During this year, we have sampled and tasted exceptional wine and spirits – and we have been blessed and sometimes cursed with a sensitive palate, exacerbated ironically by having Covid before there were vaccinations. For some reason, that disease created a palate where we could really taste and differentiate the flavors that other vintners mentioned.
J Vineyards’ 2008 Extra Late Disgorged (XLD) Russian River Valley sparkling Chardonnay wine has been a much-anticipated vintage, that delivers flavors of black truffle and hints of mandarin with each sip. In the glass, there is a faint golden hue and small bubbles that are clarified throughout the pouring and tasting. This wine graced our Thanksgiving table, and it was unlike anything sparkling or Chard we had ever tasted. And, as we learned about its creation, we learned why. Among other unique attributes, it was also a Very Late Disgorged wine. The word “disgorgement” sounds horrible, but when it comes to great winemaking, it is a rare process that produces exceptional wine.
In sparkling wine and champagne production. disgorging is the process by which excess yeast or “yeast lees” are removed from the bottle before the cork is inserted. Disgorging sparkling wine is an integral part of the production process.
When sparkling wine is made in the traditional method or Champagne style, the secondary fermentation, to put bubbles in the wine, takes place in the bottle, instead of in large barrels or vats. So, the wine is ‘bottle fermented” which means, additional yeast and sugar are needed.
Why is it done this way in terms of taste benefits? The main benefit is that the bubbles are finer and last longer in the glass. Also, unique flavors slowly emerge from the yeast when it’s in contact with the wine in the bottle. This process is called ‘autolysis’ and the longer the wine is left in contact with the ‘yeast lees,’ the better, up to a point. But after awhile, the yeast needs to be removed.
Thus, the yeast removal process is called disgorgement. It’s at disgorgement that the bottle is opened and the yeast lees sediment is removed. From then on, it will continue its life in an oxidative environment, without the influence of the lees. The later the disgorgement, often the more expansive the taste and bubbles, according to many sommeliers.
Which leads us back to the Extra Late J Vineyards’ 2008 Disgorged (XLD) Russian River Valley Chardonnay on our Thanksgiving table.
It was an exceptional sparkling wine, made from made from this variety:
2% Pinot Meunier
47% Pinot Noir / Pinot Nero
It is light-gold in color, and very bubbly. But it’s taste is what sticks in our collective memory. Thus far, we had not tasted anything comparable.
It was told to us there were tastes IN the wine that were reminiscent of black truffle, slate, mandarin orange, and peanut brittle. Probably more also, but these were the ones we looked for. And we found a few: the slate, from which a distinct minerality emerges, was co-mingled with a mandarin orange that remained in our taste long after the bottle was emptied. The taste of slate, which is a greyish rock, translated itself in taste to a tart (not bitter) memory, but blended with a taste of fruit, reminiscent of Mandarin Orange and of all things, Quince. It also had a slightly reminiscent taste of Mountain Elderberry and Red Currant.
Susan Kime -Our open bottle, telling us it was bottle 499
With only 80 cases produced for this XLD release, the 08 XLD is a uniquely singular, a truly thought and taste-provoking experience. We were fortunate to try it, and to communicate further with Nicole Hitchcock, the Winemaker at J Vineyards and Winery.
“At the J With XLD, we’ve taken Russian River Valley sparkling wine to another echelon,” commented Nicole, as guests toasted to the long-awaited release. “Spending more than 13 years aging on the lees, XLD reveals a new dimension of Russian River Valley sparkling wine. We want to push the boundaries of what people expect from sparkling wines from this region. We don’t celebrate age and maturity enough in sparkling wines here in California,” she continued. “XLD honors a different, more mature expression of Russian River Valley. “
Altogether, it was an exceptional, memorable addition to our Thanksgiving table.