Sunday, February 14, 2010

Watching the Detectives: Who Can You Believe?

It's a huge world of wine out there. There's some 2500 or so labels in my store alone. I try to count them sometimes, but hell, I'm a wine guy. If I could count I'd be making real money doing a real job, not just tasting fermented grape juice and telling those who listen what's good and what's not.

But I  can't taste it all and who's breaking open all those expensive wines just for me to try anyway? 

So we all read Robert Parker, James Laube, Stephen Tanzer, James Suckling and a host of wine writers writing for various publications and how tied are they to the advertising dollars anyway? It was ten years ago and I hadn't been in the business more than a few weeks when I heard my first customer tell me he doesn't drink anything that doesn't get 90 points. It was about a year later when I head James Clendenen, the mind behind Au Bon Climat tell us that 89 points from The Wine Spectator was just a "big f--- you." And stories like that go on forever.

So we were celebrating a certain family member's birthday last night (the age is only slightly beyond comprehension.) Take out Chinese and Stein's chocolate cake with white butter cream.

La Cuvee Ancienne from Domaine Boumard was fabulous with shrimp rolls with peanut sauce. The wine, a blend of several vintages ranging from sort of old to very old Chenin Blanc was a golden amber with dried fruits, rich honeyed notes and a complex nutty minerally finish. The sweeter notes of the orange beef focused the acids and made it shine. What would critics think of this, much less consumers? I shudder to think. Sadly I know what Texas buyers thought of this gorgeous stuff. The wine was purchased on a close-out sale.

The 2006 Espirit de Beaucastel from Tablas Creek was its ususual silky smooth California expression of Rhone varietals. It's hard to think of food that wouldn't pair with this wine. The 2007 in current release is maybe a little more intense, but sweet, spicy, meaty, fishy; all were incorporated by the wine in stride. The critics love the wine, it gets great press as it should. But it's pricey. Rhone customers don't buy it because it's from California and it's priced like Chateauneuf-du-pape. California customers dont' buy it because it's not Cabernet or Pinot Noir.

At the end of the meal we opened a 2002 Chateau Pontet Canet and things hit the wall. It offered a blank slate with suggestions that floral cassis might be found somewhere on the other side of the austere tannins. And it was onto candles and birthday cake. And two-thirds of an opened bottle went home to see another day.

Valentine's Day saw another wave of cold air as the wind picked up from the Northwest and the hints of blue sky disappeared under waves of slate-grey clouds. A grocery list with ingredients for a beef stew went unfulfilled on the kitchen table. Blogs went unwritten. Solitaire was way easier. Finally a trip to the store yielded a porterhouse steak on sale, mushrooms and a potato or two. 

Yes, and a couple of full glasses of the Pontet Canet. And as even Bordeaux from an off vintage can do, the wine had finally come to life. Aromas suggesting the perfume of violets and purple flowers came from the opaque purple wine. Gentle notions of cassis and black fruit intensified as the wine swirled around the mouth with a silky smooth finish that finished with a gentle yet firm grip of fine tannin. Subtle, elegant and ultimately powerful. 

It was then I looked up what Mr. Parker had to say.
"This wine has seemingly gone to sleep and is in a dormant, ungracious stage, exhibiting notes of green tea leaves intermixed with red and black currants in its dusty nose. A medium-bodied wine with moderately high tannin and a certain austerity, it seems to be a much less impressive effort than I thought from barrel or is it just impossibly closed? There is still substantial size and tannic clout to the wine, but the fruit seems to have gone into hiding. Anticipated maturity: 2011-2020+. 88 points."
How much wine is that review going to sell?

Surprise, Mr. Parker, surprise!


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. Good wine writing, Dave. I'd find it helpful if you included the local price of each bottle.

  3. Since I work in the business, I have shied away from putting prices in the blog. I want my writing to be seen as my thoughts and opinions rather than as a sales pitch. It's a fine line and I'm still on the fence as to which way to go. I do appreciate the usefulness of the information.