Saturday, April 30, 2011

Gran Viu Seleccion

Viñedos y Bodegas Pablo
Gran Viu
Grenache, Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon, Carignan (or maybe Syrah?)
Cariñena DO
Almonacid de la Sierra, Zaragoza, Spain
$24.99 -- Spec's Liquors, Austin, TX

Color: Obscure ruby
Nose: Stewed fruit, tar, mushrooms, cherry smoke
Body: Full
Front: Creamy roasted plum
Middle: Black pepper, black cherry
Back: Coffee grounds, rocks, dusty tannins
Burns clean?: Yes
Cap: Cork

This wine has length, depth, and sweetness, plus all of the herby, leathery stuff for which ageable Spanish wines are known. This was phenomenal with a chicken-in-píperade purée and spinach and mushroom quiche. It might be hard to find this wine, but it's a well-priced example of what this region and producer can do, and much worth trying!

Tablas Creek Patelin de Tablas Blanc

Tablas Creek Vineyard
Patelin de Tablas Blanc

Grenache Blanc, Viognier, Roussanne, Marsanne
Paso Robles, California, U.S.A.
$19.99 -- Tablas Creek Vineyard, CA

Color: Light gold, almost a hint of peach?
Nose: Charred flowers, honey, pear rind
Body: Light
Front: Peach, honey
Middle: Creamy sage, orange
Back: A hint of salted almonds
Burns clean?: Yes
Cap: Cork

The nose on this wine is reminiscent of the Vin Soave I just reviewed, with a little more orangey action. The Tablas Creek folks, whose wines I generally love, have started making wines with bought fruit, not just their own; the "Patelin" series is the name for such wines, and this is the first release. 16% of the fruit for this wine is from Tablas Creek's land.

It's a charming, light wine, with persistence on the palate and a summery lift to it--very drinkable. This will go well with food, especially seafood. It doesn't have the strong orangey, gassy quality that some southern Rhone whites have, but it's not a pushover, either.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Pagos del Moncayo Garnacha

Pagos del Moncayo
Campo de Borja DO
$17.99 -- Costco, Austin, TX

Color: Dark ruby
Nose: Fishmarket, blueberry, firecracker, cream, cherry
Body: Medium to full
Front: Creamy cherry
Middle: Orange peel, plum, licorice
Back: Coffee grounds, rocks, dusty tannins
Burns clean?: Yes
Cap: Cork

The "Tinto Joven" made by this label gave me about the worst hangover I've had in a long time. Why, then, did I pick up a bottle of their Grenache?

Well, for one thing, I love Grenache; for another, the Tinto Joven was quite vibrant and fascinating. This one is not quite as multilayered as that one was. But it's big, yet excellently stocked with both fruit and secondary, herby flavors. While I suspect the alcohol level is actually higher than the label claims, it's better with food, as the end of it kind of waters out: I'm drinking it with an open jar of pickles, as it happens.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Freemark Abbey Merlot

Freemark Abbey
Napa Valley

St. Helena, California, U.S.A.
$19.98 at Twin Liquors, Bee Cave, TX

Color: Dark ruby
Nose: Sour cherry, sage, a hint of orange peel
Body: Medium
Front: Cherry
Middle: Cassis, salt, coffee
Back: Hint of pepper, soft tannins
Burns clean?: Yes
Cap: Cork

I am a fan of Freemark Abbey wines, which I think are underrated. To the company's credit, they've priced their wines realistically, and this is a particularly good bargain (though I did get it on sale).

This is a Merlot, not a Cab, to be sure: it doesn't have the beefy body, but the herby aromatics are pronounced and interesting. The fruit is from Rutherford, and you can tell by the haunting, microfine tannins. My guess is that in two years this wine will be even more interesting on the palate than it is now.

Inama Soave Classico

Azienda Agricola Inama
Vin Soave

Soave Classico DOC
Verona, Veneto, Italy
$11.99 -- Twin Liquors, Bee Cave, TX

Color: Medium gold
Nose: Charred wood, honey, pear rind
Body: Light
Front: Honey
Middle: Sea air, honeysuckle
Back: A hint of hazelnut
Burns clean?: Yes
Cap: Cork

Secretly, inside my overarching Washington wine tasting mission, the Italian white experimentation continues.

Ok, it's not secret, 'cause there you are reading this, but look: Pinot Grigio, perhaps the best known Italian white wine, mostly sucks. Largely, it tastes like acrylic with lime juice, no salt on the rim. Whereas by contrast the Greco di Tufo and Falanghina I've tasted lately--wines I'd never heard of before last year--have changed my life forever.

