Red Wine Round-Up
Nothing like the hottest day of the year so far to post some red wine reviews… but if you pump up the barbeque in New York State tonight you could do worse than crack open one of these. Just go slow on them: all but the first are evidence either of global warming, modernist high-alcohol wine-making, or both!
1) WINDHAM WINERY PINNACLE RIDGE RED 2005
We revisited our English chum James Bateman the other weekend in Windham. He happily led us on a tour of the vineyards that he’s increasingly filling with the faithful hybrid vines that withstand the Catskills winters. Then he recommended I try this hybrid blend again: he’s thrilled that it seems to be improving in the bottle, and suggested that I might even find it hard to distinguish from a bottle full of vinifera. Not so: hybrid grapes (e.g. the Leon Millot, Chancellor and Frontenac grapes in this bottle) have a distinct taste to them that sets them apart from vinifera (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah and the like). In addition, however hard they try, they struggle to suggest they’ll ever be capable of transcendence; they tend towards, at best, the two-dimensional. But that said, Bateman has crated a truly fine wine here from his blend, a stirring advert for the hybrid cult. The spicy black fruit nose is a little like a Côtes du Rhône wrestling with some Chianti, if a touch softer. There’s a slight bitterness that indicates again that Italian bent, but the boxy/metallic taste ultimately gives away its hybrid roots. Still there’s an alluring fruity balance to this particular wine, especially in the mid-palate, that renders it a fine accompaniment to barbeque fare and tomato-based pastas. If you’re heading up our way, pay Bateman and his winery a visit and bring a few bottles of this back to your friends in the big city (or village). It’s hard to imagine any but the most discerning – or elitist – of geeks turning their nose down at such a fine evocation of sturdy red hybrid grapes.
2) MIQUEL OLIVER AIA, Plà i Llevant, Mallorca, Spain 2003
The last of the three bottles I brought back from my trip to Mallorca (read more about the island’s wines here), this pure Merlot is not representative of the grapes that have grown on the Balearic island these last few hundred years, but it is, perhaps, typical of high-end wines in general these days – the “international” wines that are of indisputably high quality but that could, in theory, be made almost anywhere in the world.
Produced by one of the island’s most modernist wine-makers Miquel Oliver (just check the label to see what I mean), the AIA threw up a remarkable deposit for such a relatively young wine, indicative both of its deliberately tannic structure and also, perhaps, of the 2003 heatwave. In the glass the wine was not just red; it was so dark it bordered on black. The nose was full of plums, chocolate, some coffee and damson, and the wine itself entered the palate with all those flavors too but with remarkably smoothness – the tannins having clearly worked their way through the system – along with some of the dusty vanilla that indicated the wine’s seven-month oak ageing. The night I opened it, the wine was much bigger and brawnier than the following evening, when it seemed mildly subdued if certainly silky; somewhere between the two experiences it was probably drinking at its opulent best.
For someone who generally eschews the Merlot grape for all the reasons stated (or merely assumed) in Sideways, this AIA was a joy. In fact, it’s evidence of just how luscious a Merlot can be. It may not truly be a Mallorcan wine, but it might yet be – as I was promised at the time I bought it – the greatest wine to come out of Mallorca. Of course, I’ve still got a few hundred more of them to try before I can qualify such judgment – and if anyone wants to send them my way, feel free!
3) DOMAINE LA SOUMADE Côtes du Rhône Villages Rasteau 2001
I can sound like a scratched record when it comes to my favorite producers from my favorite regions, especially in my favorite vintages. But really, what here is not to love? Picked up from Berry Brothers at Heathrow one day for under a tenner, this is vigneron Andre Romero’s entry level Côtes du Rhône Villages wine, which gives you a hint as to just how powerful, dense and long-lasting the wines are in the rest of his portfolio. In fact, 2001 was refreshingly forward-drinking for the region, which means I would have been tempting fate by storing this bottle for so long if I didn’t know it was capable of lasting the course. The wine was just a true delight – big and expressive, earthy and leathery, full of olives and spice and herbs, and with oodles of black fruit still showing through. Though it tasted like it had a couple more years left in it, it was drinking just beautifully now. For those who have the pockets and the patience, Andre Romero makes Rasteau wines that move up through names like Cuvee Confiance and Cuvee Prestige and prices to match. For those of us who don’t, the basic Soumade Rasteau is as fine a big, inexpensive southern Rhône wine as you’ll find.
(More on Rasteau here.)
4) CLINE ANCIENT VINES ZINFANDEL, CONTRA COSTA COUNTY, CALIFORNIA, 2005
This wine is on sale at Hurley Ridge, the best wine store round these parts, for a mere $13 when Cline’s own web site states that it should fetch $18. At the higher end, I’d be inclined to shoot for the faithful Seghesio as a solid, mid-range quality Californian Zinfandel, but at $13, you really can’t go wrong with this. Posie and I opened it up on a Saturday night when the temperature dropped down to surprisingly chilly levels even though I’d already committed to firing up the barbeque. It was a perfect choice: the relatively high alcohol (14.5%) was far from evident in the cool but sunny late-evening air, and in fact the wine’s main attribute was its refreshing acidity, its zingy tang of strange berries (the books always refer to lincolnberry and loganberry, like you have a bunch of those standing round to sniff and compare) and a lip-smacking chocolate/coffee finish. It went just fine with the freshly grilled veg topped with some balsamic vinegar, and indeed with the truffles we munched on afterwards. It also tasted lovely on its own – it’s not often my wife polishes off a glass of red wine without even waiting for the food to hit the table.
Cline say you can keep this Zinfandel, made from vines dating back to pre-Prohibition, for five-seven years, and the one time I tried doing so (with a ’97 if memory serves me well), the result was truly quite delicious; Zinfandels can age. But at $13 a bottle you may as well buy the 2005 by the case and bring it to your friend’s summer party instead of that cheap Italian Montepulciano you’re always trying to pass off on me instead.