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I lived in Laguna Beach growing up, a surprising town surrounded by more conservative cities that lent credence to the political expression, “Orange Curtain.” Access to Laguna is had by only two ingresses, PCH and the 133. The best part of that unique town was the beach, clean and infinite—relatively speaking—where I would come home from school and go swim when the water didn’t require a wetsuit. Since I left, I think one of the things that I miss most is waking up to the smell of the ocean (I lived really close); the salinity in the air was palpable. I’m reminded of my salad days when nosing a bottle of great white wine. The memory impetus was brought on by a bottle of Santa Barbara Chardonnay, 2009 Sandhi Chardonnay from Santa Barbara County—the entry-level in their cavalcade—dressed smartly with a demure label and sans foil to show off the glass. I chilled down the contents, opening the bottle over dinner with a couple of friends.

A pale gold liquid filled our glasses, with decent perfume of lemons and vanilla undercut by the salty spray of ocean mist. As we took our first sip, a confluence of minerals, citrus and a touch of new oak tornadoed across our palates, in its wake we were left with a complex, sinewy wine that possessed impressive balance. The alcohol was low and the acid was high for California Chardonnay and all winemaking techniques were gracefully in check.

Sandhi’s entry tier Chardonnay was delicious with dinner and long after we finished. Though I drank it miles away from my favorite beach, the bouquet easily brought me back to the Anita Street shores that I once tried my best to surf when the blackball wasn’t in effect. I can’t wait to see what else these Sandhi guys have in store.

Are those little pieces of glass? Okay, its definitely not glass, but what are those crystals adhering to the cork? Tartrates… huh? Never heard of ‘em, are they dangerous? Do they affect the wine? This battery of questions follows shortly after yanking a discolored cork, encrusted with beautiful salt-like barnacles of a wine you are planning on serving. They are appropriate (but unfounded) concerns and it suggests you are paying attention. While it is true that it can be a unnerving the first time you spy the formations dwelling contentedly on the end of a stopper, let me guarantee you that it is a cooler experience than a scarier one.

So what are they? The formations are potassium acid tartrates that have precipitated out of the wine, nesting on the sides and bottom of the bottle and cork. Some casual wine drinkers will go an entire lifetime without seeing them so I like to think of tartrates positively, sharing the experience with the people around me, with the nerdy enthusiasm of an amateur astronomer viewing a meteor shower on the sands of Anita street beach with my first girlfriend.

They are most commonly found on aged bottles but can also be detected in the process of fermentation. Tartrates come directly from tartaric acid; the crystals that appear at the end of the cork are actually the potassium salt but they are a result of the sediment from the bottle in the form of lees (dead yeast cells—the same thing that makes wine soooo creamy), pulp and tannins.

The next time you encounter tartrates please do not be alarmed; try instead to embrace the glasslike chards glued to the cork of your aged seven fifty of Riesling, knowing that they are a natural phenomenon in wine.

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