Bodega Colomé Torrontes 2019

Two stories for you today:

1. When Julian first proposed that we write some kind of wine blog together, I wondered if anyone would ever, you know, send us some free stuff. Spoiler: no, not really. I think it happened exactly three times: one, some multinational behemoth sent a free bottle of a $6 Rioja (thank u, next), much later, two, the kind folks at Mollydooker sent a case of wine, including the really good stuff (read: the expensive stuff), which, me being me, I promptly reviewed as thoroughly and honestly as I could – I have vague memories of finally, excitedly opening a bottle of their tête de cuvée and being profoundly disappointed; it was pretty much everything that I despair of in wine in a single beautifully packaged bottle priced well out of my range, and then at some point for reasons that completely escape me, an author – whose name I have stupidly, annoyingly forgotten – send me an advance reading copy of what I believe was a popular science book on the subject of taste, perhaps, or smell. It is to my eternal regret and shame that I did not review it or at least compose a lengthy email to the author thanking him for generously sending me a free book. I do not remember precisely what the topic of the book was, but eventually, having read it and thought about it for a few months… hang on, UPS is here to deliver emergency hair clippers (the barbers have been shut down, alas). Be right back.

Aha! I remember his name. Leonard something… let me check my email… Leonard Mlodinow… who is, holy shit, a physicist at CalTech. OK, I am now utterly mortified that I did not review his book at the time. Leonard, you deserved better, and you certainly deserve better than the following comments, which are based on all of my scientific experience (which would be none: I have a BA from Berkeley, not a BS, and I am in no way qualified to talk about anything scientific other than perhaps Christian Science, if you’ll excuse a terrible joke), a very distant memory of having read his book, The Drunkard’s Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives, and what little I learned about olfaction theory from Chandler Burr’s The Emperor of Scent, which is a delightful book about Luca Turin, author of Perfumes The Guide and other articles on perfume. Turin is known for a (crackpot? breakthrough? TBD) theory of olfaction that is predicated on the idea that deuterated versions of the same molecule (that is, a version that is similarly shaped, but which vibrates differently) will smell different; that is, it is not the shape of a molecule that determines how it will be perceived by a human, but how it vibrates. One of the parts of Burr’s book that sticks with me is the disappointment Turin experienced when not every human subject in his experimental trials was able to perceive the difference between the two versions of the same molecule; it seems – again, this is from memory – that something else was at play and that no two people seemed to experience smell in precisely the same way, with some being generally better at it then other. (This, I assure you, will come into play when I eventually describe what this wine tasted like to me, and what my husband Dan, who is luckily in possession of a far better sense of smell than I, thought of it.)

Next, then, is some basic experience with the sense of smell (and taste) as thoughtfully demonstrated out in lectures by Prof. Amy Mumma at Central Washington University. CWU is in Ellensburg, Washington, in a relatively dry area of the state at slightly higher elevation to Seattle. I can vouch for personal experience that wines produced in eastern Washington will necessarily taste a bit different once they’re transported over the Cascades; you’re now tasting them at sea level, and the Puget Sound is much more humid than, say, Red Mountain, and that does mix it up a bit as well. Finally, this is only tangentially relevant, but I have eaten the same lunch, a reduced fat Asian chicken salad from Trader Joe’s, at my desk for the last ten years or so, and I can definitely say that it never tastes exactly the same. Some days the soy is a little bit more pronounced, other days the carrots are prominent, yada yada yada. Why? As with perfumes, I suspect that changes in ambient temperature and humidity (and probably changes in mood as well, who knows?), mean that different notes are more prominent under certain circumstances. If the office fridge is running extra cold, it doesn’t taste like much of anything; if it’s warmed up on my desk for a while, it tastes better; on a dry winter day, the onions taste better; on a warm, humid summer day, it’s more umami. Go figure.

In short, the experience of taste – to me, at least – is definitely influenced by genetics as well as by the ambient environment. If you’ve ever been at a winery tasting room and tried to taste wine standing downwind of a ckOne enthusiast, you may have noticed that you couldn’t really taste anything. You may also be fortunate enough to know people whose genetics seem to allow them to pinpoint flavors better, or who seem to sense a wider, more vibrant range of things in wine than you do. At this point in my life, I know for certain that my sense of smell is not particularly good, but that my husband’s is. This is fine. I buy the wine, he enjoys it, all’s well.

