Saturday, September 30, 2006

A Note on Big Zinfandels and a Stupid Article

A couple of weeks ago I got the Spec's monthly or quarterly wine mag in the mail. In it, there was an article by someone I've never heard of about Zinfandel. One of the premises of the article was that they're too big, too full, too ripe, and too high in alcohol. The writer recommended that winemakers try to throttle back, and make them with less body, less ripeness, and more acidity so they'd be more "food friendly."


Zinfandel is a wine that naturally ripens at higher sugar levels than other varietals. So guess what? When it's fermented, turning the sugar into alcohol, there's more alcohol and therefore more body. It's been my experience that it's hard to find it hard to find a Zinfandel that tastes like Zinfandel at lower than 14% alcohol. The lower alcohol Zins I've had tend to have less varietal character, because (all other variables being equal) they're picked earlier when they're less ripe. To try to produce a lower alcohol Zin than nature wants to give you is like trying to make Anna Nicole Smith or Queen Latifah look like Gwynneth Paltrow. It doesn't work, and the world becomes less interesting as a result.

And it's a false premise that big Zins don't go with food. Yeah, maybe if you're eating seared tuna, some fancy pants veal or chicken breast dish, or some restaurant pasta dish finished with the now ubiquitous "touch of cream," then a big fleshy Zin isn't the way to go. But I cook lots of stuff like braised lamb shanks, pasta with long simmered meat sauces, oxtail Roman style, steak grilled over mesquite, winey pot roasts and stews. With big boldly-flavored food like that, it's hard for me NOT to reach for a big, ripe Zin when I go to the wine closet.

If the writer wants lower alcohol, more restrained Zins, he or she can get some by being selective about what regions to look for. For example, I'm not a big fan of Zins from the cooler Russian River Valley, and they aren't usually as ripe as I 'd like and they tend to have higher acids. Some wineries are known for their more restrained style of Zins, too, like Storybook Mountain or Quivira.

If they aren't "restained" enough for for the writer of this ridiculous article, then my advice would be to drink a damn Cabernet or Merlot. But don't go trying to make my hound dog (we actually have a hound dog mutt named Zinny) into a miniature poodle.

2004 Di Majo Norante SANGIOVESE (Molise, Italy)

This winery makes good, solid, simple Sangiovese and Cabernet, which are widely available in lots of stores and supermarkets. Unfortunately, the best wine they make I usually can't find anywhere. That's their "Contado," a wine made from the Aglianico grape, which to my taste is the finest varietal grown south of Tuscany.

In any event, the Sangiovese was a solid, gutsy wine, but true to form it was simple, and really not recognizable as a Sangiovese. Dark black ruby color. Big, grapey, chocolately, resiny, smoky nose. Simple, rich, broad chocolate and cassis flavors. Lots of body and guts, but really simple and goofy. A great wine to guzzle at a big spaghetti supper. Widely available at around $8. 85.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

2005 Domaine des Corbillieres TOURAINE PINOT NOIR ROSÉ (Loire, France)

An OUTSTANDING rosé. Very light, bright, salmon-pink color. Phenomenal nose that vaults out of the glass -- freshly-picked stawberries, cherries, tropical fruit, and cold steel. In the mouth, this wine juxtaposes great fruit and concentration (for a rosé) with the ethereal lightness of a ballet dancer. Long, dry, pure-fruit finish. Easily the most pleasurable rosé I've had in several years. 92. WOW! Was only $10.99 at Richard's on Shepherd. GET THIS IMMEDIATELY! (I mean, after I go back and get a few more bottles).

1999 Domaine Tempier BANDOL (regular bottling) (Provence, France)

This was one of the best of the basic, non-reserve wines I've had from this excellent estate (which I used to sell when I lived in NYC and worked for Mosswood Wines). A classic Mourvedre based wine (with some Grenache thrown in), this wine had a deep black-ruby color with only the barest hint of age at the rim. Nose of earthy red fruits, classic Mourvedre "tree bark", and sweet cream. Big, athletic flavors of earthy raspberry liqueur and gravelly-minerals. Fine-grained tannins still remain, as does the vibrant fruit, both of which augur for nice ageing for a few more years. Very nicely balanced, medium/full-bodied. Would go well with stews and meat-based pasta sauces. We had it with risotto with red wine, prosciutto, and radicchio. 88. Got this from a very neat mail-order wine shop in Chicago, Flickinger wines,, for about $20 a year ago.

2000 CHATEAU RAHOUL -- Graves (Bordeaux, France)

I used to see this wine a lot in NYC when I lived there in the early 80s. It was always a good value for a Bordeaux and still is.

Dark ruby/brick color. Plummy, sweet, curranty nose with lots of typical Graves cigar box and sandstone scents. Soft, rich, earthy flavors in a medium-to-light-bodied frame. Beautiful structure and texture, nice length. Not super-concentrated, but very well done. This is why I like Cabernet blends from the Graves region (or its sub-region, Pessac-Leognan) better than Cabernets from anywhere else on earth: the balance, softness, and earthy complexity. 87. I think this was about $20, but I can't remember where I got it.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

2004 Hewitson "MISS HENRY" Grenache Syrah Mourvedre (Barossa Valley, Australia)

Dark ruby garnet -- not young-looking, but not old-looking either. Substantial airing coaxed out a really nice nose of sweet cream, sweet mountain berries, and graphite. Medium-bodied, with flavors of salty, sappy raspberries and a hint of scorched earth way in the background. Not overly dense or fleshy, but good concentration and length nonetheless. No discernable tannin, but a little pepperiness (14% alc.) on the finish. 88. Drink in the next year, I'd say. Was $18 at Spec's Warehouse.

