Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Wines I Have Loved: C&D's 2005 Top Tastiest Juices

For your perusal, I present the smartest-ass wine list ever, the Cork and Demon's Top Tasty Juices 2005. It's a sampling of wines that I liked very much and can actually remember well enough to write about. Many of them were my 'convert wines', that is, wines I used to pry people's hands off the Smoking Loon with. Enjoy!

Da Bomb Whites of 2005

2005 La Yunta Torrontes ($9)
Region: Famatina Valley, Argentina
Importer: Southern Wine Group
Profile: White peaches and grapefruit slices served by Cherubic tots dressed in white.
Critter on Label: Two headed llama. Or one llama behind the other. Hard to tell.
Music Match: Polyphonic Spree, Even if You Hate Them

2005 Crios Torrontes ($14)
Region: Mendoza, Argentina
Importer: Vine Connections
Profile: Sharon Stone in Saint Tropez, her body smoothed by lanolin, lunching on tropical fruit
Critter on label: No
Music Match: Astrud Gilberto

2004 Handley Cellars Gewurztraminer ($16)
Region: Anderson Valley, CA
Local Distributor: Virtuoso Selections
Profile: Passing out backwards into a bed of rose petals and spice. Perfectly semi-dry.
Critter on label: No
Movie Match: American Beauty

2004 Reverdy Sancerre, Cuvee "Les Coutes" ($25)
Region: Duh.
Profile: Flint, flowers, fruit and focus
Critter on Label: F*ck No
Movie Star Match: Catherine Deneuve, 1983

2004 Lake Chalice Reisling ($15)
Region: Marlborough, Australia
Importer: Via Pacifica
Profile: Take a stainless steel knife. Chop limes, kiwis and honeysuckle blossoms. Lick the knife.
Critter on Label: Yes
Fun Match: Petting electric eels

2003 Casalfarneto Fontevecchia Verdicchio di Jesi DOC Classico Superiore ($16)
Region: The hilly center of the Marches
Profile: A little mineral-citrus princess. Will instantly convert all white wine haters.
Critter on label: Sort of.
Music Match: St. Ettienne

2000 Livon 'Braide Alte' (Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Picolit, Muscato Gialto, $35)
Region: Friuli Venezia Giulia
Importer: Eurowines
Profile: A heady, mad tangle of rich, stinky, glorious, verdent, buxom strangeness that will blow your little mind.
Critter on label: No
Music Match: Dissonant Jazz Trios

Da Bomb Reds 2005

2003 Baroli Langhe Rosso 'Anna' ($13)
Region: Piedmont
Profile: Young, refined Nebbiolo for under twenty bucks. Fan-freakin'-tastic.
Critter on label: Please.
Music Match: Giacomo Puccini

2003 Valle Dell' Acate Poggio Bidini Nero D'Avola ($13)
Region: Sicilia
Importer: Vinity Wine Company
Profile: Nero D'Avola the way the Lord intended. Dark. Brooding. Cocoa and tomato leaf. Begs for sausages and tomato sauce.
Critter on label: Nope.
Song Match: 'Spellbound' by Siouxsie and the Banshees

2003 La Corte 'Solyss' Negroamaro ($14)
Region: Puglia
Importer: Leonardo LoCascio
Profile: Smokachocoherbaberrylicious
Critter on Label: Certainly not.
Food Match: Charred Flank of Beast

2001 La Calonica Vino Nobile di Montepulciano ($22)
Region: Tuscany
Profile: Manly, elegant, ageworthy
Critter: Yes. Two actually: a lion and a griffin.
Movie Star Match: Sean Connery eating a porterhouse

2003 Saint Cosme "Les Deux Albion" Cotes Du Rhone ($19)
Region: Duh
Profile: Oh, she is complicated, silky, deep and syrah-y, and will not tolerate being called a mere CDR.
Critter: Oh, for God's sake.
Model Match: Isabella Rosselini, 1990

2003 Bodegas Luan 'Equis' Unfiltered Cuvee ($10)
Region: Tierra de la Castilla, Spain
Importer: Eric Solomon
Profile: Big, spicy fruit makes you feel all nasty and naughty inside. The absolute biggest kick that ten American bucks can buy.
Music Match: The Beastie Boys