Now this wine didn't do that, but it wasn't bad. This bottle's a little disjointed and watery on the midpalate. But it's ruthlessly refreshing, and way, way better than the Soave I associate with my childhood. That's right, childhood, America; that is how we rolled in the backcountry in the early 80s, with the Soave Bolla.

If you like a delicate but not too complex wine, this will delight you; pair it with salty or shellfishy items, sweet nuts, or lemon vinaigrette-containing things.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Mendelson Pinot Noir

Mendelson Wines
Pinot Noir

Sleepy Hollow Vineyard
Santa Lucia Highlands

Napa, California, U.S.A.
$34.29 [$48.99] -- Twin Liquors, Bee Cave, TX

Color: Dark brick
Nose: Stewed plum, wet gravel, sour sage cigarettes, heat
Body: Full
Front: Fruit soup, orange
Middle: Plum licorice, espresso grounds
Back: Thyme, a little heat, burned popcorn
Burns clean?: Yes
Cap: Cork

I'm going to go buy another bottle of this wine, because it has a combination of characteristics that I find absolutely enchanting. The heat on the nose and in the glass is a little unfortunate, especially five years out, but it's not overwhelming. Oddly, there aren't many reviews of this wine, perhaps because the maker is best known for dessert wines. Then again, maybe he just pissed everybody off.

Either way, here's the thing: this tastes almost exactly like two other high-tone Pinots I've had, that had a little age on 'em. Stewed fruit, then some earthy or beefy or smoky secondary flavors, and a burned popcorn type of ending. And the flavor profile didn't evolve in any of these cases either: an hour later, they basically tasted the same as after 15 minutes. Two hours, same deal: still delicious, but still the same flavors in the same structure.

This puts me in a quandary. One of the things I love about wine as opposed to, say, Dr. PepperTM, is that it sometimes evolves as it opens. A single wine can be delicious in five or twelve different ways over the course of a few hours. Then again, I love Dr. PepperTM! And this tastes a lot like it.

So I'm going to get another bottle, as I said. And I'm going to be flexible about what I imagine the unfolding of a wine that I enjoy might be like. At $35, I think this is an absolute steal in Pinot, unless you hate sour sage cigarettes.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Andrew Will Cabernet Franc

Andrew Will Cellars 
Cabernet Franc
Columbia Valley
Vashon, Washington
, U.S.A.
$25.99 at Twin Liquors, Bee Cave, TX

Color: Dark ruby
Nose: Ass coffee, fresh berries and cream, roasted orange, faint nutmeg
Body: Medium to full
Front: Red cassis, cherry
Middle: Cherry-flavored coffee, with a touch of cream
Back: Currant tea, soft tannins
Burns clean?: Yes
Cap: Cork

Andrew Will makes some phenomenal wine. But it's hard times, and now they're making a sort of second-label wine. Mind you, it's $30 a bottle, so perhaps the concept didn't quite sink in. The 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon, which is the initial release of the value series, is a total Pottery Barn Wine. But this one is different.

Now, you could ask, If you're going to try to make a more popular wine, with a wider reach, why make a Cabernet Franc? Americans don't know what Cabernet Franc is any more than they know what ass coffee is, even though both are in a lot of reds they drink. But the balance of bright, tart fruit with coffee-cream goodness in this bottle will erase such questions. If there was ever a Cab Franc that might convert average wine buyers, this is it. I'm guessing, however, that the black label Andrew Will series is going to rotate varietals, and that's all good as far as I'm concerned. Much though I want this house to succeed, I don't want too many people getting into these wines.

This lacks the power of their more senior wines--has a shorter finish and less body. But with any kind of food, it's great; it opens fast, and if this were $50 at a restaurant, I'd order it and be delighted. And second rank though it might be, this will age a bit, without question: the tannins are soft and polite, but they are insistent, balancing the acid of the fruit, and promising some deeper harmony in a few years.

Melville Estate Chardonnay

Melville Winery 
Santa Rita Hills

Lompoc, California, USA
$22.39 -- Bee Cave, Austin, TX

Color: Medium gold
Nose: Cedar, salt, clementine-lime
Body: Full
Front: Salt, Meyer lemon
Middle: Honey and cream, lime
Back: Oak, white pepper
Burns clean?: Yes
Cap: Cork

I'm increasingly a fan of Sta. Rita Hills wines. This one is delightful, though without the 20% off sale, I'm not sure if I'd go for it again. I had the same experience with one of Melville's Pinot Noirs awhile back.

