Archive for November 2011

No-Guilt Wednesday Wine: Estezargues Côtes Du Rhône Villages Signargues La Granacha 2009   Leave a comment

This little guy doesn’t have a guilty bone in his body.  Neither should you.  Here is this week’s $15 or less offering. 

No-Guilt Wednesday is not about compromising on quality.  It’s all about drinking good wine that does not break the bank, eating good food and of course, it’s about sharing with the ones you love.  

Estezargues Côtes Du Rhône Villages Signargues La Granacha 2009Estezargues Côtes Du Rhône Villages Signargues La Granacha 2009 ($10) 14.5%.  You could do much worse than this little gem.  Savory herbal notes layered on top of luscious red fruit.  A bit tight at the start but then revealing its true character as it opened to reveal a touch more fruit.  Supple tannins and supportive acidity make this one you keep coming back to and makes this an easy bottle to drain.  As befits a 100% Grenache wine, this is terrific with Manchego.  A great value to boot.  Rated **1/2

Like what you see?  Hit the Subscribe/Follow button and don’t miss another Sybarite Sauvage post.
Advertisements

Posted November 30, 2011 by Sybarite Sauvage in No-Guilt Wednesday

No-Guilt Wednesday Wine: Santa Rita Medalla Real Single Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2008   Leave a comment

This little guy doesn’t have a guilty bone in his body.  Neither should you.  Here is this week’s $15 or less offering. 

No-Guilt Wednesday is not about compromising on quality.  It’s all about drinking good wine that does not break the bank, eating good food and of course, it’s about sharing with the ones you love. 

 Santa Rita Medalla Real Single Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 ($12).  This is what I look for in a Cab Sauvignon.  Pretty cherry flavors layered over some herbal elements and the smell of autumnal forest and sweet spices.  In my own bizarre way, this reminded me of the way that Ricola cough drops approach the whole fruit-herb thing.  Only this is not a freaking Ricola.  From the start the aromas announced that this was going to be good in the same way that Renaissance trumpeters announced the arrival of the crown prince to the ball: “I may not be king— yet.  So I am free to go about the village wenching and drinking.”  Drinking and wenching indeed.  Cherries and Herb.  (I wish I could say Peaches and Herb– but that would be so wrong.)  Years ago, I had my first Santa Rita wine.  I remember loving that little discovery.  This one brought me back to that moment.  With a touch of graphite on the fine finish, it would be silly not to buy more of this.  I don’t know whether this will age as the tannins are quite fine.  But, who cares– drink this now.  Rated **1/2
 
Like what you see?  Hit the Subscribe/Follow button and don’t miss another Sybarite Sauvage post.

Posted November 23, 2011 by Sybarite Sauvage in No-Guilt Wednesday

Corked Wines: Bad Wine, Good Manners   Leave a comment

It used to be that when I got a corked wine, I simply assumed, as many people do, that well, this is just part of the experience.  I have no doubt that I have happily consumed many a corked bottle.  Then it happened– one day a bottle so corked, that there was no way it was intended to taste like this.  And it seems the more wines I taste, the more my sensitivity to this fault.  Perhaps this simply the fallout from my paying more attention to what I am drinking.  Maybe I’m overly sensitive, but it seems that as I taste more wines, I am more keenly tuned into this phenomenon than most wine drinkers. 

 

 

But what is a corked wine and how can you be sure?  The chief cause of cork taint is the presence of the chemical compounds TCA (2,4,6-trichloroanisole) and/or TBA (2,4,6-tribromoanisole) in the wine.  Though there could be other causes and if you’re truly interested there are plenty of internet sites that provide information about this.  Frequently, TCA is transferred to the wine from the cork.  Corked wine containing TCA has an odor sometimes described as moldy newspaper, wet dog, damp cloth, or damp basement.  Often, especially in very slightly corked wines, the taint presents itself as a suppression of the expressiveness of the fruit.  For us it has a distinctively rotten apple odor owing to a wine that Ms. R once described as smelling like apples.    She seems to have a more TCA sensitive palate than I do so when I’m not sure, she is my go-to arbiter on this matter.   Once she smells apples, I am out.

Is this a common problem?  Depending on your sources, the incidence of cork taint can be as low as 1% or as the Wine Spectator once published 7%.   My personal experience seems to run a little bit higher than the 1% quoted.  Let’s face it, if you had, say a 1% failure rate with any other agricultural product, like say, milk, it would be scandalous.  So why do we tolerate this?  Is environmentally unfriendly plastic the solution?  What about glass enclosures?  I have only seen this once in a Gruner Veltliner I had.  But it seemed to work well enough.   And there are those who would argue that cork imparts other favorable qualities (a certain liveliness for lack of a better term) to wine that plastics cannot. 

