat. At home, I do it my way. So my friends, this wine, this bottle, every last drop is going in my belly. I’ll drink responsibly when I Uber to the next wine soirée with my wife by my side, making sure I don’t say something… stupid.
The attack is the first sip, and as the wine dances all around the mid-palate is where second flavors emerge. As the alcohol settles down, the harder to decipher elements begin to come alive, like mineral and wood notes. This vintage shows many complex layers, so it’s going to take a much larger swig to find all of the particulars.
After many glasses of this delicious chardonnay, I decide it time to give my nose and mouth a chance to rest. As I look over my notes I stay aware of the last swallow I had. The finish of the wine is its overall judgement. This is where you will find the lingering demand of the juice. Do the flavors quickly go away or do they hang around for a while? This wine has staying power; notes of lemon and floral just float from the back of my throat. This is also where I judge a wines need, if there is one, for aging. Should this wine stay in the cellar a few more years or is it ready for prime time? This one can stay down for another four years. However, if you like your chardonnay with a tight quench and a firework finish, by all means open it now. In a few years the lemon notes will change as will the floral. You may find more apple, pear and granite; this I know, having consumed thousands of bottles of wine, with a wide array of ages and climates.
Lunch - Laguna Beach, June
Two empty bottles of Marcassin are propped up in the silver ice bucket, like Bernie during a fun weekend. The best way to enjoy any bottle of wine is with great company. Sitting alone in a kitchen on a Saturday afternoon is just for note taking. The real experience is opening something wonderful and pouring it for friends. If you happen to know something about the winemaker, winery or the varietal, then the story once shared, enhances the time together. Having finished our lunch, Shawn Marie and I decide to walk around downtown, holding hands (which we always do) and enjoy the many art galleries that Laguna Beach offers and in the distance, we hear the mighty elephants jumping out of trees. This is how you Sunday, in Southern California, in June.
Three Sisters Chardonnay, 2010
Produced by: Marcassin
Winemaker: Helen Turley
Label: Three Sisters
Region: Napa Valley
Appearance (Color): Clarified butter
Aroma (Complexity): Lemon, Green Apple, Lime
Body (Texture and Weight): Light and Multifarious
Taste (Balance of Flavor): Semi-sweet and Tight
Finish (What lingers): Lemon and Hibiscus
Food Paring: Any cheese plate with chutney and dark chocolates
Serving Temperature: 54°
Final Rating: 94
Drink now through 2020
The Y9 Point Rating System
Wine Score | How Good the Wine Is
95-100 Classic: an extraordinary wine
90-94 Outstanding: wine with superior character & style
Wine Serving Temperatures:
64° - Full Bodied (Bordeaux, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec)
62° - Tawny Port
60° - Pinot Noir, Rhone, Burgundy
55° - Beaujolais Nouveau
54° Full Bodied White Wines (Chardonnay)
52° Medium Bodied White Wines (Sauvignon Blanc)
50° Rosé, Light Bodied White Wines (White Zinfandel)
48° Champagne and Sparkling, Ice Wine
John Turi has had an impulsive career as a writer, wine critic, and artist. He has two published books of short fiction and poetry. He is a former child actor with the anxiety to prove it. He began college with a major in Mortuary Science, later switched to Creative Writing, and, finally finished at a free love hippie art college in Southern California with a degree in Graphic Design and Marketing. During his college years he worked in the wine industry and acquired a delicate palate for varietals. For the last 20 years he has become a private rare book and wine collector. He desires California Pinot Noir from Sonoma County in Northern California. As a way to pay for his wine and book collection he works as a Senior Marketing Manager for one of the largest adult sex toy companies in the world. For the good of his sanity, he is a columnist at ConnotationPress.com, where he writes a monthly wine column featuring only the best bottles. He currently resides in Southern California with his beautiful wife Shawn Marie, a motivational speaker for female entrepreneurs. Enjoy John's latest book 'A Drinker With A Writing Problem - A Wine Lover's Retrospective' available at Amazon in softcover, ebook and audio book formats.