Saturday, February 4, 2012

veni, vidi, drinky...

So last week I was listening to some lectures that Jorge Luis Borges delivered at Harvard in the late 1960s, and he said something that was telling in its ostensible simplicity -- "Books are only great if you read them."
I think (you probably know where we're going with this already) the same can be said of wine. Of course, collecting wines (like collecting books) is a great thing. I think most of us know the reassuring comfort of having a stockade of bottles, whether it's just a few on hand in the refrigerator, a near-full rack (be it from IKEA, West Elm, or the Flea Market) on the counter, or a separate room in your house that you've converted into a cellar (...ahem, Delton). I always feel a certain headiness when I catch a glimpse of my own nascent 'cellar' as I walk through the kitchen, some sense of accomplishment or attainment or contentedness. It's kind of the same way I feel about my library, or my burgeoning single-malt collection; it just feels good.

Lest we forget Schopenhauer's caveat about purchasing books, we must now find the time to drink the wine. Which brings us to our first of the evening...Well, first to blog about, anyway, since we sampled a disjointed white Burgundy and had a bit of a Barbera (not to mention the wines I sampled earlier at Saglimbeni's -- Christine had a nice Chianti and Jeff had a Shiraz-Viognier that was very drinkable) before we opened the Garnacha pictured above. We actually had this wine at Thai Dee a few weeks ago and it was incredible; it was like Smuckers Strawberry Jam in a glass. We thought it was good enough (and a great price at that) to warrant a blog. That being said, we actually finished it two sentences ago, which you should interpret as a good thing. The wine was just as good as the last time, though the element of surprise was lost this time around; but it's still a solid wine. We bought it at Saglimbeni's for $13.99. So...a few notes...

Mark called it fun, whimsical, and complex, making the distinction between that and wines that are just fun and whimsical. It has great fruits, but there is enough minerality to balance it out. "It's like sniffing Old World Kool-Aid" was my favorite remark Mark made about it. Indeed, there is a dustiness, but the strawberry jam shines through. Tucker said "serious fruit tannins." Overall, it got a thumbs-up from all three of us. Four, if you include Tiff's vote from the previous bottle at Thai Dee.

So Tucker came home from Max's Wine Dive and we opened a 2000 Spanish Tempranillo next. Balsion Reserva from Ribera del Duero. This was a first for us, since we've never had such an old Tempranillo. At first it reminded me of an old Italian that I would be drinking with Delton. It was big and fruity, but with a condensed feel to it...almost like a Amarone or something raisinated. While I liked it, Mark hijacked the blog and said "pruny and small raisins.....that is an aged Spanish wine in my opinion....just there....enough said...."
I'd recommend it, but you probably can't find it anywhere in town, so I guess the observation is moot. Worth mentioning (and completely changing gears), though, is the Black Maple Hill bourbon I picked up earlier today. Jolly from Joe's told me to keep an eye out for it when I went to Tennessee over the Christmas break, but they just got some in stock, so I bought a bottle from Sag's. I don't know enough about bourbons to talk about them, but I can say it's incredibly delicious and I would recommend it in a heartbeat. I definitely plan on drinking it while watching this week's episode of Justified.

So while we only talked about two wines tonight, I definitely learned a lot in the process. One of the coolest things about wine is that it's like pouring history into a glass. Drinking it is great, but doing all the discovery -- where it came from and how it was made -- is what ties it all together, in addition to bringing up more questions than we started with. I've learned more about geography since studying wine than I ever did in school. If not for tonight, we wouldn't have talked about The Merchant of Venice (the fact that the Garnacha was produced in the region of Aragon sparked Mark's memory of reading the play in 10th grade), Venetian glass from Murano, or Huey P. Long (our discussion of 'castillo' not only made me realize my friend Steve's last name is 'castle', but also reminded us of Long's "Every Man a King", which got us into a discussion about this garnacha making one feel like the king of his castle). Anyway... I'm still thinking about Borges, and in another part of one of his lectures he talks about "drinking poems." While he was referring to literature, I'd like to think of each glass of wine as a little poem, which makes me wonder if I can start seeing other things in my life as little poems...and not just the sweet moments like picking greens from the back of the bistro or sipping a sapid Morgon in the garden. Perhaps even seemingly banal chores like doing the dishes or taking out the trash can be transformed into little moments of transcendence. So while "Ode on a Trash Bag" might not rattle any cages, maybe we can at least see the poetry of our lives in the little moments, be it getting stuck in traffic, taking a trip to the curb, or getting lost in a glass of wine. At this moment, we're tilting our glasses...