There also seems to be a difference in quality amongst cork available on the market with lower failure rates associated with– wait for it–  more expensive cork.  Of course, this increases costs of production and wine producers may not want to do that.

So you and your favorite super-model pop open a bottle and there you are with corked wine in hand.  First things first, what else do we have to open?  Hopefully you have anticipated this and have a back-up bottle of the same stuff.  This serves two purposes– first and foremost, the party must go on.   Second, the back up serves as a benchmark against which to measure the corked bottle– unless it, too, is corked.  Personally, this has not happened to me, but now that I have said it…

Returning the bottle. 

For reasons that are about to become obvious, do not, as many people do, simply dump it in the sink. 

Now, if you acquired this bottle via mail order, physically returning it may be an issue and usually the selling party will simply send out a new one if that is available or grant a credit.  Winery based clubs are especially good at taking care of their customers in this regard.

What about retail purchases?  

Return Policies Vary.  But one thing that I always do is maintain a copy of my receipts.  Not all shops ask for this.  However, especially if you are not a regular customer, it is helpful to have a record of the transaction. 

One thing pretty much all wine shops ask for is that you return any of the unconsumed wine.  Note, it’s always a good idea to return at least 1/2 of the bottle since it’s difficult to say that you didn’t enjoy the wine if you’ve drained the bottle.  Also, some retailers will take the bottle and return it to the distributor for credit. 

Although some retailers forget this, remember, unless you live in a one-horse town, they need you more than you need them.   There’s a lot of competition out there for your business.

As for the return policies themselves, the best from a consumer’s standpoint, is the “No Questions Asked” policy.  The presumption here is that you are not a happy consumer that just shelled out $10 or $100 for a bottle that can’t be drunk.  Two retailers I deal with follow this approach since they understand that no good can come of questioning their repeat customers on matters of taste.  There are limits, of course, and you don’t want to be making weekly visits to  return wines unless the wines are truly and clearly defective.  But that does not apply to anyone reading this blog.

Next best is the “Verification” policy which is distasteful (sorry about that) because it pits your palate for cork sensitivity against that of a staff member in the retail establishment.  The implicit message: “I don’t trust you.  I think you are not as sophisticated a wine taster as I am.”  The retailer’s tacit strategy: If I make it uncomfortable for you to return wine, then you won’t even try.  Another sizeable wine retailer, in Portchester, NY. (you can look them up if you care to), that I have purchased from uses this approach.    At one point, I returned a clearly corked bottle which the then floor manager took from me and went off by himself to taste while I stood by the checkout counter holding my you-know-what while waiting for him to render judgment on my corked claim.  He returned and announced that he was in agreement.  Huzzah!  And just a few days ago, I had a similar experience with another member of the floor staff there.  The $10 bottle that I returned was not overtly corked judging by the nose.  But is had a discernible mustiness that caught in the back of my throat.  This time, I asked to sit with the taster while he assessed my claim.  With one sniff, he immediately pronounced it as NOT being corked in an almost “Ahah!” moment.  (“Dude!  There are degrees of corking!”)  I tasted along with him and explained my objection to the wine.  Then, he wasn’t so sure.  So he took a glass of the stuff to another member of the staff for his assessment while I waited at the tasting counter this time.  (A small upgrade to waiting by the registers.)  Surprise!  Full refund.  But it’s all about how you make the customer feel, folks!   Had he come back and said, “No, this wine is fine.”  What would he have gained from that?  A loss of a customer to be sure.  As it was, I boycotted this store for a long while after the first episode.  And while I may purchase from them on occasion in the future, they are not my regular “go-to” wine merchant and have no hopes of being that if they don’t relax their return policy.

Worst is the “No Return” policy which transfers risk of loss to the consumer.  We do not buy from these stores.   You should not either. 

Corked wines in tastings. 

I was recently in one of my favorite stores for a tasting of Rhone wines.  When we got to a wine that I had actually tasted in the past, I immediately pegged it as corked.  There was a gentleman standing next to me at the tasting table and he said he wasn’t so sure whether it was corked– though he admitted that he wasn’t so sure what to look for, either.  The person pouring told me that the staff, a group of experienced tasters, had a disagreement (2-1 in favor of it being corked) over whether this particular wine was corked.  In the end, for whatever reason, democracy lost out to commerce, and they decided to pour it at the tasting.  But he did the right thing and immediately opened another bottle.  Unsurprisingly, the new bottle tasted much better.  And I received the concurring judgment of my now better-educated fellow taster.

