Thursday, December 31, 2009

End of Year Review

I was going to post a glowing review of some celebratory wine to christen the New Year appropriately and perhaps bring us all to a happier place than most of us saw this year. I both ran out of time and encountered one of the worst wines I have ever tasted (at least from a respectable producer) and decided since this was the year of the bailout that perhaps a well placed rant might be more appropriate.
Everywhere we look we are surrounded by corporate behemoths that spend countless millions on sponsorship of stadiums, advertisements and buying out their competition. This results in less choice for the consumer (when was the last time a credit card offer appeared in your mail that was not from Bank of America) and inevitable nickel and diming once they are nearly the only game in town. The same thing happens in the wine world.
Huge distributors have liquor and wine brands that retail and restaurants must buy and they use that leverage to influence buyers to use them exclusively or at leat extensively, resulting in less opportunity for some truly interesting wines - often at better prices. Lest you get the idea that I am some anti-corporate wacko, let me explain my position. There are some huge corporations that produce excellent products; Apple is my favorite example, although this blog is typed on a PC. Most large companies became large for a reason, they offered a good product at a reasonable price. Many large wineries have done the same. They offer quality and reliability although they eventually command a higher price for that service. No problem here, you pay for the best. However, wines can not be made on an assembly line; grapes are not the same each year and growth sometimes results in producing inferior grapes, which creates wines that are not as good.
Ferrari-Carano increased their production by nearly a third from 2001 to 2002 ( from 160,000 to 201,000 cases, and although that growth was focused on the Fume Blanc, it changes the way a winery operates (I could find no information about growth since then). I will disclose that I have never purchased a Ferrari-Carano wine, although I have tasted many over the years and sold some in a retail setting. They did a good job producing big, rich California wine and the consuming public ate it up.
Yesterday I happened to have a California Merlot out and a customer mentioned he had two others to taste, would I mind if we tasted them all together. I was excited as I had not tasted Ferrari-Carano Merlot in years and was curious to see how it was. It was awful. The gentleman who kindly offered the taste described the wine as "alien."

Ferrari-Carano Merlot, Sonoma County 2006 - It smelled of clove and shrimp (fresh, but clearly fishy salt) and the palate flavors lacked fruit, except that it tasted green, and offered tough tannin to boot. There may have been a whiff of red fruit on the nose, but there was much more smoke and oak. Even the back label, usually a fount of strange fruity prose, did not mention much fruit..."with luscious cherry aromas and accents of spice, chocolate and caramel that lingers on the silky finish." Chocolate and caramel I'll believe, although why you want caramel in a dry red wine is beyond me. Silky though? Really? Silky? Not even hours later. Perhaps today it approaches silky, after more than 24 hours open, but it is an old, moth-eaten silk, complete with holes and frayed edges.
With time it opened a bit, but began to show bell pepper on the nose and while the tannin subsided, the middle and finish never filled out. It screams of a wine style that has been overly manipulated in the cellars and ends up being a bit of a Frankenstein - lots of workable parts, but barely able to function as designed. It has all of the issues that Merlot drinkers claim they do not like, lack of fruit and plenty of tight tannin, yet it is on wine lists all over the city and country.
I can not recommend strongly enough to not purchase this wine, especially given its rather hefty price tag of $24. I bear the family no ill will, but find this an inexcusably bad wine and recommend to anyone who will listen to change the way you buy wine next year. Try some suggestions of retailers, waiters and even me. Expand your horizons, live a little, you may have more fun and save some money.
Happy New Year, here's to a better 2010.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Jambalaya and Wine Pairing Part Two

As promised, here are the last of the results from the Jambalaya tasting.
Almira Los Dos (Grenache/Syrah - 85%/15%) Old vines 2007 - for more on this wine, see
I found the wine very able with the dish, it stayed round and drinkable, pretty and pure. In fact, it was excellent! The juicy fruit matched with the spice and flavor, the acidity cleared the palate and actual interplay occurred between the food and the wine. Top notch, a nearly perfect pair. There was no actual addition to either the food or the wine by pairing them, but it was a wonderful match.

