The Naked Vine’s social calendar has been loaded the last couple of weekends. As I posted before, I had the opportunity to lead one tasting and emcee another (and thanks to all of you who showed up and hopefully enjoyed the events!). When the dust cleared, one ended up being extremely educational. The other…well…
The first tasting was at Water Tower Fine Wines. David & Jan Lazarus and I opened a spread of what was originally going to be six wines, but expanded to 11 when all was said and done. My intent was to do a comparison tasting of Pinot gris/grigio and Grenache.
We started with the whites. In case you’re curious about the naming conventions, it’s “pinot grigio” in Italy and “pinot gris” in France. In the U.S., it’s named (as far as I can tell) after whichever style the wine most resembles. With the PG’s, I had these three to offer:
- Ca’ Brigiano Pinot Grigio Bennati Italy 2009 ($9-11)
- Lucien Albrecht Pinot Gris Cuvee Romanus Alsace 2008 ($17-20)
- Willamette Valley Vineyards Pinot Gris 2009 ($14-17)
I thought the first two were good representations of Italian and French (Alsatian) versions of this grape. The Ca’Brigiano was light and acidic. Pool wine. Lots of crisp lime flavor. The Albrecht was a fuller wine, much richer and almost creamy. Much more tropical fruit. The color was markedly different. The Alsatian version had almost a coppery, honeyed color that matched the flavor. I thought, personally, it was the more interesting of the two.
In this case, if you had a continuum with Italy on one side and France on the other, this one would be about ¾ of the way to Alsace. The wine’s flavors tended towards apple and pear with some of that rich honey flavor coming through as well. I thought it lovely.
I admit…I have a crush on Grenache (Get it? Crush! Grenache! I made a wine funny!) The grape’s exceedingly broad potential for flavor and ability to change markedly based on terroir fascinates me. After tasting the wines, I poured them in a couple of “sets:”
- Espelt Old Vines Garnacha Emporda Spain 2009
- Evodia Old Vines Garnacha Altovinum Calatayud Spain 2009
The first two provided a fascinating contrast at about the same price – $10-12. Both wines are 100% Grenache. Same winery, same winemaker (although not marketed as such). However, the grapes from the first came from vineyards close to sea level, while the other was from vineyards planted around 3,000 feet. The climate at the Evodia’s high altitude tends to vary much more widely (hotter days, cooler nights) while the Espelt enjoys a more stable temperature. The result? The Evodia emerged a bigger, jammier, more in-your-face wine with blackberry and cherry flavors. The Espelt was softer, richer, and more complex. If you want an American parallel, think about the difference between red wines from Napa or Sonoma vs. Oregon. Both were extremely tasty.
Next up: soil vs. soil!
- Las Rocas Garnacha San Alejandro Calatayud Spain 2007
- Dom Mirelle & Vincent Cotes du Rhone 2007
As a point of clarification, Cotes du Rhone are blends -- not straight Grenache. CdR’s from the Southern Rhone are usually Grenache-based (rather than syrah-based). These two wines, also both around $12-15, were a fascinating contrast of “Spanish earthy” vs. “France earthy.” The CdR had the classic “Old World Funk” –a little like a barnyard. The Los Rocas had much more of a “digging in the garden” earth. The CdR had a mushroom flavor undertone, while the Los Rocas had more of a charcoal taste. Neither would have been “crack and drink” wines, but either would be spectacular earthy food pairing wines.
Finally, we poured the Quivira Grenache Wine Creek Ranch Dry Creek Valley California 2008. This was normally around a $30 bottle, but it was on sale that day for $21. This was a California Grenache. The Quivera bore no resemblance to either the French or Spanish Grenaches or to the jug Grenache you may have seen. This is a beautifully constructed wine – balanced and powerful. Plums and strawberries on the nose with a rich fruity flavor that eases into a harmony of tannin, pepper, and interesting acidity. This wine is a foodie’s swiss army knife. I can imagine it going with steak as easily as fish. Try. You’ll like.
So, this other tasting… For the third year in a row, the Madisonville Education and Assistance Center has asked me to lead the wine tasting at their annual fundraiser. When I started giving my spiel, I noted that the tasting had the potential to be one of the most interesting social experiments ever recorded in the wine world.
The tasting, as in previous years, was a blind tasting. Unlike past years, there wasn’t a varietal theme. Last year, for instance, was “Sauvignons of Spring.” We had a collection of sauvignon blancs and a collection of cabernet sauvignon. That straightforward this year? Heck, no.
The theme was: “ABC – Anywhere But California.” A no-holds-barred varietal free-for-all. “Red” or “White” was the only certainty. An unsuspecting taster could get a Riesling next to a Chardonnay, an Aussie Shiraz next to a South African Pinotage. Wine judges would run screaming.
The tasting lasted a couple of hours. Folks sampled, scribbled notes, sampled, swished, pretended to spit, and went back for more. At the end of the evening, people voted on their favorite wines – the top two won a prize. What rose from the carnage of our collective palate?
The most “favorited” white was a Trebbiano/Pinot Grigio blend that tasted (to me) like water. The most “favorited” red? A blueberry wine. I have no idea where it was from, who made it, etc. I was literally too dumbfounded to make a mental note. #3 was an Arbor Mist “Tropical Fruits” Chardonnay, followed by a “soft rosé wine,” again from somewhere I can’t remember.
How did a bunch of low-end, cheap wines end up being favorites? I felt like the slogan on the “Meetings” Demotivational Poster: “None of us is as dumb as all of us.”
The commonality is that they’re all very “easy to drink,” much in the same way that fruit juice is very easy to drink. In this social situation like, people aren’t doing much quiet, careful evaluation. They simply need social lubricant – and cheap wine’s been playing that role for millenia. So, while we didn’t create any new science, we all certainly had ourselves a good ol’ time and raised some cash for a good cause – which was, after all, the point.