Sunday, May 18, 2008

Warm weather & wine

I came home this week twice to find that three bottles in my wine rack had leaked due to the intense heat wave that hit the Bay Area recently. The telltale crimson drops on the linoleum had me frowning since two of the bottles were pretty nice ones I had been looking forward to drinking -- the'04 Mariner from Dry Creek Vineyards and the '06 Cab Franc from Irish Monkey Cellars. So once the weather cooled off enough Friday night we drank them with friends on our back patio for fear they would oxidize if we waited to consume them. The Mariner (46% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot, 6% Malbec, 5% Cabernet Franc, 3% Petit Verdot)was especially good, a smooth and rich blend that featured prominent berry flavors but was well balanced.

The temperatures of 90+ degrees coincided nicely, however, with an Albariño tasting I went to in San Francisco on Wednesday, given that grape's tendency to produce very refreshing, high-acidity wines that are just what one craves when trying to beat the heat. The Jug Shop put on the event, which featured about 10 reps from importers/distributors at B44 in the charming Belden Place alley in SF. There was a wide variety of styles of Albariño at the event, including some that had spent a bit of time in oak, producing a much rounder wine, but not a style I particularly cared for.

My favorites were (naturally), the two that aren't available in California. The '07 Don Pedro Soutomaior from Adegas Galegas was fresh, lively and zesty with grapefruit on the nose. It was also slightly fizzy, reminding me of how the grape tastes when it's in the form of the Portugese Vinho Verde. The '07 Fulget from Maior de Mendoza was also slightly effervescent, with crisp citrus characteristics and a slight tartness on the finish.

My favorite bottle that is available in CA was 2007 Laxas from Bodega As Laxas, which featured peachy notes and had a clean flavor with wonderful acidity and a medium finish. I had a great time sipping on many "tastes" of the Laxas while talking to Luis, who works for the importer Viños Unico. Given my recent trip, we chatted about his native Cuba as well as the wines he's providing to two soon-to-open spots in Alameda, BarCeluna (which is re-opening) and a Alameda Wine Co., a combo wine bar/retail shop adjacent to the renovated theater. Finally, I won't have to leave the island to go to a wine bar!

Monday, May 5, 2008

A break

No, I didn't disappear forever from the world o' wine... I did take a break, although that wasn't due to a vanishing taste for the juice, but rather since I was outside the realm of good wine for awhile, in Mexico and Cuba for 2 weeks. Sure, it's possible to find wine there, but with the exception of a "welcome-back-to-decent-food" dinner in Cancun where we splurged on a ridiculously overpriced bottle of Italian wine -- La Segreta Rossa (60% Nero d’Avola, 20% Merlot, 20% Syrah), a decent $15ish bottle that was one of the cheapest bottles they had, even with a markup to $60! -- we were vino-free for two weeks. Wow, longest spell in quite a few years.

Oh sure, we saw some Spanish, Argentinian and Chilean wine in some Cuban restaurants, but we couldn't be sure it was stored right in the tropical heat. Besides, 85+ degree days couples with 85%+ humidity doesn't really get the wine jonsening going. I was pretty happy with mojitos (although I was disappointed they weren't as good -- but about 1/3 of the price! -- as the ones you can get at Forbidden Island in Alameda or the Prado in San Diego's Balboa park) and the local Cuban beer, Bucanero and Cristal.

But now I'm back and was sad to come home and eye a partially empty wine rack. Alas, I've got to stop hemorrhaging money on wine, though, so today I stopped by Trader Joe's to take a chance at some of their cheapies. I was lured there by the mention of Red Flyer on the store's Fearless Flyer -- a $2.99 blend of Syrah, Grenache, Mouvedre, Carignane, and Durif (aka Petite Sirah) made for TJ's by Hahn Estates in Monterey County. Being a Rhone fan I figured, even for the rock-bottom price, you can't really screw up a blend of those grapes too bad. Tonight I was surprised at its inky color as I poured it into the decanter for a half-hour or so, and then was impressed by its candied fruit nose, rich flavor with the musty earthiness I expect from a Rhone blend, a nice, round mouthfeel and (now) a smooth finish (at first it had a slightly sharp, chemical aftertaste, but that has subsided). I would have been happy to pay $8.99 for this wine! Hmmm, wonder how much my local TJ's has left...

I also picked up a $4.99 bottle of Gravity Hills Zin from Paso that I am holding out hopes for. Maybe it's time to start giving the uber-cheapies a chance!