The Grapevine: Decant the Serrant 

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I’m not the kind of guy who brings his own crystalware to restaurants—but I know people who do. One friend of mine is so serious about wine that he totes an armor-plated briefcase stocked with oversize Riedel sommelier-series goblets with him when he eats out. Nonetheless, I did find myself doing something out of character last week: I walked into Caffé Niche for dinner with a wine decanter I’d brought from home.

As a birthday gift a few years ago, I’d been given a very good bottle of Chenin Blanc—Clos de la Coulée de Serrant 2002—and I’d run out of patience waiting for it to age. So I decided to crack open the bottle at Caffé Niche. Why decant a bottle of white wine, you ask? Well, although I rarely follow my own advice in this matter, I believe that most white wines can benefit from decanting. In this case, it’s not a matter of carefully decanting the wine to remove sediment. When I decant a white wine, it’s for the purpose of aerating it and getting it to open up. Rather than gently decanting the wine, I vigorously poured the Clos de la Coulée de Serrant into my decanter, sloshing it around to expose it to the air. By the way, the only reason I brought my own decanter to Caffé Niche was I suspected that although they are equipped with good quality wine glasses, they might not have a decanter on hand. Turns out I was correct.

Anyway, the reason I chose to decant the Clos de la Coulée de Serrant is that its renegade winemaker, Nicolas Joly, practically insists upon it. A staunch apostle for biodynamic winemaking, Monsieur Joly has said, “A wine must not only taste good but also be sincere, reflecting the subtleties of its place of origin.” The place of origin for Clos de la Coulée de Serrant is pretty special. It’s a single 17-acre property in France’s Loire Valley that has its own appellation, bestowed in 1952. That puts Joly in pretty heady company. Only two other French appellations are made up of a single property, and those are the prestigious Romanée-Conti and Château-Grillet. Clos de la Coulée de Serrant is considered to be one of the world’s finest white wines and can age for decades.

So I decanted the sucker. I was surprised by the color. The wine was nearly the color of honey and looked more like Sauternes than any white wine I’d recently drunk. Now, Joly actually recommends drinking his Clos de la Coulée de Serrant over a period of a week or so. Yup, you read that right: a week. Joly claims that the wine doesn’t go bad over a five- to seven-day period but actually gets better and changes character from day to day. I didn’t have the patience to test this theory myself, but I ran across an article on the Internet called “Six Days of Coulée de Serrant” in which the reviewer concurs with Joly. As for me, I’d just have to be content drinking this great wine over dinner in one evening.

Dense and intense is how I’d describe it. The wine smells of sweet pears and, on the tongue, there are apricot marmalade and apple flavors with a bit of caramel—sort of a liquefied tarte Tatin. A flimsy little picnic wine, this ain’t. Bold acidity runs through its center, and the wine has astounding length, drinking more like a fine red wine in that regard. It did, indeed, evolve over the course of dinner, going from unusual and interesting to luscious and lovely.
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