2004 Barahonda Monastrell ($10)
Region: Yecla, Spain
Profile: Herbs, Berries, Minerals, Licorice, Attitude. Another whip-ass ten dollar Spanish beauty.
Critter: No, goddammit.
Food Match: Roasted Goat

Da Bomb Bubbles

H. Billot Fils Grand Cru Brut Reserve ($55)
Region: Champers
Importer/Distributor: Michael Skurnik Wines
Profile: Rich, yeasty, nutty with fine, abundant frothy goodness. All Pinot. Why pay more?
Fun Match: Gettin' Busy in da hot tub

Carpene Malvolti Prosecco ($18)
Region: Conegliano, Veneto
Profile: Zippy, light, sexy and quaffable. Every year they hold a contest to create the best prosecco recipe.
Music Match: Esquivel

Avinyo Cava ($12)
Region: Cava, Espana
Importer: De Maison Selections
Profile: Smooooooth, light, dry and finessy. That's right, I said
finessy. Made from a host of Cava varietals with unpronouncable names.
Fun Match: Getting Aunt Ellen buzzed enough to pull her pantyhose off over her head.


Monday, December 19, 2005

Texas Tasting

The Hill Country's fairest season is June, but even December has charm to a Texas girl. The peach orchards are bare and their stands boarded up, the fields of lavender and wildflowers fallow, but the evergreen cedars are striped through with the brilliant red of autumn oaks and mule deer graze brazenly close to the highway. People raise all manner of beasties out here, and as you zip down 290 East on the way to the German settlement town of Fredericksburg, you'll spy herds of red and white goats, llamas, emu, plump sheep, and...was that a zebra? Yes, Timmy, it was, indeed. Texans are an odd lot.

Well, so are their wines. Sometimes well balanced but lacking in power, sometimes powerful but a bit too sweet, Texas wines always seem to be just a leeeetle bit off-kilter to me. In my recent quest to understand the state of Texas wine, I hied me off to the hub of Hill Country wine tasting.

Fredericksburg is a booming tourist attraction these days. The main street is brimming with enough antique houses, clothing boutiques, Texas paraphenalia, and German restaurants to make Grandma and Grandpa feel very willkommen. The interest in the culture of Texas wine is also booming; in the past five years, Fredericksburg has seen the addition of one wine bar and two tasting rooms, the latter two of which are dedicated almost completely to Texas wine.

My destination was Texas Vineyards and Beyond, a wee little tasting room at the start of the Main Street shopping where one can try an impressively vast array of Lone Star juice. You can also buy little Peruvian knitted finger puppets that fit on the top of a bottle. Just thought I'd throw that in for fun.

One of the things I learned from writing workshops is that it's easy enough to critique a well-written story. It takes more knowledge and experience to critique a flawed one. It's the same, for me, with Texas wine, and so I suppose I consider it professional practice to try and understand both what's working and what's lacking in them.

The Whites

2004 Haak Blanc du Bois

This wine won the 2005 Texas' Best Wines Award for the 'Best Hybrid' group, and while it was a bit sweet for my taste, it was one of the best balanced wines I tried, white or red. It's a light gold with herbal/citrus notes reminiscent of Sauv Blanc. There's a sweet citrus attack on the palate, with good acid and a crisp grapefruity finish.

2003 McPherson Viognier

This label is made by the Kim McPherson, son of Dr. Clinton "Doc" McPherson, who is called "the founder of the modern Texas wine industry". Dr. McPherson founded Cap*Rock winery, one of Texas best known. I consider McPherson the Younger's label to be on some of the best wine in the state.

The Viognier was a silver medalist in the aforementioned competition, and while it wasn't as aromatic or as a French or California viognier, the wine was supple and well balanced with a clean, crisp finish.

The Reds

2003 Llano Estacado Signature Rhone Blend
A blend of Carignan, Syrah, Mouvedre and Viognier

Whooowie, smell that sulfur! Now this is what I'm talking about, people. This wine smelled like the swimming pool at church camp, way out in Grandbury, Texas. I got very little off the nose except sulfur, and that's a problem. The palate was pleasant enough, tart red berry, but not much else, and the finish was kinda weak. Dull but drinkable. I should note, however, that this wine retails under nine bucks.

