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, February 24, 2013

A French quartet

Trying new wines with a group of others can be a fun and educational experience. Will you all have the same reaction to the same wine? What flavor notes do you detect compared with what others are tasting?

Often the answer to these questions is both yes and no. A group of people can have a similar reaction to a wine in a broad sense, but different people will taste and smell different things according to their own character as well as their own biology. After all, one person may smell something in a wine that another person cannot simply because he  or she cannot detect that particular scent under any circumstances.

Recently I attended a wine tasting with a group of fellow members of the I Like Red Wine Meet Up group here in Chicago. Cities all across America have Meet Up groups and they're relatively easy to set up should you have a particular interest but cannot find a group already organized.

There were four French wines for the evening's tasting, all from the Boystown wine store The Gourmet Grape.

The first was a Bordeaux Blanc, the 2010 Château de Lestiac. As with virtually all French wines, this is a blend, and with virtually all Bordeaux Blanc, it was a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon. It had a very bright flavor, strong mineral, almost slate-like. There was the signature citrus and herb of the Sauvignon Blanc, but there was softer fruit as well, more like pear, perhaps from the Semillon. I could not taste any oak, although others said they did. I could see this wine working well with swordfish, but surprisingly, I found a website that suggested this wine would do well with a variety of lamb dishes! I don't know about anyone else, but when I think of lamb, I think of earthy reads from the Southern Rhône.

The second wine was a Cotes du Rhône, the 2010 Jean-LucColombo Les Abeilles. Lots of character here built upon smooth tannin. Velvety fruit with black cherry and a hint of spice with white pepper. The blend here is 60 percent Grenache, 30 percent Syrah, and 10 percent Mourvèdre. Another wine that would go well with lamb, but the winemaker also recommends grilled pork, tuna steaks, cured meats and fresh cheese.

Next in line was the 2006 Château de Fontenille, an estate whose lineage goes back to the 13th century. This wine was rich with lots of black fruit with cassis playing the star role. This wine also went really well with a pungent cheese we had, although I can't remember the type of cheese. But it was one we all joked tasted a bit like locker room sox. Yet, when paired with this wine, it was quite good.

The final wine was a 2008 Château Jonqueyres Bordeaux Superior, which actually was a bit of a disappointment. This was all tits and no ass. It was a bit grapey and fruit forward, but lacked a finish. However, it did develop more character after it had been opened for a while, developing strong tannin and more nuanced fruit. But still no finish to speak of.

As the photo suggests, there was a fifth wine that was not on the original plan, a 2012 Beaujolais Nouveau that despite it already being February was quite tasty and fruitful.

So if you want to stir things up a bit, by some wines you've never had before and invite some friends over to taste them. Compare your notes and enjoy yourselves.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Team bonding always easier with wine

When one's wine cellar is a closet, the anxiety experienced prior to tasting something you've kept there for several years can vacillate between clinging fear and scintillating excitement. Such was my array of emotions whilst preparing a dinner party for my work colleagues - including my boss. I had several wines that I thought were ready for drinking, but there was always the risk that one or more of them might have turned.

By the way, I found this "scientific document" that explains what heat does to wine and what you can expect given the storage conditions you have. Closest thing I've found to having a mathematical method for determining when you ought to stop saving that bottle and drink it now.

On the menu was a boneless leg of lamb with spinach, goat cheese, and pine nuts. This was served with a beet salad made with horseradish and Champagne vinegar. The beet greens were cooked and reduced with bacon, cider vinegar, some sugar, and red pepper flakes. For 10 people I had plenty of beets, but barely enough greens for everyone to have a taste, and the greens were awesome. You can buy other greens at the market, but I have never seen beet greens sold separately from the root. Yet you often find just the whole beet without the greens. Where do they go?

The years 2005 and 2006 were both great vintages for the southern Rhône and I had a Châteauneuf-du-Pape for each year, the Les Sinards from Perrin & Fils, and a bottle of Domaine La Roquète respectively. The Les Sinards came out brick red as we decanted, which can be a problematic sign at times. The wine was good, no doubt, expressing that sturdy mineral quality and earthiness the region is famous for. But after we finished that bottle and poured the Domaine La Roquète, we had found the superior of the two wines. Still had that bright mineral quality, but there was noticeable fruit of light blackberry and a bit of cherry. It's bouquet was light with fruit as well, making it an all-around wonderful experience.

I still have one more bottle of the Les Sinards, and based on the one opened for this night, I suspect I need to drink it soon. But who knows? That other bottle may be just fine. And I have two more of the Donaine La Roquète, which I have to add was a tremendous bargain when I found it. I paid just $19 for each bottle, and after that find, I saw that other retailers were asking $42 per bottle for it. It does pay to shop for wine in World Market from time to time!

There was enough lamb left over that I shall be making stew soon. And I wonder what wine I will make that with?

I rate the Les Sinards with an 8.5 and the Domaine La Roquète a 9.5 using my scale at the left.