I went from a Great Western Shiraz to this in the space of a few sips and, if nothing else, the exercise served to reinforce how instructive comparative tasting can be. I thought this wine quite horrid at first; Eurotrash to the Great Western’s laconic charm. Improved through the evening, though.
I should note the comically short cork keeping the wine inside, as I don’t believe I’ve seen one so small before. A robust aroma consisting of dried flowers, bright spices and aggressively sour-edged red fruit. There are also funkier smells that remind me of cured pork sausages. In the mouth, bright and brash with coarsely textured acid and brisk, raspy tannins. There are flashes of intensely sweet, confected fruit in amongst all the butchers’ shop smells. Pepper, spice and rusticity add interest. The whole is light to medium bodied and sufficiently cleansing, though I could never describe a wine like this as easy drinking (in the “brain off” sense) because it’s just so angular.
I kept wanting chewy bread and tangy cheese while drinking this wine, and suspect it would go down a treat at a picnic or other casual dining circumstance.
Vina Ginesa Reservas
Tempranillo-based wine from a not-exactly-renowned vintage in the Toro region. The label totally rocks. This really stood out on the shelf.
The nose is quite confronting, with black pepper, oak, spiced meats, strange floral notes and the smell of dark red fruits that have fallen from the tree and been trodden into the pavement (overripe, sour-edged). It smells both excessively and insufficiently ripe at the same time. Nothing if not expressive, its character is sufficiently outré that I’m sure it will test some peoples’ sense of appropriateness. Not a bad thing.
Structurally, this wine is all over the place, mostly due to a lack of harmony in the placement of its constituent parts: sweet fruit, coarse tannins, rough acidity and a lift of oak flavour. Drinking this wine is like having a bunch of things thrown into your mouth in no particular order; it’s not an especially refined experience. Yet it’s also quite drinkable in an odd way, probably because it’s so forthright and unapologetic. Quite a short finish.
I would imagine a better vintage might yield greater class and balance, and will look out for the 2008, which is (from what I’ve read) a superior wine. Still, I’m having fun drinking this and imagine it will complement well the chorizo sausages frying away in my kitchen.
I haven’t taken the time to explore much Spanish wine, but it’s fair to say the Iberian peninsula is so hot right now. This, incidentally, is typical of my (in)ability to be ahead of the curve. No matter, if you are like me and are a novice in this area, I can highly recommend Dave Worthington’s excellent site Tinto y Blanco.
This evening, I was at my local First Murphy on an emergency wine run (triggered by those moments where nothing in the cellar looks remotely appealing) and decided to buy a few cheap Spanish bottles. Here’s the first, an inexpensive Tempranillo-based wine from a vintage officially rated “excellent” by the Rioja Control Board.
A fun, moderately expressive nose of savoury red fruits, brown spices and a a nice thread of funky undergrowth. Some sweet oak too. I find it attractive, if straightforward. It’s not an aroma that grabs you by the scruff of the neck; rather, it persuasively suggests you start thinking about what food to have with what you’re about to taste. The palate is sweeter than expected, with fresh red fruit and sweet oak the dominant characters. There are also some complexities; aniseed-like spice, for example, along with a general undercurrent of savouriness that keeps the fruit and oak in check. A really appealing, easy flow through the mouth, with acid and tannin balanced to create the sort of breezy sophistication you don’t quite recognise until it’s over. A dip through the spicy after palate never quite redeems itself on the finish, mostly because it doesn’t have enough time.
There’s a lot to like here and all I can think about while drinking it are the various foods that might go with. Spicy sausage, I reckon.
