Monday, December 15, 2014

Naked Vine One Hitter – Faust, Five Years’ Future

In March 2009, I took my first spin through the Cincinnati International Wine Festival, doing my level best to spin and sip my way through most every booth in the place. The sheer number of tastings I did eventually overwhelmed me, my taste buds, and – as you can see – my tooth enamel. 

I find it fascinating to read my old reviews from a few years back to see how my palate has changed as time’s gone by. Before the decade’s turn, I was much more into big, extracted red wines like merlot, cabernet sauvignon, and zinfandel. (“Extracted” is WineSpeak for “Wine made in such a way as to concentrate the flavors, producing a bigger, generally fruitier, and more “in your face” wine.)

When I wrote up my experiences from that day, the wines I chose as my “Best in Show” was the 2006 “Faust” Cabernet Sauvignon from Huneeus Vintners in Napa Valley. The wine, to no surprise, is named for the protagonist in the famous work by the German poet Goethe. Here’s what I wrote back then:
“Maybe it was the name that piqued by devilish curiosity. Maybe it was the powerful black cherry, fresh tobacco, and blackberry flavors that cut through everything else that I'd tasted up to that point. Maybe it was the tannins, strong but without taking away from the fruit and the finish that seemed to go on for days. Whatever deal was struck by these winemakers, they put together an absolutely delicious cabernet -- likely in my personal Top 10 of that varietal all time. Probably will set you back around $55, but considering that "high end" Napa cabernet sauvignons are selling for literally hundreds of dollars a bottle, run with this as a splurge and hold on to your soul.”
A bit of youthful hyperbole? Sure thing – but it *was* a really good wine which had enough power to blast its way through the thick coating of tannin that was undoubtedly wrapped around my tongue by the time I tried it on that March day. While I hadn’t run into an occasion to pick up a bottle over the years, I always remembered it, and I was excited for the notion of having my way with an entire bottle of the stuff!

Fast forward to late 2014. Your favorite companion in the wine review world got an email from Toby at Fineman PR, asking me if I’d like to sample the 2011 vintage of Faust. With memories of my previous brief dance with this devil in my mind, I quickly agreed.

Much like it’s namesake’s winding journey to salvation in that German poem, this bottle took some time to get to me. A bit of a shipping mishap and some ridiculous state import laws kept the bottle from me for a time, but Toby eventually succeeded in getting me a bottle of the just-released 2012 vintage. I did some decanting, grilled up some veal loin chops, rousted the Sweet Partner in Crime from her end-of-semester grading and set to tasting.

OK, first off – “extracted” still qualifies as an apt descriptor here. This is a Napa cab, through and through. Most of what I wrote for the 2006 holds true today. There are still big, bold red and black fruits on the nose and on the palate, which is rich and packed with tannin that definitely needs some air to unwind. The finish is long and chewy. It smooths out a bit as the evening winds on.

Since this is the just-dropped vintage, I thought it’s still drinking pretty young. Six more months in bottle would do the integration of this wine a world of good. The SPinC was more succinct, “It’s just too much for me,” she quipped, “I remember loving wines like this, but my palate just isn’t set up for this one anymore.” I understood where she was coming from. I still liked it more than she did.

With the veal chops, I was pleased with the pairing, but I wasn’t blown away by it. It was a good red wine pairing, but I didn’t think it was quite $55 good. Now, next to a piece of dark chocolate towards the end of the evening, I would have at least entertained an offer for a small piece of my aforementioned soul. Really super there.

For fans of premium California cabernet, I think you’re going to be pleased with this wine. If you’re looking for a holiday gift for a special someone, it’s a pretty solid option. I could certainly see the potential – especially if one were to lay a few bottles of this down for awhile. It’s certainly got the “bones” that could potentially mature into something really special.

The price for Faust remains the same -- $55. I also see that Huneeus is producing a couple of single-vineyard reserve wines inspired by Faust’s story called “The Lure” and “The Pact” which retail for $75 apiece.

Saturday, December 06, 2014

Naked Vine One-Hitter -- No Need to Rue-da Day: Naiades Rueda

My jaunts down the Spanish aisle in the usually results in an impulse buy or two , largely because I know that I can’t go too far afield. Spain’s wines, especially their whites, are remarkably consistent, flavorwise. More importantly, I’ve found inexpensive Spanish wines handle age better than their similarly-priced counterparts from almost anywhere else in the world, so if there's a discounted bottle from last year's vintage, I can snag it without worry that I'm picking up a bottle that's over the hill.