Corked wines in restaurant settings. 

The approach to take may vary depending on who is paying for the wine and who seems to be enjoying it.  Before I go on, a little advice to restauranteurs and retailers alike:  The paying customer is always right.

Recently, at dinner in a restaurant with another couple we know, we each brought along some wines.  The wine they brought was clearly rotten apple corked as evidenced by the immediate and furious under-the-table-knee-knocking-between Ms. R and me.   Yet, our friends seemed happy with it.  What did we do?  Nothing– remember, different palates have varying levels of sensitivity to TCA.  They happily  quaffed gulps of the stuff and quickly polished off the bottle while we drank our red.  Had one of them said, “This tastes funny”, I might have ventured that it was corked.  But they thought it was delicious.  Who am I to question that?  (I hope she does not read this post!)  Moral of the Story: They pay and they like it– I keep my mouth shut. 

At a business dinner in Las Vegas a few years ago, our table ordered a bottle of wine.  While opening it, the cork broke while the waiter was opening the bottle.  (Note to self– if the cork breaks while opening, reject the bottle!)  Initial tasting of that wine revealed a slight mustiness which I thought might “blow off”.  I told the waiter I was not sure that the bottle was untainted, but we would give it a go.  It did not blow off– and more than half way through the bottle I decided to reject it as undrinkable as it was sitting in my glass and most everyone else’s for that matter.  The restaurant manager actually came over to argue that the wine was fine.  With 5 expensive servings of filet mignon sitting on our plates, I’m not sure that was the best tactic he could have employed.  I stood my ground since, after all, I had mentioned warned the waiter that the wine migt be tainted.  In the end, the wine came off the tab and we ordered a different bottle which was quite delicious.  Also, our waiter came by afterward and told us that in an  assessment in the kitchen, there was agreement that the bottle was tainted.  Not that I blamed him for his manager’s bad manners, but yes, he was tipped well.  Moral of the Story: My company pays and I don’t like it, I send it back.  But first, check with the others at the table especially if you allow the wine to be poured out in everyone’s glasses.  Moral No. 2: if you’re not sure, either reject it outright, or let your server know that you may have a problem with the wine that may or may not disappear.  Had I not fired that warning shot, I don’t think that I could have returned the bottle. 

A few weeks later while having dinner with my parents, you guessed it, the waitress opening the bottle broke the cork.  I immediately rejected the bottle.  The waitress was incredulous that I would not even taste it.  This is a restaurant that we went to regularly and the manager called her off.  While I do not for a fact know whether the wine was tainted or whether the waitress simply screwed up the opening of the wine and carelessly destroyed the cork, I will never know.  The bottle was replaced with a fresh one that was uncorked without incident and delivered a nice experience.  Moral of the Story: I’m paying and don’t like it, for whatever reason, I send it back.  And her attitude did impact her tip. 

What do you do if you are a guest and your host tastes and accepts wine that you know is clearly corked?  Smile a knowing smile.  Complement your host on a good choice.  Drink it.  And pray that the next bottle is better.

Have a funny story to tell about a corked wine you had?  Leave a Comment.

Posted November 17, 2011 by Sybarite Sauvage in Wine Etiquette

No-Guilt Wednesday Wine: Hito C21 RIbera del Duero 2008   4 comments

This little guy doesn’t have a guilty bone in his body.  Neither should you.  Here is this week’s $15 or less offering. 

No-Guilt Wednesday is not about compromising on quality.  It’s all about drinking good wine that does not break the bank, eating good food and of course, it’s about sharing with the ones you love.  

Back to the country of my forefathers, España.  The wines of Ribera del Duero have come on to challenge the wines of Rioja.  Tonight is a great example of the quality that this region which is located north of Madrid can offer in affordable wines. 

Hito C21 Ribera del Duero 2008 14% ($13.50).   My wine merchant turned me onto this little gem of a wine.  Initially, a whiff of mint and cedar box mixed with earth.  This reminded of a tart cherry pie with a savory crust and a touch of spiciness on the finish.  Restraint up front and softly acidic and gently tannic on the back end, this is a balanced and classically styled wine that is big on terroir and distinctively appealing.  Rated **1/2

Like what you see?  Hit the Subscribe/Follow button and don’t miss another Sybarite Sauvage post.