Finally, here’s the second part of my tasting notes for tonight. It took me a few minutes to decide what to do with the Campo Viejo Crianza 2006 – at first, I thought I could merely cork the bottle, sit it outside on the sidewalk, and – to paraphrase Mao – let a thousand unintended pregnancies bloom, but that would of course have been grossly irresponsible of me. Down the sink it went; yes, I did recycle.Now, on to this wine. My first thought on opening the bottle was simple “Oh, wait, this is a real wine.” I know, how haughty of me, but really: this didn’t smell of simple berries and fruit. This wine smells of, well, wine. There’s almost a hazelnut or roasted-coffee-biscotti note around the edge of it; it seems clear to me that this wine has seen a fair whack of oak. There’s also a lingering hint of some of the same vanilla berry notes from the regular version of the wine, but in a very tastefully restrained manner: it’s the difference between Versailles before and after Jeff Koons. What it really smells like, though, is proper Rioja: this reminds me of random bottles of Spanish wines happily drunk on holiday in Madrid with friends a few years back. What fruit there is is fastidiously framed by a hint of sourness, appetizing woody-coffee notes, and a sense of place. In short, whatever went missing from the crianza is here in the reserva.Taste-wise, there’s a brief, soft opening of gentle fruit that fairly rapidly fans out into an elegant, lacy interplay between reasonable, appetizing acidity, something like gentle earth, restrained berry fruits, soft vanillic effects, and then it all rides out quietly on somber, toasty oak. It’s the acidity that really ties the glass together, though; without it, this would be too soft, too easy. The overall effect is of eating delicious cake with a short espresso, I reckon; you get both the vanilla cherry pie and the upright tannins – but not too much, because then this wine wouldn’t really be Spanish.The most impressive thing here is to me the remarkable lightness of this wine. Compare to New World wines, this just doesn’t go as far down the tonal register, which makes it a refreshing change from the usual. This also means (I think) that this is another one to pair with sausages or grilled meats: it would work wonders. For me, it’s doing just fine with simple spaghetti bolognese, but it could have been so much more.Finally, I feel compelled to publicly wonder about something that utterly baffles me: this wine is selling for just $10 at The Wine Exchange in Orange, California. How can this be? If the cheap version of this is $9, why is this only a buck more and – more interestingly – why is it so much better?Disclaimer: I didn’t spend my own money on this bottle, but I also didn’t agree to anything.Campo Viejo
Much to my surprise, I found myself accepting free samples of wine from a certain publicly traded French drinks behemoth. Why? Simple: I figured what the heck; if the wine sucked, I’d have fun complaining in a really boring, Adbusters-esque way about corporate wine blah blah blah. But if it was good… then what? In a world filled with small, struggling producers that produce original, interesting wines in this price range, do we really need one more review saying anything good about wines that are presumably produced in unspeakable quantities and then drunk in cruise ships and indifferent hotel restaurants the world over?The short answer is yes. Not everyone has the access to a wide range of indie wine shops that we have here in California; not everyone lives in a state that allows direct shipping. In many places in North America, you either get it from the liquor board shop or you don’t get it at all. And in places that really don’t drink “fine wine” (leaving aside the discussion of what exactly that is for now), then all you’re going to get is “industrial wine” – so why shouldn’t you be aware of the good stuff?First off: a disclaimer. Full Pour’s review policy is simple: you can send us free wine, but we don’t promise we’ll review it. And if we do review it, we don’t promise we’ll publish the review. And if we do publish our review, we don’t promise it’s going to be a good one.OK, that’s out of the way. How is this $9 wine courtesy of Behemoth French Industrial Producer?The nose offers up super friendly, inviting, warm red berry aromas. It smells better than any strawberry rhubarb pie I’ve ever baked, at any rate. There’s also a kind of woodsy perfume there as well, just a hint of something like candied oak. Not too bad.Sadly, however, once you get some of this in your mouth, it all falls apart. Dang it, I was hoping to like this wine so that I could say yes, sometimes the big guys get it right… just not this time. Everything here seems loose, unstructured, out of focus: it’s a bit flabby, perhaps even just a tiny bit sweet, with an unpleasant raw acidity sneaking in to bust up the party the second it wobbles to a start. The overall effect is frankly unpleasant: it tastes cheap, unfinished. The one good thing I will say, though, is that the tannic structure of the wine is just fine, keeping some kind of firm hold on the whole endeavor.So what to do with this wine? The tannins suggest it needs meat; the rest of it suggests it needs to be obscured by something else; I’m thinking heavy barbecue smoke would do the job just fine. If you’re somewhere where you can get funky, indie bottles of unknown French reds, then go for it. If, however, your choice is between this and [yellow tail], then I’d say go with the Campo Viejo – it’s in the same price range but has a little bit more interest. Otherwise, though, can you remember the last time you drank a Coors? No? Well, it might be time to start over again…Campo Viejo
In 48 hours (hopefully), we’ll have elected a new President. In the meantime, I’m doing what I can to keep a low-level buzz going so that I don’t have to think about it too much (I voted last Tuesday and really, really wish it were all over with at this point).
