Saturday, October 22, 2005

Tagged! Revisiting the French Wine Boycott

Maggie over at The Wine Offensive (Have you not checked this site out yet? For real--try to keep up, man) has tagged me thusly:

Go to your 23rd post, reprint your 5th sentence, and expound. Forward to 5 other people.

My 23rd post is a little diddy called D'accord, nous n'allons vous montrer aucun vin francais!
which is one of my favorites because the title makes me look like I speak French. Which I don't. But you don't have to know that.

Dans une coquille de noix, this post tells the story of a couple who came in looking for a wine, and were chagrined to find out the one I chose was French. The fifth sentence reads almost like a punch line:

She was convinced it was just the thing, and had it in her hand, when her husband came over and said, "Yeah, uh, can we maybe find something similar from another country?"

And so I expound:

To answer your question, sir: no, you can't find something similar to this charming French bottle from another country. I picked it for your wife, who had no problem with it whatsoever until you called her out in front of me, calling into question her very patriotism for wanting to drink wine from France.

This leads naturally into another topic: the interaction of couples when choosing a wine. Even moreso than the restaurant/bar biz, where a couple is at least trying to have a good time, a store is a place where the marrieds let it all hang out. After all, this is their everyday lives--they've stopped by the store to pick up organic avacados, chemical-free chicken breast and free-range diapers, and a bottle of wine--and are now on their way to pick up the kids from soccer practice. For many, there's no attempt to be discreet about either their lust or their near-explosive contempt for one another, and it astounds me on a daily basis how people have lost their sense of decorum in public.

Here's a few of my favorite examples:

1) Spouse on cell phone with spouse, trying to remember name of wine.
This one is common, and I'm often handed the phone to speak to the person who at least remembers what color the label is. Fine. But one of the most brutal exchanges I'd ever been blessed to overhear goes like this: A woman came in, very friendly to me, with the "I can't remember the name" thing, and decided to call her husband to ask. She got on the phone and proceeded to rip her hubby a new asshole over something unrelated, shouting insults and accusations, all while standing a couple of feet away from me. I walked off.

2) Unholy Henpecking Bitch
Yes, lady, you have two rug rats throwing a fit in your cart, and your husband is well aware you're all on a precise time schedule. But for fuck's sake, let the man browse the beer for two minutes! God knows it's probably the only moment of respite in his day, from the looks of things. He just wants half a sec to reminisce about the good ol' days when he could have a beer or two if he wanted, without your written permission in triplicate. In addition, if I'm standing three aisles away and I can hear your admonishing, you are a loud-ass bitch. Shut UP!

3) Husband Ridicules Wife
"Hell, Martha, half the labels in the store's got animals on them! If you can't remember what you like, maybe you need to lay off the sauce anyway." Then the guy looks at me and winks, as though I'm in on the knowledge that his wife's an idiot. Dude. You feel like a man, making your wife to feel low? No wonder she's addicted to Chardonnay and Haagen Daas--she's trying to get through her marriage to your sorry ass. For the kids, too, no doubt.

4) The Ass Grabbers
New Rule: No, wait, this is an old rule. Do Not Squeeze Your Wife's/Husband's/Girlfriend's/Boyfriends Ass In Front Of Other People. It's rude to them and rude to everyone else. Please learn some social skills.

These are but four of the many couple clashes I see daily, and it makes me want to stop these people and ask: do you think you guys are alone in here? Or, are you thinking "it's none of anyone's business"? The latter is correct: it is none of our business, and we like it that way. No one here wants to see your version of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf played out in the beer cooler. So please, no matter how much you despise/are dying to mount your significant other, please express it at home.

Here are my tags:

Mascorrolandia. Miss Gini Goddamn is as talented a commentator as they come, from politics to obscure pop icons. Check her out.

Japan-0-Matic For the Kanji lover in you.

s'kat and the food Her posts about Sunday Mediterranean style brunches on the back porch with her man make me sigh. Nice food and feline photos, too.

TexSquid Alright, dude--get to posting! It's been a month.

swirl sniff taste
--A wine blog with, you know, knowledge and opinions, and stuff. Very cool.

I've never tagged anyone before, so if I've breached etiquette, lemme know.


Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Aussies at Mars

It's about an hour before I leave work, and my boss grabs me by the arm and demands I go with him to a Grateful Palate portfolio tasting dinner, immediately. "Like hell am I going to Mars in my undershirt!" I said. Nor was I in the mood; a spontaneous event where I would have to be "on" for another few hours? Forget it, I was too tired, free dinner or not.

But then I remembered the last trip to Mars...the dreamy tea-smoked tandori duck...the scallops with the little dumpling thingys on the side...

"Plus," he said, "It's a bunch of Aussies, and they love to throw down."

Alright, fine, but we both had to stop at Target to get new shirts.

I arrived sporting new shirt, the lone woman joining a table packed with big guys. The best seat at the table, next to the boisterous Trevor Jones, was offered to me. Trevor had a killer combo of charms: part your uncle and part flirtatious, a naughty sense of humor, and a hearty belly laugh. Plus the moustache and all. I was smitten.

