Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Robert Mondavi Napa Cabernet

Robert Mondavi Winery
Cabernet Sauvignon
Napa Valley
Napa, California

$26.00 -- Rum Runner, Tucson, AZ

Color: Deep ruby
Nose: Panko-crusted shrimp with a side of spinach in a creamy balsamic vinaigrette
Body: Full
Front: Cherry cream, mint
Middle: Cedar vanilla, pepper
Back: Smoke, pencils, chocolate, gravel
Burns clean?: Yes
Cap: Cork

Maybe it's because it's Christmas Eve, maybe it's because there's a roast in the oven smelling like heaven at 375 degrees, maybe it's because the Kingston Trio are singing "Children Go Where I Send Thee" in big, fat, analog sound. But this wine is astounding, right out of the bottle. It's all that I imagine in a Napa wine. Many, many things are going on in it, and it evolves beautifully as it opens.

This may be in part because a lot of players are involved in making this taste like it does. I have to say that, though I can't say how it'll age, this is a bargain. It's up there with bottles I've reviewed here at $50 or more. If I survive Christmas dinner and leftovers, I'll be getting more of this.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

V. Sattui Napa Valley Cabernet

V. Sattui Winery
Cabernet Sauvignon
Napa Valley

$32.00 -- V. Sattui Winery, St. Helena, CA

Color: Dark ruby
Nose: Blueberries, chocolate
Body: Full
Front: Cassis
Middle: Blueberry mocha
Back: Tannins, cream
Burns clean?: Yes
Cap: Cork

This is unadulteratedly lovely wine, like so much of what Sattui makes. It's rich and dominating, good with food (stands up to tonight's mild curry, even). It has tannins like playground bullies, but some of us like a good tannin beating every now and then.

This wine goes well with Swamp Rat's song "Stella II," with its combination--contrast?--of smooth and loungey with startlingly powerful and suggestive.

Note: 28 November 2009. The 2006 is delightful, too (price point and alcohol about the same as the '05): tannins are softer, but it has the same blueberry-driven nose, with a nice meaty body that's got some cherry and coffee in it.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Henry's Drive Dead Letter Office

Henry's Drive Vignerons
Dead Letter Office
McLaren Vale & Padthaway, Australia

$26.99 -- Rum Runner, Tucson, AZ

Color: Dark red
Nose: Cherry vanilla cola
Body: Medium to full
Front: Tart cherries, blueberry
Middle: Mocha pencils
Back: Mint-wrapper cedar
Burns clean?: Yes
Cap: Screwcap

Henry's Drive makes some good wine. But of course, you never know! If it were baseball, this wine would bat fourth: not a lot of complexity, but plenty of power, likely to hit home runs with some drinkers and strike out with others. Drink it with friends, for two reasons (beyond the usual sociability): first, to watch the reactions, and second, because it has enough alcohol to put you in the hospital if you do it alone.

Now the perfect match, musically, for this wine, is Jace Everett's song "Bad Things." Given that Mr. Everett's tune is the theme song for the HBO vampire series True Blood, the color of this wine seems about right...

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Jezebel Pinot Noir

Jezebel (Daedalus Cellars)
Pinot Noir
Dundee, Oregon

$19.99 -- Rum Runner, Tucson, AZ

Color: Light red
Nose: Raspberry mutton
Body: Light
Front: Cinnamon strangleberry
Middle: Buttery raspberry
Back: Peppermint
Burns clean?: Yes
Cap: Screwcap

There's not a ton of complexity in this wine, but here's the thing: when Pinot is uncomplex, it's usually grape juice. This one is interestingly uncomplex. If you can figure out what that means, perhaps you can also explain to me what "strangleberry" is.

I spent a delightful midnight hour or two with my friend Frank drinking a bottle of Pinot by the parent label for this wine, Daedalus, while chipping golf balls onto an unlit green under a wide, brilliant northern Michigan sky. So I figured the Jezebel would be a good bet as a cheaper version, and lo! it was. Light foods, rich music, and this will shine.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Water Wheel Memsie

Water Wheel Vineyards
Shiraz, Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon

Bendigo, Australia

$9.88 -- Whole Foods, Austin, TX

Color: Deep garnet
Nose: Cassis, mint
Body: Medium
Front: Eucalyptus
Middle: Raspberry, chocolate
Back: Cedar
Burns clean?: Yes
Cap: Screwcap

I'm a bit astounded that I got this bottle for this price. Perhaps no one knows what is inside it? It's not the most body-full Shiraz, nor the longest on the palate. But it's a great tasting wine, with super-interesting flavors. The nose is strongly fruity and minty, but the palate opens up rapidly into a range of dark flavors, not all of which I've managed to capture above.