Cycles Gladiator Syrah 2006, Central Coast - For more on this wine, see
There is a deep, smoky aroma with some plum - perhaps even currant - with other sweet, ripe fruit, but it is well balanced. The smokiness continues on the finish but does not overwhelm (I made a note here that I should taste the rest of their products as well). It was much too smoky for this version of jambalaya but it held up to the spice. It overwhelmed the dish with its smoke though. If we had used Jacob's Andouille (the best, smokiest, flavor version for cooking available) it might have paired better. If the meat had been grilled/smoked ahead of time perhaps it would have worked better also.

Kermit Lynch Cotes du Rhone 2006 - Kermit makes a few custom blends to bring into the country and sell under his own moniker. I find this to be reliable year in and year out. It is never a huge blockbuster, but features plenty of Grenache and shows the slight earth tones so prevalent in the air in the Southern Rhone. It also has plenty of pepper notes on the nose and enough body to grab your attention but not so much as to lose its sense of place. The wine was slightly cloudy (unfiltered) with some intense earth and hints of leather with pepper spice and that classic 'garriguey' note. Garrigue refers to the wild herbs, flowers, and earthy note from the rocky soils in that area. It is a primary reason I found myself hungry all the time when visiting the Southern Rhone. In this case, it borders on being too much for me (my tolerance for this wild, earthy style has changed over the years) but it was a surprisingly good match. The earth note and the sweetness of the shrimp actually played well together. But with the addition of hot sauce, it was one step short of a trainwreck. The earth became too much very quickly and it really fought the spice. This does not work with spice! Importer: Kermit Lynch $15-$18

Hill of Content Shiraz 2005, Western (57%)/South (43%) Australia - One of my favorite examples, and a reason to keep drinking Shiraz even when one has been exposed to all manner of seemingly cuddly critters on labels (some that are colored yellow and hop) that seem to have had all the acidity removed while having about a half pound of Domino's sugar added. Shiraz can be beautiful and this blend offers some of the deeper structure of the west while showing plenty of the deep juicy fruit of the south (it comes from Clare Valley which shows more freshness than Barossa in many cases). Good ruby/purple color with some sweet vanilla and cassis on the nose. More of the same on the palate but it cleans up nicely. Well done. It does need some time to open to balance the juice and dryness. The oak overwhelmed the food a bit, but the pairing worked. I did not find it ideal, again, perhaps some smokier meats might have helped. With spice though, the wine performed more than admirably. I found it delicious, in fact. The intensity of the wine still stepped on the flavors of the dish a bit, but the juiciness of the wine handled the spice beautifully. Importer: The Australian Premium Wine Collection $13-$16

Crios de Susana Balbo Malbec 2007, Mendoza - With 25+ years of winemaking experience, Susana Balbo knows all the ropes when it comes to putting good juice in a bottle. This comes, more specifically, from the Uco Valley, an exciting region within Mendoza. Crios means, 'young kids' and reflects that these wines are the 'offspring' of her signature wines. It is unfined and unfiltered. I found currants and plums and nearly cassis, but not with its inherent round sweetness. Instead, it was currants with a dusting of cocao. I found the wine itself a bit spicy from its tannin, fruit I think, rather than wood. I can sum up the pairing succinctly - it was not a disaster, but clearly not a winner; it fought with the food, especially the spiced version. Importer: Vine Connections $13-$16

Rosenblum Cellars Zinfandel Vintners Cuvee XXXI, California - The label claims it comes from, the "finest coastal, inland, mountain and valley fruit." That pretty much covers the entire help there. I'm guessing there is a lot of Amador County juice here, but I offer no guarantees. They do not label this with a vintage, but at least give us a lot number to determine which version we might be purchasing. I think this is imperative with non-vintage cuvees, otherwise you have no way of telling what you might get in the bottle. There was more wild briar and bramble notes here than in the XXX. The fruit was warmer and more forward too. I guessed lots of Amador since I found so much roasted fruit in the glass. The pairing was excellent, the fruit actually mingles with the flavor of the food. It does not overwhelm, despite its intensity. The interplay continued, even when spice was introduced. This was damn good. Zinfandel does work well with spicy food. $10-$13