Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Excellent Spanish Red

Enough with the preliminaries, on to the wines. Jorge Ordonez brings in some fantastic wines from Spain and I have been lucky enough to have his portfolio to sell in New Orleans and now here in Portland, Oregon as well. Some of the wines are a bit too flashy and international in style for me, but most of the wines he brings to the U.S. are nothing short of magical for the price. You will see his name again and again in these posts.
Recently I opened a bottle of Juan Gil, from Bodegas de Hijos de Juan Gil. Essentially that means winery of the sons of Juan Gil. The wine is 100% Monastrell (Mourvedre) and comes from 40 year old vines (even older to my recollection although the back of the bottle says 40, so we'll go with that) in the D.O. (Denominacion de Origen - Spanish designation for appellation) of Jumilla.
I have always liked this wine. The 2004 was elegant yet very full in the mouth with lots of red fruit and plenty of minerality on the finish, while the 2005 was more showy, with deeper color and darker fruit. This vintage seems to combine the two versions. Plenty of deep juicy fruit but with some red accents and although it took a day for the wine to shows its best, there is magic in that 2006 bottle. The use of oak is noticeable, but moderate, there is no drying wood tannin on the finish.
The vineyard is planted in chalky, white limestone 'soil' that is quite bright and intense in the sun and can even make it appear to have snowed recently. They get little rain (none was recorded in 2005) and that forces the vines to dig deep through different sedimentary layers, which increases the complexity of the wine. The limestone gives minerality, which is hard to describe, but makes a distinct impression on the palate, dry, but not tough, lively, but not zippy.
I think this wine will do well with anything off the grill, and will pair exceptionally well with lamb, red sauces, and even pork or chicken with black olives. It could certainly stand up to a steak, but would lose some of its subtlety paired this way. Mushrooms, especially portobellos grilled, are a beautiful match.
You should be able to find this wine for just over $15 and I would recommend buying a few bottles, at least, and laying some down for a year or so.

Sunday, September 21, 2008


I enjoy real wine. I dislike, and rail against, the huge commercial production facilities. These colossal producers are just like chain restaurants that plague suburbia all over this country. At their very best they are safe and reasonably priced. Large production wines, like meals at chains, are rarely unpalatable, usually acceptable but never particularly memorable. That's because the wines and food are generic; specifically designed to meet the acceptance of as many people as possible. That is not a terrible thing in and of itself. However, this style of business puts people who are truly engaged in production and work hard making fascinating food and truly remarkable wines in a precarious position and leads consumers to think that the mediocrity all around them is all they can expect. In fact, if one searches just a little that small mom and pop restaurant might just surprise for flavor and value, and a lesser known wine, for the same price, or even less, than what you're used to drinking, may turn out to be more intriguing and rewarding. Those are the wines that fascinate me. Any moron with $50 can buy a good bottle of wine, but it takes effort and persistence to find gems under $20 and even more so under $15. I will try to bring you those gems.
I prefer French wines as a rule and Pinot Noir is my favorite. If forced to choose, and someone else was footing the bill, I could happily drink nothing but Burgundy for the rest of my life. Reality rears it's ugly head and reminds me that I can not afford to do that, and couldn't even before the Euro became so strong relative to our dollar. I hope no one ever makes me choose because part of the fun of wine is exploring, even when encountering something you may never want to have again.
I believe that choosing and enjoying wine is all about balance. I prefer bright, more acid driven wines as a rule - they go better with a wider variety of food. But I still love the hedonism of a great Zinfandel or the brawny power of a well-made Cabernet. Sometimes a big, juicy Shiraz makes me want to sneak off and enjoy my guilty pleasure in secret much like some people do with Twinkies or Cheetos. A full blown Chardonnay is too much for me on a daily basis, but I do appreciate them and also love to have a glass from time to time.
The key in those bigger wines is balance; if they have balance they can blow you away with power, weight, silky mouthfeel and still leave you wanting more. If they do not, they leave a palate impression much like putting a pat of butter on your's fun for a moment, but then all you want to do is get it out of your mouth and wash it away with something else.
My pledge is to make this blog balanced as well. This will not be a personal hit parade and nothing else. Geek wines, crowd pleasers and wines in between will all be featured.

Friday, September 19, 2008

What's with the name? What's this all about?

The name is an homage to my formative time in the wine business spent in New Orleans - aka, The Big Easy. The name doubles for the plain and clear discussions I have always been so proud of in my years in the wine business. I will not say I never stray into the bizarre, esoteric, 'what's the weirdest fruit you can think of to use as a descriptor' world, but I try to limit that as much as possible. Sometimes it's fun to get all geeky and cork-dorky and come up with descriptors until even wine geeks get a little overwhelmed; however, for most wine writers it's a mask for insecurity or just plain arrogance.
Not all of the wines discussed here will be big, nor will they always be easy, but there will be many to choose from and the writing should be clear and easy to understand.

Do we really need another wine blog? I'm not sure if the world at large does; I guess we'll find out. I know that I have many family and friends who value my opinion and I have sent occasional e-mails out but unless one has a need for a specific wine immediately, that e-mail is never around when you need it. So, here it is people. Mostly a blank canvas right now, this spot will soon have lots of useful (I hope) information to use when you want it. Need spanish wine, a great bargain Chardonnay, an explanation of what in the world Txacholi is all about? Eventually all of those answers plus lots of food and wine pairing advice will appear in this space.
As I am currently residing in Portland, Oregon my wine reviews will be based on wines in this market, although I will attempt to pass along wines that should be available in many markets.

I hope you enjoy the journey, I know I will.