Two Dudes Nine Wines: A Hedonistic Holiday in Hoboken 02/03/11

It’s no secret that drinking alone is pretty great. You don’t have to worry about boring bullcrap like etiquette, or being ‘PC’; whatever you’re consuming is guaranteed to be entirely for you; and best of all, there’s no one to take away your keys at the end of the night. The thing about wine, though, is that having multiple palates team up on a bottle can actually work to your advantage, because many fermented mysteries require more than one perspective to unravel.

Enter my weekend, which I spent pleasantly inebriated in beautiful Hoboken, NJ, courtesy of my long-time friend and associate, Ben.

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Different Ben – I don’t associate with grayscale people.

The wine was abundant, the food delicious, my notes plentiful. Admittedly my senses may not have been at their sharpest for the whole 27 hours I was there, but I promise I did my very best to record accurate impressions of what I was tasting – or, in some disappointing cases, what I wasn’t. Expect shorter reviews than usual, since I’m planning on cramming it all into one action-packed post.

And so, with further adon’t (oh man, I slay me), onto the wines!
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We kicked off the festivities with Veuve Clicquot Brut – Yellow Label, a popular champagne produced from a blend of Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay. And yes, this is a real champagne, from the right region and everything, but going for $30-40. Straw yellow, it smelled of apple, guava and fresh mozzarella (unmistakable, even though I’ve never detected cheese notes in a wine before). Fruity with subtle sweetness on the palate, the Clicquot had wonderful citrus notes to balance and a long finish.

I award the Veuve thumbs up. I enjoyed the hell out of it, true; but I enjoyed that $12 brut rose – you know, the fake champagne – just as much. Perhaps I should try Clicquot’s rose?
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Next Ben asked me to try one of his favorite quaffing wines, the Rene Barbier Mediterranean White, from the Catalonia region of Spain and produced from some varietals I’ve never heard of. This poured a pale straw-gold in the glass, with peaches on the nose and not much else. It was light, dry, fruity and easy to drink, with peaches and honey on the palate; but I couldn’t shake the feeling that what I was drinking had been watered down just a bit too much.

I give this simple, nonvintage white thumbs up. I’d drink it if I had to – but then, there were plenty of other, better wines to try, so I didn’t really have to, did I?
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Then we thought we’d get a bit thematic. Unbeknownst to Ben before my visit, in his collection were not one but two bottles of Cabernet Sauvignon with frogs on the label. Needless to say, our duty was clear. It was time for the Fray of the Fightin’ Frogs, an epic, amphibious showdown the likes of which the world has never seen befo-

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Oh God dammit, anime.

Anyway, first up was the Nathanson Creek Cabernet Sauvignon, a nonvintage from California, also in the $7 range. Dark purple on the eyes, it had a nose of blackberry, chocolate, and alcoholic heat. The palate held few surprises, with notes of blackberry and alcohol dominant. But then we put this through an aerator. Suddenly the wine smelled intensely of crème-de-cassis (not blackcurrant, but the liqueur meant to smell like blackcurrant), and the alcohol subsided a bit.

An improvement, yes, but still nothing spectacular – thumbs up.
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Its opponent? Frog’s Leap 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon ($40), also from California, and gifted to my friend by his suspiciously generous co-worker, Henry (Thanks, Henry!) This was at once distinctive and totally unlike any Cab I’d had before, suggesting that prior to this experience, I hadn’t really tried Cabernet Sauvignon at all. The nose presented tobacco, blackcurrant and, as I was able to identify thanks to Ben, pomegranate, which only grew more pronounced after aeration (but the difference was smaller here than with the cheaper one). The wine had velvety tannins and excellent balance, with flavors of cedar and pomegranate.

I award the Frog’s Leap thumbs up. This may well be a better Cab than the Sand Castle Cab I gave the same rating, but in truth, I liked them equally – pretty impressive, given how extremely different they were.
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Our second (and final) theme was Italy, which you may remember as my favorite wine-producing country. So it was fitting enough that we began at Leo’s, an Italian restaurant where we bought ourselves a nice-looking bottle of Cantina di Montialcino 2005 Chianti Riserva ($25 at the restaurant, $17ish online), and I ordered some lamb to go along with it. The wine didn’t wow me but it was enjoyable, to be sure – cherry and vanilla on the nose, with more red fruit and good balance on the palate – but this was compounded by the lamb, which made it oh so much better.

This Chianti Riserva doesn’t do as well as the last I encountered, but still earns thumbs up.
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Next on the agenda was the Riondo 2005 Amarone Valpolicella ($20). This was my first bottle of Amarone, a style of Italian red wine made from dried grapes (Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara). I was pretty pumped – not least of all because I planned to pair it with an awesome Cake Boss cupcake, pictured here. The nose presented dried dates and, curiously, roasted red peppers, while the palate gave us more what we expected: sweet (but not cloying) notes of raisin. There was little acidity and virtually no tannins to speak of, but the wine still balanced its respectable 15.5% alcohol…somehow.

My first Amarone gets thumbs up, and I’m definitely looking forward to the next. Also it went well with the cupcake overall – but exceptionally well with its tiny chocolate center.
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Another of Ben’s favorites that I didn’t much care for was the Sorelle Palazzi 2006 Sangiovese Toscana ($12). Although made from the same grape responsible for Chianti, this wine is not a Chianti, which made me raise an eyebrow right away. Murky crimson in the glass, it was light- to medium-bodied and smelled of loosely-defined red berries, with some light oaky notes. Thin on the palate with weak tannins, this is another “easy to drink” wine I suspect of having been watered down to get that way.

This suspect Sangiovese earns up – a bit higher than the watery white because it paired surprisingly well with some cranberried wensleydale.
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Our weekend was winding down, so we decided to get some Soligo Prosecco Brut ($6 for 175ml), to pair with some intriguing prosecco jelly Ben had for some reason. Prosecco is, simply put, Italian champagne, with the bubbles produced in their own unique way – the charmat method – which you can just google if you actually care. It’s usually produced from Glera grapes and in the Veneto region (which is also where Amarone is made). In the glass this was pale gold, with fewer bubbles than the Clicquot. It smelled dually of sharp provolone and white table grapes – an interesting combination. Dry on the palate with minimal acidity, it did complement the surprisingly-sweet gelatino del prosecco – as well as some quite nicely.

I award this mini-brute thumbs up. A solid wine (which is to say, a liquid wine, with gas bubbles in it).
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Finally, we come to wine nine: the Vigna del Pilone 2007 Dolcetto di Docliani, a $20-25 bottle from the Piedmont region. This was my first Dolcetto, and I quite enjoyed it: mostly clear ruby in the glass with caramel and raspberry on the nose, with cherry after breathing. Soft tannins and good balance with red fruit and vanilla on the finish, as well as hints of licorice.

Congratulations, Dolcetto! You also get thumbs up, putting you smack dab in the middle of my weekend, score-wise.

And thus I conclude my – what’s that? Why yes, I do have more pictures. Behold the nine, in all their low-resolution glory!

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Okay, fine, 8 and 1/4.

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