With Lisa's receipt of this year's prestigious and lucrative Joseph Collins Foundation Scholarship Award, our stark poverty has been eased somewhat. We've put up some new drapes in our Island garret, bought the cat some tinned food instead of the generic dry stuff, even splurged on sixty watt lightbulbs since we don't pay for electricity anymore!
In other words, life is good. Or at least significantly brighter. And in the burgeoning brightness of our socialist paradise there is now at least a little room for overpriced swill...
EXPENSIVE WHITE WINES, THREE AT LEAST
Huet Vouvray Clos du Bourg Demiscec 2000 ($20) (Oceans of Overpriced Swill III): Ah, for the days of $20 Huet demisec. Sigh. Life was sweet back in the halcyon days of 2002. Anyway, it's aromatically closed down, chalk and lemon over a neutral stoniness. Tastes mediumweight and almost not noticeably sweet, opens very slightly with time, an almondy hint begins to emerge after a few hours' air. Never a garrulous wine, this has gone turtle, but it'll come around to loveliness in a decade or three, I'm confident. Hold hold hold. (11/06)
Francois Cotat Sancerre Chavignol 'la Grande Côte' 1999 ($25) (Oceans of Overpriced Swill III): Rainwatery aromatics, minerals, chalk and lemon. Tastes demisec-sweet, a chalky Chavignol with shy acidity, loose and fleshy and pure. A little strange and all ahoo, but given the disastrous vintage I'd say it's not a bad effort. The overall feel is of a soft, expressive little apertif-style wine that's just happy to be here, hat in hand, ready to serve. (11/06)
Qupê Chardonnay Santa Maria Valley Bien Nacido Vineyard 'Y' Block 2004 ($23) (Oceans of Overpriced Swill III): I bought this in one of my brief Reconsider Your Prejudices, Man! phases, and it made damn sure that it'll be a long time until the next one overtakes me. Smells yellowoody--barlett pear and yellow apple hints, overlaid with toffee, butterscotch and toasted vanilla. Medium acidity, there's a quiet crispness and a broad, almost buttery mouthfeel. There seems to be some decent fruit underneath the candyshop aromas, but the wine is scarred and twisted, the Phantom of the Opera in a glass. Bleh. (11/06)
EXPENSIVE FRENCH WINES FROM THE BLIGHTED YEAR OF BLISTERING HEAT
Catherine & Pierre Breton Bourgueil Franc de Pied 2003 ($23) (Oceans of Overpriced Swill III): Smells dark and barky, cranberry-blackberry fruit laced with pinecone and pineneedles. Fleshy and composed, if not taut, the acidity is perky but a little shy, we're moving along through the chewy midpalate, then suddenly a rough finish, abrasive paint-stripping tannins, yowch. Bring some leather to tan if you're drinking this. I don't like this as much as the cheaper Trinch!, which hasn't got the same focus but, although also rough-edged, isn't quite as assaultive. (11/06)
Château d'Aighuile Côtes de Castillon 2003 ($30) (Oceans of Overpriced Swill III): Dark garnet color. Smells very tarry-spicy, pitch and tar and other dark spicy things--baker's chocolate, graphite and plum-cassis. Quite fleshy, dark and weighty and substantial wine, with medium low acidity, just enough to not be ponderous. It's meaty wine, but there's a looseness in the middle that gives it a bit of lift, avoids the motor oil/reduced quality some larger '03s. Tangy and medium-long, it's overblown but not absurdly so. Aggressive glassy tannins clamp down, shutting down the finish, but there's oodles of toasty-spicy cassis-blackfruit in there as well. A bit of a sport, but a hopeful one, has the feel of an offbeat Santa Cruz mountains wine from a garage producer. (11/06)
Château Lynch-Moussas Pauillac 2003 ($25) (Oceans of Overpriced Swill III): Deep saturated garnet-purple color. Ripe blackcurrant laced with cedar, toasted vanilla and smoke, smells happily Californian. Tastes Californian as well, ripe creamy vanilla-smoke-laced redfruit, tangy and ripe, broad and rich and unsubtle. Some aggressive gritty tannins grind the already-abbreviated finish to a halt, but there's a fun juiciness here, ripe jammy cassis with a dollop of complexity and a sense of composure. Fine Sonoma cabernet. (11/06)
Château Sociando-Mallet Haut-Médoc 2003 ($50) (Oceans of Overpriced Swill III): Dark saturated garnet color, purpling at the rim. Hugely aromatic--cassis and hoisin sauce, tar pit, clove, graphite and cedar, sod and blackberry, yikes. It's the usual aromatic profile turned up to eleven. A sip, and the gigantism continues--ripe dark blackberry-cassis fruit suffused with spiciness, firm acidity, all wrapped up tighter than I'd have suspected based on the aromatics. The wine, despite the size, has a compactness and focus that gives it composure beyond mere heft. More definitely Bordeauxish than the first two, yet drawn large. An imposing wine, peculiar but compelling.
