I totally struck out with my wife

Sometimes I get a little romantic when I shop for wine. I look for a bottle that I think will warm the cockles of Beautiful Wife’s heart. Last night I found one that instantly made me think of her. A 2001 Chateau Potelle Cougar Pass. I know what you are thinking and you’re right. Beautiful Wife is much too young to be a cougar. That’s not it. The hook is that we went to Chateau Potelle on our honeymoon. It’s a gorgeous property sitting at about 1,800 feet of elevation with spectacular views. It’s a bit off the beaten path west of Yountville, CA. It’s a stunning drive of about 5 miles straight up Mt. Veeder on a winding road.

 The memory of being there in our new marital bliss is one thing, but they also make decent wine. They also have a sense of humor. The higher end wines are designated “VGS,” or Very Good Shit. With all of this in mind, I presented the bottle with a gleam in my eye, knowing that it would stir loving emotions in Beautiful Wife.

 Cougar Pass is an interesting blend of Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Merlot. Sounds like a party. Oh the anticipation.

 With the first swirl and sniff my heart sank. It was corked. Blast it. By “corked” I mean that it was tainted with TCA (2,4,6-Trichloroanisole). If you’ve ever had a cork tainted wine, you know what I mean. It smells bad and the fruit flavors are muted, hidden under stench. Beautiful Wife took a sip, frowned and handed her glass back to me. This wasn’t VGS. It was VBS; Very Bad Shit.

 I dumped the entire decanter full of wine down the drain. Strike one.

 2001 Chateau Potelle Cougar Pass Paso Robles

Look Deep dark garnet like the shadows of Mt. Veeder.
Smell The first scent was a big dog wearing musty cardboard boxes followed by faint leather and blackberry.
Taste It tasted like I was drinking it out of a dirty leather work boot. You know what really sucks? I could partially detect what the wine was supposed to be with lush blackberry, gentle tannins and I wanted to march back to the store for a replacement bottle to taste it like it was supposed to taste.  
Price $15

 Knowing that it was too late to go back to the store, I turned to the wine rack and selected a 1998 Domaine Benazeth from the Minervois wine appellation in the Languedoc region of France. How could I go wrong with picking a wine made the year that we met? I could see the Mediterranean Sea breeze tussle her hair as I opened the bottle.

We’re typically fans of Rhone style wines. This wine is driven by Syrah and Mourvèdre, but is also a hodge podge of grapes typical in a southern Rhone including Carignan, Cinsault, Grenache, Lledoner pelut, Piquepoul and Terret.

I handed a glass to Beautiful Wife. She smelled. Ah, not corked. She sipped. She set the glass down and reached for a bottle of vodka to make a mixed drink. Strike two and no opportunity for a third pitch. I struck out tonight.

Don’t get me wrong. There is nothing wrong with this wine. I thought it was delightful. It just didn’t suit her tonight. Sometimes it’s like that.

1998 Domaine Benazeth Minervois

Look Opaque as the plum colored Mediterranean at midnight.   
Smell A gardener’s delight with fresh turned soil, sweet rose petals and black currant.
Taste It is floral, with muted fruit and stoic minerality. Plum, currant, cinnamon and violet, finishing with the lingering taste of a limestone cave.
Price $14

 The second wine somehow tasted like rejection as I sat there drinking it by myself. A gift scorned. A lover’s advanced rebuffed, standing dejected still in the buff. I drank it knowing there would be another chance tomorrow.

What a difference a year makes

Have you ever wondered what it would be like if you had been born in a different year? Would you have the same convictions, vote for the same party, hold the same religious beliefs and like the same kinds of foods if you were born in a different decade? Would you be more conservative like Richie Cunningham in the TV show Happy Days if you had been born in the 1950s instead of the 1970s? Do you think it would matter if you were born only one year earlier or later?

I like to think my birth year had an effect on me. 1969. What a momentous year. Led Zeppelin released their first album and Hendrix played Woodstock. Neil Armstrong was the first man to walk on the moon. Stonewall riots in New York City ushered in the gay rights era. The Concorde was the first supersonic plane to break the sound barrier. The Summer of Love. All of that and the yin and yang of ‘69 was amplified by my star sign, pieces. It left an indelible mark on my world view.