2004 Mc Pherson Tre Colore
Carignan, Syrah, Viognier

Ahh, better. Lean and powerful, and actually identifiable as Rhone. But there's that smell again, on the nose. See, there's this smell. I don't know what it is, but it seems to plague Texas wines. Is is sulfur? I'm not sure. It doesn't smell like rotten eggs or burnt matches, but it's faintly off-putting to me, and I'm the only one it bothers. It's a mystery I hope to someday resolve. I call it 'the Texas smell', and I'll let you know when I've figured it out.

2002 'El Guapo', Alamosa Vineyards
82% Tempranillo with Garnacha and Cabernet

This was once one of the most lauded newcomer wineries in the state. Their first couple of vintages were beloved of the press and of local wine critics. But this vintage---how do I put this delicately? Oh, I know---sucked. There. I said it. The color is an awful thin brownish red, the nose is dominated by pickley aromas, and the palate is thin and unpleasant. What happened, Mr. Johnson? Your credentials are flawless. I won't sit here and act like I know it all, but I am truly confused why this wine was released.
To be fair, Alamosa has other tempranillos that are good. Just not this one.

2002 'Meritus', Fall Creek Vineyards
Cab, Merlot, and Malbec

Pretty good. Deep garnet with a spicy/peppery nose. Red and black fruit on the palate, with vanilla oak notes. A relatively powerful palate, although I don't know that it "screams elegance". I'd say it walks up, glad-hands you and suggests you buy a lakeside lot of elegance in a prime location at a great price. While I'd agree that this is a well-made wine, it bears the curse of the Texas wine price tag: up to $40 a bottle. Think about what kinda wine you could come up with for forty clams, and this one won't make the top 100. This is a big problem for me with these wines: the good ones are priced wayyyyy out of the range of like competitors from anywhere else.

This trip's verdict: Given all considerations, the whites showed better for their price tags than the reds, and despite the various competitions, I still find that a Texas wine is best compared only to its peers right now. But I keep the faith. It's only proper, as my daddy would say.


Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Chateau Bubba will rock your world, someday

I've been reading all day about the state of the Texas wine industry. We get a lot of haughty haw-haws from wine snooties down here; mostly people who actually live here. Trouble is, sometimes the wines really are crappy. But sometimes they're not.

Texas ranks third in the nation for wine consumption and fifth in production. That ranking is in part thanks (er, thanks?) to a French company called Cordier who produces an ocean of cheap, icky wine from both Texas vineyards way out west, or bought juice from all over the globe. The gallonage is somewhere between 300,000 and a million per year. We're not supposed to fuss about 'Saint Gen', though, because of the immense, positive impact her production has on our economy. So I'll leave the fussing to Gramma, who would be on the warpath if she found out that the French are making her Texas Blush. Lord, have mercy.

There are a lot of things that work against certain Texas AVAs and against Texas competing with the greater domestic wine producing states. I live right at the gateway to the Hill Country AVA, where limits on the types of varietals grown and a continuing dependence on fruit sourced from elsewhere are caused by Pierces' Disease, that bitchy little bug-borne killer that'll wipe out vines faster than you can say "$2000 an acre lost." The tendency for wines from the Hill Country to be over-sulfured or bear other obvious flaws have kept many enthusiasts away. Other factors, such as the absurd patchwork of "wet-dry" counties (some dry counties have the best grape growing land), and the timidity of wineries in trying more intrepid, better suited varietals, contribute to holding Texas wine back. Some top Texas producers are inconsistent. A couple of producers, who were on top of their game a few years back, have turned out some seriously flawed juice since then. I'm not sure why. But it's not easy to have tasted these really terrible wines from this otherwise lauded producer and have to tell people that this year's vintage is, really, no seriously, not like the last.

I'll be writing more about Texas, because while the wines that move me are few and far between, I believe that we have the potential to compete with distinction. Someday...

Clinkies, y'all.