Friday, November 18, 2011

fall in san antonio is the new autumn in new york...

Back at the bistro for a pre-Thanksgiving petite fete. After a long-anticipated ending to the week before Thanksgiving break, I headed over to Mark's after a day of standardized testing, abstinence talks, and the first half of a JV basketball game. While the world of high school sports in Texas has a rich and illustrious history, it pales in comparison to a nice glass of wine at the end of a long week. After staring at blank faces trying to understand Julius Caesar, it was refreshing to see Tucker and Mark understand a Blaufrankisch. 

First on the menu was a 2010 Pacific Rim Riesling from Columbia Valley. Made with organic grapes, it was a great complement to the salmon and cream cheese on toasted rye with slivered onions, leeks, and capers. The wine didn't just hold up to the salmon -- it soared. Don't think sushi, but it would go well with duck, Cornish game hen, pheasant, and, of course, our annual pilgrimage to the tabernacle of turkey. We deciphered peaches, pears, fruit cocktail, cloves, and a little spice-box peeking out from behind the fruit. The acidity was focused, with the wine straddling dry and off-dry. At 10.5%, this was the perfect balance between sweet and dry. This one will not bring couched emotions to the surface at your elegant Paula Deen table -- the alcohol content is low enough to ensure no one's going postal at this party, while the bouquet is arresting enough to transport you to Mosel, Rheingau, or New Braunfels in spring. 

Up next was a 2008 Fogdog Pinot Noir from Freestone Vineyards in Sonoma County (the step-child of Napa). We found this to be an approachable, well-crafted wine which, to be honest, caught us slightly off guard. While we tend to dismiss California Pinot Noir because they're usually over-oaked or taste like an off-brand strawberry jam that lists the first three ingredients as corn syrup, modified corn syrup, and partially-hydrogenated corn syrup, this one was a crowd-pleaser. There was a little alcohol burn on the nose and fruit that took us to Northwest U.S. Mark got some mock-Burgundian orange. It was thick, had great acids, and would go great with duck or anything else a solid Pinot would go with. This is no new frontier, just a solid Pinot. Damn pretty, Mark said. The American Heritage Dictionary defines FogDog as "a bright or clear spot that appears in breaking fog," which couldn't be more appropriate for this wine, as it stands in stark contrast to the dross of some nearby new world pinot. 

 Seeking redemption from California after the last Merlot post, we hoped the Beringer Knights Valley 2006 Alluvium would prove chivalry is not dead. And indeed it is not. With notes of bold, chewy red fruits, and coffee, the wine exhibited a sense of (paradoxically) restrained hedonism. It has the harmony of Bordeaux and the sunshine of California. With 79% Merlot, the rest is made up of Cab, Cab Franc, Petit Verdot, and Malbec. This is an AVA to keep an eye on. 

Last up was a bottle that Tucker procured through various and sundry indiscretions. While we're not at liberty to divulge what those might have been, we can say that the wine is wonderful. It was around this time that Laura and Noel showed up to the party. Laura got notes of Rooibos tea, violets, stewed fruit, and blue flowers. Noel noted that the wine was very delicate, and needed some food...something with fat to balance out the acid -- "pure Burgundy". You definitely want to lay this down for at least a year and a half, three years max. Strident and sinewy, Mark called this a "young buck," fuzzy antlers and all. 