It goes without saying that wine is also impacted by the year in which it was born. Why else would we fuss so much about the vintage. “Oh man ’96 was a great year for California Cabs.” “I’ll take a ’05 Bordeaux over that any day.” Its loads of fun to experience the difference a year can make by conducting a vertical tasting. Grab a few friends, pick your favorite wine by producer and by four or five sequential years and compare them side by side. Nothing beats it.

Beautiful Wife and I decided to do a micro-vertical with one of our favorite wines, Argyle Winery Nuthouse Pinot Noir. We selected the ‘06 and ‘07 for our little tasting. Both of these wines are a little young, but we’re an impatient sort, so we went forth. Argyle viticulturist, Allen Holstein, does a brilliant job of selecting the grape clones and managing the Lone Star and Knudsen Vineyards where Nuthouse Pinot grapes are grown to get the best berries year after year. Winemaker, Rollin Soles, deftly combines chemistry and artistry to make those grapes into wine that makes me euphoric. So what did these guys have to work with in ’06 and ’07?

The Oregon Willamette Valley had an excellent year in 2006 with a warm summer that persuaded the fruit flavors to burst forth and a little rain right before harvest kept the alcohol levels in check. The 2007 season started with a warm spring and rolled into a moderate summer, ideal for abundant amounts of fruit to mature. However rain deluged the wine region in September and October making for a challenging harvest.

Comparing the two wines side-by-side it was obvious that they are siblings. They both had a bright disposition and grounded in the land from where they came. They aren’t twins though. Their birth years made their mark.

2006 Argyle Nuthouse Pinot Noir

Look Playful, with translucent eyes and a broad smile of ruby-red lips.
Smell Saucy and earthen as a ripe blueberry Violet Beauregarde after she rolled in the Oregon soil.
Taste Boarding school charm with a penchant for a smoke after class. The ‘06 began with blackberry and dried cherry which hung around for a long time to be joined by cocoa, cinnamon and puckering tannins. Its velvety smooth with good acidity and a polite acknowledgement of alcohol.
Price $60

 2007 Argyle Nuthouse Pinot Noir

Look Fresh-faced with rosy, cranberry cheeks.
Smell Forthright and confident Hermione Granger with a strawberry and graphite mist issued from her wand.
Taste The younger sister emerges from the Nuthouse with the same fruit forward posture, but less of an attitude. She has a clean, bright cherry introduction that smoothly rounds into a smoky, lingering finish.
Price $60ish (I think)  

 I went back and forth trying to decide which one I liked better. Was it the more complex, darker ‘06 or the more innocent, fruitier ‘07? I think I’ll have to do this test again to really decide. Why don’t you try it and tell me what you think? I’d love to hear it.

Full disclosure: I had the wonderful fortune to work part-time at Argyle Winery, during which time I developed a fondness for the people and the wine. This is a completely biased review.

Lakeside Grenache

This weekend Beautiful Wife and I loaded up the car and headed to a lake house on a quiet cove of Lake LBJ. After the kids went to bed, we grabbed a bottle of wine and headed to the gazebo on water’s edge to enjoy a conversation, the sound of the waves lapping on the shore and the night breeze.

We choose a 2007 Real de Aragon Granacha from the Calatayud region of Spain. This is not a pretentious wine, packaged with a red stopper instead of a cork. It was right at home being barefoot and shirtless on a Texas lake.

Smell: a Spring day in the field with cherries and dusty sun.

Taste: Real de Aragon introduced itself with round cherry and soft strawberry flavors followed by cedar tannins. The finish didn’t stick around long enough for us to fully get to know one another. This wine didn’t have the heft typical of a Spanish Grenache. I guess it is fitting to be a little watery sitting lakeside.

Price: $10 (you get what you pay for with this one)

It’s pleasant enough, but nothing special. It’s a good thing we had lots of other fantastic ingredients to make a memorable night.

In flight at House Wine

Do you remember ten years ago when wine bars started popping up here and there? Not tasting rooms, or wine shops that served by the glass, but honest to goodness establishments fully dedicated to the enjoyment of wine by the taste, the glass or by the bottle. Outside of New York and San Francisco wine bars were few and far between. Much has changed. In Austin there are at least a dozen different wine bars.

