The Winos’ Tasting Series: Francis Ford Coppola Presents

By Jesse on May 15, 2008

One of our favorite wine quotes comes from the 1972 classic The Godfather:

Don Vito: I like to drink wine more than I used to.
Michael: It’s good for you, pop.

It is indeed. But how does a Godfather quote relate to our tasting this week, you ask? Well, the line above was spoken by the actor Marlon Brando, who also appeared in the 1995 film Don Juan DeMarco, which was directed by Jeremy Leven, who wrote The Legend of Bagger Vance, which featured Matt Damon, who appeared in The Departed with Martin Sheen, who starred in Apocalypse Now — a movie which was directed by Francis Ford Coppola! That’s how.

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The Winos love tasting obscure wines from small labels, but another part of our mandate is to interact frequently with wines that are readily available in supermarkets and wine shops alike; after all, what use is a glowing review if you can’t find the wine? The good people at Coppola’s eponymous company recently sent us a few familiar-looking bottles, and we tore into them faster than Peggy Sue could get married.

First up was the 2007 Francis Coppola Presents “Bianco” Pinot Grigio (California), a bottle we’ve occasionally seen packaged along with a free glass (just in case you can’t wait till you get home). The nose was an interesting expression of lemon-lime notes; Dylan got some grapefruit as well. I thought it smelled a bit like those lemon cough drops, and Doug suggested “Lemon Head” candies. Jessica offered “margarita mix,” and everyone agreed.

The palate followed suit, unfortunately; Emily called it “sour,” and Doug bemoaned the lack of fruit. Pinot Grigio at its best is crisp and vibrant, but this was a bit more blunt and lemony than we’d hoped. Dylan complained that it “tasted like pennies” and was “irony” (referring, I believe, to the metal), but I pointed out that the true irony was that the Bianco can be purchased for little more than pennies — $11 is the list price, and I’ve seen it at Ralph’s for $8. Myla suggested that there were better whites for $8, however, and the room offered its agreement.

Next up was the 2006 Francis Coppola Presents “Rosso” (California), an unconventional blend of Zin, Syrah, and Cab. The nose was dark and dusty with what I thought to be a sort of “old-world” character. Game, some plum, and even burnt timber all found expression in this soft, subtle bouquet. Emily offered “wet asphalt,” Doug thought “black cherries,” and Amy said “it smells like my grandparents’ house.” In my book, that’s a huge compliment. I wish my house smelled like someone’s grandparents’ house, because that would suggest it’s full of sweet vintage furniture (and maybe even delicious old-world-style red wine).

The palate came in a little hotter than we’d anticipated, despite a relatively humble 13.5% alcohol content. The medium body supported smoky notes of cherry and tar, with some medicinal quality figuring in as well — it reminded me a bit of cherry cough syrup. Myla pointed out that the alcohol breezed off after a few sips, and the wine opened up a bit. Admittedly, there wasn’t a whole lot underneath it, and the wine felt a bit youthful and lacking in identity. That said, the great nose had made me feel like there was potential here; if I see this one at Ralph’s for eight bucks, I might be inclined to give it a second try.

Third up was the 2006 Francis Coppola “Director’s Cut” Zinfandel (Dry Creek Valley), topping the tasting’s price pyramid with a $23 tag. A rich berry nose beckoned us into the glass; Jessica got strawberries, Emily got hints of apple cider, and Myla called it “cocoa, like a dusty chocolate.” Dry Creek always serves up Wino-tastic Zins, so we were eager to dive into this one.

The pal surprised us with its spice, a note that nobody had picked up on the nose. Dylan got cinnamon, and Myla found it peppery with a little strawberry. I agreed, and thought it had great body — not huge, but full and round. Dylan found it a little young; he said he’d like to taste it again after putting it on the shelf for a year. Jessica, though, was loving it now, and proclaimed that this easy-quaffer had earned “Jessica’s happy hour seal of approval.” Amy, though, thought it was more of a food wine, and opined that she’d drink it with steak. The only complaints came in on the finish, which was alleged by some to be “harsh and burny.” A big winner otherwise, however, and the finish might just settle down with some aging — maybe Dylan will experiment and let us know in a year’s time?

Rounding out the tasting was the 2006 Francis Coppola Diamond Collection “Black Label” Claret (California), listed at $20, but readily available at Trader Joe’s for $16, if memory serves. The pigmentation was striking in its opacity — easily as dark as the label. The nose followed suit, being variously described as “dark” and “inky.” I got some strange Play-Doh notes, and Myla thought it smelled like rubber bands. The Shark got rosemary, I started picking up some juniper berries, and Doug mentioned “forest floor” notes. Not the fruitiest nose ever, by any means, but dark and brooding and full of interesting scents.

The palate was appropriately inky and dark, with big, mouth-coating tannins. “Yes, and also mouth-drying,” offered Jessica, who was having trouble getting any fruit. I agreed with her; great structure, but not quite the expressive flavor you want on a value-priced California Bordeaux blend. We decided to experiment with some cheese — maybe a few mouthfuls of delicious fermented curds from TJ’s (Spanish Iberico, Madame Chèvre, and English Coastal Cheddar, specifically) would take the edge off. Our results were very positive: the cheesy goodness softened the tannins and opened up a hidden world of flavors, including dried plums, blackberries and charcoal, flowing together in a nice round mouthfeel.

Overall, mixed results from this lineup, but a couple of definite winners emerged by the end. Many of us regard the supermarket wine aisle with a mixture of hope and suspicion; the promise of discounts and “club card savings” lure us in, but how good can these wines actually be if even Ralph himself thinks they’re not worth their suggested sticker price? I’ve largely stopped buying wine at supermarkets because I’m so frequently disappointed by them; therefore, when I do discover a tasty, well-made bottle that I can find at Ralph’s, it’s almost twice as gratifying. As I said, I’m planning to re-taste the Rosso if I can find it for $8, and next time I see that Claret for $16 at TJ’s, I’m all over it — I just have to remember to swing by the cheese aisle on my way out.

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Jessica makes sure she’s in there; searching for the right words; wait, this is Zin, Syrah, and what…?

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Cheese saves the day; Doug’s sitting pretty; what’s wrong with “dusty chocolate?”

The Young Winos of LA — edutoxicating Los Angeles since 2005

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