Every bottle has a story

I am not a wine expert, but with each bottle I try and share with friends, I learn more. Wine is an exceptional social drink; it is the marijuana of alcoholic beverages because it must be shared. I seek to share with you my thoughts and experiences as I drink the wine in my closet, as well as my enthusiasm for the finds that come my way and the excellent values that I find. I'd love to hear your thoughts and experiences too, so please share!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

A mismatch with a poorly-prepared lamb chop

France’s Rhône valley has always been my favorite wine region, ever since I had my first bottle of Châteauneuf-du-Pape in the early 1980s. I have explored other appellations in both the Southern and Northern Rhône regions, finding extraordinary wines all the time. One appellation in the Northern Rhône that I had a lucky find several years ago was Saint-Jospeh. As I recall, it was a delicious bold and brilliant wine full of character and terroir. But lately the wines of Saint-Joseph have been beguiling to me, much like Côte-Rôtie. I have purchased and drank highly rated examples of these wines, but was generally left with a feeling of ambivalence. Was the wine really that good? Am I missing something?

Such was the case with the 2006 Domaine Georges Vernay, Saint-Joseph. I had two bottles of these and both time I drank them, I was always left with the thought of how could Wine Spectator rate this a 92? Don’t get me wrong, the wine was very good, but a 92?

And a misstep in preparing the lamb chops the wine was served with probably didn’t help much either.

My friend Curt and I opened my last bottle the other night. The stain on the cork was such a deep violet it was almost black. The nose was a rich and delicious mixture of dark, heavy fruit, of cassis buoyed with a spicy hint of licorice and pepper. This was an incredibly inky wine pouring out of the bottle, dark as night and opaque.

But the taste wasn’t nearly as exhilarating as the nose and its beautiful color. The strong mineral beam carried the fruit nicely, but it struck me as a bit acidic. Again, it was good drinking, but the acid flavor to the wine was exacerbated as well by the lamb served with it. And that brings me to my preparation faux pas.

I marinated the chops in olive oil, lemon juice, minced garlic and fresh oregano with salt and pepper. They were perfectly broiled and tender as could be. But I way overdid the lemon juice in the marinade, which also could have used more pepper and maybe even more oregano and garlic. The lemon was so strong it nearly dominated the lamb’s flavor and the tartness of the lemon conflicted with the wine.

Lesson 1: I shall remember that wonderful experience with the first Saint-Joseph I had and will continue my search for another.

Lesson 2: I will use far less lemon in the marinade for the lamb chops, and I think I will also go for a more peppery coating so they grill a bit crispier.

OK, I went back and changed my rating for this wine from an 8 using my scale at the left to a 6.5. This wine was frankly disappointing. Am I missing something with these wines?

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Altos las Hormigas 2007

Altos las Hormigas is a well-known house in the Mendoza region of Argentina and its Vineyard Selection Reserva is a consistent performer with the 2007 vintage sustaining that tradition. In fact, the 2002 vintage was ranked in Wine Spectator’s top 50 of the top 100 wines available in 2005. Wine Spectator had high praise for the 2007 vintage as well, rating it with an excellent score of 91.

This is an inky wine with a deep violet color with a nose that is dense and fruity with a spice note of pepper and forest and caramel smoothness that is soft and delicious. And that’s just the nose!

The first taste shows firm tannin with blackberry and cedar. Wine Spectator indicated that it was a “drink now” wine, but I really think this wine had a few more years available in the cellar, er, my closet. As the wine opened up, the juiciness and spice was retained and it was delicious to slosh it around in my mouth, mixing with bits of food.

It was served with a beef chuck roast marinated in a bulgolgi sauce for several hours and served very rare. The fruit of the bulgolgi marinade matched excellently with the boldness of this Malbec. A really excellent food-friendly wine.

I’ll rate this with a 9 using my scale at the left.

A Flipflop flop

Sometimes you can find an extraordinary wine for $5, like with this one I wrote about in the past. But sometimes a $5 wine is just a $5 wine.

The Flipflop 2009 California Cabernet Sauvignon is one that falls into the latter category. It has a definite cabernet nose full of oak barrels with a hint of cedar and not a lot of fruit, which was a pleasant surprise. The taste brought out cassis and cherry that was a bit fruity, but not quite a full-blown fruit bomb. It was slightly dry with tannin very subtle. The finish? Nothing.