Posted November 16, 2011 by Sybarite Sauvage in No-Guilt Wednesday

No-Guilt Wednesday Wine: Michel Glassier Cercius Cotes Du Rhone Villages 2009   Leave a comment

This little guy doesn’t have a guilty bone in his body.  Neither should you.  Here is this week’s $15 or less offering. 

No-Guilt Wednesday is not about compromising on quality.  It’s all about drinking good wine that does not break the bank, eating good food and of course, it’s about sharing with the ones you love.  

With the onset of November and the changing of the clocks with the expanding darkness that foretells the colder, darker and shorter days ahead, my mind shifts in many directions at once.  There is this seven week period which bridges us to the Winter Solstice which is a turning point when the days promise more daylight and more coldness.  I am reminded of just how rapidly the year has whipped past me and the fact that the aging guy in the mirror is not the same guy I feel like every day when I awake.  (Truthfully, though, there are also days when the guy whose head hits the pillow feels exactly like the guy in the mirror.)  And as the expanding hours of darkness have consumed my days, I find myself pondering how best to lighten each day. 

The pleasures of the table also have a dark side.  Our instinctual inclination is to consume more and store fat for the dark frigid days ahead.  It is no wonder that folks come out of the “holiday” season girded for the coldest days of the year and looking for relief from their celebratory cuisines at their local gymnasiums as they attempt to reverse the personal Holiday larding of their bodies in the early days of the New Year. 

A Sybarite should not care about these things, right?  But I am also a person who craves balance.  Between light and dark, red and white, fat and fit.  I also crave pleasure, and those pleasures– a group of friends, a nice meal, a great little wine– bring lightness in these dark days.  

Tonight’s wine, a Vaucluse, from the Rhone is one I found over the weekend at a local shop:  A Grenache and Syrah based wine elegant in its simplicity.  

Michel Gassier Cotes du Rhone Villages Visan Cercius 2009

Michel Glassier Cercius Cotes Du Rhone Villages 2009 ($14).   Full of earth and dark spicy fruit with a pinch of dusky sour cherry, this wine kept my tongue clicking with its savory edges.  The name Cercius, a Latin word, refers to the North-Northwest winds that sweep over the vines in the village of Visan on the northern end of Vaucluse.  With moderate tongue-coating tannins, and aged for 6 months in concrete prior to bottling, this blend of 85% Grenache and 15% Syrah softly whispers, “The cold days ahead are made for us.”  Rated **1/2

 Like what you see?  Hit the Subscribe/Follow button and don’t miss another Sybarite Sauvage post.

Posted November 9, 2011 by Sybarite Sauvage in No-Guilt Wednesday

RdV Vineyards Rendevous 2008   Leave a comment

Recently, Jancis Robinson reported in the Financial TImes on the work being done in wineries in Virginia– yes, Virginia– home state of our third and one of my personal favorite presidents, T-Jeff.  One of the things that I find most fascinating about him is his contribution to the American love-hate relationship with French wine.  Upon his return from France, the man was criticized for have adopted “French manners”.  He was truly one of the first American Fancy Boys– 10 years ago you might have called him a metrosexual.  Straight, but with an appreciation for the finer things.  A significant portion of his household budget was dedicated to acquiring many fine European (and especially French) wines which he happily shared with others.  Yes, he was also a farmer– but one given to experimentation to provide the best that was available to serve at his table.  However, among his most notable agrarian failures was an inability to produce any decent wine in his  native Virginia. 

But what penmanship!

As the rebellious product of a catholic school education, I bristled at the notion that my cursive writing had to conform to the “Palmer Method” mandated by those sometimes sweet, oftentimes bitter nuns at Sacred Heart Cosmo-Demonic School.  I do not believe that anyone will call upon me to document anything of importance in my own often incomprehensible scribblings.  And while I may never approach T-Jeff’s eloquence and neatness with a pen, I can at least raise my glass, as he most assuredly did, to take in the bounty of the vineyards.  Only today my task is easier since so many wines are available it can make one’s head spin.   And I can do something T-Jeff did not live long enough to do– drink good Virginia wine.

But back to Jancis.  She reported on one particular wine maker, Rutger de Vink, proprietor of the winery, RdV.  Her enthusiasm for the wines got me intrigued enough that I ordered some to taste.  RdV produces two wines from its 6.5 hectares vineyards planted with 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot, 12% Petit Verdot and a bit of Cabernet Franc (8%).  The high-end wine, called RdV, which, according to JR, “is uncannily like really top flight red bordeaux” and made for long aging.  High praise from the doyenne of the wine press.  Their second bottling, a play on Mr. de Vink’s initials, is called Rendezvous.  It was the Rendezvous we opened last night.  I should point out that at $88 and $55 per bottle, these are not wines I can or would open every night. 

