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Bad procrastination technique: counting up all the wine in my house.

13 Feb

146. Plus three opened bottles at half capacity or less.

Ninety are in my hallway. Sixteen are for a Jura party I keep planning to have, but the winter hasn’t been cold enough for rillettes.

Four are from a half-case of white Bordeaux I adore and am saving for as long as possible.

Twenty are in my “blind tasting box” I put together so the Gin Savant could test me on my paperbag ID skills.

One is to test the progress of a three-case purchase of 2005 Bordeaux currently housed at chez parents who actually have a decent cellar. (Only one of those cases is mine. One each is for La Niece and El Neffy come 2021 2026, if they stay nice to me and don’t grow up all rednecky.)

One is a 1983 5 putt Tokaji. One’s a Corton Charlemagne. I lost count of the Rieslings, the Aussies, and the ones made from obscure grapes. One was made by a high school friend of mine. One’s from England. Only three cost me more than $90. Four are before 1999.

Ok, I’m still procrastinating. Gotta stop or I’ll catalogue everything.

Random wine tasting notes

24 Jan

I’m running a tasting later this week for one of my side editorial projects. Here’s my take on some of what we’re having. They’re all available locally, and all are in the $10-$15 range.

Domaine Lafage Cote Est
A blend of grenache blanc, chardonnay and marsanne.
Located in southwest France, Roussillon borders both the Mediterranean coast and the Pyrenees Mountains separating it from Spain. As the sunniest part of France, it’s able to produce very juicy wines. You’ll notice aromas of honeysuckle, cantaloupe, iris, lime and cilantro, and flavors of ripe lime, guava, watercress, apricot, peach, tangerine rind, sea salt and white flowers. Even though this is 13% alcohol by volume, which puts it almost in full-bodied wine territory, it can work with many salads and lighter fare. For best results, pair it with rustic French or Spanish dishes, cod, grilled bruschetta, or ratatouille.

And if you close your eyes and imagine that you’re sipping this on the rue d’Antibes on the Cote d’Azur, we wouldn’t blame you.

Susana Balbos Crios Torrontes
100% Torrontes

Though it’s a white, this is the little black dress of wines: versatile, ideal for any occasion, and dang sexy (well, it is made by an Argentinian woman).

This wine is widely considered to be the epitome of Torrontes, a native Argentinean variety. It’s, simply, an irresistible tease: dry and acidic like Sauvignon Blanc, yet full-bodied, fruity and floral, with lushly perfumed aromas of peach, white pear, flowers, and orange. Rather beguiling.

Pair this baby with smoked meats, mild to medium cheeses, seafood (particularly crab and sushi). Or drink it our favorite way—by itself. Once you taste it, you’ll want to make this your house wine.

Li Veli Primonero
50% primitivo, 50% negroamaro

If this Puglia wine brings back memories of your post-college trip to Italy and a certain local attraction named Stefano, we certainly won’t tell.

Negroamaro is earthy; primitivo (depending on who you talk to, either an ancestor or twin of zinfandel) is more refined. Combining the two balance out the rougher and softer edges into a wine you can take a lot of places.

Dark, intense and plummy, with hints of black cherry, licorice, pepper and mocha, the tannins are softer than you’d expect and the nose is more floral. This is a wine that lingers nicely. It’s great for your heavier winter meals, or even for grilled foods in the summer.

White pinot noir: not a hit

7 Jul

Or, more specifically, white pinot nero since it’s from Italy. My friend Yoko at Winestone had been in the hunt for this for a couple of years. Since she’s got better industry/distributor connections, all I could contribute to this was my encouragement and best wishes.

So let me tell you about Vercesi del Castellazzo Gugiarolo Pinot Nero Blanco straight away. It was funky. And not in a cool way. Kind of like higher-class Zima, with a similar fruity, over yeasted taste. Avoid, avoid, avoid. Pic to come to help you identify this.

Ciao, Apulia: Or a very nice evening with Puglian wines

18 May

Puglia (aka Apulia to the paisans) is basically the southeast heel of the Capezio boot that is italy, running for more than 200 miles along the Adriatic Sea, and mostly known for negroamaro and primitivo, and in the 1970s, crappy vermouth. It’s a region that quite frankly gets overlooked: southern Italy is poorer than the more glamorous north in general–and when you add all the super-powered wine regions up there, it’s hard to blame consumers who never drink past Umbria on the map.

You can find Puglian wines around here, but you have to look (start with Wine Bottega and Vinodivino for starters). The few I’ve had were quite enjoyable, but if you don’t think to look for them you don’t think to ask for them.

