Thursday, January 23, 2014

2004 Wild Oak merlot

From St. Francis winery, Santa Rosa, CA (Sonoma County).

First day: "Surprisingly brownish, cinnamon-candy color -- charred (faint) aroma -- very acidic -- apple skins, caramel -- faint green pepper -- needs opening up?"

Next day: filled out, fruitier, more complex and elegant. Very good.

It was delicious with a hearty creamed dish for dinner, but I would be embarrassed to admit what exactly was the dish that was creamed. Let's just say your mom probably would have made it in the fifties, particularly if she was in a hurry to get something on the table for supper. I do think, though, that a cream sauce is a good red wine's best friend.

And on the topic of tasting notes, I wonder, would it be all right to compare wines to books? The fruit and flowers descriptors are getting tiresome and they put off newcomers who, often very sensibly, complain they "can't taste all that" in a wine. Straightforward reports of tannins and acids are honest but don't convey the pleasures in the glass. Abstractions like "fully evolved," "opulent," "harmonious," and "broad-shouldered" -- I have Michael Broadbent's Vintage Wine open to page 113 -- only serve the hugely experienced. I am sick to death of the 100-point scale: people obey it slavishly because it looks logical, wine wholesalers use it to sell wines even though in bandying it about, they might as well be talking Esperanto ("it's a great wine, Spectator gave it 89 points" -- And?), and anyway, as a savvy customer recently observed, the 100 point scale is not even really a 13 point scale, it's a 5 point scale. No one wants to hear about rated wines unless they score above 87; and yet, no wine floating in the stratosphere above 92 points is going to be available outside the palaces of Dubai, Tokyo, or Manhattan. Probably most of it is still in the cellar at Screaming Eagle. Their website, incidentally, is forbidding but fun. FAQ: can I visit the property? "No." I'm reminded of Steve Martin in Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid. "Well then, can I use your underwear to make soup?"

But as I enjoyed my merlot last night -- there's a spareness to merlots, it seems, a reticence that demands some patience to savor -- I thought, what's it like? And the image that occurred to me was of a good, serious, contemporary novel. Any one of quality, well made, complex, rewarding. More, if wines can resemble books, then what wines are graphic novels? Which are bodice rippers, which are fantasy, which are science fiction, which are Harlequin romances, which are Tom Clancy thrillers, which are Shakespeare? Which one is War and Peace?

Could such comparisons, such a rating scale, be as meaningful as the ones that rely on numbers, supermarket similes, or even emoticons? ("It got a 'Stephen King' at At First Glass.") I don't know, but I know where to start.

White zinfandel = can only be this. Or vice versa.

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