Wednesday, June 20, 2007

A Random Selection of Wines

Before I get to tasting the wines I've selected for this column (using a complex double blind technique where I just review any wine that I've tasted recently), I should cover some local wine news.

Unfortunately, it's bad news. It appears that CostPlus World Market, purveyors of a wide selection of "moderately-priced" wines from around the world, is down-scaling their wine selection. On a recent trip I noticed that both the quantity and quality of their wines has gone down. The selection appears to have moved much more toward the low end. "Mid-range" wines (i.e., wines in the $25+ range) have virtually disappeared, aside from the required bottle of Opus One. The few Chateauneuf du Papes they once carried have vanished, replaced by low-end plonky Bordeaux that are probably worth skipping. Even the variety of lower-end wines has shrunk noticeably. The good news is that their selection of Italian wines appears to have about doubled, and they still have a few excellent bargains (see below). I'm hoping this change is just an anomaly as they move things around in the store, but I doubt it.

Jim Barry 2004 Clare Valley Shiraz “The Lodge Hill”

Here's a serious Auzzie shiraz. On the nose, a delightful spiciness that develops into serious aromas of camphor, eucalyptus, oregano and a touch of citrus peel. Sounds more like an herbal tea than a wine, but this complex spiciness is more than offset by a base of dense dark fruits. On the palate, strongly spicy, carrying over the camphor flavor, counterbalanced by dark rich flavors of blackberry and black cherry. A bit of a floral flourish on the finish. Fruity, but miles from simple plonk. 3.75 stars. $22 at Vino 100.

Rosemount 2003 Vintner's Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot Petit Verdot

Here's another Auzzie wine, but this one's a classic Bordeaux-style blend. Extremely dense color with dark cherry and deep succulent blackberry on the nose. Dense and chewy on the palate. This is a great wine for the price - a well balanced wine with plenty of fruit, but sufficient complexity to make it much more than a simple fruit bomb. Worth the price and more. Fortunately, this is one wine that CostPlus still has plenty of. 3.25 stars. $7.99 at CostPlus World Market.

Hahn Estates 2005 Meritage

Another wine that CostPlus thankfully still carries, this one is a Bordeaux-style blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc and malbec from California. Lots of raspberry and black cherry fruit, edging toward the jammy style, but well balanced. Obvious oak, with a hint of wood smoke. Mild tannins. If you like approachable, "fruit-forward" red wines, you'll definitely like this. 3.5 stars. $14.99 at CostPlus.

Jean Luc Columbo 2004 Cote du Rhone

Wine Spectator recently rated the 2005 vintage of this wine 88 points, so when I saw this in CostPlus I figured I give it a try. Racy and spicy on the nose, with strong hints of dark bramble. On the tongue, juicy strawberry and cherry pop flavors. Very fleshy, soft fruit; a bit flabby with no apparent tannins. A light, friendly and approachable wine, but one ultimately lacking in depth and complexity. Something of a disappointment, particularly for a French wine. 2.5 stars. $9.99 at CostPlus.

Cloudline Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

I had this recently at Monks Wine Lounge in downtown Chico. I don’t know the vintage off hand, but I’m sure that someone there can tell you. A nice medium-bodied Oregon pinot noir – very smoky, earthy and musty on the nose. Very smooth on the tongue, but with a nice tartness to perk up your taste buds. Spicy, with strong notes of the earthy mustiness coming through. Wonderful pinot. 4 stars. Available by the glass or bottle at Monks.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Zombies, Anarchy and the Fine Art of Wine Tasting

Maybe it’s just me. Maybe I’m just feeling a bit insecure. But I’ve started to wonder a little about where this wine column fits in the Chico Beat.

In last week’s issue my column was sandwiched between an article on anarchism and Craig Blamer’s 47th column on his obsession with zombie movies (OK, last week it was a vampire movie).

Don’t get me wrong, I’m totally down with anarchy (as long as someone fixes the roads… and makes sure that my broadband is working). And Blamer’s column is one of my favorite reads in the Beat (aside from my own incredibly witty and well-written screed).

But last time I checked, a full-bodied Bordeaux with hints of cedar-box on the nose and well-integrated tannins was not the beverage of choice for anarchists. Or zombies (or vampires, for that matter, though I’m sure something red would be appropriate).

I’m thinking that the Chico Beat has a little more attitude and edge than a wine column can probably generate. Wine is the preferred beverage of well-heeled yuppies driving their gas-guzzling Hummers, not punked-out anarchists queuing up to watch the latest splatfest.

On the other hand, wake up and smell the merlot, this is Chico not Los Angeles. It’s rare to see REAL anarcho-punks in Chico. Maybe there are a few, but let’s face it, Chico’s a Birkenstock town, full of liberals and effeminate intellectual types. And as the article pointed out, even a talk on anarchy only brought out a couple dozen middle-aged hippies trying to work up a bit of angst.

By now, those hippies’ 401Ks must be getting pretty fat and Birkenstocks aren’t cheap, so maybe a nice glass of wine is something they could both afford and appreciate while they chant "down with the man".

Not sure what to say about the zombies and their aficionados, though. But I’m thinking something red and not too heavy (maybe a nice Burgundy or an Oregon pinot noir) might pair well with human brains. Suffice to say it’s not an area that I’m expert in. If you give it a try, let me know how it works.

OK, I feel better now that I’ve convinced myself that it’s really possible that someone in Chico has a copy of The Wine Bible on a bookshelf next to The Anarchist Cookbook.

Anyway, the next time you decide to meet to plan the violent overthrow of Fascist Amerika, or get together with friends to share some fresh brains, think about adding wine tasting to the menu.

So-called “wine tasting groups” (as opposed to “wine clubs” which tend to be commercial ventures) are an exploding phenomenon in this country, and not just among ex-hippie anarchists and zombies.

The idea is that a group of like-minded people get together every month to taste and talk about wine. The venue changes every month so that one person is not always stuck cleaning up the mess.

Everyone (or perhaps every couple) brings a bottle to taste. You’re not going to polish off all that wine (hopefully), but that's OK. And (again, hopefully) you'll have a designated driver so that people don’t get on the road and create anarchy (I mean the bad kind of anarchy, of course).

It’s best to have a theme and a price range so that you don’t have a box of Almanden Blush Red going up against a 2000 Chateau Mouton Rothschild. A couple of ideas to get you started:

• Australian wines between $10-20
• Wines that go with Thai food
• Ros├ęs that don't suck (I double dare you)
• Cabernet Sauvignon from around the world (under $30)

I find that tastings are the most educational if you do a real blind tasting. All you need to do that are some brown paper bags and a felt pen. Put the bottles in the bags and then write a number on each bag. As people taste each wine, they write notes on each, referring to the wine’s number. When everyone has tasted, the bags are removed and the wines are revealed. Fun!

If you really want to get carried away, sites like have a whole section on wine tasting groups (they also have a section on asexuality, but that only has one group with 3 members… which sounds like a recipe for trouble, if you know what I mean). In fact, wine is the eighth most popular group, just ahead of witches.

The key to success in starting a wine tasting group is finding enough people who really have a desire to learn about wine and a willingness to share their knowledge and experiences. I’ve always wanted to start up such a group, but never really had the time (or enough friends to make it anything more than four people getting wasted).

If you’re an anarcho-zombie and you’d like to be a part of a local Chico/Paradise wine tasting group, contact me through the Chico Beat and maybe we can get our own group started. Our first tasting will be wines that pair with brains. Mmmmmm...brains.