M. CHAPOUTIER BILA-HAUT SYRAH/GRENACHE, CARIGNAN (2009)—No, it didn’t have 9 lives; it’s gone

Miss V has no intention of peeing on demand for the doctor trying to confirm a bladder infection. Hence the package that came home today:

Needless to say, I don’t want anything to do with the project of coaxing urine out of a four-year-old into a cup. If, for example, my mum brought me into the bathroom to amuse Miss V, thinking the diversion might keep her on the seat until the pee was secured, I would be very afraid. It’s hard enough for an adult female to pee in a jar without spraying hands, seat, floor and counter. When a four-year-old attempts to do it, you don’t want to be a nearby absorbent bear who’s already under threat of the washing machine.

Because so many symptoms suggested a bladder infection, the doc prescribed an antibiotic anyway. If he doesn’t get Miss V’s pee, the exact microbes won’t be known, but they’ll get exterminated anyway. If he does get the pee, bonus. Within a week Miss V should be cured of her tummy aches and pungent excretions.

This latter symptom got me thinking about wines with a urine aroma. In particular I remembered our Easter dinner wine, suggested by a wine consultant other than our usual go-to. On learning of my parents’ preference for full-bodied, supple reds, he pointed to M. CHAPOUTIER BILA-HAUT (2009), a Syrah/Grenache/Carignan blend. His recommendation wasn’t exactly on the money. (He did disclaim that French wine wasn’t his area of expertise.)

True, BILA-HAUT poured rich and purple into the glass, exuding distinctive earthy fragrance and fruit-forward promise. Blended for ideal acid balance and drinkability, it seemed like a good dinner choice.

The first sips were curious—slightly more acidic than suggested by the aroma, and slightly lighter on the palate than suggested by the legs. The wine had a thinness to it that fruit bomb enthusiasts tend to avoid, but one has to have an open mind.

On to the next sips.

While Grenache typically has a soft, static character and doesn’t develop much as the wine opens, a Grenache blend is a different animal. The Syrah component in BILA-HAUT kicked up the spice and contributed an earthy wildness; the Carignan added tartness and zing. But during that critical first 15 minutes while the wine breathed and I had to be held back physically from it, the fragrance changed. The shift wasn’t subtle. First the scent was a maddeningly unplaceable brambly fruitiness, and then it was…wet cat. From wet cat it morphed to cat pee, at which point my dad abandoned his glass on the counter.

Mum and I persevered with BILA-HAUT, although for most of dinner she left her glass untouched, then returned to it while she loaded the dishwasher. I kept at it the whole time, so I can document for you, my fellow inebriates, the delicacy of its arc from fruit to sodden alleycat to litter-box offering to…fruit again.

Yes, peeps, the wine did become drinkable. It just had to go through a nasty olfactory phase. We all go through phases, some of which are olfactory too. Ever decide you were no longer going to shower? Or that deodorant was for losers? Okay, maybe you didn’t do those things. But remember the hair you had in the 1980s? Phases! Some phases are just ugly. And BILA-HAUT certainly went through one of these while the family was stuffing itself full of ham. For a while it smelled rank. But I swear to you that after an hour it was okay. And it was even better the next day.

So what the hell makes a wine smell like feline number one? Interesting, the chemical compound responsible for that unique cat-piss odor is often present in wine, particularly Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon. The offending compound, p-mentha-8-thiol-3-one, smells like kitty tinkle only in a specific concentration range, below which it smells herbal and above which it smells like blackcurrants. Wow!

So that explains how our Easter wine began dinner delightfully redolent of berries, survived being consumed at dinner by assaulting us with puss ‘n’ piss, then redeemed itself as dry, tannic and slightly herbal.

Which is pretty cool and scientific, but it won’t help us get Miss V to pee in a cup.

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