Gilles Robin Crôzes-Hermitage 2003 ($85, delivered to our table) (Oceans of Overpriced Swill III): Medium-dark garnet-black color. Quite rich-smelling, smoky black raspberry laced with smoked-meat hints, it's plush and obvious and a bit much, but I kind of like it. A sip, and there's a rush of ripe blackberry-raspberry plushness, which spreads out in the middle and, combined with the lowish acidity, makes for a rather paunchy middle. The northern Rh™ne meets Napa Valley. (11/06)
Mas des Chimères Côteaux du Languedoc 2003 ($17) (Oceans of Overpriced Swill III): Medium purply garnet color, although still translucent. Smells darkly raspberried and tree-barky, smoky plum-licorice hints, newly turned sod. Tastes fleshy and warmly flavored, loosely wrapped with medium-low acidity. Takes a wide turn towards plumminess in the middle, finishes plum-earthy and grittily tannic. A wide-beamed wine, rather pleasant in a strange way, richly flavored and plush, very relaxed. (11/06)
EXPENSIVE WINES FROM FRANCE, NON-BLIGHTED YEAR DIVISION
Clos Roche Blanche Côt-Malbec Touraine 2004 (58% côt, 35% malbec, 2% petit verdot) ($18) (Oceans of Overpriced Swill III): Smells darkly redfruity, tar and black raspberry. Very crisp, honed to a purple-black obsidian purity. Taut and bright, medium bodied and vivid, only lightly tannic. Rather friendly for such a baby, but with lots of potential. (11/06)
Joseph Drouhin Côte de Nuits Villages 2002 ($20) (Oceans of Overpriced Swill III): Medium light garnet color. Softly earthy smellies, quiet cherry and treebark, hint of rootbeer. Tastes light and easygoing, medium crisp at the core, loose and feathery at the edges. Not profound, but quite charming. (11/06)
J.L. Chave Hermitage 1985 ($60) (Oceans of Overpriced Swill III): Aromatically vivid, layers of smoke and iodine, menthol, black pepper and smoked meat, all couched in a muted raspberry base. Tastes surprisingly light and lithe, very flavorful but flirting with insubstantiality, a certain looseness and low acidity that almost says 'I dare you to find me less than lovely.' And indeed, I can't, as it's lovely wine, girly and light but extremely flavorful. Just pretty perfumed stuff without much substance. (11/06)
Mas Foulaquier Côteaux du Languedoc Pic St. Loup le Rollier 2001. Very peculiar aromatics, dark blackberry-raspberry fruit laced with licorice and a juicy-fruit green spearmint streak that brings hybrids to mind. Dark and disjointed in the middle, finishes with an astringent burnt rubber twang. Rather unpleasant, really. Star Chick Sommelier Vanessa Treviño Boyd seems to think it's the cat's pajamas; we love her anyway, despite this peculiar lapse of judgment. (11/06)
ONE EXPENSIVE WINE FROM SPAIN
Bodega Balcona Bullas Crianza 'Partal' 1999 ($23) (Oceans of Overpriced Swill III): Monastrell mostly, if I recall correctly, with some cabernet sauvignon and tempranillo. Dark ripe black cherry/red plum/toast with a hint of... what? Mint? Thyme? Something herbal up high. Tastes composed and firm but with a plushness about it, with a gentle sour-raspberry tartness arising in the middle to tickle the tonsils. Very nice wine, not terribly elegant or complex, but well structured and quietly ripe, with a patina of rusticity. Good stuff, I like it. Wait a minute, did I really just say "patina of rusticity"? Gadzooks, that's the kind of thing I always said 'Shoot me dead if I ever start sounding tritely wine-writery....' about. It may be time to retire. (11/06)
ONE JUST BARELY EXPENSIVE PINOT NOIR FROM KIWILAND
Mt. Difficulty Pinot Noir Marlborough 'Roaring Meg' 2005 ($17) (Oceans of Overpriced Swill III): Medium-pale garnet color. Clovey-cola hints over earthy-barky cherrry-plum redfruit with a shy burled-walnut streak. Quite taut and lean, despite medium acidity and a softish-velvety skin. There's a flash of unreconstructed tannic roughness on the finish, but not too bad. All in all, a pleasant tritonal little Kiwi pinot noir, lean and with a bit of a severe streak, but likeable in a smallscale way. (11/06)
RIDICULOUSLY EXPENSIVE WINES FROM AMERICA NORTH