2001 Quinta do Alqueve "ANCESTRAL" (Ribatejano, Portugal)

Deep blackish ruby with no real signs of age. Wickedly high-toned nose of very spicy, mineral-laced raspberries and crusty bread. High-toned flavors as well, with lots of earthy/sandstone and spicy red fruit. Beautifully balanced, with a long finsh. Very distinctive. 88. Was $13 at Richard's on San Felipe.

2004 Verget MACON-VILLAGES "Mis Tardive" (Burgundy, France)

A nicely-rendered white burgundy in the "Verget" style (emphasizing mineraliness rather than fruitiness).

Beautiful light yellow-gold color. Medium intensity nose of minerals, honey, and marzipan, with some bitter pear-skin scents. Bright, intense flavors of stones, bitter pear again, and flowers. 87. Was about $13 at Spec's on Westheimer (near Fogo de Chao).

Saturday, September 16, 2006

2004 LUZON VERDE (Jumilla, Spain)

A good value Spanish red made from 100% Monastrell (Mourvedre) grapes, organically-grown.

Deep, saturated ruby color. Sweet aromas of crushed ripe blackberries, stones, and smoky cappuccino. Ripe and round in the mouth, with lots of fruit on entry and trailing off into a long, minerally/iodine, dry blackberry syrup finish. Lacking just that extra tad of concentration and weight in the middle palate that would have made it extra special. Nevertheless, lots to like here for the money. 87. Was under $9 at Spec's (several locations).

2005 Vida Organica MALBEC ROSÉ (Mendoza, Argentina)

Wow -- another great value from this winery (which is part of the Famiglia Zuccardi wine company in Argentina).

Light pink color. Lively, high-toned nose of strawberries, watermelons, flowers, and fresh-picked green beans. Fresh, light-bodied, but fairly intense fruit flavors cavort in the mouth: watermelon, strawberries, pear. Just barely off-dry, with a crisp, fairly long finish. Was $4.98 on sale at Whole Foods on Bellaire. 87.

Monday, September 11, 2006

2003 Marietta Sonoma County ZINFANDEL

A good, if rustic-styled, Zin. Deep ruby garnet color. Classic Zin fruit (spicy raspberry liqueur) on the nose, with crushed stone powder and a very slightly astringent charcoal note. Rich, ripe, peppery flavors, with a perceptible, but tolerable amount of rough tannin in the mouth. Long finish. Almost seemed a tad overextracted, but very good nonetheless in a rustic way. Lots of flavor, but throws a few elbows. 87+. Should soften a tad over the next year. Just under $15 at Spec's on Smith.

2003 Remo Farina VALPOLICELLA Classico Superiore "Ripasso" (Italy)

Disappointing. Either cooked in storage or aging way too fast.

Ruby garnet color with some amber at the rim. Spicy, winey, somewhat astringent nose. Some fruit in the mouth, but little concentration and a clipped finish. If you've got this, drink up, because it's on the way out. If this wine wasn't cooked in storage, then I'm not sure whether its mediocrity was the result of the torrid '03 vintage or just poor winemaking. 73. Was about $15 at Spec's on Smith.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

2005 Vida Organica MALBEC (Mendoza, Argnetina)

This is a ridiculous bargain. A $4.99 organic red that's cleanly made and fun to drink. Medium deep plum color. On the nose, it's plummy, with sweet cream and scorched earth notes. Soft, fruity, and leathery flavors, with a soft, medium-light bodied gulpable texture. Not very concentrated but open, friendly, and fun to drink, so who cares? Consider this a Beaujolais substitute at half the price of a good Beaujolais. Great for parties, summer cook-outs (go ahead and chill it a bit!), and pizza time. Got it on sale at Whole Foods on Bellaire for $4.-friggin-99. 85.

Friday, September 01, 2006

2004 "Bitch" Barossa Valley GRENACHE (Australia)

Yes, that is the name of the wine. And the back label repeats the word dozens of time. If you give this as a gift, make sure the recipient has a sense of humor.

Actually, the wine is very good. It reminded me of one of my perennial good buys from down under, d'Arenberg "The Stump Jump."

Deep, bright ruby. Richly and vibrantly fruity nose of raspberries, peaches, and lemons, with a steely minerality underneath. Round, rich, and soft in the mouth, with raspberry liqueur, iodine, and graphite flavors. Fairly long finish, with little tannin, but some alcoholic heat showing through. Not complex, but satisfying and full of character, and a good buy to boot. 87. Was $9.50 at Spec's out west on Westheimer (near Fogo de Chao).

2001 Morgante NERO D'AVOLA (Sicily)

About three years ago, I had the 2000 vintage of this wine, and it was excellent. The 2001 has held up very well.

Dark ruby garnet color. Wonderful nose of road tar, winey blackberries and cherries, with peachy and earthy components as well. It actually reminded me of the nose of the 60s and 70s Spannas from Antonio Vallana that I used to drink years ago. (Vallana was rumored to have "enriched" his Piemontese wines with bulk wine trucked up from the south of Italy, so maybe he was using some good Nero d'Avola!).

The taste didn't quite meet the expectations set by the nose, but it was quite good nevertheless. Lots of fruit, earth, and old wine barrel flavors up front, but it wasn't as concentrated and weighty in the mid-palate as I thought it should have been. Finish was a tad shorter than I like too. Overall, I would rate the nose as excellent but the flavors and texture as good. 87. I don't remember how much it was, but I think it was around $10 or $12. I'll have to try the latest vintage to see if this wine is meant to be drunk a little younger than 5 years old.