A little time has passed since I've had a chance to dig into the mailbag and give some well-deserved recognition to some of the readers who have graciously added their suggestions. So, without further adieu…
Cycles Gladiator 2004 Merlot -- When a bartender gives an honest recommendation, listen. JenJen, the Tavern Wench herself, mentioned this merlot several weeks ago in a comment on my merlot column and I decided to give it a swing. Cycles Gladiator was a French bicycle company in the 1890's, and the wine label (to which JenJen also referred) bears the artwork from those old posters.
This merlot is one of the more interesting I've tried in awhile. The nose is very full -- and, to me, smells like what in WineSpeak they call "cassis" -- which to the rest of the world would be currant. There's also a little chocolate smell mixed in. The taste is wonderfully complex for a wine this inexpensive. There's a solid plummy flavor that gets balanced by a little acidity. You might read descriptions of the tannins in wine as "chewy." If you want a good example, try this wine -- it's got very rich body along those lines. There's a little more acidity on the finish that you'll find in many merlots, but that rapidly gives way to a nice dark chocolate flavor. While all merlots are relatively food friendly -- this one's got enough body and structure to hold up to even a good cut of steak. But it'll work with almost anything -- from mac and cheese to duck. If you're still wary of merlot, hop on the Cycles for $8-10. Like they say, you never really forget how.
Also, make sure you pay the Tavern Wench a visit. If you've ever wondered what those folks pouring your drinks on the other side of the bar are thinking -- it's a must-read. JenJen gives you an Anthony Bourdain look at the world of bartending -- except she's considerably easier on the eyes.
Santa Ema 2004 Barrel Select Carmenere -- In my Chilean column, I made a erroneous statement about Carmenere, one of the red wine grapes common in
The Santa Ema is the first Carmenere I've had the fortune to try. A quick swirl brings a fairly light nose that reminds me of chocolate covered berries. This wine has moderately tannic taste and medium body. It's not quite as big as the Cycles, for instance, but it won't be easily overwhelmed. The taste is a little less fruity than most merlots. Instead, if you were looking for a comparison, it's got an earthy taste similar to some French merlots -- although not nearly as complex. The finish is longer than most merlots, and certainly drier. You could probably enjoy the Santa Ema with many of the same foods you'd get with the Cycles. While my good fortune was to try this wine, there wasn't a fortune spent. Look for this in the $8-9 range.
RDLR 2003 Syrah -- The Wizard of Covington raves about this wine. When he told me about the RDLR (which stands either for Rich Dark Luscious Red or winemaker Richard de los Reyes, depending on who you ask…) he said, "Make sure you open this wine half an hour before you drink it. You won't believe it when you do."
He wasn't kidding -- because he knew I can't let a bottle sit unopened for a half hour without trying it. When we cracked the bottle and poured a bit, I tried to drink it straightaway and was disappointed. I could tell there was an interesting bouquet in there somewhere, but it was masked by an alcohol smell that could be termed "fumey." I endeavored to let this inky wine breathe for at least a little while. When I tried it again after half an hour, the difference was marked. The "fumes" disappear -- leaving you with dark blueberry and blackberry scents, combined with coffee. The RDLR is a big, big wine. Lots of complexity -- more of that dark fruit, good tannin, and some oak. The finish is extremely well-balanced, a little peppery, and goes on and on. While not for wine drinkers that prefer lighter-styled wines…if you want a powerful, juicy wine to kick back with or serve with something that's got some fat in it (beef, lamb, cassoulet, sausage pizza, etc.) to cut the tannins, you'll not be disappointed. The RDLR is right at the edge of the Vine's price range. It normally sells for around $15 or a little over, but I found it on sale for $11 -- so I decided to include it.
The Wizard shares his lair, Width of a Circle, with a few friends. He muses on…well…just about everything...in his own indomitable style, and I've visited few websites whose recommended links run from Derrida to Bill Hicks to CREEM! Online.
Until next time, keep the suggestions coming and the wine flowing…