(with suggested music)
|Part of the plan with this web site has always been to interweave wine and music: as per the wine home page, I see the two art forms as pushing all the same buttons. The plan within that plan has been to make wine recommendations for music and vice-versa; this is, after all, meant to be my playground. That idea fell a little by the wayside as I got more substantial features up, but now it's in full effect. The wines have all been tasted quite recently, the music is similarly fresh. By all means, treat each as its own entity, but by even more all means, try the pairings. And let us know how they work. Follow the menu bar at left to link to other Featured Wine Reviews.
SAUVIGNON BLANC 2000
Marlborough, New Zealand
No country in the world produces sauvignon blancs quite so intense in their fruit flavours as New Zealand; no area in that country can match Marlborough; and few winemakers in Marlborough can claim quite such a high reputation as Vavasour. The Dashwood label is Vavasour's lower-priced spin-off - but still made entirely from estate-grown fruit as opposed to bought-in juice - and its year 2000 Sauvignon Blanc is causing a mild sensation. Priced only just above ten bucks, it explodes on the nose with tropical (kiwi/passion) and citrus (lemon/lime) fruits to balance out the sauvignon's typical nose of gooseberry and nettles. On the palate, it's crisp, acidic, zesty, dry and even tangy; all in all, this is about as close to a fizzy drink as a good wine will get. (Think Mountain Dew with alcohol instead of caffeine, though I realise that might not sound like a compliment.) The lively finish lingers. This is not your Loire's sauvignon blanc, but for value and vivacity, you'd be hard put to match it.
MUSIC? A wine this acidic, tart, and dry, with a firm impact, plenty of flavor and a lasting impression deserves music to match. Laptop's your one-man band. Sip it while listening to Opening Credits.
|CHATEAU LA ROQUE
PIC SAINT-LOUP CUVEE LES VIEILLES VIGNES DE MOURVÈDRE 1998
Coteaux du Languedoc, France
Call this the wine equivalent of a critic's rave. Some times a wine is universally admired and raved about by those in the know, but because it's a little unusual (and in this case inexpensive too), the general public tends to gloss over it. Consider their loss your gain and mine, because this wine stays on the shelves, despite being one of the very best red wines at around ten bucks, let alone the very best example of Mourvèdre in its price bracket. The little known Mourvèdre grape is the dominant ingredient of Bandol, wines from the Mediterranean coast that generally cost at least $20 and need a few years cellaring. It's also grown in California by beloved Rhone Rangers like Cline, and is a significant component in southern Rhône reds, adding a meaty, earthy, tannic texture to the best Châteauneuf du Papes. West of the Rhône, in the most promising enclave (Pic St Loup) of the vast Languedoc region which was for so long responsible for France's most insipid wines, Château La Roque turns out a variety of great reds from this grape, year in year out, for insanely low prices. This wine, made from ancient vines, explodes with the earthy-mushroom nose I associate with Mourvèdre, along with some candied plum and cherry; in the mouth, it's like chewing on velvet, multi-textured, tannic, and yet with zippy acidity too. This combination of fruit, acidity and tannin means that this is one of the cheapest wines you'd ever think of putting away for a few years, not that that's an easy proposition. Look for the 99s as of now: early reports suggest no discernible slip in high quality.
MUSIC? Mourvèdre is an insider's grape, and the Château La Roque is a cult classic that is yet readily available. Passionate techno fans will appreciate such a combination. Try it with Mr C's Subterrain.
ZINFANDEL 1997, 98, 99
Sonoma County, USA $15
America's international reputation rests on its triumphs with olde world stalwarts cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay, but its truest claim to wine fame is Zinfandel exclusivity. Though Zin has been traced back to primitivo of Italy, only in very recent years has it been grown anywhere outside its native California, where it blossoms in the heat into a towering, spicy, brambly, rich Grenache-like wine that's a perfect match for a barbeque - and a winter stew. Everyday efforts can be found around the tame 12% mark, but the bigger examples easily top 16%. Likewise, there are offerings around ten bucks, but zinfandel's popularity as the wine of true Californians has seen prices soar into a cabernet style stratosphere. All the more reason to love Seghisio: the family has been growing it in Sonoma for over a hundred years, and its basic bottling fits nicely in the middle of everything zinful: 14% alcohol at around $15, a failsafe bottle year in, year out, with the textbook blackberry, jammy, juicy, peppery and chewy tastes of zin to spice up the most jaded palate.
MUSIC? Something this spiky, angular, sharp, vivacious and heady deserves music to match. It's not Californian, but LilLiPUT will do just nicely.
CABERNET FRANC 1998
North Fork, Long Island, $20-$24
Long Island has pretensions to being one of the world's great red wine regions, but the cool climate is better suited to the early ripening merlot and in particular, cabernet franc than the venerable cabernet sauvignon. Often under-rated as a mere blending grape for Bordeaux, cab franc is in fact the prime ingredient in such great St-Émilion wines as Cheval Blanc; it is also the dominant red grape across the Loire, ranging from fresh fruity examples in Anjou to potentially long lived classics in Chinon, Saumur-Champigny and Bourgueil. The young husband and wife team behind Schneider Vineyards have staked their reputation on cabernet franc, buying in grapes from across the region and hiring one of the best local winemakers (Kip Bedell from the eponymous winery) to fashion their signature bottle, which has secured a reputation as both the best cab franc in the United States, and arguably Long Island's most stellar offering of any varietal, red or white. The '98 (with 15% merlot to soften it up) has tobacco, menthol and cherry on the nose, some good spice to offset the herbaceous nature, a medium body with a firm grip, some more menthol on the finish, and enough tannins and acidity to make it a good cellar candidate as well as a great wine for the dinner table. It's not cheap, but then neither is Cheval Blanc @ £100/$200, and as the vanguard wine for a whole region, it's not expensive either. The Schneiders' story makes great telling for another occasion; for now, let it be known that they've finally bought their own vineyards to planting estate cab franc. Hopefully the wine will just get better.
