Chapter 360: Wine Tasting
“Drank it?” Aubert’s voice took on a strange tone. “That’s good. Good! Once all of his bottles are gone, Jayer will fade in to legend.” There was an audible undertone of resentment in his voice. Clearly, there was a story there.
“Since you all are true fans of good vintage, I insist you stay. You’re in luck, in fact. The grapes are ready… it’s time to create the wine. This has bee in the work for three years. You can see how things are done, and try some flor perhaps. Since you’ve had some of my past creations, you’ll be able to better compare them.”
“That’s excellent then,” the Wine Master said, delightedly. “Thank you for your generosity, and hospitality.” Wine had been a passion of his all his life. The opportunity to try a wine made fresh at the hands of a master was like a dream come true. Beyond that, however, he was excited for discovering that Abuert de Villaine still lived!
“Gates, give them the tour if you would. Then return, I’d like to hear their perspective.” Aubrey indifferently relayed.
Gates stood to the side, and indicated for the others to follow. Once the three visitors offered their respects to de Villaine, they made to follow. Lan Jue, the Pauper, and especially the Wine Master were almost in a daze as they mirrored Gates’ path. This entire experience was unprecedented, culminating in the discovery of a living legend. Was this some sort of reincarnation, where the man became what he loved so dearly? What’s more, the man was frighteningly powerful! In retrospect, it was no surprise his Domain had looked the way it did.
Following Gates’ lead, they entered into the old stone building. As soon as they entered, they were met with the rich scent of white oak. The inside was almost entirely empty but for a massive cask in the center. The wooden container was ten meters tall, perhaps six in diameter, and a mystery to the three visitors.
Gates seemed to sense their curiosity. “We use the most traditional methods in biodynamics to make our wines. Part of that means absolutely no mechanical processes are employed. For instance, we till the land with horse and oxen. The grapes are harvested by hand, and only the best are selected.”
“We spent a great deal of time and effort in perfecting the soil here, all with the ultimate goal of returning those seven DRC wines to modern circulation. We irrigate the land from the lake above. That isn’t perfectly natural, perhaps, but we’ve taken pains to make this place as close to the mother world as possible. Currently, our vines are about forty years old. Once the wine is made, it is aged in oak barrels for eighteen or twenty four months depending on the crop. Sadly, our barrels aren’t old, so they will likely impact the flavor and quality of our wine this year. The result of our first harvest has already been bottles, while the others are still aging in casks. It’s still mostly flor.”
“Would we be able to sample some of the wine from your first year?” Lan Jue asked.
Gates turned his attention to the young Jewelry Master, then nodded his head. “Certainly. Now that Master de Villaine has given his blessing, we encourage you to. If you would please come with me.”
They walked further in to the old stone fort, where they discovered a flight of steps. Gates lead them down the spiraling stone staircase, and they followed in single file. As they went on, Gates continued the tour.
“Traditionally, wine cellars must be at least ten meters underground. The temperature must be maintained at between twenty and twenty-five degrees Celsius with a stable level of humidity to ensure proper aging. It is a long process, that involves dust and bacteria, but all of it is part of a wine’s journey. Accumulation is the key. On the home world there were chateaus that had existed for thousands of years, passed down from generation to generation. That, too, was a journey. It was the accumulation of that time, effort and experience that created such wondrous vintages.”
“Are any of Aubret’s inheritors here among you?” the Wine Master asked.
The Wine Master went on. “And you employ interspacial technology here?”
“Actually no,” came Gates’ response. “Master de Villaine preserved an old winery from long ago. Everything within it was exactly the same as it was during its hay-day. This isn’t that one, and in fact the original hasn’t been touched in ages. We’re not even sure the contents are still intact.”
Of course, the most important thing when sampling a wine was to make sure it hadn’t spoiled. A spoiled wine, of course, made for a terrible experience. Those wines that had reached such a state were simply called ‘old wine.’ These were largely wines that had been improperly stored, or left to ferment for too long.
Both Lan Jue and the Wine Master’s eyes were bright with the prospect of what Gates had revealed. There existed an intact winery from the former era? However, without interspacial technology to help control the wine’s environment, the harsh rigors of time would likely have spoiled all the contents. The chance that any bottle survived was very slim indeed.
The reached the bottom of the stairwell, and Gates pulled out a pair of wooden doors barring their path. They shuffled in to the next room.
