About three days ago I arrived in San Diego, a place I haven’t visited since 1997 when I was here on a student exchange. What a year. I had come to finish my science degree at UCSD, and I did indeed do that. But my fondest memories are of life outside school.
For the first couple of weeks back then, I wasn’t even 21 years old, so was legally unable to enter any of the bars that, as a fourth year university student, I had become rather too accustomed to frequenting in Australia. No matter; my birthday soon ticked around, the school year started, and my time here flew by in a haze of perfect weather, minimal study and a seemingly inexhaustible supply of great beaches.
The intervening years have brought many things, one of which is my friendship with Christopher Pratt, co-publisher of Full Pour and all-around awesome guy. A few years ago, Chris and his partner made San Diego home, and the city has beckoned ever since. Finally, in my year of wine, I’m here again.
Amongst the many Californian wines I’ve been keen to try, few are higher on the list than The Scholium Project’s various bottlings. Chris has written about these in some detail on Full Pour, and I encourage you to browse through the archives to familiarise yourself with what must surely be one of the more intriguing producers working in California at the moment. We’ve already tasted several over the past few days, and none have been less than interesting. This, though, stands out for its sheer perversity.
This is what might happen if you turn Chardonnay inside out. Everything about it seems designed to test one’s idea of what varietal Chardonnay ought to taste like, from its emphasis on flavours that ordinarily sit at the edges to its radical re-rendering of some clearly beautiful fruit. The nose shoves things like nutty aldehydes, salt spray, Mexican candy and your grandmother’s stash of sherry (thanks Chris for that image) right into the foreground; fruit becomes utterly secondary to aromas that are ordinarily used sparingly to add complexity and depth, and that might reasonably be considered faults if too prominent. But do conventional ideas of balance apply when a wine is so determinedly styled to challenge those conventions?
The palate reveals a core of fruit that seems radically distorted yet weirdly beautiful, like trying to see a peach through glass bricks. This styling strikes me as cubist in its reconceptualisation of expected flavours. This extends to palate structure too; weight is much lighter than expected and lacking the sort of flesh one might associate with Chardonnay from California. Flavours aren’t quite as sweet as the nose suggests, although no amount of fiddling can completely rob the fruit here of a certain lusciousness. Texture becomes rough through the back palate, and complexity of flavour is unmitigated from front to back.
In some ways, I’ve no idea what to make of this wine in quality terms. It’s full of intent, shows good fruit and is vastly provocative, stylistically. Does that make it a good wine? Do regular indicators of quality even apply? I’m not sure, but I love that it poses the question.
The Scholium Project