[Protip: The “end of year clearance” sales are in full-force at your local wine stores as we speak, so if you’re choosing between 2010 whites from Spain and…say…California in the under $10 price range, pick the Spanish one every time.]

In Spain, the most popular white wine comes from a region called Rueda, which is northwest of Madrid. Rueda wines are primarily composed of the Verdejo grape, although some winemakers also include Sauvignon Blanc, Viura, and Palomino grapes in the blend. The wines tend to be crisp and acidic, generally featuring flavors of peaches and tropical fruits. Rueda’s also relatively inexpensive, so it certainly makes its way onto my radar.

Tatiana from Colangelo reached out to me, offering a sample of a Rueda called “Naia” to review. Before she could ship it to me, they ran out of samples. Fortunately, they had a bottle of Bodegas Naia’s first-label wine, the Naiades 2010 Rueda Blanco, for me to try instead. Most Rueda I see are under $15, and the Naia retailed for $13. Naiades' “first label” status has it retailing for $26. How was it?

The Naiades started me with honeysuckle and orange cream on the nose, followed with a little bit of a honey taste up front. There's considerable amounts of mineral and lemon on the palate. The finish is smooth and fruity, especially as the wine warms a bit, and there’s a slight oakiness at the back end. The mineral and lemon remind me a little bit of a Chablis, but the overall feel has a little more richness. I thought it made a nice accompaniment to a recipe I tried where I marinated chicken breasts in mango sorbet. The chicken is then grilled, sliced and served over a bed of shredded red and green cabbage, tossed with chopped scallions, cilantro, and a dressing of more melted sorbet, soy sauce, fish sauce, and some other yummies.

It’s definitely a good wine. Is it $26 good? I’d say that’s a few dollars high, all in all, but if you see it discounted, snag it for sure. Also, I would imagine that there’s little way that the Naia would be “half as good” at $13. If its big brother is any indication, it’ll be a very good value at that price. 

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Bye Bye, Black Box

By this point in our online relationship, none of you should be surprised that I keep box wine around the house. As I've said before, I don’t keep it because it’s necessarily great wine. I keep it because I don’t always want to open up great wine. There are plenty of decent ones out there for when you just feel like being an unthinking sipper.

So long, Farewell, Auf Wiedersehen, Goodbye.
With a sense of regret, however, I must report that I'm swearing off the Naked Vine's unofficial-but-most-often-in-the-fridge "house wine," Black Box Sauvignon Blanc.

I'm not saying farewell because the wine's bad. Honestly, it's as good a box white as I've come across in my various samplings and sloshings. No...the problem, honestly, is a mechanical one.

Almost all box wines come with some sort of spigot at the bottom -- all the better to actually pour the wine. A few months back, I got a box of the Blanc just as I'd done on numerous occasions, chilled it, opened it up, poured a glass, and popped the box back in the fridge, thinking nothing of it.

I came back about an hour later to a big ol' mess.

The spigot didn't seal properly, and wine had leaked all over the top shelf of the fridge. Cursing a bit, I cleaned up the mess, laid the box on its back, and figured it was a one-off problem.

Until I got the next box. And the next box. That's three in a row. All leaky. All messy. All making the Sweet Partner in Crime and I very unhappy.

I went away from Black Box for awhile. Tried a couple of other boxes. Figured there might just have been a bad batch floating around. Since the Black Box Sauvignon is a fairly popular wine around these parts, I figured that the law of averages was in my favor. So, right before the Thanksgiving holiday, I decided to shoot the dice and pick up another box. The box got opened at some point during our Big Feed prep. Again, the box sat innocuously on the top shelf, and I didn't think anything of it...

...until the day after our family meal. Yes, another leaky box, and this one had some gumption. I'd estimate that probably a third of the box -- yes, that's a full liter of wine -- leaked into the fridge. Cleanup, as you might guess, was unpleasant with a fridge full of leftovers, stray vegetables, bottles of things, and various other sundries.

If Black Box decides to redesign their spigot or find a new spout manufacturer, I could be enticed to return to the fold. For now, though -- I'm on the hunt for another good box of sluggable white. Any of you out there in Vine-land have suggestions?