And this leads me to what I believe I eventually came to feel about Dr. Mlodinow’s book: that yes, chance is all well and good, but I do not believe that it’s fair to say that the wine writers’ assignation of scores is strictly aleatoric. Sadly, I cannot find the book in my house; I assume it’s actually here, just shelved somewhere that I cannot find at the moment. Reading the kind email that Dr. Mlodinow sent back in 2008, it sounds like he likely pointed out the inanity of Parker-style wine reviews, in which every review is reduced to a score and in which we all of course obviously know what the fuck the difference between an 89 point and a 90 point wine is. I think I remember feeling that Dr. Mlodinow was perhaps not a wine drinker, just someone who felt that wine scoring was bullshit – which it is! – and yet part of wanted to say but that’s not the entire point of all of this. Good wine writing isn’t filling out an Excel spreadsheet and awarding points based on whether or not the wine’s murky or clear, funky or tame; good wine writing should hopefully give you some idea of what the wine is like, why it might be interesting, and ultimately if you’re very lucky it’ll be amusing or challenging or what have you.

So, Dr. Mlodinow: thank you again for sending me a review copy of your book! To sum up: taste is tricky, there are genetic differences between different people, taste depends on the environment (humidity, temperature, ambient noise, smells, etc.), taste is also culturally determined and can be learned (see also: Germans who think American root beer smells like toothpaste, Americans who think ripe Camembert smells like jock itch), wine scoring is indeed bullshit, bottle variation is a thing (cork especially, some synthetic closures as well), and all of this cannot be reduced to mere chance.

2. In The Current Situation, my days are starting to all look more or less the same: Wake up at 7 am, make a pot of tea (today’s tea: Mariage Frères French Breakfast), have toast (or muesli, or Weetabix, or whatever), change into work clothes (OK, sweatpants, don’t judge), and log on to all of my work’s systems by 8 am (Microsoft Teams, Cisco Jabber, all that fun stuff). I then spend the day writing knowledgebase articles, working with customers to renew expired certificates, configure IV infusion pumps, all of the usual stuff. Lunch is at noon, which means I make sandwiches, typically. Then it’s back to work until about 2 pm, when things slow down as most of our customers are in the Eastern time zone, which gives me enough time to sneak out for a walk in the park as long as it remains open. Finally, at 5 pm, I log out of everything, shut the computer down, and make dinner. Today was Thursday, though, which means that Eat My Box delivered supper, so all I had to do was warm that up and plate it. Rigatoni, charred broccoli, olives, and lemon, so… white wine, anyone? I went with a Bodega Colomé Torrontes 2019 from Argentina… wait, aren’t they all from Argentina? Huh. Well, time for another cheat code… time to whip out that huge Wine Grapes book that I never read all of because. Let’s see what Robinson et al have to say… yup, Argentina only. Surprise, it’s a naturally occurring hybrid of Muscat of Alexandria and Listán Prieto, so there you go, mystery solved. Never one of my favorites, this wine always tasted like some kind of lemon cleaning product, the fancy kind from Whole Foods, but with a bitter, tannic edge to it. Of course, my husband Dan took one sip and said ‘uh, is this Muscat or something?’, once again proving that he’s better at the blind tasting game than I am. Dammit.

This is the first time I’d drunk anything from Colomé, and it’s slightly more expensive at $12 than usual cheap Torrontes I’ve seen, and it seems to me that it was well worth the extra couple bucks – and I am not surprised the Wine Grapes calls out this producer as a stand-out example of Torrontes Riojana. Not at all sweet, but with good texture and that love it or hate it lemon Pledge-with-an-edge, this is a classic example of the style. Damn the back label, though, for suggesting oysters because I sure as heck am not going to be able to eat oysters any time soon as the border with Mexico is closed.

