Response to “debatable reds”

By Jesse on October 16, 2008

Every once in a while we visit a tasting room where all the wines are really good: there are no regrettable cheapies, no token varietals, no “bottles to nowhere.” Occasionally, a weekly Young Wino meeting also manages to beat the odds and deliver a stellar lineup with very few blemishes. Pundits seem generally to agree that Wednesday’s presidential debate was the best of the three so far. As fate would have it, Tuesday’s debate-themed tasting similarly turned out to be one of our best in recent memory.

The mandate was pretty straightforward: bring any red with at least three distinct varietals in the blend. Andrew started things off with the 2005 Buil & Giné “17-XI ” (Montsant), a blend of Grenache, Carignan, and “Tempranillo” (why the last varietal was encapsulated in quotation marks we may never know). Tod got cherry, Allison pepper. “It’s almost hot, but not quite,” offered Andrew. There was definitely some barnyard, and I got a hint of charcoal.

On the palate, Andrew lauded the “nice berry hit in the beginning,” but I was getting mostly cedar. Several spice notes were tossed around — Allison got nutmeg, and thought it was akin to a Béchamel. Eric complained that there was “not that much to it,” and a few Winos agreed. Andrew himself admitted that it wasn’t tremendous, and might not be worth the $20 price. Although it was far from terrible, this wound up being the worst-reviewed wine of the impressive evening (we revisited the remainder of the bottle later, and found it had smoothed out nicely with time… and our increased intoxication).

Next up was a bottle I’d discovered at a Vendome tasting a few months ago, the 2003 Silver “El Ojo Rojo” (Santa Barbara County), a Rhone blend of 55% Mourvedre, 35% Grenache, and 10% Viognier. Noting the inclusion of the florist-bomb white in small quantities, Andrew observed that it didn’t smell too floral; instead, he posited that it smelled “fucking delicious,” with notes of chocolate and coffee. Tod got cedar notes, and newbie Anna picked up spiced rum. I appreciated some plush jamminess — mixed berry jam, specifically, for those who were curious.

Katie picked up some sweetness early on the palate. Anna got notes of “sour cherry juice,” the type that remains in the jar, she explained, after you remove the sour cherries. Eric got some earthy notes, and I picked up some wood chips — almost a mulchy expression, like those red cedar chips my mom used to pay me $5 an hour to spread around the trees in our yard. The palate didn’t offer as much fruit as had appeared on the nose, but was still very generous in its flavors, which Andrew categorized as “cohesive notes of chocolate, coffee, and dark berries.” We speculated that this five-year-old wine was right at its peak drinking age, and everyone present thought the $20 tariff was more than fair.

Next up, Katie treated us to a vertical flight of the wacky Four Vines “Anarchy” blend. First up was the 2005 Four Vines “Anarchy” (Paso Robles), a blend of 40% Syrah, 31% Mourvedre, and 29% Zinfandel. The nose started off a bit funky, with Tod picking up straw and grass, and Andrew getting butter. It settled into itself, though, and displayed black licorice notes to Eric and toffee to Anna. To me, it smelled like a baked acorn squash, with brown sugar, straight out of the oven. Mmmmmm….

The palate confirmed my hope that we’d tasted these in the right order. It was bigger than the previous two wines; Andrew called it “very mouth-coating.” Smooth and supple, it offered up big chocolate notes and a decent amount of spice, all very well-integrated. There weren’t much in the way of structural elements — no acid, and only fluttery tannins — but the wine was very satisfying. Anna compared the smoothness of the finish to “eating a stick of butter,” something we can all relate to.

This success was followed by the 2006 Four Vines “Anarchy” (Paso Robles), featuring a slightly re-tooled blend from the previous vintage: 32% Syrah, 32% Zinfandel, and 36% Mourvedre. Allison opened up debate on the nose with a declaration of “jam jam jam jam jam.” Eric added cinnamon to the mix, and I got cracked black pepper. This nose was somehow more raw and less integrated than the previous one had been — basically just straight jam and spice, with less of the cohesion we’d smelled earlier. That wasn’t necessarily a liability by any means; I compared it to the compilation of disparate ingredients one tastes in a sandwich, rather than a melding of flavors one expects in a casserole or lasagna.

The palate was as intriguing as the last, if not quite cut from the same mold: Tod got black cherry chocolate, and I got black cherry Blow-Pop. Andrew got wood smoke, while I picked up cigar tobacco. On the finish, Allison observed a lot more acid than the previous bottle; I agreed, and admitted I wouldn’t have pegged these two as subsequent vintages of the same thing if we’d tasted them blind. Opinion was split on which expression of the label had been preferable, and all we could agree upon was that the $24-$28 price range for which Katie had purchased the bottles was a fair one.

With only two bottles to go, and the cheese specter looming large on the horizon, we hunkered down and popped open the 2005 B Cellars “B Blend” (Napa Valley), a demi-Meritage mash-up of 43% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 20% Sangiovese, and 7% Petite Sirah. On the nose, I immediately picked up some pine forest notes… or were they juniper berries? Allison got jamminess, Tod leather, and Andrew manure — but just a touch. Anna threw down the gauntlet when she pointed out that it smelled like cognac. I countered with “dark baking chocolate.” She lobbed “dried fruit” my way, and I hit it out of the park with “wood-burning stove.” We called a truce and decided to drink it.

This was definitely the most tannic of the bunch — not surprising, given the plurality of Cabernet and Petite Sirah. I liked it quite a lot, and thought it drank like a nice well-balanced Cab, with a little bit of lightness helping it go down smoothly (the tasting notes attributed that to the Sangiovese). Most people agreed that the charcoal notes were more prevalent than the fruit, but what fruit there was skewed dark and spicy: blackberry, brambles, and a touch of white pepper. At $32, the wine provoked a general agreement that people would purchase it if only they weren’t so poor.

Wrapping things up was the 2005 Lyeth Meritage (Sonoma County), a blend of 67% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Merlot, 9% Malbec, and 2% Cabernet Franc. My first observation on the nose was “peppered salami,” but this gave way to what Tod called “earthy blueberry” and what Katie thought were black licorice notes. Andrew, never one to question even his most questionable observations, got hints of “seafood” — and then declined to elaborate further (because he’s from a landlocked state and didn’t want to seem foolish). After a minute or two of swirling, the wine beckoned me in with a bouquet of fennel, straight off the spice rack, and even some poppy-seed bagel.

The palate was dark and dirty: Katie got leather, and others tossed around “chocolate,” “dirt” and “earth.” I appreciated the dainty spice notes and the powdery tannins. “Extremely drinkable,” offered Andrew, “but not popping out at you.” Tod enjoyed the caramel finish, and we agreed with the tasting notes’ observation that there was “nothing really complex here… but this wine does deliver an exceptionally smooth Meritage blend that’s both food-friendly and nice on its own.” Tod then revealed that he’d found it for $13 at BevMo (although it apparently retails for more on the internet). At the $13 price, at least, we all felt that this was a great wine to have around.

Overall, a really nice tasting — one of those solid flights that helps you forget the less stellar ones. The wines all provided nice compliments to the cheese spread (with the exception of the ’03, which went a little bit off with the prolonged exposure to air).

Incidentally, if anyone missed the third presidential debate, here’s a video summary of the important points:

And here’s another (slightly dated) video summary, bearing some uncanny similarities to current events:


1 Comment

  1. Great write up Jesse! Wish I was there!

    Comment by Dylan Conroy — October 18, 2008 @ 4:09 pm

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