The Austin Chronicle

Edibles in Isolation

Send Me to a Desert Island, but Let Me Have My ...

January 7, 2000, Food

Wes Marshall

What wine would I take to a desert island? There are so many problems. Desert islands will be hot and my wines will suffer from the temperature. I'll have to bury them in the sand to keep them cool and out of the light. Can I take my screwpull or do I have to break the tops off and hope to not swallow the broken glass? How about wine glasses? (Message to editor: Could I please have an endless supply of ice? I don't know when I'll want the Champagne, but it just has to be at 45 degrees.)

Oh, and while I love wine, I love much more and would have to be able to take Emily, my wife, for intellectual and visual allure and unconditional love; and Ben and Miles, my dogs, for slurpy kisses and unconditional love (I like unconditional love). Anyway, since I'm going to be stranded, price will be no object.

1. Arrowwood Chardonnay Sonoma County Cuvee Michel Berthoud Reserve Speciale ($45)

My brother bought a bottle of this wine over the summer, and it was a revelation. Though this is above my usual price range, it was so sensational I would spring for another bottle if I could find one. The wine was very complex, featuring vanilla and butterscotch aromas with flavors of apple, peach, and honey. In the mouth, it had a rich, viscous feel and the flavor lasted and lasted. Just the thing to drink while watching the sun go down over the ocean.

2. Becker Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve ($22)

Becker Vineyards (between Stonewall and Fredericksburg) is a charming place. Clementine Becker suggested that their Cabernet Reserve was somewhat similar to Silver Oak ($65) since they use the same barrel makers. I bought a bottle and decided to compare the two. We sacked both wines so we wouldn't know which was which and sat down with some chef friends and tasted. All four of us picked out the Silver Oak, but the Becker was amazingly similar. They shared a plummy currant flavor with lots of pepper. The Silver Oak was more intensely fruity and viscous, but not three times as much (like the price). I'll take this to the island to remind me of my favorite place on earth, home.

3. Caymus Sauvignon Blanc ($16)

Conventional wisdom holds the Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Special Selection ($100+) to be the winner from this wine maker, but I am inordinately fond of this comparatively inexpensive wine. It has almost too much vanilla-scented oak, but the spiciness of the wine somehow cuts through and leaves an intense tropical fruit taste that mates incredibly with a wide range of food. It should do very nicely with the grilled fish with pineapple rings I'll be having on the desert island. The supply never lasts the full year, so if you find some, buy it.

4. Chateau d'Yquem ($300 and up, way up)

The price is ridiculous, but d'Yquem has the potential to be the greatest of all wines. The master waits to pick the grapes until they are attacked by a fungus (sounds yummy, doesn't it?). This reduces the grapes to half their normal weight, but they retain all their natural sugar. Then 40 pickers go through the vineyard, picking one single grape at a time to make sure each is perfect. The master then crushes the whole lot and tastes. If it is perfect, he barrels it; if not, he sells it to a lesser vineyard for their use. As the wine ferments, the fungus produces an antibiotic that stops the fermentation while the wine is still very sweet. The wine is then carefully handled for three to five years. Twenty percent of the wine is lost to evaporation. What is left is one of the world's most fascinating wine experiences; rich, thick, and so complex as to be virtually indescribable. This wine was recognized in the 19th century by the French as the best wine in the country. D'Yquem was Thomas Jefferson's favorite wine maker. It will go perfectly with the liver I will procure from the geese flying south for the winter.

5. Domaine Les Garrigues Lirac Rosé ($15)

While on the desert island, I'll spend a small amount of time happily reminiscing about the trips we've taken. I'll take this wonderful wine to remind me of the Southern Rhone in France. Made mostly of Syrah, this is powerful, bone-dry wine with enormous fruit capable of standing up to whatever tropical spices and herbs I can find on my island. But it will also remind me of some very pleasant times in the south of France, sitting at a little roadside bistro eating some simply perfect food.

6. Gagnard-Delagrange Le Montrachet ($400 and up)

Again, ridiculous price. Even those of you with hefty high-tech stock options may have trouble acquiring this wine. Despite the cost, the wine is virtually all sold prior to even being released. What you get for your money is an awesome concentration of flavors. Le Montrachet is in Burgundy in the east-central region of France. This small-growing site is regulated by the French government, which requires draconian pruning, late picking, and bunch-by-bunch selection. The whole of the region is only about 20 acres, which is split among more than 10 different owners. Gagnard-Delagrange owns a small amount of Le Montrachet, less land than one lot in Hyde Park. This will go beautifully with the tuna I catch with my homemade string and safety pin while paddling around in my dugout canoe.

7. Peter Lehmann Barossa Shiraz ($13)

We had this last year at a blind zinfandel tasting as a mystery wine. Compared to California's biggest, fruitiest wines, it placed second, and at half the price of most of the others. The Barossa Valley is about 35 miles northeast of Adelaide in South Australia and is renowned for its warm climate. The Shiraz from this area is typically jammy and almost chocolatey. Lehmann's Shiraz grapes add a strong dose of blackberry and cherry flavors which heighten the experience. A steal at the price. Since my dogs always bring their "treasures" to me, hopefully they'll find a rabbit or an armadillo that we can all share for dinner. This wine will be perfect.

8. Ruinart "Dom Ruinart" Brut Rosé Champagne ($160)

Before I take this, we have to resolve this ice thing. As long as I can get it cold, the Dom Ruinart is a necessity. I'll break this open on the day we are rescued. This Champagne is redolent of pinot noir, which is amazing since it is mostly Chardonnay with some pinot added. The island probably won't have wheat, but at least I'll gather a reminiscence of toast from the yeasty aromas of this wine. It is an electrifying food wine that will match perfectly with a rich smoked fish such as the moray eel I'll catch with my bare hands while diving around the reef.

9. St. Francis Paganni Ranch Zinfandel ($47)

A blockbuster wine filled with jammy fruit flavors followed by an intense black pepper taste. New oak barrels add an overtone of vanilla. This is not a wine that seeks finesse. It is a bowl-you-over wine that requires a big red meat prepared in a rich sauce. If I can't find that on the island, I'll settle for swordfish or shark caught like the tuna. This wine is very hard to find; the allocation for the whole state of Texas is about four cases per year.

10. Trimbach Gewürztraminer Cuvee des Seigneurs de Ribeaupierre ($38)

For 16 generations, since 1626, the Trimbachs have been making wine in Ribeauvillé, a delightful little town in eastern France. This is my favorite of the line. There are myriad aromas from this wine, including roses, cinnamon, vanilla, pineapple, and melon. The flavor is deep, rich, and long-lasting. Hopefully, we will be able to find some peppers to go along with the pineapples and coconuts on the island. If so, I'll be able to make a Thai fish soup, with which this wine will be peerless.

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