Thursday, March 8, 2012
Mer Soleil Silver Chardonnay: The bottle alone is worth it
But I like Mer Soleil Silver Chardonnay, mainly because I love the bottle. A few wine writers have been tweeting about the bottle over the last week since we got samples of it, and I decided to take my thoughts on it past 140 characters.
Why do people order wine in a restaurant? In the US, the two answers most likely to come up in France -- "to go with the food," or "because one does" -- aren't common. Most people here look for an experience in a restaurant wine, and that extends across what I've come to think of as the liberal/conservative wine spectrum.
Your hippie liberal drinker wants something tended by hand from a biodynamic vineyard where the cover crop is grazed by goats. The flavors are less important than the process.
Your conservative drinker wants a heavy bottle with an impressive wine, preferably one he can tell his colleagues the next day that he had. Here, the flavor is less important than the image.
People in the middle, what do they want? A variety of things. But while there are plenty of people who are content to order "ol' reliable," whether that's Silver Oak Cab or K-J Vintners Reserve Chard, most American drinkers want something special -- in some way -- when they're dining out. It's easy for a sommelier to romance the client with "only 100 cases of this were made" or "this is a reserve version of the one you see in stores." This is why the wine-selling wizards at Bronco make special brands like Salmon Creek only for restaurants. It's different, it's special, it's an experience.
If I was out with a group of four, and I saw the Mer Soleil Silver bottle on another table, I'd want some. Yes, I'm going for package over contents. But to me, his is by far the coolest wine bottle I've seen in years. Maybe ever.
The bottle is supposed to evoke the cement tanks in which the unoaked Chardonnay ferments. What it evokes for me is the Roman Empire. Surely the Romans didn't have containers this precisely made, but the design sense seems the same.
Technology has advanced since the Roman Empire to create glass that allows us to see the wine, which is an important feature we take for granted. We can tell when a white or pink wine is too old just by looking at it. Mer Soleil Silver could go brown and we wouldn't know until it got in our glass.
It's a risk I'm willing to take. I just love this bottle, from the gray -- not silver -- color to the unfinished bottom that reminds me of fine Japanese pottery. I wish I could drain the wine from this bottle and smash it on the ground like you do when you have a cup of chai in a train station in India. At 14.8% alcohol, though, I'd be smashed first.
The question is, how is the wine? It isn't as cool as the bottle, but how could it be? It doesn't ruin the experience either. It's medium-full bodied, generous with lemon fruit, yet not flabby because of the absence of malolactic fermentation. It's a fairly simple Chardonnay that would be fine with white-flesh fish or fowl. Fried chicken? That'd work great.
I also tried Mer Soleil Barrel Fermented Santa Lucia Highlands Chardonnay 2009 ($32) for comparison purposes. I was afraid after the slogan, but it's not a bad wine: certainly rich, but not as buttery and golden as I was led to believe. There's enough acidity to make it drinkable, but there's not enough character to induce me to order it.
The Mer Soleil Silver, though, I would order if friends were visiting just so they could dig the bottle and we could talk about concrete fermentation tanks and the Roman Empire and how if I worked for the Wagners I could rename myself W. Blake Silver. We'd have an experience, and any wine that gives me that, I can enjoy.
Mer Soleil "Silver" Santa Lucia Highlands Unoaked Chardonnay 2010 ($26). Buy it here.
Posted by W. Blake Gray at 6:00 AM