The Dangers of Buying New Wine: or, How Picking Out Wine is a Lot Like Chinese Food

17 Feb

My family has really gotten behind my drinking–er, wine blog adventure. My brother won over my mom for me by saying I could make a lot of money in the upcoming years by selling ad space. Thus, my boozing has become synonymous with “investing for the future”, and if anyone has ever had ANY experience with Asian families, investing for the future = awesome.

Thus, it stands to reason that I must drink a lot of wine to produce the material for the blog. (Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck, Jack Kerouac, and every other writer known to man would probably attest to alcohol’s magical creative properties.) I’m not an economist, but I believe this is what’s known as the “trickle-down effect.” Right?

Over the past week I had three reds I’d like to write a bit about:

1 | 2005 Piqueras Monastrell | Almansa, Spain | $9.99
Intense, deep. A bit closed at first, though it opened up tremendously in the glass (the second day was great!). The tannins were very pronounced. Tasted blackberries, spice, leather. The Korean in me tasted jujubes, which are dried red dates: these are sweet and bitter at the same time, and have a distinct mouthfeel I detected in the Piqueras.

Monastrell is also known as mourvèdre in France and is often used in Rhone-style blends. It is often blended with grenache, which gives the mourvèdre a softer edge.

I had the Piqueras a few weeks ago at a Mission Wines tasting with Erica and her bf Jack, Kat, and Jack’s friend, Liz, from New York. We liked it so much then that Liz bought three bottles. I went back three days ago and bought a bottle for myself. A great buy: affordable, with a helluva lotta personality.

2 | 2005 Chateau Festiano | Minervois, France | $8.99
The new Whole Foods on Arroyo sells a good deal of wine and beer. I spied this bottle in the “French” section and was instantly intrigued. It reminded me a bit of l’Esprit du Silene because it’s also from the Languedoc region of France–the Esprit is from the Coteaux du Languedoc appellation, whereas the Festiano is from Minervois. The Esprit is made from syrah, grenache, and cinsault, whereas the Festiano is 40% syrah, 40% grenache, and 20% mourvèdre.

I was expecting a lot. The Languedoc is one of France’s most exciting winemaking areas–long written off but now coming into its own as a source of wonderful, quirky, and affordable wines. A notable characteristic of many of the red wines of this area is “garrigue”, which is technically a type of scrubland common around the Mediterranean. According to the infallible Wikipedia, “The term has also found its way into haute cuisine, suggestive of the resinous flavours of a garrigue shrubland.”

The Esprit was wholly evocative of the garrigue. The Chateau Festiano, unfortunately, was not. In all fairness, I may have to try another bottle as I’m afraid that the particular bottle I picked up was baked. =/

3 | 2005 Chateau Coucy | Montagne St. Émilion, France | $10.99
Trader Joe’s tonight. Was looking for a new bottle to try and settled on this one when I saw “St. Émilion.” I should have looked harder at the word preceding those two: “Montagne.” Whatever. Montagne St. Émilion is considered a satellite of the better-known St. Émilion region of Bordeaux, and its wines may sometimes even be considered the same or better quality than that of St. Émilion.

I love wine from St. Émilion. Bistro de la Gare in South Pasadena has a few by the glass, and they’re great accompaniments to the steak frites or coq au vin. I love St. Émilion because its wines are predominantly merlot and thus, soft, luscious, easy to drink, and easy to drink NOW (as opposed to many cabernet-based Bordeaux wines having to be aged for years and years to open up and lose their tannic chastity belts).

The Chateau Coucy… thin, overly acidic. It might be better with food–maybe like a chianti or something–to take off the acidic edge. Not especially tannic per se but the acidity made it taste super-bitter. Definitely not a keeper, despite its apparent quaffability.

My track record for this week: 1 for 3. Pretty terrible, given the string of success I had the past two weeks in picking out good wines.

This is like Chinese food. You go into a restaurant–like Sam Wo‘s in San Francisco–and are confronted by a menu of what seems like hundreds of choices. You pick a “safe” choice like the orange chicken or Mongolian beef or shrimp fried rice. You really can’t go wrong and hey, for the most part those are satisfying. But man, you want to venture out into unknown waters (the water tank filled with fish and lobsters and shellfish on the right, say, instead of the one on the left) and decide to go with XYZ. Sometimes it’s the most delicious thing you’ve ever tasted. Other times it’s like throwing up, except instead of throwing up you’re throwing down, if that makes sense.

This week, I think I’ll take a break from being “adventurous” and sit back with a bottle of the Ampelos Rosé of Syrah or “The Third Bottle” from GustavoThrace. My liver and wallet can’t take disappointment two weeks in a row!

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