When my boss told Trevor how his Tawny Port would sell in Texas if it were labeled 17% or under, he fixed the problem right then and there.

Our hosts included Tom Adams of Brothers In Arms and Michael and Ross De La Haye of Hare's Chase. Unable to come was Kim Longbottom of Henry's Drive, due to illness, but her wines made it just fine.

Run, rabbit, run: Trevor added a touch of dark humor to Michael De La Haye's expensive new label design (they're shotgun blasts). Later on, I added the same touch to his (see the picture above this one).

My first sip of the night was the 2003 'Boots' White Blend by Trevor Jones, a little princess of a wine, showing off the dainty, flowery aromatics of fifty-fifty Reisling and Muscat a Petit Grains. The palate was lively and fruity with just barely enough acidity to keep it up and offer a nice grapefruity finish. It was perfectly quaffable, although the ballpark retail I was given ($14) seemed a bit steep. I say that because there are lots of charming, fruity whites I can choose from at lower price points.

Next up: 2004 Virgin Chardonnay (Why 'virgin', you ask? "Because it's never seen wood," Trevor says.) This is an 8 vineyard blend (Barossa, Eden and Adelaide vineyards, separately fermented before blending). I have to say, this was a right decent quaffer Chard. Barrel Fermented for the people, it was creamy, tropical and crisp without tasting like a gawdamn coconut macaroon. I forgot to ask the suggested retail, but again, I wouldn't want to see it over $12, tops.

The 2004 Pillar Box Red by Henry's Drive (57% Cab, 32% Shiraz, 11% Merlot) is the first lower-end juice I was aware they made. While the label, a predictably minimalist red box, screams "sexed-up value wine", I felt the juice itself was exactly what it should be for a $8-$10 sticker: plush, candied black fruit with a few notes of violet, vanilla and pepper. For the bargain hunters who dig a good, well integrated fruit & oak affair, I say: give 'er a try.

Now, in my last post, you learned what a Syrah nut I am, and tasting this and other Shiraz-z-zs that night was a clarifying reminder of the differences in style between Aussie Shiraz and, well, any other syrah in the whole world. Barrel fermenting for tannin taming and big wide strokes of eucalyptus and pepper are always present in these great big, manly-man wines. The move to court International-style wines notwithstanding, the Aussies are always struggling with acidity levels due to the warm weather, and are subsequently allowed to add acid, which pretty much defines the overall style they try for.

2000 Brothers In Arms Shiraz: Pepper and more pepper peppered this plush, blackberry bombshell. Concentrated and deep with bits of licorice and tobacco, and a long fruit finish that lingered pleasantly. The acidity was there, but not as much as I like. Very satisifying stuff, though, I think, for someone who likes the style.

2001 Brothers In Arms Shiraz: Much less intense than the previous vintage, this shiraz had more of that mixed fruit thing you get from syrah, with sweet baking spices and an ample dash of black pepper.

2003 Henry's Drive Reserve Shiraz: "A Eucalyptus wrapped cigar crammed in the bottom of a saddlebag." This sounds sarcastic, but it was right on. This was my favorite wine of the evening, and I was sorry that Kim Longbottom wasn't there for me to say so. This wine was the closest to the complex syrahs from other parts of the world that I love so well, albeit still distinctly Aussie. Bacony meat notes, tobacco box, and deep black fruit all worked together smashingly. Kudos to Henry's Drive.

Now, even as I praise Henry's Drive for the extraordinary shiraz, I have to knock them upside the head for the 2004 'Parson's Flat' Shiraz/Cab. Let's put it this way: if your idea of a good time is drinking a full glass of red wine that tastes and feels like an extra-thick blackberry chocolate milkshake, you will simply adore this wine. I did not. It was wayyy over the top rich and the acid was nowhere to be found. If I want that kind of thing, I'll drink a porter, thank you.

Trevor told me his thoughts on how Australian reds are aging, and where they end up when at their peak. I was under the impression that the usual plush, high alcohol, low acid style didn't seem very suited to aging, and Trevor confirmed that. His example was his own 2000 Trevor Jones Cabernet (with 15% Merlot). "An ageworthy Aussie red's gonna be tight as hell when it's young," he said, "and that's why the reviewers should revisit these wines again, when they've had time to open up." This cab, he said, had been very tight upon its release, but was now drinking much better. The wine was a very juicy number with cranberry/cassis and baking spices, and only a touch of the vegetal quality Trevor bemoaned. Considering other Aussie reds I've had from early vintages that had already given up the ghost by now, this one had held up nicely.

The last thing I tried was the 'Jonsey' Tawny Port (pictured above). This was an odd bird, being a blend of grenache, shiraz and Pedro Ximenez. The aromatics and flavors hovered around prunes and stewed fruits, and seemed kinda simple to me; I wondered (not yet having a full grasp of port) whether this would age well or not.

