Sunday, April 25, 2010

Chateau de Lancyre Pic Saint-Loup

Chateau de Lancyre
Pic Saint-Loup
La Coste d'Aleyrac
Syrah, Grenache, Cinsault
Coteaux du Languedoc
Valflaunes, France
$12.99 -- Costco, Austin, TX

Color: Deep purpley garnet
Nose: Pepper, cassis, sour something, licorice
Body: Medium
Front: Blackberry cigar
Middle: Chocolate-covered raspberries
Back: Cassis-flavored tea, leather, soft tannins
Burns clean?: Mostly
Cap: Cork

I'm rapidly expanding my experimentation with southern French 2007s, owing to the success of previous encounters. This one is delightful, but not terrifically complex. A good wine with food, for certain, and a good deal at this price. It's dark and brooding, with only hints of picturesque fruitiness and sunshine. Come fall, I'll be yearning for this one, and hoping it's on some restaurant menus! It went well with a little cold roasted chicken and iceberg salad with peppery balsamic dressing.

Petroni Rosso di Sonoma

Petroni Vineyards
Rosso di Sonoma
Estate Grown
Sangiovese Grosso, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah
Sonoma, California, USA
$21.99 -- Costco, Austin, TX

Color: Almost obscure purpley garnet
Nose: Cherry, heat
Body: Medium to full
Front: Black cherry
Middle: Licorice
Back: Burnt rubber, heat
Burns clean?: Yes
Cap: Cork

It may be that this is too young, or it may be that I'm just a Sangiovese-hater (though I had the Felsina Chianti Classico Riserva 2006 and it was fantastic), but it didn't do it for me. It lacks elegance, and part of the reason is it's so hot. The darkness of it, from color to nose to palate, I enjoy. But it's hard to tell what's going on with the flavors because of the alcohol level. Perhaps in a year, it'll balance out a little better -- and certainly, if you don't mind the heat, go for this one, as the fruit is nice, if inebriated.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Martin Ray Chardonnay

Martin Ray Winery
Russian River Valley
Santa Rosa, California, USA
$13.99 -- HEB, Austin, TX

Color: Light straw
Nose: Pineapple, Big League Chew
Body: Full
Front: Mango
Middle: Butter, honey
Back: Oak, toasted marshmallow
Burns clean?: Yes
Cap: Screwcap

This is a pretty, pleasant wine. It's not charming, nor particularly elegant, but you would invite it to a party if enough people were coming. For my palate, it's a bit too sweet; I'm drinking it on a hot afternoon that followed a difficult workday, and it's perfect for that. If you hate oak, there's a bit too much of it for this to please you--but if you aren't a woodhater, the tropicality of the wine balances the oak nicely. Acid, however, is not dominant.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Saint Jean du Barroux L'Ogliocene

Philippe Gimel
Saint Jean du Barroux
Grenache, Syrah, Carignan, Cinsault
Cotes du Ventoux, Provence, France
$18.99 -- Wine Library, Springfield, NJ

Color: Deep purple
Nose: Cherry, licorice, rose water
Body: Full
Front: Sour cherry
Middle: Black licorice, rose, orange
Back: Sage, soft tannins
Burns clean?: Yes
Cap: Cork

It's yet another cold night in the Texas springtime. So yet another southern French wine comes out to warm my heart. This can take another year or four in the bottle, I wager. But I decanted it prodigiously then drank it vigorously with pepperoni pizza, and was happy. At first, the combination of the flavors described above strikes you as reminiscent of Ludens (cherry flavor) or perhaps even of Robitussin.

But this is not a bad thing. The fruit is fresh and sharp, but the herb and candy balance it nicely. It's surprisingly good with the pizza, considering the alcohol (and given my Robitussin comment above, I think the label's probably honest about the alcohol level). This wine is not elegant...but it might be magical.

An odd, and uncalled-for side comment--and French people, correct me on it if you must: I love Ricard, and other pastis blends. I can't help but feel a little pastis going on in this wine, and wonder if the French incline towards a licorice component perhaps more than Americans do. Almost everywhere has its own anisette: Raku, Anis del Mono, Jagermeister, pastis, etc. etc., all around the Mediterranean, at least. But the US, to my knowledge, has only imported anise-based beverages (I love Herbsaint, but, you know: New's colonial, basically).

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Galévan Châteauneuf-du-Pape

Domaine Galévan
Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre
Courthezon, France
$24.99 -- Costco, Austin, TX

Color: Deep purple
Nose: Cassis, raspberry jam, black olives
Body: Medium to full
Front: Sour cherry, blackberry pie
Middle: Thyme, burning engine oil
Back: Leather, soft tannins
Burns clean?: Yes
Cap: Cork

Secretly, furtively, I have been drinking 2007 southern Rhone wines. With a friend in Bryan, Texas, I had a Châteauneuf. Then a few nights later, inspired by the experience, I had the same house's Cotes-du-Rhone. Both were stunning. I had a glass of something that almost made me fall down at a wine bar--another '07 CDP, as the wine nerds say. Only once have I put pen to paper (ha!) about these matters.