La Linda Cabernet Sauvignon 2008

Tell you what: This is the new deal. If you send me a sample of your wine, I will do my very best to provide you a piece of writing which may or may not have anything to do what’s in the glass. Think of it as something for nothing (other than a small ding in your PR budget): you send me wine, and you get (hopefully interesting, probably rambling) free association about the semiotics of your wine, random commentary, and maybe even an actual tasting note.

On to this sample, then, courtesy of an East Coast public relations agency who offered it up unbidden. (I replied thanking them and asking them for information on Australian availability, given that many of our readers don’t live in the eastern USA. They didn’t reply to that question, but they did send a bottle, which is lovely.) I initially agreed because I’d heard of Luigi Bosca; I have vague good memories of them from a weekend in Mendoza that was preceded by an incredibly long bus trip thanks to a general strike at the nation’s airports.

I’ll start by saying this: Screw Flash. Really. It’s just annoying. I went to load their Web site (linked below) and had to wait for a lame-ass animation of YAY A CORKSCREW uncorking white space in my browser. You know what, guys? Save the money and put it in your product. All I want from a winery’s Web site is technical sheets about their products (with tasting notes, perhaps), information on where to buy some, and maybe even a list of upcoming events at the winery. That’s it. And you know what else I really don’t want? One of those annoying “Please enter your birthdate!!!” pages. Hint: It’s the Internet. I’m sure that 20-year-olds will see that pages and say “You know what, never mind. I’m not old enough to drink, so I had better leave this Argentine wine site and go back to talking about Justin Bieber on Facebook with my little sister.” Please. It’s just irritating, ESPECIALLY when you have to enter your birthday using a Flash UI. STOP IT. (For the record, I was born on 1 January 1910.)

On to the wine, but before I begin, I’ll note that Luigi Bosca seems to have erupted in a mad bout of branding, PR dollars, and marketing a go go. This is cool; I loved their Gala wines, but if they want to sell twenty different wines at multiple price points with different branding entirely, that’s just fine. This wine, La Linda, or “the beautiful,” is their cheap stuff, selling for well under ten bucks in the USA. With that in mind, I’ll start by looking at the packaging: the foil is a little cheap looking, the cork has some kind of laser-printed inventory or other number on it, but once that’s gone, you have a fairly splendid looking bottle that exudes class. The label is well printed and looks like a twenty dollar wine; there’s exactly enough information on the back label to help your average supermarket consumer decide if this is the wine they’re looking for (geographical information, a straightforward, honest tasting note, and food pairings (red meats!)). In short, everything is perfect here; it looks like it was destined for Oddbins or any decent supermarket.

So what have we got in the glass, then? A bruiser of purplish-black, inky wine, blackberry sweet on the nose, but with an attractive seam of rich, toasty, vanilla oak (chips?). The real surprise is on the palate, where the wine pivots into something much more interesting (and useful to restaurateurs): a higher-toned, nicely acidic, brightly lifted red wine that seems purpose built for the wine list at an all-you-can-eat churrasceria joint in Dallas or Washington. The palate is classy, friendly, and slowly gives way to a firm but friendly tannic finish that should do incredibly well with charcuterie or, well, huge frickin’ steaks. Oh, and I almost forgot the best part: it’s only 13.5% alcohol, which means you can share a bottle with your partner and not have to call a cab home afterwards.The only competition I can really see for a wine like this – at least locally – would be something like a Columbia Crest Grand Estates Merlot from Washington, which offers an approximately similar drinking experience at a similar price point. Where this wine shines by comparison, though, is the classier packaging, the more complex taste, and perceived value (hey, it’s an import!).

If you run a restaurant, this would be perfect for a steakhouse, upscale Mexican restaurant, or themed Brazilian dining. There’s no reason you couldn’t charge $30 for this and profit handsomely; if I were the importer, I’d concentrate on hospitality sales and avoid retail, where it might not fit in to the standard retail mix (two wines from Argentina, one Torrontés, one Malbec).