Masseria Celentano, Casaltrinita, Cantine Teanum, Botromagno

Some of the Apulian fabulosity.

Well, a passel of winemakers there are aiming to change that. Every single email I got over the past week seemed to have some event in town for the Puglia posse. These guys were booking it all over town, meeting the industry and the well-heeled likely consumer, culminating at a dual tasting at the WGBH studios for consumers and then for the Red White Boston Tasting Crew.

What struck me most was that many of the wines, both red and white, had a marked salt water taste. At first, you’d think this would be kind of nasty–I mean, salt water is what you drink when you really really really need to throw up after a night of epic alcohol consumption when you’re 16 and need to leave the slumber party and go home to your parents. (Or so I’ve heard. And don’t try this at home, kids. But I digress.)

But Puglia’s location, on the ocean, in a warm-weather region, means that the grapes have a pretty nice life and conditions to grow and ripen and all that stuff that could lead to decadence and wonderfully luxurious, unctuous fruit flavors. The salinity reins all that potential excess in so that wines end up being crisp and palate-teasing, with a good balance between fruit and acid.

Two of the standout grapes (Italy’s got something like 3,000 native varieties; you’re forgiven for not remembering these, LOL) were new to me:

Caseltrinita nero di troia

Caseltrinita's nero di troia

Nero di Troia: one of the unusual features about this red grape is that it ripens late in the fall. In Italy, it’s been grown for volume, to be a “filler” grape. The stuff we had tonight tasted a lot more developed for only being a couple of years old–the tannins weren’t causing me to scrape my teeth down with barbed wire like a lot of young Italian reds do. And, again, the salinity was present. To be honest, Italy has a lot of cock-of-the-walk badass reds, so nero di troia might be a hard sell to most people who love their nebbiolo, unless a winery could appeal to the budget-conscious types. These would be a pretty kickass bargain.

Greco: To be specific, greco bianco, imported from Greece nearly 3,000 years ago. No less an authority than Oz Clarke calls Botromagno one of the finer producers of it, even if he isn’t particularly effusive about it, calling its peachy briskness “often rather good in a neutral sort of way.” The 60/40 Greco/white malvasia blend was crisp like a Torrontes from Argentina–but it comes from Gravina, a small DOC–so small in fact, Botromagno is the only grower there.

One of the biggest, most pleasant surprises of the evening was Aglianico: Get it young, and it’s a brat of a wine: tannic and overbearing, especially if you don’t pair it with big overbearing protein-packed food. The two served last night were both pretty well-behaved. Cantine Teanum’s Otre Aglianico was a big hit for me: super brandied cherries and strawberries, rhubarb and pencil shavings (hey, that kid who ate paste in your second grade class was on to something) were held nicely in check by the saline quality of the wine. Botromagno’s Pier delle Vigne was a 60-40 Aglianico-Montepulciano blend; this one had more of a grainy “chaff” taste to it, like barley or hay, and a sulfurish “matchsticky” bite. Interesting in its own way.

Puglian white wine moscato sauvignon blanc

One of the WGBH Apulian stanadouts

Masseria Celentano’s La Preta deserves to be a cult wine someday—another example of excess and restraint. It had a luxurious nose of honeysuckle, floral and pollen, orange blossom, dry melon and mango—and counterbalanced with tobacco (which is often said about reds) and that saline taste. It’s a blend of 70% moscato and 30% sauvignon blanc. I would have preferred maybe 25-28% sauvignon blanc to make it a little less dry, but hell, I’ll take it if I can ever find it again.

Gravisano Malvasia Passita was another big win for Apulia—it was the kind of dessert wine that would make Jerez shake in their soleras in fear, or, as my pal Jason Phelps at Ancient Fire Wine thought, Canadian icewine makers. Sweet without being cloying or diabetes-inducing. Believe me, when we got to take home the leftovers, I yoinked that one forthwith.

More Puglians from the evening

As is typical of Puritan over-regulated Massachusetts, the kicker is that these wines aren’t available here yet, so bookmark this page and check back, or print it out and take it to your local wine outfitter and tell them to tell their distributors to get on the stick. Or find a sympathetic friend in another state to front for you.

So what about you? Any good experiences–travel, gustatory or otherwise–from Puglia?

Recipe: White Trash Yuppie Sangria

11 Apr

So, I finally started my taxes today. Unfortunately, the IRS won’t let me claim the 120 bottles in my wine collection as dependents so I can be a welfare queen and get my own reality show parading my utter lack of remorse and accountability around.

