Favourite wines tell stories

Benjamin Bridge’s process offers tales even better in the tasting

Glass Act: August 15, 2014

If I asked you to describe the most memorable wine you’ve tasted, what would you say?

Would you speak of its delicate floral bouquet? Would you emphasize its perfect balance of bright acidity and mellow oak influence? Would you mention its lingering mid-palate?

I doubt it. I wouldn’t either.

The value in wine, for most of us, is found not in its price, or even in its flavour or complexity, but rather in the stories it tells. This might mean that some aspect of the wine has become special to us: who made it, how it was made, and why it was made in this particular place at this particular time.

More likely, the wine tells us about ourselves. The empty bottle on the kitchen counter reminds us of the people we were with when we poured the wine into mismatched glasses, the things we laughed about together, the dance party on the living room couch that we thought was such a good idea until a spring broke (and then we still thought it was a pretty good idea).

These memories make wine live longest for me. But every once in a while, a bottle of wine tells such a compelling story in itself that it finds a place in my heart (and, if I’m lucky, in my cellar).

At the end of July, Benjamin Bridge — appreciated locally for its Nova 7 (the top-selling wine in Nova Scotia) and celebrated internationally for its traditional method (labour-intensive Champagne-style) sparkling wine — released to the public a unique batch of wine: 2013 Sauvignon Blanc ($28, available in limited quantity at Bishop’s Cellar, Harvest/Premier/Cristall wine stores and Port of Wines NSLC).

Sauvignon Blanc is a difficult vine to coax into grape production in Nova Scotia. Its susceptibility to molds and mildews make it a challenge in our cold, relatively wet climate.

Benjamin Bridge produces all kinds of weird and wonderful wines, and releases them regularly to members of its BB Club. But the rare public release of an experimental batch like the 2013 Sauv Blanc tells of a spirited story, and of some quirky ideas.

The land in the Gaspereau Valley that was to become Benjamin Bridge was purchased by Gerry McConnell and Dara Gordon in 1999. Gordon’s favourite grape was Sauvignon Blanc, and she was curious about a Nova Scotia version of the wine. In 2003, two acres of Sauvignon Blanc were planted at Benjamin Bridge. A few small batches of wine were produced from those vines, but they yielded very little fruit — not enough for a commercial release.

In 2009, Gordon died.

Talking to me about the wine he made with the former owner’s favourite grapes, Jean-Benoit Deslauriers, winemaker at Benjamin Bridge, used the word “commitment” several times — not just commitment to the legacy of a loved one, but also commitment to expressing the beauty in struggle.

Indeed, walking through the Sauvignon Blanc block at Benjamin Bridge last week, Deslauriers looked uncharacteristically sheepish.

“Yeah, they don’t look so good,” he said of the vines.

You see, grapevines need to struggle to produce good wine. The finite potential energy of one plant will find expression in whatever amount of fruit it produces.

This means that a low-yielding vine will produce less wine, but that wine will receive a high concentration of flavours and textures. Deslauriers described the Sauvignon Blanc yield at Benjamin Bridge as “decadently” low.

On top of that, Deslauriers froze a portion of the grapes. When you press frozen grapes, their frozen water content stays behind, along with their skins, seeds and stems.

A highly concentrated grape juice runs off. Deslauriers added this to the 2013 Sauvignon Blanc.

The aromas of the resulting wine are nothing like what I expect from a Sauvignon Blanc. But in the mouth, this wine really stands out.

I am used to a wine tasting nothing like it smells — one of the joys and mysteries of tasting wine. But I am not used to the tip of my tongue tricking the back of my throat. The extreme concentration of stuff in the wine makes it initially taste and feel like it’s a sweet dessert wine. But when it goes down the hatch, it finishes nearly dry.

In its creation, wine tells the stories of a people and a place. In its consumption, wine creates new stories, which we enjoy as memories, long after the glass, or bottle, or box is gone. These memories gain longevity by learning more about the wine we drink, and listening to the stories it can tell.

This column was originally published by The Chronicle Herald.

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