Monday, December 12, 2005

The Cork and Demon's Western Wine Tour 2006

As you may have read already, I'm hitting the road. I'm taking my blog on a journey west from South Texas in search of as many unsung, low-production, just hatched and best-kept-secret wineries on the route up the Pacific Coast to Vancouver. I'm doing this because I have nothing to lose and everything to gain. I can always come back to town and get the kind of job I had before; and this road trip might open better opportunites for me as I meet people. I will hone my writing skills. I will learn as much as can be crammed into my head about American appellations. Most of all, I will learn to trust myself.

The Departure date for this journey is March 1st, 2006, and considering how much I have to do between now and then, that's no time at all.

I have two blogs; really two halves of the same blog, that I'll use to chronicle my journey. Here's a summary of the content of each:

The Cork and Demon: As I approach my trip, I'll be reviewing wines, restaurants and so forth as usual. When I get on the road in March, this will be my place to post all my wine reviews, short interviews, info on the wineries and wine bars/shops I visit, and photos.

Cocktails with The Noonday Demon
: On the way to my departure date, this blog is my more personal account of the trials and tribs of making the trip a reality. On the road, it's my repository for non-wine related observations, lessons learned, and judgemental commentary on other drivers.

Do YOU know of an unsung winery, wine bar or wine shop in NM, AZ, CA, OR, WA, or British Columbia? Drop me a line and let me know!


Friday, December 09, 2005

Attention Fans of Trash, Art, Culture, Politics and the American voice

I have to take a quick moment to encourage you to trip on a website that's getting wayyy too little attention for the quality of writing. Mascorrolandia is written by a radio announcer/engineer for a Texas public radio station. Her audacious writing style and Mucho Vasto knowledge of music, cultural icons, movies and politics is amazing. Please check out Mascorrolandia today. Like, right now. Trust me, whatever you're doing right now is far less important than checking her out.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Wine Blogging Wednesday # 16: 2002 Bonny Doon Madiran 'cuvee speciale'

Here's a label for ya: one that lures you in, makes you want to hold the bottle close to your nose and figure out what's up with all the leeetle-beeety squiggles. Are they little dancers? Are they birds?

Actually, they're teeny vines. But I had to call Bonny Doon to find that out.

The label is an original work by Christine Colin, wife of beloved Alsace producer, Andre Ostertag. The green and red circles represent the union of white and red grapes.

White and red? Say whaaaa?

You've heard of the French (and now Australian) method of boosting aromatics and stabilizing color by adding viognier to syrah, right? This is a little twist on that method, only the red grape is the traditional tannat and the white is a little oddball called petit manseng, which is grown in the region and is usually used for sweet whites.

I can't pass lightly over the fact that this Madiran is 100% tannat. Wow. Usually, tannat, being a big tannic monster, is blended with Cab to tame it. Bonny Doon's infamous Heart of Darkness is done this way, with 67% tannat with Cabs Sauv and Franc for suppler drinking. This cuvee speciale is made by letting the tannat juice sit on the skins of the petit manseng, and only mingling a very small amount of their juice with the tannat.

But this baby is the product of the beautiful "What-if?"-askin' mind of Master Graham. Gawd Bless the man.

2002 DEWN Madiran Cuvee Speciale

Like it's dark sister H of D Madiran, this wine is deep, deeeeep violet, solid black almost immediately after the rim. I let my glass sit while I tried to make blogger download my $*#@ing picture, so that was about 45 minutes.

You can smell it while it sits on the table. I get cassis, menthol, fresh, moist tobacco, and dark flowers: a big hairy guy at my door with a bouquet of roses, a cigar in his pocket, and the remnants of Vicks vapor rub on his chest. Whew, that's scary.

Oh, I like it. It has a meatiness to it, a faint smokiness, big rich fruit, the mint, and something kinda honey-like. The tannins are grippy but not bitchy, and it finishes nice and long. It simply demands lamb or game.

My verdict: kickass! Check it out, it's available to anyone, not just DEWN wine club members. It'll age nicely, too. Good thing I got two bottles.

Shout out to Mr. John Locks of Bonny Doon vineyard. Thanks for the info, especially since I coulda read it myself if I'd looked on the site long enough!