Instead, I’m scrabbling around the local packie for cast-off scratch tickets to claim as gambling losses my files to find scads of deductibles to get that 1099 income liability under control (I have a side copywriting business doing both sassy catalog descriptions for some Big Brand Names and really staid by-the-book financial writing on Your Retirement and Why It’s The Most Expensive and Important Purchase You’ll Ever Make. Hey, versatility!). Oh, and then I helped the Gin Savant do his taxes, and he’s getting a shitload of cash back. Which means he’s now on the hook to take me to Menton this time.

So to cope with the sticker shock of being a freeborn resident of these United States of ‘Merica, I scavenged around chez moi to help take the edge off:

• 4-5 oz (Who knows, I didn’t measure) of whatever red wine you’ve got near at hand or open (pictured: Albino Armani Foja Tonda Casetta, Urban Grape, $26)
• 6.5 oz cheap-ass strawberry soda
about half a shot of Trimbach Kirsch because that’s all that was left in the bottle (Blanchard’s Jamaica Plain, about $28)
• A squeeze of pre-fab lime juice (you’re poor. You can’t afford fresh)
• A medium-handed pour of Trader Joe’s simple syrup
• A heavy hand of Luxardo cherries and syrup (I yielded two cherries)

Stir with chopstick.

Measurements? Proportions? Hell, I’m not good with numbers; I’m a writer. Do what feels right. Add Dole canned fruit cocktail if you got it. Just make sure you have some spirits in with the wine.

I suppose if “white trash” is offensive to some, they can call it “Thrifty Girl Sangria” or “Cheapskate Calimotxo” or “Uncle Sam Hates Me.”

#70 Fer Servadou

22 Mar

Ignore the messy kitchen table.

I had to ask the sales associate three times to repeat the name of this grape. Never, ever heard of it before. She said it was one she was currently enjoying herself at home, especially with lamb.

Gaillac is in southwest France, and supposedly was the site of the oldest Roman vineyards back in the Asterix et Obelix days it was called Gaul. They have their own spin on Beaujolais Nouveau that they release in November as well, called Primeur, and is, hopefully, less galling.

I found it like a mildly spicier Pinot Noir: peppery and briny, yet eminently drinkable and friendly. It matched up well with blue cheese shortbread, and cheese and saucisson sec avec herbs de Provence. Yeah, I’m throwing in dime-store French since I never get to use it anymore. Fer also means iron, and that comes from the wood’s toughness, not the wine’s drinkability. This was tres bien.

If you can pick some up, do so.

Domaine Philemon Croix d’Azal 2008, Gaillac
Urban Grape, $12 (the orphan shelf. All gone. Sorry.)

# 207 Fernao Pires

17 Mar

The Ribatejo DOC, southwestyish Portugal, is not too far from Lisbon. It’s an extremely important wine region there, and Fernao Pires is Portugal’s #1 white grape. Jancis says it produces “simple, honeyed, and sometimes slightly spicy dry white wine.” Not really.

There are two ways I could describe this wine: 1) You pet a sleeping dog that starts humping your leg aggressively. 2) You’re at a bar, looking for a little action. You acquaint yourself with a young lass, retire to one’s quarters, and she turns out to be a way freaky lady-boy. (I dated a guy who had “sleep with tranny hooker” on his bucket list. Crossed off. That was the least of his issues. But I digress.)

Basically, this wine was watery and blah until it hit the back of the throat, and then it took a bad turn into Oxidation Junction. This thing got shrill. The label says it’s such a great match for fruit and cheese. The only way I could drink this stuff was with a hunk of smoked cheddar. Then it tasted okay, but I think it was the smoke that was dulling my taste buds into thinking all was well once again in Mouthland.

Quinta do Alqueve 2008, $12.

#157: Rkatsiteli

12 Sep

Rkatsiteli is a white varietal that was popularly grown in the former Soviet Union, and is still big there in places like Romania, Georgia and Hungary. Westport Rivers here in Massachusetts grows it, and their 2006 is what I tried.

To me, this was a lazy wine: the equivalent of a bloated Politburo member. Wines are supposed to evolve and change as you first taste it, swirl it around your mouth, and swallow. Nope, this one left for the dacha.

I kept thinking “farmyard” and tasted what seemed like cooked grass or peas. I hate peas–was forced to eat too many that came from a can as a child. (Full disclosure. Trying to be an ethical blogger, blah blah.) But objectively speaking, the finish was over as soon as I swallowed (oh, get your mind out of the gutter), which, as a lot of wine-types will tell you, isn’t cool. It tasted better the colder it got, but I really wasn’t interested in continuing down that path.

Verdict: like listening to a Ke$ha song if you’re over 26. Interesting for the first 37 seconds and then that’s more than enough.

Brookline Liquor Mart, $22.99