Belle Pente Winery Pinot Noir Yamhill-Carlton District 2004 ($25) (Oceans of Overpriced Swill III): Medium-light garnet color. Gently spicy cola-clove cherryosity. Quite zippy-crisp, perhaps more so than the fruit can support, but it's bracing. A bit underfruited, though, there's a lack of focus in the middle. Nice enough, not as interesting or well built as the single vineyard stuff. Next time I'll drop the extra ten and grab the Murto. (11/06)
Dashe Cellars Zinfandel Alexander Valley Todd Brothers Ranch 2002 ($30) (Oceans of Overpriced Swill III): Ripe candied black cherry-raspberry aromatics, heavily laced with chocolate and smoky-toasty charred wood notes. Ripe and plush, fleshy in the middle with medium-low acidity and lots of burnt toast, which is what lingers longest on the finish, mingling with some rough tannins. The wooding is offputting, but this is powerful, full-throttle zin, Turleyesque without the finesse. There's a lot here, but it's just too much for me, like being whacked on the head with a flaming sock full of cherry pits. I used to mentally categorize Dashe as one of those fabled 'restrained & balanced zin producers'; what the heck happened? (11/06)
Joseph Phelps Napa Valley 'Insignia' 1995 ($62.75) (Oceans of Overpriced Swill III): I approach this with trepidation, as it was one of those 'I used to love this wine back in the day' kind of wines, but I'm pleasantly surprised at the smoky-cassis-blackfruit-earth aromatics, which are ripe but relatively restrained. The initial mouthfeel is broad but rather supple for a big wine, velvety-smoky in the middle, with just the beginnings of secondary development. It's plush and has no angularity to speak of, but there's a sense of focus and calm that I like. Plus, it has that rarest of commodities in big California wine, a decent finish. If I recall correctly, this wine went nutzoid some time around the 1997 vintage, turning spoofy and freaky, but the '95 is another animal entirely, broadshouldered California proprietary wine, just starting to come into its own. (11/06)
Jaffurs Wine Cellars Syrah Santa Barbara County 2003 ($22) (Oceans of Overpriced Swill III): Smoky-blackberry-raspberry & iodine, ripe and dark and peppery. Tastes like a Northern Rh™ne wine on steroids, riper and darker and more muscular, but the flavor and aromatic profile is the same. In other words, this is California syrah that tastes the way syrah ought. Firm acidity is buried a bit beneath ripe smoky-dark fruit, but it's there all right. Matte, slightly gritty mouthfeel, roughish around the edges, but nicely composed and focused, real nice wine. Who are these guys? Not to be a Philistine, but I enjoy drinking this more than I do the subtler and doubtless more sublime Chave. Does that make me a bad person? Or perhaps Kane? (11/06)
Vinum Cellars Syrah San Benito County Vista Verde Vineyard 2002 ($22) (Oceans of Overpriced Swill III): Smoky raspberry aromatics, candied redfruit with a smoky edge. Generously toasty-oaky, plump and plush, lots of flavor but a bit watery in the middle and with the air of a GIBR about it. I generally like these guys' approach, but this is overdone syrah for today's modern EXTREME!!! consumer, broad and poofy-dopey tasting. (11/06)
Rockland Road Cellars Petite Sirah Napa Valley 'Rockland' 1999 ($35) (Oceans of Overpriced Swill III): Deep saturated purply-garnet color. Smells vividly smoky-ripe, blackberry and pomegranate fruit, touch of eucalyptus up high, dark stony minerality down deep. Tastes dark and hard, firm acidity wraps around taut well-composed blackfruit. Seems oddly advanced, there are cracks in the facade of blackfruit, and the finish is almost tannin-free. Pretty impressive wine, on the elegant side for a PS, sleek and smoky and concentrated. A bit pricey, but only because it's PS. (11/06)
Trentadue Petite Sirah North Coast 2004 ($18) (Oceans of Overpriced Swill III): Dark blackberry, pomegranate and tar aromatics, earthy purply-smelling PS. Rich and focused and rather weighty, good size and good heft, a real grilled steak wine, dark and smokily purplefruity. Medium acidity, with a certain softness at the core, there's a creamy gentleness, a lack of rough edges. It's velvety now, but I wouldn't age it. Still, nice rich PS. (11/06)
SPECIAL COSTCO SHOPPERS FEATURE--THE KIRKLAND SIGNATURE SERIES HORIZONTAL!