Luigi Bosca
Price: $8.99
Closure: Cork
Source: Sample

Petaluma Piccadilly Valley Chardonnay 2005

Q: What do you do in the event of an earthquake?A: Well, if you’re me, you quickly check to make sure none of the wine fell over and broke (it didn’t) and then grab the first bottle you can find to calm your nerves.Thanks to the vagaries of the international wine trade, the local bottle shop had a dozen of these for a meager $14 a couple of months back. Sadly, the first two bottles were corked and nonrefundable, but this one appears intact.Not visibly old at all – it still looks bright and clean – the nose tells quite another story, with hazelnuts, burnt matchsticks, and pineapple clotted cream cake coming together to suggest a wine that’s been around for a few years. Rich, unctuous, and ever so slightly overwhelming (think California style) in the mouth, there’s a thick seam of rich, buttery pear and roasted nuts to be found here. The finish is plenty long, with just enough acidity to make it easy-going enough to please most anyone, I reckon. In short, this would be the ideal wine to serve in Qantas business class: rich, stuffed with enough flavor to register at even thirty thousand feet, and fat enough to please folks who don’t enjoy their wine unless it’s got a certain sense of luxurious, hedonistic plushness to it.The only thing I am is surprised: I love Petaluma’s riesling and viognier, both of which are wonderfully expressive and full of character – and yet this wine seems a bit vague (in the international style, at least). It doesn’t compare well, I think. to the Grosset chardonnay (which is presumably made from fruit from the same general area)… but it is at least a surefire crowd pleaser. Shame about the dead tree stopper, though. Petaluma
Price: $14
Closure: Cork
Source: Retail

Viña Cobos Felino Malbec 2008

Obviously still a young pup – the purple is so purple that it could even give Grimace a run for his money – the nose smells mostly of serious oak with well-tended Mendoza fruit, a very nouveau-riche kind of smell that smells more like a lifestyle candle from Pottery Barn – nay, scratch that, probably something from Theo Fennell – you know the drill: expensive, a little generic, best drunk with a French manicure or cufflinks. Hm.There’s also a bit of smoky-sweet, lifted cheery red fruit here, which is very appealing. Thankfully, there’s good acidity that hits you before anything else does, keeping things moving right along to a lovely, broad, mouth-filling midpalate that offers up toasted coffee, plums, and finely grained tannins. It all finishes slowly, very slowly, definitely quite young, not insanely complex, but with great finesse and subtlety.The wine I’d most like to compare this to would be Michel Rolland’s Clos de los Siete, which is sold at a similar price range, but which is grown, I believe, a bit further to the south towards Lujan de Cuyo. The difference between the two is subtle but important: Clos is fatter, richer, more Parker; the Felino is nervier, racier, less plush, more Robinson. There’s actual space to think about it between all of the notes that must be hit; there’s an elegance and modesty here mixed in with the obligatory new oak and full ripeness. Honestly, it’s damn good for what it is and good value to boot. Recommended.Viña Cobos
Price: $16
Closure: Cork

Luca Syrah Laborde Double Select 2006

There is absolutely no reason whatsoever for anyone to be using a bottle this heavy: to do so is just rude. It makes it harder to hold and pour, more expensive to ship, and of course there’s the whole doing right by Mother Earth thing to consider. Worst of all, buying this wine will make you feel like a total prat. After all, what idiot wants to be seen buying the biggest, heaviest, most ostentatious bottle in the shop? Please.On to the wine. Shortly after opening the bottle, I noticed that I had a huge sticky smear of something all over my left hand (I’m a southpaw). Yuck. I retrieved the cork from the garbage and sure enough, there’s a bunch of sticky, gooey mass at the end of the cork and smeared up the side of it. I haven’t had the pleasure of this experience before; I trust the wine is OK and that this is just an one-off, a production oddity.The nose is curiously slight: if Vosges made a chocolate bar called “Gentlemen’s Dark Chocolate with Cedar,” then this is what it would smell like. Oak oak oak and oak… and yet, there’s a pleasant, fleeting floral sourness hiding in there somewhere too. Still, I don’t get a real sense of place, just a sense of cash flow: this wine smells like money.Amazingly purple-y youthful, the wine looks ravishing. Tasting it, though, leaves me a bit less a-flutter: it seems just a bit insubstantial in the mouth at first, quickly hiding behind massive woody tannin and finishing on a slightly sweet note, again managing to taste more expensive than anything else.In short, this is a wine for a hedge fund manager with a penchant for bling. This wine would be absolutely perfect with a steak dinner at the finest steakhouse in town: I’m thinking El Gaucho in Seattle would sell cases of this to Microsoft marketeers dining prospective clients in town to visit the Executive Briefing Center. Drinking it on its own is a bit of a chore, rather like gargling with lavender water and sawdust, but add a fine cut of meat and even a cigar and now you’re talking serious money.Luca
Price: $20
Closure: Cork