For those of you less interested in subtle flavors and more in effects, please note that this wine is powerfully strong, but does not taste that way. I'll write you letters in jail.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Champy Bourgogne Signature

Maison Champy
Bourgogne Signature

Bourgogne, Beaune, France
$19.99 -- Whole Foods, Austin, TX

Color: Medium gold
Nose: Pineapple, butter, clove
Body: Medium
Front: Melon
Middle: Lime, butter
Back: Wood
Burns clean?: Yes
Cap: Cork

This wine has a lovely nose. It's well-balanced and nicely structured. Perhaps it's just me, but it seems a bit too...subtle. I swirled, I let it warm up a bit, I drank deep, and I chewed. It's really lovely, and good with food (shamelessly, pizza, ordered online, no less), but it's not the life-changing experience of Chasseur or even the good old-fashioned fun of Hog Wilde.

This white wine experiment is making me think. I really think that I need to try whites in the summertime, unless they're brooding chardonnays of repute, because they just don't seem to inspire associative storytelling in me during the winter.

Just an excuse, to convince myself it's responsible to slip back into the Cabernet or Shiraz stream as the holidays approach? That is entirely possible. But I feel that we all will benefit from at least trying this approach.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Bommarito Cabernet

Bommarito Vineyard
Cabernet Sauvignon
Napa Valley
St. Helena, CA2005
$14.95 at Spec's, Austin, TX

Color: Dark purpley-red
Nose: Sour fruit, chocolate
Body: Medium to full
Front: Mochaberries
Middle: Black pepper, vanilla
Back: Oak, a little mint
Burns clean?: Yes
Cap: Screwcap

Of course, Virginia, there must be such things as "mochaberries"! Especially at this magical time of year. This is an interesting wine--supposedly, it's the second label for Whitehall Lane. After decanting for an hour, it got pretty robust and rich.

Things don't quite develop into stories, in this wine--it's suggestive, creepy--like Tom Waits's "What's He Building in There?" Maybe the evasiveness on the label about the relationship to Whitehall Lane is part of it...but it might be the flavors. Still, it's pretty good at this price if you want a staunch cab to pair with something rich.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Ponzi Pinot Gris

Ponzi Vineyards
Pinot Gris
Willamette Valley
Beaverton, OR
$17.00 at Vino 100, Lakeway, TX

Color: Very pale straw
Nose: Grapefruit, melon
Body: Medium
Front: Sparkly caperberries
Middle: Lime cupcake
Back: Lemon butter, and way out at the end, pear
Burns clean?: Yes
Cap: Screwcap

Attentive readers will notice that I'm drinking more whites. This is because the equal opportunity drinker in me is embarrassed by my own tag stats, over there to the right.

My stat counter for this blog also tells me that if I drink more things that they sell at Kroger, HEB, Osco, or Super Target, I will get more hits. But I don't know that I want to do that. Many of those wines taste almost exactly the same as each other. And (particularly for my male readers) life is short.

But I have had Ponzi Pinot Noir before, so I figured dropping down a shade to the Pinot Gris wouldn't hurt me much. And I don't seem to get to Oregon on the gastrography very often, so I'm paying some dues.

You may not know what "sparkly caperberries" or "lime cupcake" are, and I don't either, but that's associative tasting for you. If nothing else, it can serve as a counterexample to all you prospective sommeliers out there. Suffice it to say that I'll buy this wine again. It's particularly delightful with the Ditty Bops playing in the background and a bit of hot sorpressata on my plate.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Summers Cabernet Sauvignon

Summers Winery
Cabernet Sauvignon
Adrianna's Cuvee
Napa Valley
Calistoga, CA
$23.99 at Whole Foods, Austin, TX

Color: Dark red with purple tinge
Nose: Raspberries, cinnamon, spice
Body: Medium
Front: Cherries
Middle: Licorice or peppermint
Back: Ginger, a hint of caramel on the way out
Burns clean?: Yes
Cap: Cork

While it's not quite to my taste, as not being sufficiently bodiful for a Cabernet, this would be great for folks who like their wine layered but not heavy. I decanted it for an hour, and then had it with a little aged goat cheese, and it couldn't really stand up to the cheese. For me, that's a problem, because if Asmodeus has an ethnicity, it could only be described as "cheese-eater."

