Category:Red wine

A chance to drink some well-aged wine

image I did a favor for a friend in the wine business, and he thanked me with a bottle of 1988 Domaine du Cayron Gigondas, a quality label from the southern Rhone.

I don’t get a chance to drink aged wines often. For one thing, my cellar is only 15 years old, and most of the wines in it are even younger than that. When I started, I didn’t buy enough wine that needed to age. For another, the demands of the business call for writing about wines that are readily available, and aged wines aren’t. There were only a couple of places in the U.S. that still had a bottle of this wine for sale, for example.

But when I do get a chance, I savor it. Aged wine (and this assumes that it has been stored correctly) is a treat, a chance to taste something that is not only unique, but an adventure. Wine makers have an idea about what will happen when they make something to last for 20 or 30 years, but it’s only an idea.

So how was the Cayron?

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Getting an updated look at South African wine

South Africa, I’m told by people who should know these things, has the right climate and the right soils to make quality wine. It’s supposed to be one of the next great regions for sauvignon blanc.

But its wines still do not have the best reputation. One reason is that the country’s national grape, pinotage, is an acquired taste. Another is that its modern industry dates only to the end of apartheid, and it’s difficult to accomplish much in the wine business in just a couple of decades.

But I made my way through a dozen or so South African wines yesterday, and was impressed with the improvement. The high-end wines were still uneven, but on the lower end — $15 and down, and especially at $10 and less — there were quite a few winners:

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Tasting five really expensive wines

image And each was impressive — not just to me, but to the other 56 people in the room. But impressive is only part of the story.

The tasting was a promotion for Terlato Family Vineyards, which produces a red Napa blend called Angel’s Peak. We tasted the 2004 vintages of Angel’s Peak and five of Napa’s biggest names: Silver Oak, Insignia, Opus One, Episode (another Terlato product), and Dominus. The idea? Taste each wine blind, so we weren’t swayed by price or reputation — and then see which wine that a knowledgeable group of drinkers enjoyed the most.

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Wine of the week: Peirano Estate Petite Sirah 2006

Ask someone from Napa what they think of Lodi, and you’ll get a snicker. “Oh, do they make wine up there?”

Which is one reason why the Wine Curmudgeon enjoys wine from Lodi so much, and especially wine from Peirano Estate. Regular visitors might know Peirano from The Other, the winery’s red and white blends.

Peirano, and Lodi wines in general, are well-made, offer value, and aren’t pretentious. Case in point is the petite sirah ($15). Petite sirah is related to syrah, but has its own character and flavor. It’s a little deeper and the fruit flavors aren’t quite as jammy. The Peirano has lots of deep, dark rich plummy flavor, but it’s not as overwhelming as a shiraz. You can even drink on its own, though it’s better with food. Serve this with pizza with tomato sauce and sausage, for example, or grilled hamburgers with lots grilled onions and mushrooms.

Tuesday tidbits

? Cheap Chilean wine: Spend any time with Chilean winemakers, and you notice two things. First, how young everyone in the business is, and second, that the inexpensive wines are so well made. Case in point: Calina, some very nice $8 wine from a company affiliated with Kendall-Jackson, made by winemaker Marcela Chandia. I didn’t ask (politeness, of course), but she graduated from college in 1999, which means she probably isn’t 30 yet. I was especially impressed by the chardonnay, with more fruit than oak, and the carmenere.

? Rosenblum update: Top zinfandel producer Kent Rosenblum reports that he will stay with his winery for three years after it was bought by massive Diageo. Rosenblum told the San Francisco Chronicle that Diageo was clear that it wouldn’t make big changes. “They want to keep the culture,” he said.

image ? Paul Newman wines: Yes, that Paul Newman. His Newman’s Own food company has released a California cabernet and chardonnay, about $16 each. The project is a joint venture with Rebel Wine, which is affiliated with Three Thieves, best known for the quality wine it sells in jugs and juice boxes.

Wine of the week: Torreoria 2006

People often ask how I can tell whether a wine is good, especially inexpensive wines. And the best answer I can give is to paraphrase Supreme Court justice Potter Stewart, who was discussing obscenity: “I know it when I see it.”

And, literally, that’s what happens. I take a sip, and I know. The quality of the wine does all the work. That was the case with this $8 red, a tempranillo from the Utiel-Requena region of Valencia, which is hardly Spain’s best known wine area. But this is one of the best cheap wines I’ve had in a long time. It’s not as sophisticated as a Rioja, even an inexpensive one. And the cherry fruit was a bit muted and it was a little too vanilla-y. But this is nitpicking. I paired it with grilled Cornish hen, and it worked like a charm. This wine is a terrific value, and is almost certain to enter the $10 Hall of Fame in 2009.

What about $6 wine?

image One of the things that I always tell my students (or anyone else, for that matter) is never to judge wine before you’ve tasted it. There might be many reasons to be skeptical — price, alcohol content, the grapes it’s made with, producer — but none of that matters until you take the first sip.

So what did I do when I received samples of BV’s Century Cellars line? Stuck it in the back of the wine closet, figuring it couldn’t be any good because it only cost $6 a bottle.

Shows how much I know.

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