This deserves a brief but perhaps important digression. There's a threshold of cost and interestingness that I want to give a name to, because I think it actually influences the drinking experience (assuming you paid for the wine--if you didn't, this isn't a factor, except for you misers out there). If the wine is expensive and tastes beautiful, you don't shy away from buying another bottle. If it's cheap and tastes really good to you, maybe you buy a case, or make it a regular. But if it's really good, yet not quite priced right, you say, I'll take my $23 to a new wine, hoping to find one that's fantastic at that price.

I always have this same feeling at Pottery Barn. That rattan side-table is fantastic! But it's $300. Target has a rattan side-table that's really good, and it's $45. Restoration hardware has one with a secret compartment, that's much sturdier, for $400. Whatever happens next, it's not going to happen at Pottery Barn. Thenceforth, wines that provoke this feeling I will call "Pottery Barn Wines." I look forward to ireful comments from either Pottery Barn execs or Soccer Moms and Dads who love their Pottery Barn for Kids wines.

That said, this wine is really good! It's tasty with the appetizers of chorizo, mustard, cornichon, and triple-creme cheese I'm having; and it brings a sea-side reminiscence with its mineraliness, which suggests it would be phenomenal with seafood.

P.S.: I got one of my rattan wine-storage chests from Pottery Barn, and it's fantastic! It was on sale, 25% off.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

When heavily medicated for allergies...

...IT'S NO USE. I can't really taste anything. It's like there's a hole in my palate; things that are strongly acidic, spicy, or salty come through, but that's all. Mouthfeel is all I really have left--an inordinate sensitivity to temperature and texture.

So it seems like a good moment to make tiny comments on two scientific essays that involve the wine world. They come from the seemingly antipodal realms of linguistics and biology. I read academic essays all the time, so perhaps this is one small way to contribute to the gargantuan conversation online about wine.

I've mentioned elsewhere the results of the first paper, "The Taste of Carbonation," by Chandrashekar, et al (Science 326, 16 Oct 2009), sent to me by an overeducated reader. Carbonation in beverages tastes sour, they conclude, after a battery of quite convincing tests, checking to see if it tasted more salty, more sweet, and so on. There are stories about folks in China, a rapidly expanding wine market, putting Coke or Sprite into wine; this study suggests that they're not just making it sweeter, but rather, something more complex might be going on. And recall that the Greeks mixed water and wine, before ye judge the Chinese!

The second paper, Michael Silverstein's "Old Wine, New Ethnographic Lexicography" (Annual Review of Anthropology 35, 2006, 481-96), was suggested by an equally overeducated friend who ought to be reading this blog, if he knows what's good for him. This article was less useful. Coining the term oinoglossia, meaning "wine talk," the article discusses how learning the insider lingo of the wine world helps you signal yourself as being part of the wine-interested community. It uses wine talk as an example of how linguistic anthropologists need to understand how language divides up groups in culture.

But Silverstein insists that we have to understand both the words people use and the grammar in which they're used--even what I would call a cultural grammar, of using certain constructions or words in certain situations where you know you're being judged in some way, or want to win someone over and convince them you're in the "in" crowd. You don't just use certain words when you're trying to convince your boss you know what you're talking about--you talk in a certain way.

This is good, so far as it goes, but I didn't learn anything at all about the wine world from this article. It doesn't actually cite any examples! It's like linguistic anthropology without any actual drinking human beings.

In short: if I were out drinking some bubbly, which is about the only thing I can taste right now, I'd probably rather do it with Jayaram Chandrashekar, et al (there are seven authors on the paper, so you'd need a couple of bottles at least) than Silverstein. But the more the merrier!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Hedges Red Mountain

Hedges Family Estate
Red Mountain
Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Cabernet Franc
Benton City, Washington, U.S.A.
$19.84 -- Twin Liquors, Bee Cave, TX

Color: Deep strawberry jam
Nose: Cherry, sage, hint of orange, vanilla
Body: Medium
Front: Tart cherries
Middle: Caramelly cedar
Back: Spice, chocolate
Burns clean?: Yes
Cap: Cork

It's time to figure out which Washington reds I like. This one is great for the money. It's phenomenal with a pepper steak, not bad with a romaine-and-egg salad. It doesn't seem to evolve much as it opens--the tannins soften considerably, suggesting the wisdom of a year or two of patience (I'm going to get a couple of bottles to lay down). But the cherry-and-oak driven profile stays true for hours.

I reckon some folks will say this is over-oaked, but I'm not sure, as the fruit and acid still come through; others might think it one-dimensional, but that doesn't tally for me either, because of the herby dimensions. Whoever made this wine seems to me to be wondering, How can I make a Merlot-based blend that tastes like serious Bordeaux, yet also tastes like the Pacific Northwest? (If I learned that they fudged down a half-point on the alcohol level, however, I'd not be surprised.)

