A Very Vinic Adventure: My Trip to Somewhere 12/29/11

If you’ve ever heard of the Internet – and really, even if you haven’t – you’re probably familiar with the interminable quarrel between ninjas and pirates over the question of who is cooler. And as much as I favor the maritime marauder over the island assassin, there’s one area in which pirates simply can’t compete with their stealthier foes: stealth. And so it was with ninja-like vigilance rather than my usual piratic rapacity that I embarked upon my first ever secret wine trip, to the exotic land of redacted.

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Beautiful, isn’t it?

The details of where I went, whom I was with and when I was there are of course irrelevant, because I didn’t drink any of those things and therefore feel it would be presumptuous of me to evaluate them. But there was wine (as there so often is on wine trips, secret or otherwise), and rest assured, I will soon regale you with the stories of my enological encounters. Just make sure you’re properly galed before I begin. I’ll wait.

Okay, ready? Great! First things first, though: I should warn you that I’ll be discussing a rather eclectic assortment of wines here, and it may appear as though there was no logic whatsoever involved in their selection. As it turns out, there wasn’t. So read with caution.


#1: Barbaresco to the Rescue

Sobriety can be a nasty thing, and as it was nearly two in the afternoon by the time I arrived at my destination, needless to say I was feeling it before I even left the airport, train station, or bus station. But even worse, my companion (who shall remain nameless) was quick to inform me that he had yet to taste a Barbaresco, one of the most celebrated expressions of my personal favorite grape, Nebbiolo. Our first trial had become abundantly clear: we would obtain a bottle, or we would die trying.

As it turns out, acquiring a Barbaresco proved disappointingly easy, and about ten minutes and $30 after we’d resolved to do so, we had a 2006 Produttori del Barbaresco Barbaresco in hand. Yes, I know that sounds redundant, but please bear in mind, I know that sounds redundant.

As for the wine itself, this one shone a lovely translucent garnet in the glass, with orange signs of age around the rim. The nose was a burst of fresh cherries and artificial strawberries (think Twizzlers), along with orange peel and a touch of flowers.

The palate presented more fruit up front, but it was tempered by notes of leather and fennel, supported by good acidity and firm tannins: the kind of tannins that grab your tongue and shake hands with it, but know to release their grip before things become too awkward. The wine finished a bit hot, however, and could certainly do with some more aging.

I award the Produttori del Barbaresco Barbaresco thumbs up, for now.


#2: Fear No Bierzo

Having begun with the best – that is to say, the one made from Nebbiolo – we were presently tasked with the burdensome albatross of proceeding on to the rest. Thankfully, I’d had the foresight to anticipate this problem and was sure to pick up a wine that could follow my favorite grape: something bold, complex, and refreshing. Ladies and gentlemen, it was time for Mencia to make an appearance.

Easily ranking in the top three of my favorite grapes, Mencia is a woefully underappreciated variety grown in Spain (and sometimes Portugal, where it’s called Jaen). All the Mencia I’ve managed to find so far has come from the Bierzo region in Leon, and the 2007 Vinos de Finca Losada , which cost us around $23, was no exception. The wine invited us in with a deep, opaque purple hue, and it became clear from the very first whiff that this was a serious Mencia.

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It was still several times funnier than this other one, however.

Powerful notes of cocoa and graphite were there to greet us, with accompaniment provided by a duo of black- and blueberry jam. Or bruiseberry, if you’d prefer. The palate was consistent with the nose, with dark berries and earth in abundance. This was actually even more tannic than the Barbaresco, suggesting plenty of aging potential, but in my opinion it was still drinking beautifully. Then again, we did pair it with bacon, so how could it not have been?

The Vinos de Finca Losada earns thumbs up, and moves Mencia one step closer to achieving total dominion over my wine preferences.


#3: A Hard-On for Chardon? Nay.

Perhaps the most interesting wine I encountered on my journey, though far from my favorite, was the 2001 Maison Louis Latour Grand Ardeche Chardonnay, from the Coteaux de l’Ardèche region of Southwest France, which isn’t selling for anything because it was taken off the shelves years ago to make room for its younger, presumably hotter siblings. Current vintages (2009 seems to be the most common) are selling online for around $10

A review I just found on CellarTracker (the only one for this wine) posted in April of 2010 states that the wine is “at least three years past its prime.” Even without knowing this, we weren’t expecting much, and at least I can say we weren’t disappointed when what we got was a deep golden wine – the characteristic color of an aged white – that gave off aromas of butter and toasted almonds. The fruit had faded long ago, but the secondary aromas had clung on, snatching the spotlight away from their ephemeral predecessors. Reflecting, this was my first encounter with a wine that was well past its prime, yet still intriguing.

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Right…except this wine was still intriguing.

The palate was less stimulating than the nose, however, as the wine had gone depressingly flat, but more buttery, nutty notes were evident. I finished a full glass of this without much difficulty, and truth be told would have assuredly poured myself a second if there had been no other wines available that evening. Not exactly the highest praise I’ve heaped upon a bottle, but there you have it.

