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September 27, 2007
There are only a few occasions that this wine is meant for. Divorce. Boar hunting. Winning the world hot dog eating contest in record time. Which might make it a natural for some holiday tables, but not mine. No, a three-seat round table overlooking the city won't do. Nevermind the candles and Edith Piaf. This is a wine that begs chaos. Children wearing cranberry jam hats. A Bruno Magli in the television. Mashed potatoes and brown gravy in the ceiling fan. Spinning. Spinning around. Something inspired by a trip lost in the wilderness, camping out beneath the dead leaves, squeezing the last desperate drops of water from cantaloupe-sized balls of elephant dung. (If someone ever asks you about terroir, point out the part in this note that mentions elephant dung.) Pretend you just befriended a pack of wolves with a pot roast and then skinned them to keep yourself warm. That's what this wine smells like. It's mature and dusty, earthy and leathery. Like an old matchbook and crushed cigarette pestled into your Wranglers. It's for the time your waiter asks you, "How would you like your steak?" And you answer, "Genuflecting." But come on; what little Cahors makes it to the States is pretty great. So why Coutale? Because it straddles the Venn Diagram between so many wines in this area--not just neighboring "Bordeaux," but several of its appellations, from the chocolate-blueberry St. Emilion to minerally St. Julien. The fruit--smothered by tannins--is plummy like the grenache of Languedoc. And the strangest odor of discount air freshener (fine, call it potpourri) wafts from the tight tannins. I've only ever gotten that from a few bottles of old Bordeaux. It's aggressive, difficult, and opens up to relatively simple (but sweet, delicious) fruit. Don't take this to a dinner party. Unless you have the kind of friends who serve kangaroo.
September 18, 2007
05 Domaine le Sang des Cailloux, Grenache Vacqueyras Cuvee Doucinello
There was a reason we'd bother collecting wrappers of Tootsie Roll Tootsie Pops when I was a kid. There was a rumor that, if you got enough wrappers with the little Native American boy shooting an arrow at a star, you could send them in--like some cumulative Golden Ticket--for all the sugar-veneered chocolate-candy-on-a-stick you could eat in a year. So we sucked down as much blue raspberry, chocolate, grape, and strawberry lollipops as we could. And no one ever won anything. Or knew anyone who won anything. But we kept on eating. Kept on living through the fruit to get to the caramel inside. And years later that same pursuit came to define my search for great grenache. There's no Indian. No arrow. No star. But Vacqueyras might just be the prize. Domaine le Sang des Cailloux (literally, "the house of the blood of stones") lives up to its name. It's less a wine than a slow French press of Vacqueyras itself. But if this is the house of stones, the house of ankle-breaking round galets, limestone, and sand, then it must sit beneath a guest house of blackberry slushie. Because it takes what Spain does with grenache, keeps all the fruit as plush as can be, and then makes it an afterthought. At times, I think there's a lesson in this wine. One that tells me it's OK to like something as rich and juicy as this is, as long as we can remember where it comes from. Even in its youth its cherries and berries somehow come to taste like peppered steak. The aroma is heady. The finish is long. While a wine like this, by name alone, insists on the importance of terroir, it's so good it actually confuses the idea that wine is as much where it's from as what it is. Sure, this defines a part of the Rhone Valley in France. But which part? As far as I'm concerned, it might as well have "Chateauneuf du Pape" in all caps on the label. Or maybe just a giant star.
September 13, 2007
05 Chateau Pesquie, Cotes du Ventoux Les Terrasses
In its least adulterated form, I think this is as good as grenache can possibly be. Whether you consider it a delightfully fruity grape or just some cheap requisite for Chateauneuf-du-Pape, what's sure is that grenache declares itself loudest in Spain and Southern France. And it's usually a dead heat between the two, with Spain often taking the lead--at least in terms of QPR. But Chateau Pesquie has fermented a billboard here that screams Nous Sommes le Grenache--We Are Grenache. It's rich and ripe, sure, but also brooding. I'm beginning to think everything on this side of France tastes like olives, savory rosemary, basil, menthol, anise, pork crackling, and infant lamb. (Imagine sweet lamb with the skin of spit-roasted pork.) The wine is fortified with about 30% syrah, which shines here. I've had Pegau that doesn't taste this good, and I think most CdP producers should use this "basic" Pesquie offering as a model for their own wines. And not to keep terroir-dropping, but the most amazing thing about Les Terrasses is how it has the finish of Vacqueyras, the dirty Northeastern Chateauneuf-du-Pape village that houses my favorite grenache. The comparisons here get more ridiculous with every glass. Pegau. K Vintners (Cougar Hills). Trio Infernal. Ventoux and September in the Midwest go together. I'll admit that. Wind and cold and city streets. But wherever you're from, I'll tell you this: you'll never find a better Ventoux. And try it, just try it, next to your Oregon pinot noirs.
September 11, 2007
NV Canella, Bellini
Well, I think today we'll have the abbreviated 187 mL version of 750 mL. You're wondering why I'd even write about a wine cocktail, and new readers might never want to come back to this blog. If I keep this up, you shouldn't. But the truth is that just about everyone drinks stuff like this at the end of summer and it is, technically, wine--a blend of some anonymous bubbly and peach nectar. And this "bellini" markets itself as so couture in the aisles, that it deserve a once-over. It works, but quickly becomes unbearable. Maybe it's just me and memories of cheap Andre sparkling wine. Afterall, the aroma's incredibly fresh, like peach flesh right off the stone. But lurking beneath is the actual smell of a headache. And a few sips is enough to start feeling tight around the sinuses and temples. There's nothing more to say about the taste or aroma, length and finish. This cocktail is an ailment. Make your own bellinis. Lesson learned.
September 03, 2007
04 Gaja, Langhe Sito Moresco
For all the criticism Gaja gets in shucking tradition, this wine is incredibly boastful of terroir. It just depends what your definition of terroir is. Sito Moresco sits on the southern and southwesterly slopes of the Langhe, where the grapes bake in the sun and the vines marinate on the loose marly clay--as if the ground might suck them up for itself at any moment. And while the blend is barely a third nebbiolo, it's pretty characteristic for Barolo--at least if the jammy 2000 vintage is still fresh in your mind. No doubt this is more a recipe than it is a prosopopoeia of anything Italian. But the Tuscan-style cab and merlot are as home here as salt on chicken, herbs de Provence on spring lamb. Rich, robust on the palate, the "declassified" (read: disowned) Langhe swims between flavors of thick black cherries (the nebbiolo), blueberries (the merlot), and chocolate-covered-espresso-stuffed raspberries (the inky cabernet). Yeah, not really Barolo in any way, I guess. Actually, pretty Bordelais. But, take a whiff. For a moment, despite all that's not classically Langhe in this wine, the aroma is strikingly mature, with so much old-Barolo-style tar that I begin to think the nose of a great wine must depend more on soil than fruit alone. How else could this wine smell so much like nothing else? Until, of course, the rank equipage of leathery cabernet comes through. Saint-Julien in sheep's clothes. All right, all right. Some wines have song, some wines have dance. Gaja is a Broadway show.
© 2005-2011 Nilay Gandhi