Cavas de Weinert Gran Vino 2002

Gorgeous, rich pretty cherry black in the glass, you could almost mistake this for raspberry sauce gone missing from your cheesecake. However, trepidation sets in on the nose: there’s a slightly raspy note promising difficult acidity, a somewhat off-putting charred, smoky note, and just the briefest hint of a curious sweetness I generally associate with yeasts that may or may not be intentional. Very strange.Round and full at first if somewhat unstructured, it quickly resolves into a clunky, tannic finsh that leaves you with that tell-tale did I just accidentally lick a hamster? feeling. Again, the odd yeastiness is briefly here and there, just not consistently; I wish I could better describe what it is what I’m feeling here, but it’s (to my mind) very much a marker of New World winemaking. Over time and with additional air, however, the wine does open up a bit, turning into cherry coffee tincture with chewy tannins.Ultimately, I suspect that there’s a very, very low level of TCA contamination here, which would account for the odd, fleeting, yeasty-sweet off notes, I suspect. Sometimes this wine taste like a serious contender for well-judged, nicely ripe New World Bordeaux; sometimes, it tends more towards telltale wet cardboard. It’s a shame I don’t have another bottle to compare against this one; for now I’ll chalk this bottle up in the ‘might be good but I don’t think I can honestly judge it’ category.Bodega y Cavas de Weinert
Price: $20
Closure: Cork

Finca El Portillo Rosé Malbec 2008

When I’m shopping for a relatively cheap pink wine (and for me, that means ten bucks or less), there are very, very few things I’m concerned about, to be honest. The wine should be screwcapped so that I am able to quickly bust it open when I get home from work; the wine should be dry as I think that sweet pink liquids are best left to manufacturers of children’s medicines, and (ideally) there should be some flavor in the wine, preferably something you’d want more than one glass of.This wine works for me on all counts. It’s easily opened, it’s bone dry, and it tastes vaguely like a rhubarb fool: slightly acidic, with pretty red berry flavors and a fine, creamy texture. It is just fine. No, it will not leave you rambling on about garrigue and Provençal herbs. The color is pink, Jolly Rancher Watermelon pink, and not an elegant onionskin pinkish yellow. The flavors are straightforward and good, no pussyfooting around.It’d be hard to do better than this at this price point – yes, I would rather have a bottle of Bonny Doon Vin Gris de Cigare or the Crios de Susana Balbo malbec rosé – but if this is on sale, it’s as cheap as you’re gonna get without venturing into “do not put in mouth” territory. Honest.By the way, if you ever find yourself on vacation in Mendoza, do take a trip down to the place where this wine is made. It is absolutely one of the most overwrought wineries I’ve ever seen (somehow without being vulgar) – if I remember correctly, it was built by Dutch orthodontists spending their retirement money in South America or something along those lines. It features the most insanely ridiculous spittoons I’ve ever seen: stand-alone plinths that look like they were ganked from a travelling Star Trek prop exhibition. I’ve never felt quite as self-conscious as I did horking up Syrah into those things; best of all, it’s a cavernous chai, so every tiny noise you make is amplified to truly epic gross-out proportions. Highly recommended: do book ahead and stay at the nearby Postales del Plata Valle de Uco Lodge if you get a chance. It’s awesome.Bodega Salentein
Price: $10
Closure: Stelvin