Saturday, September 17, 2011

In Defense of Merlot?

Regrets, I've had a few... 

So Mark had the idea a few weeks ago to taste some Merlot. He mentioned something about Sideways promulgating a generation of Merlot-haters, and that perhaps it needed some protection from that big bully, Pinot Noir.  So I moseyed on over to the Bistro and met up with Mark and Tucker.  Tucker was whipping up an heirloom tomato salad with Thai basil, Mark was being the affable host he always is, and Frank was on the radio. A few bars into "My Way" and we were off on our way to an exciting adventure in the world of Merlot... Or so we thought, until we tasted the first one we opened, the Hahn Winery Merlot from Central Coast. 
We picked up the usual notes of plums and prunes, then noticed some mild oak, soft tannins, and a little burn on the finish. And that was about it. We could say it was pedestrian, but it'd be more fun to say that it's like a bad first date with a girl who won't stop talking about her cats and bible study. Mark assured me he bought it from Whole Foods, but I could have sworn he meant the corner store. We waited for it to open up, and it eventually did; regrettably, it was only to exponential banality. You might bring this wine to your least favorite Aunt's holiday dinner. Or cook with it. Or re-gift it. Or just not buy it in the first place. 

Disappointed but undaunted, we opened up the next wine, a Red Diamond Merlot from Washington State, only to begin realizing that perhaps Merlot does need to be bullied. Or at least the producers of most of these less-than-$20 dollar Merlots. We really didn't have much to say about this one. I could have copied and pasted the winemaker's notes for the Red Diamond, but it was quicker to just keep typing. Tucker said it wasn't as bad as the Hahn, but it was still boring. Usually ever-tolerant, we were beginning to jump on the Merlot-hating bandwagon, until we realized that it's not Merlot that we dislike, rather particular producers and their prosaic proffering (sorry, alliteration was on my students' list of literary terms last week). 

Moving on, moving on...
Like Lindsey Buckingham, we've been down two times...and after two misses, I was half-expecting to be down three. My mistake, I should have been fully expecting to be let down a third. Our last Merlot of the evening was the Little Black Dress, a wine that we were hoping would be awesome because it "partners with numerous charities that support women and their drive to succeed." And, like, you can totally go to the website and post a picture of yourself in your favorite black dress! Well, gag us with a spoon and stick a fork in our eyes, because either of those would have been preferable to quaffing these last three quacks. The Little Black Dress was definitely nothing to burn your bras over, ladies. Even though it was the least offensive of the three, it was still described as 'least offensive', so there you have it...

So after three quotidian (dare we say abysmal?) American Merlots, we haven't completely lost hope, but we also don't foresee any more Merlot posts in the near future. We know there is good Merlot out there, it just wasn't on the menu tonight.

Enter our savior of the evening:

Eventually Mark ended up saving the day with a Chateau Saint-Andre Corbin from St. Georges-St. Emilion (75% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Franc). It left us wondering why we hadn't been drinking it all night. It was actually the first wine of the night that we toasted, which says a lot for this crowd. Perhaps the unfortunate truth is that it's hard to find a decent domestic Merlot for under $20 (ok, not entirely true, because the Charles Smith Velvet Devil and the Independent Producers Merlot come to mind...maybe those are due for an upcoming review). But the ones we lean towards are quality ones in the $50 range or so, with Shafer being Mark's favorite. We are still on a quest to understand Merlot. Why do we love old world Merlot-dominant Bordeaux? Is it the terroir? The age of the vines? The Atlantic air versus the Pacific? The cumulative, generational experience of wine-making? Or is it the lack of desire for mass production and formulaic, crazy-aunt pleasing wines? We're not ready to give up. The Charles Smiths and Shafers of the world give us hope, but they are few and far between. In "It Was a Very Good Year," Frank sang 'from the brim to the dregs,' but our evening went the other way around and, after going back to the Old World, we couldn't have ended the note on a better night. 