Even before they saw anything, that rich oak scent rose up to meet them once again. Stalagmites peppered the area, holding high the stone roof of the small cave cellar. Scanning widely, one would discovery rows upon rows of oak barrels stacked on two levels with two barrels each. They stretched on down to the dark recesses of the cellar’s far end.
“We’ve just started, so we have around eleven hundred barrels. About seven hundred of each vintage. The first vintage has begun the bottle process, and the third has just been placed in their casks.”
The cellar was easily capable of housing that many casks, and in fact they could see many open places where more barrels could be stored.
Lan Jue spoke up. “Mister Gates, what do you intend to do with your wines once they’re ready?”
Gates looked back at him. “The Western Alliance has helped us in the creation of this wine. It’ll be kept here in this Alliance.”
“The Western Alliance?” Lan Jue’s eyes lost focus for a moment, as he pondered on something.
The conversation didn’t continue, and they instead went on with their tour. After they completed a circuit of the cellar, they came upon a barrel with a metal tube sprouting from it.
“What’s this?” the Pauper asked the Wine Master, who stood at his shoulder.
“It’s called a bung. It’s used by bartenders and sommoliers. After all, a person can only drink so much. Putting away an entire cask would likely kill a normal man. So, to preserve the wine for later, you close the bung hole 1. Everything must be done to preserve this water of life.”
Gates offered the Wine Master a ghost of a smile, and nodded his head. He extricated three crystal glasses from a nearby cabinet and handed them out.
“First we’ll try one from a newly filled cask. This is called flor, before it’s fermented in to wine. When you try it, really imagine where it will be. A true sommelier can tell the quality of a wine from a sip of the flor.” As he spoke, the elderly vintner gathered up a long glass tube. There was a rubber stopper on one end, and it one looked closely they would see a small hole.
He made his way to a nearby cask, and removed the white spile plugging it closed. He dipped the glass tube in, and plugged the whole on the bottom with his thumb. When he pulled it out, the wine was suspended within. Atmospheric pressure was an important element of biodynamics.
Gates poured a little bit of the deep red liquid in to everyone’s glass, then returned what remained back in to the cask. He gestured for them to take a sip.
Lan Jue swirled his glass’ contents and examined the sentiment, then brought the glass to his nose. The scent was strange, not fragrant as one would expect. Instead, it was very sour, and concentrated.
He took a sip and held it in his mouth. Immediately that acerbic flavor he’d smelled struck his tongue. This was what was called flor, and a little bit of grape juice.
Sour mixed with grape, a sensation Lan Jue had never had before. It was certainly novel. He swallowed it down. Through the glass he spied a name written on the cask: Vivian. This was their attempt at DRC’s Saint-Vivant – a fine wine indeed! He would never have guessed the flor would taste like this.
For a long while that tart sensation remained in his mouth. However, over time, it changed to something richer. This was certainly no comparison to a good bottle, but it was an exciting new experience. He was well familiar with the taste of alcohol, but hops were different. He couldn’t taste it as Gates had said, but perhaps that was because he lacked imagination.
One by one they went down the line, sampling all seven of the DRC’s budding vintages. With more experience, Lan Jue was beginning to taste subtle differences. Once they’d gotten to the last barrel – the Romanee-Conti itself – his eyes lit up. A smile spread across his face. “You can taste it – the best wines certainly come from the best base.”
Gates nodded. “That’s exactly right. Just as the best champagnes come the best white grapes, so that even when the carbonation has gone it is still a fine glass, so too is it here. The principle is the same.”
Lan Jue shot the old guy a thumbs-up.
These were the younger barrels, where their flor had been kept in storage for a year. The entire sight filled them with hope and expectation for the future. Each one of them grew more excited with each taste. The brightness in their eyes gave it away.
Eventually, their wine tasting party came to an end. They returned the glasses to Gates.
The Pauper gazed over the casks, and with a frown gently shook his head.
“What is it?” Lan Jue asked?
The Pauper muttered. “Maybe it’s because of the taste, but the Romanee-Conti has an excellent taste as well as a strange osmotic property. It’s almost like it seeps in to your cells. These are young, and don’t have that sensation. Not the explosive flavor of the Cros Parantoux. It’s like it’s missing something.
- Yes, that is what its called. ↩