Thursday, September 15, 2016

Wine for Rehab Addicts

Home renovation shows are the Sweet Partner in Crime’s guilty pleasure. Especially the one where
an inordinately attractive person finds a suitably run-down or outdated target, starts a renovation, bickers and banters, runs into a complication that chews up the budget – but still manages to create a beautiful entryway out of wood reclaimed from an old gazebo they borrowed from a property up the road just in time for the big reveal…you know, that one. Or that one.

What does this have to do with wine? Well, we all like shiny things.

There’s an apocryphal “study” – that I’ve never been able to actually find anywhere – which allegedly states that the average person takes 38 seconds to select a bottle of wine. I’m not sure how exactly to read that. Were they controlling for the size of the wine store? Did they include choosing whether a person knew they were looking for red Burgundy or California Chardonnay?

Regardless...if you’re an everyday wine drinker, unless you have a particular bottle that go back to time and time again, wine buying is largely an impulse purchase. There’s the glance at the rack, a price comparison, a quick scan of any Parkerish scores that happen to be on the shelf, and the “Is a $10 wine at 88 points going to be different from this $15 at 90?” cross-reference.

And, of course, a purchaser looks at the label. Wine producers know this. We’re a long way from the days of plain wine labels with a winery, a region, a varietal, and a vintage. Bottle labels are packed with information now – tasting notes, food pairings, stories about how the wineries came to be. Each meant to distinguish one bottle from another, so a wine consumer can find what they’re looking for.

The current state of wine label marketing has been called “label porn” as producers try out newer, more eye catching, more quick-catchy displays and label artwork. Walk into any contemporary wine store and you’re deluged with an overwhelming array of funky fonts, cute art, and bright colors.

But cleverness only goes so far. Once everyone starts getting clever, then the buy me now message gets diluted. With all this variation, how can a producer get their bottle to call out “Pick me!”

One possible way? Make the bottle itself look different. Bargain-basement wines have done this for years – jugs of Almaden, lozenges of Mateus and Lancer, straw-covered cheap Chianti, or the hangovered fortifications of Black Tower are regulars. But among “normal” wines, a few standard bottle shapes and colors rule the shelves.

After getting a couple of interestingly-bottled samples, I popped down to Big Wine Store and did a pass through the aisles to snag a couple other interesting containers, with the notion of “When I’m done drinking this, could I repurpose the bottle into some interesting artifact” in mind:

Astoria 2014 “Caranto” Pinot Noir – Pinot isn’t something I usually think of when I think of Italian wine, but I’m always up for new things. Apparently, Pinot Noir grows in the northeastern corner of Italy, near Venice. I was quite pleasantly surprised by the quality of the wine. I’m used to lighter Italian grapes like Sangiovese and Valpolicella yielding light bodied wines – but this Pinot had a surprising amount of oomph. Nice palate weight with raspberries and cherries combining silkily. Smooth smoky tannins are nicely balanced and yield a smoky finish. It’s a solid wine. I was stunned to see it listed for around $11. A great value in this stubby, high shouldered bottle.

Vilarnau (NV) Brut Reserva Cava – Let’s just give props first for the beautiful label design – a colorful mosaic-ish riot of color that easily stands out from a row of Cava. I make no bones about my enjoyment of Cava, one of my favorite “Don’t think” sparklers, but this one gets a few bonus points from me. First, it’s a “brut” that’s actually brut. Many brut Cava either lack fruit flavors or taste like they have extra residual sugar. This wine has some lovely green apple and yeast aromas, but the palate is dry, crisp, and refreshing. One of the more complex, balanced Cava at its price point. And pretty!

Gérard Bertrand 2015 “Cote des Roses” Languedoc Rosé  -- A truly unique bottle style, tall and tapered, with the bottom of the bottle cut into the shape of a rose blossom, so you can show up at your intended’s door like:

The wine itself is minerally and crisp, with light strawberry and citrus flavors. I found lemon peel and stone on the finish. A really versatile rosé, workable with anything from porchtime sipping to spicy pork dishes. You should be able to find this for around $13.

The curved, feminine lines of the Aimé Roquesante 2015 Cotes de Provence Rosé also caught my eye in the pink aisle. This inexpensive, dry, strawberry-filled quaffer that looks lovely in both the bottle and glass. The salmony color is backed with a lean, zingy acidity and and friendly fruity finish. An excellent value at $10, as well.

Finally, while traipsing through the store, I came across a cute little high shouldered bottle, the Scholium Project 2009 Lost Slough Vineyards “Riquewihr” Gewurztraminer. The Scholium Project does small batches of grapes from interesting vineyards, using natural fermentation and long aging. Their small lots are mirrored in their small bottles. I likely would have let this one pass if it hadn’t been on deep sale, as for 500ml, it would have run $35+. This Gewurz, sourced from a vineyard outside Sacramento, fooled me into thinking it was a Viognier with its perfumey nose of peach blossoms that marches quickly into a minerally, Alsatian characteristic. Honestly, it was a very interesting wine, while not my favorite.

Now that you’ve got some extra glassware, let your ideas for objects d’art run wild. While my own mind generally doesn’t run towards design, I hope the SPinC will enjoy this:

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