Monday, August 31, 2009

one cork too far?

It's hot as can be, and I'm going mad for rosé (ask not whether the rosé has something to do with said madness). These days every time I'm browsing bottles my eye searches for the telltale raspberry glow, calling to me seductively from among the murky reds and citrine whites. "It's too hot for red!" it calls, faintly, and I buckle to a $13 bottle. "Whites are for weddings!" I might as well buy two.

Too bad my local grocer doesn't stock much rosé. There are only about four bottles on offer, and two of them qualify as Special Occasion pricing. Of the remainder, as you shall see, one is quite lovely and the other an imposter.

Red Bicyclette French Rosé, 2008. Vin de Pays d'Oc.

Obviously I didn't waste much time with this one. I may have even opened it before the frozen spinach was put away. The classically chic label is a harbinger of what's to come with this rosé: clean, crisp, strawberry and cherry flavors, with a bit of bite towards the end that comes as a warning that it might still knock you on your ass if you drink the whole bottle. Slightly sweeter than my new favorite Nostrada, but distinct enough to please red and white drinkers alike. In fact, it's so appealing and lovely inside and out, it would make a perfect gift for a summertime birthday party. It would be the centerpiece of your chi-chi picnic, and you would feel compelled to photograph it, dappled in sun and shade, against a blue-checked blanket.

Folonari, Pink Pinot Grigio, 2007. Venice.

Like the bottle above, this wine label blends the mother tongue with English phrases, presumably to hedge its bets that American consumers want both recognizable words and "authentic" foreignness when they invest in a bottle of vino. Hence, red + bicyclette (why not bicyclette rouge or just red bicycle?), and pink +pinot grigio delle venezie. Those sums are not equal, mind you. This second equals syrupy gum drops liquefied in your glass. Instead of bringing a bit of complexity to an otherwise crisp, dry pinot grigio, as I had (naively) hoped, it suffuses perfectly decent white wine with pink cotton candy. A headache-inducing sugar fest best reserved for teenagers and little old ladies who usually avoid wine because they don't like it.

Rosé, take me away!

Sunday, August 2, 2009


Silver Oak Cabernet Sauvignon, 2001. Oakville, CA.

This weekend I visited my brother for a family cookout to celebrate his birthday, and being the generous person that he is, the birthday boy gave us a gift: he opened a bottle of 2001 Silver Oak Cabernet. This happens to be his very favorite red wine, and I can certainly understand why. Rich, mesmerizing flavors that arrest the tongue before loosening it, unbelievably velvety texture, deep, dark, and satisfying. If you find yourself talking to your glass of wine more than your companions, cooing to it softly after each incomparable sip, it may be that this belle dame sans merci hath thee in thrall! Sadly, no pictures, but here's the website.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Rosé, olé

Nostrada Rosé, 2008. Tarragona, Spain.

Traveling is the best way to try new things. I had to journey all the way to Sweden to learn a thing or two about rosé, a hitherto unexplored type of wine for me. My dear friends Brad & Cecilia taught me that the best pairing for a hot summer's day is a glass of crisp, chilled rosé, preferably enjoyed with friends on a blanket in a Scandinavian park.

Yesterday I had no such blanket and no such park, just a hot-as-blazes Charleston day off that was unexpectedly ruined by throwing my back out in the early morning. Instead of running errands and shopping for sundresses to wear to the upcoming Pitchfork Festival, I had to lower myself carefully onto the floor and try to find a sweet spot where the excruciating pain couldn't find me. For hours. After a day of moping around, hot and in pain, I decided to give myself a little present: this bottle of Spanish rosé. (In point of fact I bought two.)

Contrary to the Franzia wielders belief, pink wine doesn't have to be sugary sweet and classless. This bottle was crisp and light, a refreshing cherry taste with a hint of spice. It greeted the spanakopita and tabbouleh I made for dinner like they were old friends. Having downed most of the bottle myself over the course of the evening (which by then had vastly improved from the day's events), I consider myself an expert. At $6.99 a bottle, this is the perfect summer treat. I'm so glad I bought a second one to share with friends at a cookout tonight.

Monday, February 2, 2009

El Cheapo

Antigua Cava Cabernet Sauvignon, 2004. Mendoza, Argentina.

I had already picked up another bottle when a big sales display caught my eye. Ordinarily, I scoff at these walls of cheap wine en route to the register. They usually have eye-catching labels but end up being too low quality to be worth the small discount. Still, at $5, I did a double take and grabbed a bottle of the red.
The first sip was punchy and sour. It had a bouquet of (no kidding) sawdust. It reminded me of my dad's woodworking shop, or an old musty photo album, neither of which is altogether bad. The taste was like bitter cherry leather. Pretty sweet after a few minutes, despite the distracting tangy and moldy notes. It could really use a complex cheese to draw the flavor out and give it more dimension. On the whole, a fairly good purchase, but I won't be running back for more.