I think that it's nicely balanced, and that with a little time--or the right pairing--it'll be more interesting than many wines at this price. (My latest thing is to try all wines with pickles: this one tastes like a McDonald's cheeseburger when paired with pickles, and that is just awesome.) {Note, in 2014: Much, much better. Haunting, rich, and delicious.}

Terredora Dipaolo Falanghina

Terredora Dipaolo Viticoltori

Irpinia DOC
Montefesco, Campagnia, Italy
$10.49 -- Whole Foods, Austin, TX

Color: Medium gold
Nose: A fire in the apple-flavored graham cracker factory
Body: Medium to full
Front: Meyer lemon
Middle: Apple-flavored tobacco
Back: Cedar, thyme
Burns clean?: Yes
Cap: Fake cork

A couple of days ago I lamented the passing of a 2007 Falanghina. Remembering that there was some more of this, one of my absolute favorite Italian whites, around, I reckoned I'd better move it up on the ol' Asmodeus food chain.

I'm glad I did: not only is it damn tasty, but it's palpably right on the edge of oblivion. The maderization is coming through (how could it be, since this isn't aged in oak?), flattening out the acid and the focused apple (I've had an 09 of this wine, and it's applerific); but it's still delightful, full, complex, and balanced. To folks who like fruity American whites, the nose on this will be almost alienating, reminiscent of a red wine.

Indeed, I'd expect Americans to divide seriously on whether or not they like this wine, because it doesn't play ball the way they're used to. But with food--even spicy food; I'm having it with cherry peppers, a spicy cheese (Oregonzola!), and paprika-laden chorizo--it's fantastic.

Just don't wait too long before you drink it!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Siduri Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir

Siduri Wines
Santa Lucia Highlands
Pinot Noir
Central Coast
Santa Rosa, California, U.S.A.
$29.98 -- Twin Liquors, Austin, TX

Color: Medium garnet
Nose: Strawberry jam, cherry, a little herb
Body: Medium
Front: Strawberry-cherry cola
Middle: Raspberry, banana
Back: A little sage, soft tannins
Burns clean?: Yes
Cap: Screwcap

This is a tasty, food-friendly, almost too-easy-drinking wine. It's rich, but not terrifically complex or deep or long on the palate. It was splendid paired with roasted chicken and a little avocado and tomato salad. Again, perhaps a tad overpriced for what you get, as is often the case with Pinot--I might try a circa-$20 Central Otago wine before this one, in the future. I don't think this is made to age particularly long, given the tannin structure, but it wouldn't hurt to wait another year, I reckon, before drinking it.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Lacrimus Rioja

Valsanzo (Bodegas Sendero Royal?)
Tempranillo, Graciano
Rioja DOCa

Rincon de Soto, La Rioja, Spain
$13.89 -- Costco, Austin, TX

Color: Dark ruby
Nose: Cherry, blackberry bramble, orange grove
Body: Medium to full
Front: Cherry
Middle: Leather, spice, blackberry
Back: Licorice, gas
Burns clean?: Yes
Cap: Cork

A tasty Rioja, well worth the money. It'll age, I reckon, too. Good with food (pizza, in this case) and a bit brooding. It's a big wine, and I suppose one might say it's a "modern" style, but it's still plenty Spanish--the dark and herby aspects of it are to be reckoned. Hmm. Rosemaried lamb or potatoes would be awesome with this, come to think of it.

Lange Reserve Pinot Noir

Lange Winery
Pinot Noir
Willamette Valley

Dundee, Oregon, U.S.A.
$30.99 -- Twin Liquors, Austin, TX

Color: Medium reddish purple
Nose: Cherry candy, a hint of earth and smoke, a spritz of bug spray
Body: Medium
Front: Cherry
Middle: A hint of cassis, cinnamon, spiciness
Back: Cherry again, creamy this time
Burns clean?: Yes
Cap: Cork

This is a tremendously elegant wine--so elegant that I think I didn't really notice much flavor in the tail end of it. It's smooth and balanced, and perhaps in a year or two might become more intense. But at the moment, this is exactly the sort of bottle that has me scratching my head at Pinot Noir prices. For my palate, it's not as interesting as the Innocent Bystander, yet costs twice as much. Had I bought two bottles of this (as I did with the Pessagno), I'd put the other in the closet and wait for a couple of years before opening it. I'm not sure time does heal all things, but I reckon in this case it can't hurt.

After a long hiatus thanks to work, Asmodeus is BACK. I'd have dropped four wines on you today instead of three, if only the Falanghina hadn't been maderized. Believe it: four years may be too long for Falanghina.