The evening turned out wonderfully, despite my fatigue. I had the duck again, and the scallops, again, and they were both fabulous. The boys and I all went outside after dinner and told dirty jokes, luring our neighboring table into the revelry. It's a night like this that makes up for the lack of dough in the retail biz. Thanks, guys!


Monday, October 10, 2005

Dear Syrah: I Love You.

I'm in the middle of an obsession with syrah. That in itself isn't very weird for me. But check this: me, Little Miss Old World, has fallen for a California syrah. I have already been chided for this by my workmates, who point out past railings against fruit-driven styles of wine. But here's the thing, see: I realize that my personal adventure in vitis vinifera would be rather stifled if I summarily dismissed all fruit-driven wines, or worse, assumed that all California wines are of a style that I will never be able to abide. Plus, I would be exactly the same insuffrable bore I despise, right?

What I've discovered is that I fucking love good syrah like Jesus loves to preach. There have been Cote Rotie that have knocked me right out before I'd even had a taste, but the price tag was way too deep. Later, I found myself fascinated, although ultimately dissatisfied, with Shiraz. Shiraz is a whole-nother bitch---impossibly gooey most of the time, like a volcano brownie smothered in blackberry cream sauce and peppered. Yet I still found myself looking over them, hoping to find one that wasn't so pumped up on chocolate steroids. But even though I found a few that had some semblance of finesse, there was still no soul. Not like the Rhones.

Then one day, I took home a bottle that moved me so deeply, I can still taste it if I close my eyes:

2001 Ojai Bien Nacido Syrah

Oh man. Oh man oh man oh man. Holy Mother of Jehosephat. This bottle did it for me. It had had just enough time to develop a gorgeous range, everything a girl could hope for in a syrah: deep, penetrating silky texture, a gorgeous palate: seared lamb chops seasoned with white pepper sitting in a blackberry/rosemary demi-glace, I shit you not.

Now, before you roll your eyes at my effusive praise, I'll defend myself by admitting that the occassion at which I drank this wine was likewise a lovely evening, and we all know that is definitely a factor in how we assess wine.

But it was fucking good.

I had the 2003 Bien Nacido recently at a tasting, and while it was not quite where the '01 is, it showed the same pretty white pepper and game notes.

When I was in Napa recently, I had a craving for syrah. You just wouldn't believe how annoyingly sparse the syrah supply was in restaurants and wine shops. Cab, cab, cab everywhere (it being Cab Country, and all, but jeez...). I was so thrilled to find a half bottle of syrah at Pinot Blanc restaurant that I overlooked the completely overblown style for at least a glass. It was the 2002 Edna Valley Paragon Syrah, Central Coast, and it was big and luxorious, but had little in the way of harmonizing secondary flavors, so I finally got bored and offered the rest of the bottle to my bartender. I won't say it sucked, just that it was incomplete.
But what was good about it was good, and I wondered if, with more time, if all that phat fruit would mellow and gain complexity.

Tonight, I'm drinking another Cal-Rhone: 2003 Bonny Doon 'Le Posseur' Syrah, Central Coast. It's got the deep blackbery silk, and a touch of menthol on the nose, and a bright lemony acidic backbone. It's very lovely, and it seems obvious to me that it will change and develop with a few year's time. It was clearly made in the traditional French style, and God Bless 'em for it.

For me, even an overblown syrah, if it has that luxorious texture, is better than a swift kick in the ass any day. If, however, it has the texture and the pepper, the meat, the earth, and the supple tannins, it is up there next to sex. So if anyone has a favorite syrah from anywhere that gives them the quivering thighs, please share. Please.


Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Cork and Demon's First Ever WBW Entry: Bellarine Estate's 'Phil's Fetish' Pinot Noir, 2003, Australia

It's just shy of 7 a.m., and even before my precious life-giving Coffee, I have tasted this wine. Why? Because I am dedicated to bringing the people the wine information they crave. And I fricking forgot it was WBW until like, a half hour ago. I bolted up out of my warm nest and got to slurping.

Is this the best time to taste a wine? I've been told: first thing in the morning, before your palate has been ravaged by java and bear claws, is an ideal moment to capture all the nuances of a great wine. Having put it to the extreme test, I can now say that I disagree: my palate, like the rest of my sleepy self, needs a good couple of hours of uptime before plunging into the work of disecting Pinot Noir. But I tasted it nevertheless, and here's what I got:

Bellarine Estate 2003 "Phil's Fetish" Pinot Noir

Even in a proper Burgundy glass, this juice is still shy on the nose. Savory cherry fruit + a touch of cola nut + a touch of tea = Cherry Cola! A good swish and slurp gave me mouth watering bing cherry that developed pleasantly into something kinda meaty, and a little backnote of herbs. Very soft finish. Verdict: Australia. The Australians love the big fruit and the tiny tannins, don't they? Having made that little smart remark, I have to say that it's not a bad wine at all. I happened to like the little burst of cherry fruit goodness, and were I to be in the mood for fruit (as I am in the morning), I think it would hit the spot nicely.

This friendly Pinot will not blow your mind, but it might go well with a pork tenderloin, served to fussy in-laws who question your obsession with wine.