MUSIC? Credible and commercial, suave, sophisticated, sexy and a little funky, the pride of New York deserves music to match! Try House Nation America as mixed by New Yorkers Little Louie Vega and Erick Morillo
BRUT FRESCO NV
This one got left behind in the fridge after our new year's eve party, and we weren't expecting much from it. After all, it's non-vintage, it's from Argentina, and it's made by a corporate monster. Added to which, I saw it in the store priced lower than good bubblies have a right to be. So what a pleasant surprise when this opened up into a perfect Sunday brunch sparkler - the right match of bread-yeast and citrusy flavors, a good hint of almond/toast, and a pleasant, off-dry finish. Sure, it's not deep, and you won't confuse it for a great vintage from Champagne, but it won't set you back an arm or a leg either - a relief to those of us who question spending £20/$35 on non-vintage Champers when we can get a classic wine for that price. And with 100,000 cases out there, you won't have a problem finding it either.
MUSIC? The perfect Sunday brunch companion for having round (the) house. Try the double mix from Sunday afternoon club Lazy Dog.
AMARONE COSTASERA CLASSICO 1997
Valpolicella, Italy, £10 - at the airport
Amarone is one of the world's most luxurious wines, made in the Valpolicella area of north east Italy from grapes air-dried on bamboo racks for several months to concentrate their sugar impact. (It was the only way the Romans knew to max up the alcohol.) As a result, the wine is generally 15-16% proof, but while it holds up to meats and strong cheeses, the Italians often prefer it as "meditation" after a meal. Don't confuse it with a port, though: the bitter-sweet taste is brilliantly individual - and can be remarkably understated. Given that Amarone also improves in bottle for many years, its no surprise to find that it costs. But while most bottlings are £20/$35 and up, a friend of ours recently brought this one back from Heathrow airport (the regular duty free, not the Berry Bros) where he insists it cost him just £10. Masi has a name as one of the bigger and better producers around Valpolicella, so allow that for them, quality probably comes via quantity - and the benefactor is your pocket. This example. from northern Italy's best vintage, wore its 15% alcohol effortlessly, being soft and rounded, with the bitterness - and tannins - far from pronounced, and though I can hardly say I mediatated on it, I certainly ruminated around it.
MUSIC? Late night, relaxing, contemplative wine deserves late night, contemplative, relaxing music. The new Meld series features two ambient/classical compositions - also at budget price .
POINTE BLANC 1998
What do we call these wines? Punks? Young soul rebels? Yuppies? Or modernists? Vinum is a new San Francisco-based winery specializing in Rhône varietals (Viognier, Mourvèdre) but mostly dedicated to spreading the gospel of the Loire's classic Chenin Blanc. Vinum's $10 house chenin is called CNW (Chard--no-way) with a label picturing the two young owners standing by a roadside with the sign will work for chenin; it's such brazen marketing you cant help but love them for it. The Pointe Blanc was Vinum's debut release in 1997; a better name than CNW and more classily packaged, it's an intriguing blend of chenin blanc, roussanne and viognier - or, as some Californian observers might be tempted to sneer, a blend of chenin, viognier and viognier. Either way, it's a cross-fertilisation of varietals from the Loire and the Rhône that I've never seen combined before. Even the bottle shape is unusual- almost like Taittinger's blanc de blanc champagne, not that too many people have that as a reference point!
Fortunately, the wine is as pleasantly innovative as the marketing. The Pointe Blanc is a gorgeous bright golden yellow, full of ripe white fruits on the nose (I'm thinking apples, peaches, pears, apricots), with lots of crispness, but it's dry, rich and full, almost coating the palate with a luxurious glow, while its lasting finish is absent the mineral aftertaste that often dulls a Viognier. Nine months in oak seems to have rounded out any quirks: you'd be hard put to guess the ingredients. There were 1500 cases of the '98, and just 1000 of the '99, now available. A delightful - and affordable - new addition to the Californian cannon.
MUSIC? An eccentric, idiosyncratic quality Californian product of European origins deserves music to match. Try Jack Dangers' mix CD, 'Hello Friends.' Then again, a new wave Californian power trio of European influence sounds like a description of Gwenmars.
|DOMAINE LA MONARDIÈRE
VINS DE PAYS DE VAUCLUSE 1998
Monardière is the latest star from the southern Rhône that you wonder why you never heard of before. The Domaine offers two top-quality Vacqueryas (one just over, one just under $20), a Côtes du Rhône that I've already cited as my favorite blend so far from the '99 vintage, and this value for money delight. Produced from vineyards surrounding the Côtes du Rhône region, this has all the attributes that suggest a grenache/syrah-plus-usual-supporting-cast blend: earthiness, spice, Provencal herbs, tannins, and an overall richness that totally belies its price. The first time I had this it lasted three days in the bottle and just got better as more of it was exposed to oxygen. The latest bottle I've bought has already deposited the sort of sediment you normally associate with mature classics. Why? Well, the wine is bottled unfiltered, as Monardière produces organically - but then so do many others from the back-to-nature brigade in the south of France. All of which suggests that the Monardière Vins de Pays is one of a kind. For some reason, the last two vintages have so far escaped the attention of the twin bibles Wine Spectator/Wine Advocate. So trust me instead when I say it's a "best buy"/"exceptional value." You won't be disappointed.
MUSIC? A new release that has all the hallmarks of maturity, from a reliable producer using the expected wide range of ingedients; plenty of kick, and not a little funk. It's got to be Afrika Bambaataa's mix CD: Electro Funk Breadown.
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