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Loosen UP 2010 and Montsant Besllum 2008

After leaving the food (w)hole, I jetted on over to Kitty G Bistro to have a light meal and some more delicious wines with Mark. He greeted me with some leftover Koster-Wolf Scheurebe, then we sat down to a wonderful Indian chicken and rice dish that he made earlier in his tagine (word to the wise: one clove goes a long way!). We paired the dish with Dr. Loosen's latest offering, Loosen UP, which sports a pretty nifty label and an even niftier delivery on the palate. The back of the label suggests that this Riesling is 'perfect for a night in, a night out, a first date, a last date, a spicy meal, a special occasion or just to Loosen UP,' and we couldn't agree more. 

Next up was the Besllum 2008 blend. These 40 year-old vines turned out to be just the cougars we needed to spice up our evening. The nose was tight right out of the bottle, but after we decanted and gave it a little space, this shrinking violet began to show its personality. I blinded Mark on it, and his first thoughts led to Southern Rhone: grenache, carignan, and mourvedre. If only his neurons had translated French to Spanish, they would have told him that he was 2/3rds of the way there.  This blend of 45% Garnacha, 45% Carinena, and 10% Syrah from Monsant is only a stone's throw (albeit a stone thrown by the likes of French strongman Apollon) from the Rhone. Same varietals, different flags. The fact that this Montsant tasted particularly French is perhaps from the use of French oak rather than American. We actually like this very much, because it didn't taste like a ghastly campfire in our mouths. Montsant DO is basically a stepchild of the prized Priorat DOCa, but don't beat this redhead, because it stands on its own and is only a fraction of the price. Lest we forget, little Richie from Happy Days did grow up to become a successful director. 

Ok, so how does it taste, you're asking? Well...after the nose opened up, we detected notes of black currant, a little dusty attic, a slight alcohol burn, perhaps a little pine, and some sour cherry that we usually associate with Italy. On the palate  we got baby tannins, raspberries, black currant (confirmed), and some alcohol. Overall, it's a great wine, especially for the price ($16.99 at Whole Foods). Drink right out of the gate, though, as it lost some of its charm after being open for a couple of hours. 

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Cote 125

First night of blogging at Kitty G Bistro. It was only a matter of time before we started putting to paper all the ephemeral, free jazz commentary we've been making while drinking wine at the bistro. Appropriately, we poured a little out for Kitty G (the former proprietor).  Her spirit lives on, and she's looking down on us from her sweet bistro in the sky.

We started off with the Domaine de la Soleiade Vacqueyras 2009. After experiencing a little tightness, we decanted and enjoyed the blend of 55% grenache and 45% syrah. Mark thought the finish took a nose-dive and the alcohol was a little out of control (i.e., hot on the mid-palate).  I concurred.  After decanting, however, it opened up and was a good backdrop to our discussion of sherries.  Said discussion led to a tasting of three different sherries...a palomino fino, olosoro dolce, and a pedro ximejez dolce.  All were delicious and warrant their own blogs.

After the sherries we opened up the Cote 125 from Corbieres (2009).  Licorice, black slate...Mark calls it a real 'rough boy'.  Possibly great with lamb or a nice pork chop, but we had it with dark chocolate toffee peanuts.  Lots of dark fruit; blackberries and boysenberry sludge.  Some mud and slate.  Mark keeps going back to the black licorice.  Of course a wine like this wouldn't be complete without the subtle (or not-so) barnyard.  Mark qualifies his barnyard as baby-sheep poop, but he's waffling: it could actually be lamb.

Meanwhile, I have to get off to the Limelight for a band meeting. Shameless plug alert: the new cd is coming out and I'm on my way to discuss artwork.  Until next time...Mark, Kitty G, and I are wishing you great wines and even greater times with friends.  To the best!