Saturday, October 31, 2009

Carménère: The Zombie Wine


In the 1860s, a phylloxera plague washed across the vineyards of Europe. Phylloxerae are aphids with a taste for the finer things, and they descend on a vineyard like it's their personal wine tasting.

France was particularly devastated, and the six noble red grapes of Bordeaux suffered. Particularly the beautiful, crimson carménère grape. When the dust settled, carménère … was extinct.

Or was it?

Cut to the 1990s, when oenologists making their way through the foreboding landscape of Chile looked up and saw a familiar grape lurching toward them. They were terrified overjoyed! Suspicions were confirmed: Some of what had been harvested in Chile and sold as merlot was actually the long-lost carménère. A few stray vines seem to have made their way over to the New World before the plague hit back in France, and carménère is now a primarily Chilean wine.

A Chilean wine that cannot die.

Happy Hallowine.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Canneto Vino Nobile de Montepulciano 2004

-j-j- and I tasted this at Fine Wine Brokers and fell in love with it.

It was very deep and strong. Dark and mouth-filling.

I thought I tasted fennel.

This may have been because I had fennel on the brain. I was at that very moment making a gravlax. Though “moment” is probably the wrong word; the gravlax took a week to concoct.

How to make a gravlax (literally, “hole salmon”): You take raw salmon and cook it without using heat. Instead, you cure it, in this case by packing it in a mixture of chopped fennel and onion for three or four days. Then, rinse it off. Then, wrap it in plastic. Then, unwrap it and top it with chopped fennel fronds and dill. Then, wrap it in plastic. Then dig in!
Except I realized too late that it’s supposed to be an appetizer. Gravlax is not a pigout food. You’re supposed to serve up a few slices to trigger your guests’ salivary glands and then move on to the main course. But -j-j- and I had a pound of it to get through.

When it finally came time to eat it, we thought we’d crack open the wine that had the whiff of fennel.

It was a mistake. They didn’t go together at all.

-j-j- theorized that the fennel on the fish may have been cancelled out by the fennel in the wine, leaving nothing but an oily, fishy scent forced up our sinuses. It was all right, though, if we used some roasted sweet potatoes and sautéed vegetables as a buffer, cleansing the pallet of the fish and preparing it for the wine.

When we’d finished eating, the wine was able to come into its own. It opened and developed and mellowed, and I was able to remember what I loved about it. There was nothing light or fruity about it. It dragged my tongue through the dank underbrush.

As for the salmon, I nibbled at it some more a day or two later. The raw saltiness was very good, but it kept me from eating more than a few bites of it at a time.

It’s supposed to be able to last for another week in the refrigerator, but in a moment of panic, I decided to try baking it, to see if I could enjoy it in greater quantities. But no—it just got fishier and saltier. I gave up and threw it out.

And I decided never to try anything new again.

Monday, October 5, 2009

2007 Broadside "Margarita Vineyard" Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon

A few weeks ago, while Notnits and I were strolling around Lakeview, we happened upon the Wine D.O.C., a wine bar located on the upper edge of Lincoln Park on Broadway. As we checked out the menu, we thought we might return at a future date. They looked like they had a pretty interesting stock.

The future date arrived and we found ourselves hovering in the doorway to the D.O.C. peering into a dark, clubby atmosphere. There is little instruction on whether one should sit or approach the bar so we regrouped and headed to the pub next door, Dunlay's. To our happy surprise, they served the wine flights from the Wine D.O.C.

We ordered a couple of wine flights and during a jaunt through the three California reds, we came upon a 2006 Broadside Cabernet. To be fair, my palate might have been a little warn thin at the time so anything smooth and easygoing would probably have a heavy appeal.

A couple of weeks later, we stopped in again and ordered the California reds a second time. This time, I recalled the 2006 Broadside and made a note of it.

As it turns out, the 2006 Broadside is pretty much out of stock in any larger Binny’s or Sam’s warehouse. But I did find a 2007 Broadside and snatched it up right away.

I brought it to Notnits and we opened her up.

I am fairly new to drinking wine in any way other than at a party or a table Red with dinner, so I’ve built up a few weird prejudices about what I drink. Firstly, I’m always a little put off when the wine has a really intense color…like purple. This might come from some childhood notions abut Welch’s grape juice or Nehi. I see a deep plumy purple in my glass and it looks like a kid’s drink. Shouldn’t there by more of a rusty brown in there?

That said, the plumy purple was beautiful and thick. Holding it up to the light, I could barely make out a dim glow. But it was there…like late afternoon sun through stained glass.

Then there was the taste. It coats the mouth well and starts out sweet, earthy and dark and ends up with a dry light spice in the finish. As Notnits noted, “It’s like coming up out of a cave.”

We had some pesto left over from the vat I made a few nights ago, and experimented with the flavors in the pasta. It paired very well…the basil enhancing the woodsy notes in the wine.

I drank quite a bit of it.

This is the type of wine you can feel good about bringing to a dinner party or giving to friend who is just getting into wine (even someone who isn’t). It’s under $20, and drinking it is smooth and easy. A definite repeat purchase.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Villa Sonia 2006 Ripasso III: Revenge of the Villa Sonia 2006 Ripasso

I finally finished off the bottle a couple nights ago. It had been open for the better part of a week, and I didn’t like it much in the first place, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that it would be a waste to toss it without giving it one last shot.

It was the best it had ever been.

It was weak, no doubt about it. But that actually was a good thing for this wine to become. The harsh, rubbery flavor had faded. The wine left no taste at all after its initial inoffensive splash. I finished it painlessly.

A note about supporting local businesses.

I love small, locally run wine shops. A look at the links to the right reveals two of my favorites, Fine Wine Brokers in Lincoln Square and the South Loop Wine Cellar on South Michigan. You encounter friendly, passionate employees eager to help you find what you’re looking for. I often fear for them in the shadow of the Binny’s and Sam’s shops of the world with their enormous warehouses and advertising budgets.

On the other hand, I love wandering the aisles at a big store and being overwhelmed at the sheer number of bottles. I also enjoy picking up bargains during their many sales. (I have a Binny’s card. In fact, the next time I buy something there, I am due for a $10 rebate.)

This causes me some guilt.

I have arrived at this uneasy truce: I buy at the smaller spots often, and I buy at the larger shops during their giant sales.

It seems like every month Binny’s has a big storewide sale. Sometimes the savings are negligible, but sometimes they’re half off or more, It’s pushing my limit a little to buy a $30 bottle of wine. But a $55 bottle marked down to $30 is pretty attractive.

This is a lot of rationalization, I know. And I run the risk of falling into a “pricey=good” assumption. But it’s a pretty easy rule to live by, and it serves me well.

I was at Binny’s earlier this week, and I found a Da Vinci 2003 Brunello di Montalcino marked down pretty severely. About half off. I think it was from $50 to $26.

When I showed -j-j-, she pointed out how much that Da Vinci drawing is beloved by wine label designers.