I award the Louis Latour Grand Ardeche Chardonnay thumbs up. A worthwhile experience.


#4: Grigio Woes

Less pleasantly surprising was the next wine we chanced to open: a 2004 Cavit Pinot Grigio, from Trentino-Alto Adige, Italy. The current vintage (2010) is selling for around $7, Pinot Grigio isn’t a very age-worthy wine even at higher price points, and I’m not really a fan of Pinot Grigio to begin with – I much prefer the elegant minerality of Alsatian Pinot Gris (same grape, different style). In short, this wine had the potential to be all sorts of bad.

And to an extent, it was, with a medium-gold color (not as dark as the Chardonnay), faint notes of pear and perhaps some green melon on the nose. Where the wine truly failed was on the palate, which imparted notes of absolutely nothing. If I had to guess, I would say it’s probably what the River Styx tastes like. Indeed, if I’d been able to finish a glass, it probably would have imbued me with all the strength and speed of brave Achilles.

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But it wouldn’t have been worth finishing the whole glass.

In retrospect it would have been polite to get a bottle of the current vintage to evaluate alongside this obviously dead one, but frankly, one Pinot Grigio was enough for that vacation.

I award the Cavit Pinot Grigio my lowest score possible: thumbs up. Still potable, but long past drinkable.


#5: Chinon, You Crazy Diamond

Here’s the thing about bad wine: it leaves two bad tastes in my mouth. The first is literal and from the shoddy wine itself, while the second, figurative aftertaste emerges from the fact that my relationship with the grape, however temporarily, has been soured. So at this point in my adventure not only did I need something excellent with which to cleanse my palate of the Cavit’s stygian dreariness; I needed something excellent with which to reaffirm my eponymous grape conviction itself. Nebbiolo and Mencia were out, having already been consumed, leaving me with one course of action: put in a call to my old buddy Franc.

Cabernet Franc is a grape I’ve written about a few times before, but never in the form of Chinon, an appellation in the Loire Valley of France best known for its Franco-centric reds. They’re also quite scarce where I’m from. The 2009 Bernaud Baudry “Les Granges” Chinon ran us around $18, and appeared a dark, bloody shade of crimson in the glass. The nose presented cranberry and dark cherries, with a hint of indeterminate vegetation (I don’t eat many vegetables, so I can’t really say).

But when this wine first made contact with my palate, I was struck by a surge of cinnamon, subsiding slightly to make way for the berry and leafy notes, but always holding the reins. Medium-bodied, well-balanced and quite intense, this Chinon had character to spare: I feel it will require another visit before it reveals to me all its secrets. It’s the kind of wine that makes me wonder why I don’t drink more Cabernet Franc, until I remember that I do drink Cabernet Franc whenever I can and it’s totally the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board’s fault for not stocking more of it.

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Booo.

I award the Bernaud Baudry “Les Granges” Chinon thumbs up, and I’m sure I’ll be seeing it again soon.

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Oh, right. Dammit.


#6: Pinot Noir, in a Bar!

Okay, I’m going to come clean right off the bat: we didn’t drink this Pinot in a bar, but rather a restaurant. And we didn’t drink it by choice, but rather because it was a different wine from the one actually listed. The 2009 Underwood Cellars Pinot Noir from Oregon, retailing for around $12, wasn’t bad per se, though it was certainly overshadowed not only by the steaks we were eating, but by the other wines we’d tasted thitherto.

With simple aromas of cherry and wood, and predictable flavors of the same, the wine was fairly thin though decently balanced, except for a touch of excessive heat (and this I will attribute to the wine’s being served a tad too warm). My only evaluative comment? Passable.

I award the Underwood Pinot Noir thumbs up. Not a bad buy for the price…but not a great one either.


#7: A Riesling Most Pleasing

No, this isn’t the last wine we drank, but it will be the last I write about, owing to a notable absence of notes on any of the others. The 2010 Fred Loimer Lenz Riesling from Kamptal, Austria retails for around $18, and I didn’t jot anything down about its color because I was immediately captivated by its nose.

This Riesling was the first wine I’ve tasted (well, smelled) whose aromas I would describe, without hesitation, as “briny.” It reminded me of sea water, and definitely in a good way, because salt is a mineral, and that means salinity counts as a form of, or at least akin to minerality – a desirable yet highly enigmatic trait in certain wines. After some breathing, peach notes were ready to join the fray, and they joined with a vengeance. A pleasant one though, being peaches.

The palate did carry some of the salinity suggested by the nose, but the predominant notes at first were of citrus, with grapefruit and lemon which, in time, also took on a strongly peachy character. Light, refreshing and (to me at least) novel, this was my favorite white wine of the whole mystery trip.

I award the Fred Loimer Lenz Riesling thumbs up.


And with that, I’ll leave you all to your collective ponderings as to the location and duration of my vacation. Here’s a clue: we didn’t drink anything local, so you can rule out seven whole places!

Now if you’ll excuse me, I think it’s about time I began compiling a list of resolutions for me to drink in 2012.

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No more years after this one, people.

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