RdV Vineyards Rendezvous 2008 ($55) 14.5% alc.  In drinking this wine, I am of two minds.  On the one hand, the wine showed complexity, evolution and longevity during the course of the evening as we sipped this over a 4 hour period.  On the other hand, there were elements in the flavor profile that are not amongst my favorites.  In the end, although showing considerable complexity, it is about taste, and we must recognize it for what it is–a good wine, verging on the very good.  Initially, although the nose was not particularly big, I was impressed by rose petals, but those notes quickly dissipated and migrated to the darker side turning at points meat-like and smokey punctuated by some sweet spices.  In the mouth, it exhibited a deep concentration generous with palate teasers that were, at turns, spicy, savory and bramble-like.  Moving to the long finish filled with espresso notes, I found some grippy tannins that were stronger than the acidity.  In some respects, this reminded me of the Ruffino Modus (a Super Tuscan of which I am not a great fan), but this has much greater finesse.  Would another 5+ years in the bottle help this.  My gut says yes.  Make no mistake, this is a food wine through and through.  Is it good value?  Better values abound in this price range.  Still there is enough to say about this wine, that I would like to see what these guys do in future vintages.  Rated ** 1/2

Like what you see?  Hit the Subscribe/Follow button and don’t miss another Sybarite Sauvage post.

Posted November 6, 2011 by Sybarite Sauvage in Food-Wine-Love

No-Guilt Wednesday Wine: Les Chemins de Bassac Isa Rouge (Vin de Pays des Côtes de Thongue) 2007   2 comments

This little guy doesn’t have a guilty bone in his body.  Neither should you.  Here is this week’s $15 or less offering. 

No-Guilt Wednesday is not about compromising on quality.  It’s all about drinking good wine that does not break the bank, eating good food and of course, it’s about sharing with the ones you love.  

Tonight’s wine come from Languedoc-Roussillon– a great place to hunt for bargains in French wine.  Bathed in the warm Mediterranean climate, I have at times found wines from Languedoc-Roussillon to be a bit overripe.  But that is not the case with this week’s offering from the Côtes de Thongue, a relatively small area in Languedoc-Roussillon.   

As far as I recall, I have never tried a wine from Côtes de Thongue.  I am including several maps to show where exactly this wine comes from since I had no idea where this was and I presume many of you are in the same boat. 

 

France     Languedoc     Hérault

Côtes de thongue in Languedoc dans l'Hérault

 

In our search for good wine, many stones must be overturned.  Sometimes viper-like wines lie in wait– all hissing, bad attitude and bite.  Other times, like today, a ruby awaits discovery.  

Les Chemins de Bassac Isa Rouge 2007

Les Chemins de Bassac Isa Rouge (Vin de Pays des Côtes de Thongue) 2007 ($13).   I get excited when I drink a wine like this humble Vin de Pays.  Probably because my expectations are set low based on prior sub par experiences with such wines.  And yet this surprised from the first sniff of earth and minerals blended with sweet spices.  It is made with a panoply of organically grown varietals: Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache, Mourvédre, Pinot Noir, Syrah.  Seriously– Pinot Noir AND Syrah?  Can you do that?  These guys did.  But what came next was the best surprise of all– juicy red plums and cherry and pomegranate notes– not sweet, but not unripe either.  Finishing with some bitter chocolate notes, the tannins and acidity made the fruit dance on my tongue in a joyful ceilidh of flavor– a little bit rustic, but a whole lot of fun.   And while I sipped at this one all by my lonesome tonight, it’s the kind of wine that makes you long  for a kiss from that special someone.  This  little baby from Côtes de Thongue is worth searching out.  Rated **1/2
 
You might have noticed that I have not included many recipes recently.  Mostly this is due to the intrusion of other parts of my life on the blog.  No fear, I will come back with some great dishes soon– in the meantime, enjoy the wine.  There is nothing wrong with simple servings of charcuterie with this– especially a nice dried sopressata, or as my New York Area Italian friends would say, “supersod”.  Sounds more like a lawn product than a meat product.
 
Like what you see?  Hit the Subscribe/Follow button and don’t miss another Sybarite Sauvage post.

Posted November 3, 2011 by Sybarite Sauvage in No-Guilt Wednesday