My beautiful wife and I decided to try House Wine before going to dinner. This place is in a little house just south of Lady Bird Lake a block west of S. Lamar on Josephine St. They are definitely going for the South Austin vibe – casual, cozy and a little sloppy. The space is intimate (small) and eclectic (mismatched shit). We felt pretty comfortable right from the start.

There wasn’t table service, so we bellied up to the bar and looked through the menu. House Wine has about 25 whites and 30 reds by the glass and by the bottle. The prices are pretty damn reasonable ranging from $7 to $11 and bottles in the $20s and $30s. We were there at happy hour – hey hey 2 bucks off each glass.

On this particular night, we were indecisive, so we decided to order two flights. Three half glasses for $15. A bargain. I ordered a Spanish Tempranillo, a Côtes du Rhône and Spanish Verdejo (white). My beautiful wife asked the bar tender to select a flight for her. She had a sparkling rosé, an Argentine Malbec and a California Pinot Noir. We also ordered a selection of cheese and smoked salmon. The cheese and salmon were nice, served in a gorgeous wooden bowl and gave us something to clear our palettes between wines. Worth the order.

Here’s what I had.

I started off with Paso a Paso Verdejo 2008.  Lovely pale yellow in the stemless glass. Nice scents of pear. The Verdejo grape makes a nice medium bodied, citrusy, honied wine that is right at home on the shabby back porch of House Wine and at your summer party.   

Next I had a Volver Tempranillo 2005.  Bright ruby with a fruity nose. This guy started off with round cherry, cassis and vanilla and finished with cocoa and a bite of tannins. The smoked salmon tasted great with this.

My third glass was REDblanc Côtes du Rhône. This organic Grenache, Syrah blend had a warm plum color and a nose to match. It was a mouthful of raspberries, violets and licorice with a touch of cedar on the finish.

Decent wines for the price.  If you are looking for a very relaxed, inexpensive wine bar with a decent selection, try House Wine. If you want knowledgeable wine guideance and service in an elegant setting, you’ll be disappointed here. Good news is there are several other wine bars in town.

¡Viva España!

The Dutch looked invincible in the quarter finals and the semi-finals. They looked down right abysmal in the World Cup championship game. Thugs. Classless, plodding thugs. It’s not that Spain dazzled us with scoring fireworks, but at least they were aggressive around the box. Their one goal with minutes left in the second period of over time was all it took for them to be world champions. Congratulations.

In their honor, we uncorked a 2004 Condado de Haza tonight. This tasty tempranillo from Ribera del Duero is from our man Alejandro Fernandez, (the same guy that made the wine that I wrote about in Feelin Tinto Fino). OK, let me be honest, I was looking for an excuse to open the wine. I actually wanted Netherlands to win today.

I decanted this wine, assuming it had cast some sediment. Yep, there was a little at the bottom, but it was pretty hard to tell with this wine that is as opaque as FIFA referees and as purple as the mark on Alonso’s chest after he got kicked by De Jong in the match today. A little swirled kicked out delicious aromas of blackberry, cedar and the satisfying tingle of alcohol vapors. Ahhhhh.  

How does it taste? It tastes like victory. It starts off with round and deep with dark blackberries and cherries. It is quickly joined by tabacco and a hint of astringent tannins and eases out with vanilla aged raisins. Damned good.

It costs about $26 and is worth every penny. I think I would have drank it even if Netherlands won.

Biting into a Fleshy Grenache

Oh boy I love a good Rhone. The juicy gush of fruit flowing from the mainstay grape, the delectable Grenache, tempered by its sassy, spicy cousins,  Syrah and Mourvèdre make for a glass of Nirvana (um, not the grungy band). Tonight I’m going for a Southern Rhone from the village of Plan de Dieu, a 2007 Côtes du Rhône, Domaine de l’Espigouette, from Bernard Latour.   

Damned nice wine. Turns out that 2007 was a pretty good vintage for the good people at Domaine de l’Espigouette. A vigorous swirl of the glass kicked off scents of ripe cherry, coffee and provincial spice. I think I drooled a little. Remember that moment when you finally got to kiss Bethany inside the huge tractor tire on the playground after school in 5th grade? Remember how your lips tingled with the sweet narcotic of her soft lips? Well I do. Anyway, the first sip of this wine was just as intoxicating. A big mouthful of dark cherry, liquorice and raspberry with whispers of saline blood, vanilla and coffee. The Finnish was as meaty as a New York strip, slightly smokey and rich. I could have chewed that bitch.