It was well suited for the hamburgers we had, but I don’t think I’ll be picking up any of this wine in the future. I’ll rate it with a 4.5 using my scale at the left.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Cold chicken time

I picked this up at The Blue Goat in Traverse City, Mich., which is a very interesting wine store. I was looking for a wine that would go with cold chicken and corn on the cob. But I also needed it cold because I didn’t want to wait for the wine to chill; I was hungry! There were several different white wines in the cooler at The Blue Goat and this is what the shopkeeper steered me toward.

At $14, it was a bit more than what I wanted to spend, but I thought I would give it a try. The Villa Puccini 2009Pinot Grigio has a light nose of pear. It is crisp and acidic, coming off as very juicy, but there’s nothing on the finish.

Nonetheless, it was a perfectly acceptable wine to go with the cold chicken and corn on the cob. The chicken seasoning brought out the wine’s juiciness even more, but there was still no finish.

I rate this with a 7.5 using my scale at the left. If you can find this for less than $12, it’s a decent wine for a picnic. If it’s priced any higher than that, you can find something else.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Cupcake Red Velvet 2009

This was a complex wine, but I don’t necessarily mean that in a good way. I had this at a party recently; I was intrigued because I had heard about it – I thought. Turns out that it wasn’t the Red Velvet that I had heard about, but the 2008 Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, which Wine Spectator rates with a 90.

I don’t think WS will rate this one with a 90.

First of all, the name should have been a hint as to what I was about to taste. The nose was dense and lush with a blast of jammy fruit. The taste was very fruit-forward, almost sickeningly sweet, but there was something else there that was both intriguing and beguiling. It was odd. There was licorice and definitely chocolate, both on the palate and the nose.

The wine smoothed out a bit and became almost tolerable. It did have a velvety texture and the chocolate was intense. And then it hit me – this wine tasted just like a slice of red velvet cake with all its decadent richness and almost bloating body. The fruit was so intense: blueberry and blackberry jam on buttery biscuits. There’s enough intrigue to keep you drinking, but at the end of the day, the cloying sweetness was too much and the wine becomes intolerable.

This is a California blended wine of Zinfandel, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. It retails for about $12. I was surprised by some of the generous reviews that it received from others. As for me, I will only give this wine a 3.5 using my scale at the left. It’s drinkable, but I would never buy a bottle nor recommend it.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Rosé d’Anjou 2009

I think rosé is going to be my favorite summer wine for 2011. I recently wrote about a delicious 2010 rosé from Côtes de Povence, noting that 2010 is turning out to be a great year for rosés from this region. But I found an extraordinarily tasty bottling from Anjou, an appellation in the Loire Valley.

The 2009 vintage from Barton & Guestier is a juicy and racy wine with a very pale pink color like a pink topaz. There’s honeycrisp apple, strawberries and kiwi that are refreshing and held together well on a light, mineral beam. The finish is lingering, but not cloying. It is a very food-friendly wine that I managed to find for about $12 and I am certainly going to continue to pick this one up wherever I see it.

Most recently I took a bottle with me to the Chicago restaurant Mixteco Grill. It went very well with both my dish – a grilled pork chop sliced and smothered in a mild and tart green chile sauce laced with shredded jalapeño – and my friend Curt’s (sorry, I can’t recall what he had). But this wine is certainly a perfect quaff for spending the day at the beach reading a fine book.

Have you recently found a favorite rosé? Please tell me about it!

I rate this one an 8.5 using my scale at the left.

Rosso Conero 2009

Some may be daunted by the broad selection of wine that is out there, and I admit that at times I just can’t make up my mind while browsing the aisles. But trying unknown wines can be great fun, as you may never know what you may find unless you take a chance and try something new.

I recently took a chance on an Italian red that turned out to be rather nice. The 2009 Fattoria le Terrazze Praeludium from the Rosso Conero region is a dark, almost inky, wine that is a bit fruit-forward with a deep flavor of cassis, but is light on the finish with fresh flavors of black cherry and blackberry. The tannin is soft and round, giving the wine a smooth finish.

Fattoria le Terrazze has been in the Terni family apparently since 1882. A visit to their website and you will be treated to Bob Dylan’s “Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands.” The majority of its wines are crafted from “select” Montepulciano grapes grown on the estate. However, this particular bottling is Sangiovese.

I picked this wine up for about $12, but the price range is probably closer to $16-18 in most other areas. It went very well with a simple dinner of pasta and tomato sauce and it was quite pleasant to drink on its own as well. Certainly, the Rosso Conero region of Italy is one I will be on the lookout for again.

I rate this one with an 8 using my scale at the left.