Anyhow: on to this bottle of wine. Right off, it smells like a somewhat dirty raspberry compote. That is, raspberry fruit cup with something like low quality cinnamon (er, cassia, not cinnamon). It’s surprising in that this wine is (a) Spanish and (b) seven years old; of course, I’m not complaining.Medium weight in the mouth, to be frank I don’t taste much for acidity until the flavor peeks on in the finish here; it reminds me of Himbeergeist, which is a fancy German way of saying “grain spirit with raspberry flavor.”Did I say raspberry? Oh, I did? Sorry.
So: Raspberry, acid, raspberry. Raspberry. More raspberry. I’m not sure what else I’m getting here. Ah well. Pretty bottle, though.
Vinicola del Priorat
Price: about $12
Date tasted: November 2008
Before I begin, let me first point out that this wine is all over the map: it presents a fairly wide array of different smells, textures, and tastes. Is that a good thing? Well, it’s certainly better than a simple, one-dimensional wine, but is it perhaps the lack of a focused direction that makes this a good wine and not a great wine? Is there a way for humans to intervene in a wine’s growth to direct it in a certain way, or is this just a happy accident of certain terroirs?—Anyhow: on to the wine. On the nose, there’s a bit of charry bacon, grilled bread, dusty violet, black berry leaves, smoke, earth, and an underlying sweetness to it all. It may be mataro, but it’s not an animalistic, meaty mataro: it’s more along the lines of sweet Christmas pudding and spice. With time and air, it lightened up a bit into a more perfume-y display, taking on notes of powdered cacao and blackberry jam.There’s a bit of lively acidity on the attach, quickly subsumed by full, round, rich fruit that tends towards blackstrap molasses and dark berries; on the finish, delicate tannins, again that refreshing acidity, and a long, careful finish that carefully divides its time between smoke, burnt sugar, damask rose, tar, and again that fine wash of tannin. It’s a beautiful wine; my only complaint is that it’s perhaps akin to watching a movie with a hundred beautiful scenes but no plot to tie it all together. What is this wine trying to tell us exactly?Bodegas Hijos de Juan GilPrice: US $11.99Closure: CorkDate tasted: December 2007
Pine-Sol, turpentine, and shoe leather came to mind when I first smelled this wine, but then I realized that no one wants to drink anything that smells like the toilets at summer camp. Therefore, let me revise that to pine needles, dirt, rich Corinthian leather, and dark red raspberries. There’s also a whiff of smoke, tar, and black cherry there as well – it’s a fairly complex nose for a wine this cheap. With some air, it started to tend towards cedar shavings (hamster cage?) and blueberry – very impressive, really.
In the mouth, it’s rich, meaty, and chunky, with a prominent streak of savory acidity at the back of it all. What does it taste like? Well, that’s hard to say: it’s a little bit like lavender and meatloaf, somehow. On the finish, you’re treated to firm, drying tannins and then a soft, gentle trail-off of sweet bacon and chocolate. It’s all very appetizing and thank God it’s Friday night because I’m probably just going to stay at home and polish off the bottle with the neighbors.
Price: US $6.99
Closure: Cheesy plastic cork
Date tasted: November 2007
One sniff and you know for sure that this is the real deal: oxidized, delicious Sherry. It’s got an appetizingly dark caramel color that really looks a lot more like brandy than most wines you see these days: there’s also a whiff of burnt almonds on the nose as well.In the mouth, it’s luxuriously smooth with a lush sweetness nicely counterbalanced by friendly acidity that all seems just right. On the finish, the flavors repeat themselves: toasted nuts, caramelized sugar, and something like spring wildflowers (honest!) – it’s almost like orange flower water.
It’s even better with roasted Spanish almonds right before dinner.
Williams & Humbert
Price: US $11.99
Closure: Cork, resealable
Tasted: November 2007
Hrm… almost smells like nail polish remover, albeit with a whiff of black cherries; it’s not particularly appetizing. The color is noticeably light – almost like Beaujolais nouveau (hey, what a temporal coincidence!). There’s also a weird smell of dusty closet floor in their somehow – like something shredded up the cedar blocks you put there a few years ago to ward off moths. Yecch.
Taste-wise it’s no picnic. What little fruit there is is quickly overwhelmed by grating, drying tannins as well as a whack of unwelcome acidity. Hoo-boy. This is no fun at all – it’s probably best saved to serve to unsuspecting Midwestern tourists at a “tapas bar” in someplace like downtown Anaheim as part of an “authentic Spanish dining experience.” I can’t recommend this one at all – I’m not even sure it’s up to sangría.
Saludas [but really fresh&easy]
Price: US $2.99
Tasted: November 2007