Sunday, January 4, 2009


Le Drunk Rooster Grenache, 2007. Languedoc region, France.

Ever noticed how many animal mascots appear on wine labels? Here's another clever one, this time in Franglais, instantly deflating the drinkers' pretensions to savoir faire. The color is a lovely true purple with laser-red flecks when held to light. I "paired" it with shrimp curry--out of convenience rather than inspiration--but it held up decently against the flavor onslaught. Light-bodied, it had a vaguely soapy taste for the first few minutes before leveling out to easy-going berry and cherry flavors. Drinkable but unremarkable. I got it for about $5.50 after a deep $3 discount. A reasonably tasty, cheap, inoffensive bottle--no need to be ashamed of toting this one to an informal gathering. Still, I can't help but think of the Bluth family's chicken impersonations. . .

back in red!

As predicted, my brother's generosity and expertise in sharing bottles of wine led to a period of mourning while I readjusted to the real world. Thankfully, I've recovered sufficiently to appreciate some more reasonable gems.

Viu Manent Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva, 2005. Valle de Colchagua, Chile.

A former roommate and wine lover gave me this bottle for my birthday. It's his go-to Cabernet, and seeing that his girlfriend lives close to a Total Wine, he's had plenty of opportunities to confirm that judgment. A big, bold cab; thick, dark and savory. It had a bite like a crocodile in the first ten minutes, but mellowed out smoothly within twenty.

Probably best paired with a rich meal, as it was a little too hefty for sipping while marveling at the contortions of Cirque de Soleil on DVD. I'd rather not look up the price of this gift, but I'm reasonably sure this one is in the affordable range. I love the copper sparkle in the icon.

Monday, May 12, 2008

drumroll, please . . .

So, wine-wise and otherwise, I just spent one of the best weekends of my life at my brother's house. He's made some pretty interesting friends in his life, but the one that concerns us most is the sommelier who picked out several mixed cases of his favorites at my brother's request. Skills! He's got 'em. They both do.

Each bottle alone would have been the highlight of any evening, but drunken one after another, they've wrecked my ability to enjoy $9 bargain wines indefinitely. This blog may never rise again.Without further ado:

R? Petite Sirah. ???

Why didn't I take a picture of the back of the bottle? A question one asks in the cruel light of day. Anyway, whatever your winery, ma petite sirah, I love you.

Rich, dark, spicy. It took me a few guesses, but I eventually identified some coffee notes. Grabs you by the tongue like an unexpected French kiss. A deep and passionate wine.

Il Nero di Casanova, La Spinetta. 2005. Italy.

The least impressive of the night, but still much better than any of my past entries (Le Grand Pinot Noir perhaps excepted). Clean and crisp, effortlessly smooth. An intermezzo, not an aria.

Calera Pinot Noir, 2003. Mt. Harlan, California.

The belle of the ball for me. As a discerning drinker once said, I didn't drink it so much as taste it again and again.

But my tastebuds were, shall we say, loosened by this point, as I had *tasted* quite a lot of it. I luxuriated in this wine, rolling it over my tongue and trying to experience the dancing rush of flavors fully each time. I have nothing more specific to report besides the memory of rapture. A bit like trying to hold on to the evening itself as it opened and its notes kept changing.

Mmm, the path from wine to philosophy is a short and tasty one when you start here.

Elizabeth Spencer Cabernet Sauvignon Special Cuvee, 2005. Napa Valley, California.

Thanks to my brother for this lesson in food pairing and timing. According to the carnivores present, this bottle held its own against a steak dinner like a champion. Right out of the bottle, this bold Cab punched me in the mouth and then ran away, defiant and elusive. After ten or fifteen minutes, the punch had moved to the middle, then the end, and finally it shadowboxed its way right out the other side. Sophisticated and strong--not to be shared with the timid!

Muga Reserva Rioja, 2003. Haro, Spain.

This was the second time I'd been treated to a glass (or two) of Muga, an unfiltered Spanish rioja. The last time was the night before Christmas, when it was my favorite bottle of a long and festive evening.

Spicy and warm on the tongue, even musky, with an undeniable connection to the grape that produced it. A down-to-earth rockstar of a wine, solidly tied with "R" for second place.

Carneros Saintsbury Pinot Noir, 2004.

I think I remember liking it. I'm sure it was good, but by this time in the evening, I'd begun to reel. Perhaps my friends can fill me in. . . what did you think of it?

In the words of Dr. Steve Brule, "Sweet berry wine!"