Monday, January 20, 2014

Let's taste some wine...


... to make up for my Wine 101 class, cancelled due to low (practically no) enrollment. Too bad, for I had it planned out rather well, I flatter myself. I offered three programs, to be held three Friday evenings in a row in October, November, and December. The first two Friday sessions of each month's program would have been the same. Session 1, "From the farm and the lab" would have explored wine as a farm product and as something that is all about chemistry too; session 2, "Come to the table -- and the fridge" would have delved into flavor profiles, storing and serving, and food pairings; and the third session of each of the three monthly programs would have ventured off to a different major wine region(s) of the world. France and Germany, Italy and Spain, California and Argentina were my first choices. My idea was that everyone could pick the month he wanted to do Wine 101, based mostly on which regions, at the end, most interested him.

Alas and alack. Still, think of all the free evenings I have now. Let's taste some wine(s).

2008 Miner Napa Valley chardonnay, Oakville CA

pure honey -- caramel -- banana 
apple compote
syrupy -- a harsh acidic burnt-ness at end 
popcorn again -- burnt
thick golden color 
Day 2 -- sweet -- moscato like

A common theme for my chardonnay-memory: burnt popcorn. Retail, about $22.

2008 Terra Andina Altos malbec-petit verdot, Sur Andino S.A., Valle Central, Chile

bright, light candy-cranberry color
smoke 
(faint) paint -- cinnamon -- tea
equal parts acidity + tannin
barbecue -- light fruit -- cherry 
smoked cherries

A common theme for my experience of malbec: cherry. Inexpensive malbecs remind me of gooey cherry pies, like the Hostess kind that used to be sold individually in wax bags. Pricier malbecs = smokier cherries. Retail, about $14.

2007 Bogle Phantom (petite sirah, zinfandel, mourvedre)

pepper (scent) 
cinnamon -- cedar 
clove -- prune -- barbecue smoke 
deep mulberry purple 
cinnamon and prune compote 
fruit bomb -- good

A common theme of the red blends I like (see Apothic red): they are heavy on the zinfandel or petite sirah or both, therefore heavy on the lush, cinnamon-and-baked fruit, and sometimes chocolate, flavors I also like. If you try this one just after having sipped something much more acidic, like the malbec blend above, the Phantom's thick, sugary texture will startle (and educate) you. But dear me, will a liking for it nonetheless always be a sign of the non-sophisticate? Ought one to admire something leaner, racier, more elegant and subtle? Retail, about $17.

2008 Ca'Momi Bianco di California

soapy -- a bit bird poopy -- 
thick-bodied -- doughy 
a bit caramel-y -- metallic -- acidic
A southern French type blend? (viognier, marsanne, etc.)?
bubble gum, flowers
overall, sweet, honeyed, punch-like

The theme here: watch me get this one wrong. Thus far in my wine drinking experience I find that there are only two wines I don't care for. Among reds, I find the carmenere (grape) harsh and off-putting. Among whites, I don't much like the blends of France's Rhone valley. The grapes in question here are, except for the increasingly familiar viognier, little known varieties with pretty names like grenache blanc, marsanne, and bourboulenc. If you look them up in wine books you will find all these grapes described as producing "full bodied" wines. Indeed they seem to do so. To my taste, that full body makes for a mouthfeel of thick, raw doughiness or even greasiness which, combined with a promising sweet floral aroma and a finishing dry acidity, adds up to a discordant disappointment in the glass.

Viz., Ca'Momi. A white blend, and I thought I was on to something. There was the doughiness, the thick body, the sweetness and a bit of the odd, discordant funk I call "bird poop-y." (We used to own parakeets, and the smell of an unwashed cage is something you never quite forget. Neither as sharp or offensive as the straight-up evacuative odors coming from cats or dogs, it is nevertheless uniquely musty and vegetal and organic and just sort of -- old. Reptilian, almost?) All in all, might this be "a southern French type blend?"

"NOPE," as I added to my notes after doing some fact-checking. Ca'Momi's Bianco di California blend is actually chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, and gewurztraminer. What a combination -- though it would explain every flavor component, from thick body and caramel (chardonnay, I think) to acid (sauvignon blanc) to bubble gum and flowers (gewurztraminer). Retail, about $10.

1998 Bodegas Montecillo Gran Riserva Rioja, Sociedad Anonima

Tawny maroon color 
leaves -- brine -- smoke -- prunes 
very briny -- light, acidic -- 
very refined -- not much fruit
brine = a sort of soured vanilla? (vanilla typical of American-oak aged Riojas, Wine for Dummies) 

A final theme: some firsts. This was my first gran reserva Rioja (as opposed to either a crianza or a reserva, both Riojas made mostly from the same grape of course -- tempranillo -- but aged less before release). And yes, far from being the brawny, "massive" thing you might expect a Spanish red to be, it was, as Karen MacNeil in The Wine Bible notes of Riojas, surprisingly light and delicate, "almost fragile." Also, this is the first time I can recall having tasted a European wine whose maker merits a mention in another expert source. Bodegas Montecillo is a "consistent producer," according to Wine for Dummies. Expert sources are always chock full of firm and confident European wine recommendations that you and I have a hard time finding on local store shelves, because the wines in question are so good that they tend to jump ship in Manhattan or San Francisco and stay there, not bothering with the long journey to the interior where Franzia -- bless its heart -- is king. A cynical rule of thumb in the heartland is, if your local retailer can afford to offer it to you, even in a big suburban super store, chances are it's a fine but still yeoman product. Not so, it seems, with this wine from the cellars of Sociedad Anonima (the anonymous society? how mysterious). Retail, about $24.

One more, just for pleasure? Oh, why not. I have a niece who has just given birth to a little boy, within the hour. (She put it on Facebook. Young people nowadays.) A toast, then, to baby Austin -- why do I envision a car? -- health and long life.

2009 Terra Andina Reserva pinot noir, Sur Andino, Chile

currant jelly color -- beautiful
cherry + raspberry nose -- 
a little gaminess -- 
very gentle -- acidic but fruity -- 
very fine -- take care to keep it cool, otherwise very spiky

Retail, about $14.

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