BenMarco Malbec 2003

Still almost a caricature of juicy-ripe fruit a fairly long time after harvest, this wine’s held up amazingly well. Squid ink and raspberries, iodine and white pepper come together as if the seaside’s been transported to central Oregon: there’s also a touch of dusty leather and dried tobacco leaves there as well. Lovely and complex, it promises quite a bit that (thankfully!) it mostly doesn’t fail to deliver.Initially somewhat thinly acidic, the wine quickly spreads out somewhat into a tart, taut, elegant midpalate suggestive of rhubarb tarts before mellowing into a softly tannic finish with subtle spiciness. Give yourself plenty of time to enjoy the inky dark color of the wine while waiting for the finish to complete itself; it takes its time disappearing quietly.Quite good, although I’d personally prefer stronger oak influence here, this wine is surprisingly light for an Argentine malbec, tending towards elegance rather than brute force. Try this one with salmon in a heavy sauce.Dominio del Plata
Price: $18
Closure: Cork

Crios de Susana Balbo Rosé of Malbec 2008

Such a beautiful color, this wine; it’s blindingly clear transparent watermelon candy, crimson rose petals leaching into a luxurious bath, cherry fruit leather drying in Andean sunshine. Strangely enough, I’m enjoying looking at this wine more than I am drinking it: this is a wine that doesn’t demand attention or thought, just enjoyment. Obviously, though, not every wine has to be some kind of profound experience; some are just fine as an accompaniment to White Castle sliders and the dying light of a cool May evening in the back yard. On the other hand, that’s really selling this wine short; there are many, many pink wines out there that are vacuous, boring, sweet, or insipid, and this isn’t that either. It smells of simple grapey strawberries, tastes pretty much like that too, but ends on a stylish pivot towards warm spices and refreshing, palate-cleansing acidity. This might not be the focus of my evening like a great wine would be, but it isn’t detracting from anything else, either.Plus: nine bucks? C’mon, that’s a steal. The Cayus Edith rosé I had last week was nowhere near the wine this one is and cost four times as much; I don’t know of any other sub-$10 wines that deliver as much pleasure as this one.Dominio del Plata
Price: $9
Closure: Stelvin

Altus de Gualallary Grand Vin 2000

With this wine you start with a quick huff of New World grapey goodness, but it quickly settles down into something with a bit more gravitas. The fairly richly scented, ripe Malbec fruit seems to have some good oak behind it, but not too much; this wine (surprisingly to me, given the name) seems to have avoided over-oaking in favor of something, well, more Spanish in style.Acidity is fine and frankly delightful, stealing center stage from the fruit, which is decidedly in the summer red berries stage here, strongly reminiscent of a fresh raspberry tart. Not decidedly complex at all, it seems much younger than it actually is, with barely a hint of aged character. It’s only towards the finish that – again – it seems briefly Serious Wine, but again not very much. Then again, thinking about it a bit more, the tannins are substantial but unobstrusive; they seem to have aged to the point where they’re just playing a supporting role here; this is why this wine seems a bit of a lightweight. But is it? I don’t know. Is it delicious? Yes, but shouldn’t I be expecting some heavy barrel toast and puckery tannins? Is it OK to like a good wine just because it’s summery and delicate?I can’t make my mind up about this wine at all. One moment it seems a trifle, the next an elegant, restrained wine in the Bordelais style that is way too sophisticated to be drunk with the food that’s on my table. This one’s an odd duck: probably not Serious enough to please folks who are expecting a massive bruiser of an Argentine malbec in the style of Clos de Los Siete and Michel Rolland, and way, way too sophisticated to be mistaken for your average supermarket quaffer labeled Los Gauchos del Sur (or whatever they call cheap Argentine Malbec where you live).I’ve decided it’s pretty damn good.Note: We bought this at the winery on vacation a couple of years ago; if you’re in the neighborhood (the Tupungato valley), the restaurant is absolutely worth a visit – that lunch in the vineyard was perhaps the best meal we had outside of Buenos Aires.Oh, and lest I forget: the encépagement is not listed on their Web site or on the bottle, so my guess of Malbec is just that: a guess. Apologies if I guessed wrong!Altus
Price: Can’t remember, probably around $25
Closure: Cork