Sounds expensive, doesn’t it. Nope. This baby’s a steal at about $13 a bottle. You really outa get some of it. Deelish.

Reliving the Honeymoon

Dead soldier

My beautiful wife and I got married in the vineyards of Gold Hill Winery in Coloma, California. A fantastic setting to begin our life together. We decided to go back to wine country to celebrate our 10th anniversary and visited wineries in Napa, Alexander and Anderson Valleys.

We absolutely love the quiet ease of the Anderson Valley wineries, the friendly charm of the people and the gorgeous landscape. It reminds us a bit of the Willamette Valley in Oregon – great wine without the congestion of throngs of tourists like in Napa. We had rented a lovely house on the cliffs overlooking the Pacific in Irish Beach, just south of Mendocino, so the trip over to Anderson was convenient. Lost in the romance of the moment, we made a rookie mistake – and mind you we are not wine tasting rookies. We joined the wine club at the last winery we visited at the end of a long day of sampling fantastic wine.

Husch Vineyards has a charming little tasting room in a rustic converted pony barn. The grounds have the graciousness of an antebellum plantation guarded by majestic, centuries old redwood giants. The wine tasted fantastic. We went through the entire roster and into the library wines. All of them delicious.

Doesn’t all wine taste better after you’ve already had 15 glasses?

Not long after we got home, we received our first club shipment from Husch. A nice enough selection of reasonably priced wines. Last night we popped opened one of the gems, a 2007 Reserve Pinot Noir. Here are the winery’s tasting notes. This wine was like a big budget Nicholas Cage film. It had promise. I approached it with the anticipation that a known star deserves. But, it was a Nicolas Cage flick. Shoddy acting, weak plot and thin entertainment. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed it, but it didn’t live up to expectation.

Instead of velvet, the mouth feel was thin. I wanted a glass full of bright cherries, but got aged fruit. In place of a vanilla kiss of French oak, it brushed me with smokey coal.

This bottle retails for $35. My advice, take that cake and go buy 2 delicious Spanish reds for $17 each instead. If you are ever in Northern California, make the effort to visit the wineries in Anderson Valley, and don’t miss Husch. You’ll love it in person.

Feelin Tinto Fino

Properly decanted and ready for action
Subject show prior to consumption

 

Lately I’ve been itchin for a taste for Spain, so I grabbed a few bottles of Dehesa la Granja 2001 to scratch that itch. This fine juice comes from the vineyard Alejandro Fernandez  in the Ribera del Duero region. Our man Alejandro has been in business since 1972, and is well known for some of his other labels – Tinto Pesquera, Condado de Haza  and El Vinculo. He makes his wines exclusively from the Tempranillo grape, which I’m partial to. 

The pop of the cork released a dusty raspberry bramble scent. The rusty brick brown wine had kicked off a bit of sediment, so I decanted it so I didn’t have to chew it. 

Even though its only 9 years old, my buddy Dehesa is already showing signs of maturity. Tasty enough, but missing a little of the roundness and pizzaz I was looking for. Tasted more like the inside of a wallet than I want. I don’t think I’ll leave the other bottles lyin around too much longer. So, I popped a second bottle later on to see if it was holding up better than the first. 

This one, classic Tinto Fino. Medium bodied, with the lively step of a flamenco dancer springing forth to smash berries with wooden shoes on my tongue. Can’t blame ’em, the flavors. After being cooped up in a barrel for two years before being bottled, then all that time sittin in that glass jail for seven more, ya gotten expect the flavors to burst forth. Then the tannins and oak restrained a few of the more susceptible fruit flavors with leather straps, forcing them to linger for a long finish. This I like. I like it a lot.

This is a great wine to pair with a meal. Lamb, venison, duck, pizza would all benefit from a visit by old Dehesa. I didn’t bother though. Food seemed like too much effort. This wine had me fully occupied on a Wednesday night.

You might have a tough time finding the ’01 vintage, but I encourage you to go out and grab a bottle of the year you find. It retails for about $25 and is widely distributed. Go get ya some.