Yet another tasting at Mission Wines, this time with my co-workers: Erica, who resembles a surly Irishman the more she drinks; Denny, the soft-spoken yet outrageous DJ who somehow lost his way coming back from the restroom to his turntables at some dark club and found himself working in a cubicle on the ground floor of LegalZoom.com; and Katherine, a newbie whose only distinguishing feature to me at the present time is her being Korean. And female. (Kidding, Katherine! You’re not female.)
Manning (Peyton? Eli? Archie or Cooper?) or, if you will, womanning the bar was Debbie, a delightful woman who crossed over years back from Colorado to pursue a love of wine. Heck, I would drive hundreds of miles for wine. In fact, that’s the primary reason I head up to Berkeley so often (sorry Jonathan!). She served us the five wines on the menu, as well as two more “bonus” pours.
The wines were:
J. Hofstatter “De Vite” Pinot Grigio | Alto Adige, Italy | 2005 | $11.99
We took turns writing tasting notes. My notes for this wine were “uber-light.” Kat’s notes were a star surrounded by a circle, along with the word “unfabulous”, which I’m not even sure is a word (thanks, spell check!). This pinot grigio was too light, too insubstantial. It was citrusy, which isn’t a bad thing, but to my palate at least it also seemed to have that plasticine taste I abhor in whites. As Mark Oldman notes in his Guide to Outsmarting Wine, much pinot grigio is “often like experiencing an IKEA rug, Ben Stein’s voice, or a dose of Paxil: neutral, monotone, and devoid of highs.” And watery. The region of Alto Adige is apparently home to some more “interesting versions” of pinot grigio, but this particular bottle was not one of them.
Heidi Schrock “White Blend” Muscat | Rust, Austria | 2006 | $26.99
A much better wine than the first. Exhibited a huge, sweet bouquet like honey or roses that gave way to an extremely dry, austere wine in the mouth. Like smelling a rose then, maybe in a fit of passion, eating a petal. Katherine gave this wine five stars.
(Note about Kat’s ranking system: she only gives either one star or five. So she really likes a wine or really hates it. Much like how most people judge her. Kidding again!)
Elizabeth Spencer “Special Cuvee” Pinot Noir | Sonoma Coast, California | 2006 | $32.99
You know–I’m not really a big fan of pinot noir. I know, I know–who am I to argue with Miles from Sideways, right? The best pinot noirs I’ve had were very different in price. I tried the heralded Sea Smoke Southing pinot noir from the Santa Rita Hills of California–oh God. It was probably the best wine I’ve ever had in my life. That one two-ounce taste set me back like $8.00, I think, but it was worth it. The MacMurray pinot noir from the Russian River Valley, which is around $17 – $20, is a great, easy, and affordable pinot noir.
Usually, though, pinot noirs seem too… light for me. I like wines (and women) with a bit of heft. I also like wines (and women) that stain your teeth. (The implications here frighten me… forget I ever wrote that.) The Elizabeth Spencer pinot was… like heaven if it were on the California coast line. Plum, prune, earth, balanced so delicately and with such trembling fragility. A poem in a glass, if ever there was one. And an expensive poem, at that.
Kat gave this one five stars. She didn’t write anymore notes after this one.
Seghesio Zinfandel | Sonoma County, California | 2006 | $17.99
Jammy. Pretty decent. Good with chocolate. Nothing really to write home about, though.
Atalays de Golban Tempranillo | Ribera del Duero, Spain | 2005 | $23.99
A moderately full, tannic wine that to me reflects the dry river Duero in Spain. Pretty good, though you have a comparable tempranillo in the Conde de Valdemar Rioja reserva for less money (around $17.00). For a great Ribera del Duero, though, go for the Tinto Pesquera crianza: so complex, with loads of flavor and spice (around $35.00).
I pointed out to Debbie that all the Ribera del Duero labels have structures… like towers, or castles, or other man-made edifices. At this point, though, I was pretty buzzed so I could not for the life of me remember the name “Tinto Pesquera.” She nodded at me and smiled, just as many people seem to do with me.
The first was a barbaresco from the Produttori del Barbaresco collective in Piedmont, Italy. Made from nebbiolo, this was very, very light–lighter than the Elizabeth Spencer pinot noir–but substantial nonetheless. I got the taste of raisin, licorice, red… stuff. Light but not fragile. Kind of… another incarnation of what the pinot noir might have been, perhaps?
The second was some wine made by some customer of Mission Wines! He bought the grapes himself and made them into a wine that was powerful, extremely spicy–peppery, even–and tannic as heck. No one knew what kind of grapes he used as he himself was not there at the moment. But it was cool to be able to sample a wine from someone who presumably lives in South Pasadena or a neighboring city.
WINE PICK OF THE WEEK
Probably pretty obvious, but the Elizabeth Spencer was the clear winner for me. The next time I have $32.99 + tax lying around, I will head over the Mission Wines and buy a bottle. It won’t be soon.