But there's no point in hiding it anymore: every damn '07 southern Rhone wine I've had has been good. Most of them have been sensational. They are not charming. They are not balanced. They are grippy, in-your-face, shockingly talented monsters. Do they pair well with food? They don't care. Do they cost lots of money? They STILL DON'T CARE. Will they sleep with cocktail waitresses? Yes; and they will not go to sex therapy afterwards. More importantly (perhaps), will they cost a lot of money?

That is an interesting question. A few years ago I had an '03 CDP that laid me out: it was awesome. Flowery, elegant, yet beefy, and with presence. The '03s are expensive (as the wine nerds say), but not compared to what has happened to '05 Bordeaux or every single Pinot produced by a marginally reputable house in California. So I don't know. I hope the answer is no.

Eyrie Chardonnay

The Eyrie Vineyards
Willamette Valley
Estate Grown
McMinnville, Oregon, USA
$20.99 -- Spec's, Austin, TX

Color: Medium gold
Nose: Grapefruit, chorizo, a hint of poo
Body: Medium
Front: Lemon Now or Laters
Middle: Caramel, graham cracker
Back: Cedar, stone
Burns clean?: Yes
Cap: Cork

In a raging downpour, I drink some Chardonnay. This stuff is fascinating. True to the label, it's more Frenchy than New World. The poo on the nose really took me by surprise, but it's distinctive--maybe with another year in the bottle (I can never figure out when to drink Chardonnays that age well) that will become something...earthy!

Friday, April 16, 2010

Stephanie Cabernet Sauvignon

Hestan Vineyards
Cabernet Sauvignon
Napa Valley

Napa, California, USA
$39.98 -- Costco, Austin, TX

Color: Deep garnet
Nose: Plums, sour cherry, violets, sage
Body: Full
Front: Plum, vanilla
Middle: Nutmeg, black cherry
Back: Slim Jim, orange, soft tannins
Burns clean?: Yes
Cap: Cork

This is Cabernet to my taste. The oak is well integrated, as are the tannins. They help structure the palate instead of overpowering it. It's got sourness (a little) and spiciness (a little nutmeg) and beefiness (a little) and they're all distinctly present, emerging as the wine gets a little air. This evening it was lamb chops and a blue-cheese-dressed salad, and with the lamb in particular the wine was a delight. I'm going to go back and get another bottle!

Note, spring 2014: This is even better now; unpacks itself more rapidly, and shows even more depth.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Argiolas Costera

Argiolas S.P.A.
Isola dei Nuraghi
Cannonau, Carmenere, Bovale Sardo
Serdiana (Sardinia), Italy
$11.98 -- Wine Library, Springfield, NJ

Color: Medium to deep garnet
Nose: Cherry, raspberry, Mint
Body: Medium to full
Front: Slim JimTM, CheerwineTM
Middle: Licorice, mussels, raspberry
Back: Bread, soft tannins
Burns clean?: Yes
Cap: Cork

After a long day of travel, it's divine to come home to a splendid, but cheap bottle of wine. This is a balanced, elegant, charming one. It's got delicious fruit, a curious little seafoodyness, earthiness, and grip, without being overbearing. Only if you are addicted to massively oaked Cabernets or hot, fruit-bomby Zins would you dislike this. Even then, I bet you'd tolerate it.

One note: this wine opened rapidly, within an hour, into a lush, blooming garden of awesomeness. This suggests it won't cellar long.

A concerned reader with too much time on his hands claims I am a coward because I do not rank wines. "You don't have to give them scores," says this would-be pugilist, "but for heaven's sake tell me whether you think it's good or not!" I'll quote Mark Twain on tobacco, saying something I think applies perfectly to wine:

A congress of all the tobacco-lovers in the world could not elect a standard which would be binding upon you or me, or would even much influence us.
The next superstition is that a man has a standard of his own. He hasn't. He thinks he has, but he hasn't. He thinks he can tell what he regards as a good cigar from what he regards as a bad one--but he can't. He goes by the brand, yet imagines he goes by the flavor. One may palm off the worst counterfeit upon him; if it bears his brand he will smoke it contentedly and never suspect. (Read the rest here.)

Many famous wine critics have said something like what Twain says in the first sentence above. But few have "gone there" with him on the second. It wouldn't be in their interest to do so, I'd argue. The claim is clearly over-the-top, as Twain's so often are. Yet what he says is true of a lot of folks--and he goes on to claim that he's utterly un-picky about his cigars. "To say true," he writes, "my tastes are so catholic that I have never seen any cigars that I really could not smoke, except those that cost a dollar apiece."

So it's value for some; taste for others; the experience for a third group; all of the above for the picky few. This in part explains my cowardice. And then there's the perhaps-as-important consideration of the marketplace: ranking is a market function. If I were a wine seller, or indeed made any money from wine, I might well rank bottles. But then...well, let us simply say, one would be wise to take anything Mark Twain says about books or writing with a grain of salt...