Kirkland Signature Châteauneuf-du-Pape Grande Reserve 2003 ($22) (Oceans of Overpriced Swill III): I haven't bought a Châteauneuf in a few years, the prices having gotten stupid for what is for me essentially pizza wine, but this caught my eye. Gently smoky raspberry-liqueur redfruit laced with quiet leathery-clovey-cedar hints, subtle touch of volatility. Tastes soft and plush, velvety and smooth, rather spineless, a pool of soft spicy compote washing over my tongue. There's a vagueness at the center, but for a loosely wrapped '03 southern Rhône it's rather composed, if naturally zaftig. There's just a gentle surge of tannin on the finish, which is medium-brief. Short on structure, but Kane-friendly wine. I could see liking this, were one a fan of the low acid gob-laden style. (11/06)
Kirkland Signature Pinot Noir Oregon 2004 ($19) (Oceans of Overpriced Swill III): Medium light garnet color. Tritonal cherry cola-clove aromatics, sweet smelling and relatively by-the-numbers. Soft, gentle and fleshy pinot noir, quiet cherry clove fruitiness, loosely wrapped. Could there be a touch of RS? If so, it's just enough to add a certain pillowy quality to the fruit. Nondescript friendly pinot noir, soft and squishy and bland as Wonder Bread. (11/06)
Kirkland Signature Series Merlot Napa Valley 2002 ($19) (Oceans of Overpriced Swill III): Medium dark garnet color. Smells of fresh sawdust, cherry candy and vanilla candlewax, just a hint of oregano. Tastes like a velvet cherry blanket, soft and soothing. The acidity is lowish, the plum-cherry fruit is plump and rich, the wine is on the large size but isn't out of balance. Sure, it's a bit vague at the core, but it does a credible impersonation of a fat pointy-people wine. Kudos to the Kirkland folks for tapping into the zeitgeist! (11/06)
It's not hard to locate the house style--all these wines are plush and soft, vague in the middle, generously fruited and nonassertive, redolent of manufacturing. These are submissive wines, animatronic basset hounds that roll over and show their furry belly to you for rubbing. Not that there's anything wrong with that, and I can see how they're actually quite good values if you're in the market for that kind of thing, as many people seem to be. Pointy wine for the masses! (11/06)
OVERPRICED SWEET WINES
Eos Muscat Paso Robles Late Harvest 'Tears of Dew' 2004 ($21/.500 ml) (Oceans of Overpriced Swill III): Medium gold color. Smells like fresh-baked apple pie, spicy, with maybe a skosh of ripe pineapple in there too. Quite sweet, but also quite crisp, the acidity sufficient to balance the sugar. The mouthfeel is glossy, almost viscous. It's kind of a silly wine, but it has a certain sly charm, not to mention a lot of sugar. I'm a bit of a softie for sweet muscat, so it's okay with me. (11/06)
La Ferme de la Sansonnière (Marc Angeli) Vin de Table de France Rosé d'Un Jour (2004) ($20) (Oceans of Overpriced Swill III): The silly subterfuge bottle, but oh so tasty after the fat '03 version. Pale salmon-copper color, smells sweet, ginger and orange-cream and lightly botrytised. Moülleux-sweet, just a step past demisec, gentle acidity, smooth and supple and creamylicious. Lovely, sweet, layered, pretty. Stop me before I adjective again! (11/06)
Domaine Deletaing Montlouis Moülleux Grande R´serve Tris 1997 ($16/.500 ml) (Oceans of Overpriced Swill III): I'd been less than impressed with other big-sweet Montlouis from Deletaing in 1997, but this one turns my head. Medium-light gold color, extravagantly botrytised--apricot, hay, honey, quince jam. Lovely aromatics, quite sweet and broad-beamed. Damn, I opened this bottle after a poor showing of another at the carb jeebus in New Jersey earlier in the year: mistake, and a lesson in not drawing conclusions from one bottle--this needs more time. Firm acidic core, focused and sweet and honeyed, a real lulu of a chenin, really well-balanced big-sugar-big-botrytis sticky wine, taut and rich and vivid: superb. My last bottle, ugh, this cost me something like $16 when it was released. Double ugh. (11/06)
Croft Late Bottled Vintage Porto 1997 ($18) (Oceans of Overpriced Swill III): Very red-berried, sweet and low-acid and soothingly velvety, a soft, rich wash of dark berry fruit. Quite rich, but lacks mouthgrab and complexity, preferring to just sweep over my tongue with a wave of sweet dark redness. Still, it's hard to put down. (11/06)
Ah well, enough of our livelihood down the drain. Must go now, there's cans to collect and windshields to squeegee. See you next time, kids!