There are interesting flavors in this bottle, delivered in quick but interesting succession before a relatively rapid flavor exit. It seems a little odd to me to recommend this as a "good Cabernet for a hot summer day" but it's a strange world we all live in here.

A good song pairing for this one would be Jet's "Are You Gonna Be My Girl." I'll let the cultural critics out there speculate about the metaphorical and material dimensions of this sister-arts harmony.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Pazo Serantellos Albariño

Pazo Serantellos
Rias Baixas
Galicia, Spain

$8.99 at Whole Foods, Austin, TX

Color: Light gold
Nose: Honey, banana
Body: Medium
Front: Peach
Middle: Dill, honeysuckle butter
Back: Lime, a tiny bit of steel-belted radial
Burns clean?: Yes
Cap: Cork

Damn fine for a nine-dollar wine. It's a chewy one, though; a substantial body for such light and fruity flavors. This contributed also to a delightful leek-and-chicken concoction from the old standard 1080 Spanish cookbook.

I've lately fallen in love with the new record from a little-known trio called Swamp Rat. It might be because I can pair a different wine with almost every song. That, I suppose, would deductively make Swamp Rat's genre "eclectic." In the case of this wine, its perfect sonic accompaniment is the tune "Stella I."

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Luchador Shiraz

R Wines
Barossa Valley
Eastwood, Australia

$13.88 at Whole Foods, Austin, TX

Color: Dark ruby
Nose: Charred lamb, blueberries
Body: Full
Front: Creamy blueberries
Middle: Gravelly chocolate
Back: Maple syrup, sawdust
Burns clean?:
Cap: Screwcap

Another Grateful Palate import, and another stellar deal. The nose on this one is delovely; complex and strange. They bill this as a non-wine-expert's wine, and without question you'll like it if you want a wine that'll please a wide range of people. Equally true, it would seem odd to bring a wine with this label--an homage to the Mexican wrestler Malo--to a dinner party. But honestly, it'll make anybody happy who likes a good Shiraz: it's layered, good with food, and so strong that one glass will make the truth begin to flow like money around the mat at a wrestling match.

Tough, too, is Tom Waits's "Filipino Box Spring Hog," which is a perfect pairing with this wine. Just note that this sucker is 15.5%, so don't try to drink even one glass of it within the space of that song...

NB: I decanted 1/2 the bottle and put the cap back on almost immediately. 24 hours later, what was in the bottle tasted like caramel and chocolate. No fruit, no spice: dessert. Really, really good dessert.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Anderson's Conn Valley Prologue

Conn Valley Vineyards
Cabernet Sauvignon
St. Helena, CA

$25.00 at Vino 100, Lake Travis, TX

Color: Dark garnet
Nose: Blueberries, Slim JimsTM, Mountain Violets
Body: Full
Front: Cherry, cocoa
Middle: Vanilla, cedar
Back: Graham cracker, pine
Burns clean?: Yes
Cap: Cork

It's not easy to find this wine, but it's worth it. It needs air; only after about an hour does it really start to show, so be patient. You will end up drinking a wine worth three times the price. It's subtle, rich, and fabulous with food (a mildly spicy sausage Italian sort of thing, for example). It's art without the artsy. (It doesn't even appear on the winery's website, that's how laid-back this bottle is. I think perhaps the '05 was the first release of this line?)

At long last, I found this wine at Vino 100 in Lake Travis, outside of Austin. This is a stylin' little wine shop on RTE 620--all bottles under $25, with an emphasis on serious values like Conn Valley's Prologue. Owner Gloria Parker offers tastings in their cozy space, which is like the raw-wood-and-leather-living-room-I'll-never-be-able-to-afford. Good taste both in and around the bottle, together with good conversation, makes a great store.

I'm somewhat ashamed to admit that I'm listening to Duffy as I drink this wine, but honestly, it goes perfectly with her song "Syrup & Honey."

Note, 11-29-2010: A terrible turn of events...the 2008 Prologue is a North Coast wine, not a Napa wine, and it's so oaky that I can't really tell what is going on in it. Most unfortunate. Let us hope this is only a temporary strategy.