Wine With Screw-Caps: The Verdict

March 24, 2010

Some things have a bad reputation, and deservedly so. For example, you wouldn’t expect to go too far on a Ukrainian motorcycle. When at the bookstore, you don’t see magazine racks filled with editions covering British cuisine. In Vegas nobody’s lining up to place a large bet on Detroit to win the Super Bowl next season. It’s not that any one of these examples couldn’t turn out well; it’s just that their reputations keep us from reaching into our wallets and giving them a vote of confidence with a few of our hard-earned dollars.

 There are times, however, when reputations are undeserved. For instance sometimes a slider from White Castle hits the spot far better than any food from a five star restaurant. Sometimes Pitbulls are wimpy, meek little lambs. Sometimes Toyotas don’t accelerate wildly into that obstacle in front of them. Lord help me for writing this, but sometimes I’ve even tapped my foot pleasantly to a Miley Cyrus song.  

 Screw-caps on wine bottles are another perfect example. For years only low-end swill was bottled with a screw-cap and it became a classic case of guilt by association. Over time, though, more and more wineries use screw-caps on higher-end wines. Not only are the caps more cost- efficient bottle closures for wineries to use, they also eliminate the estimated 2-3 percent of wasted wine due to bad corks.  Ruling out a wine simply because it has a screw-cap closes the door on many well-made, high-quality wines.

 So next time you’re watching that Tom Green movie on your Kazakhstani DVD player while eating pizza from Iceland, try one of these screw-cap wines. You won’t be disappointed. At least not with the wine.

 Pine Ridge 2008, Chenin Blanc/Viognier ($13.99): Take half a grapefruit, sprinkle it with fresh-cut summer grass, pour some cream on it, and drop it into a can of pears. The aroma of this wine is exactly that.     

 Trentatude 2006, Old Patch Red ($12.99): A blend of five varietals, this wine is packed with flavors of ripe blackberries. Drinking this wine reminds me of listening to one of those eclectic college radio stations. Just when the fruit is getting too soft like a triple play of Air Supply, Green Day shows up in the form of strong, solid tannins to keep everything in check and give it some backbone.     

Blue Chip Wines for the Special Occasion

March 17, 2010

You’re ready to pull out your wallet and shatter the lid on what you typically spend for a bottle of wine. You’ve picked the special occasion worthy of breaking the bank and you love the idea of finally experiencing a world-class bottle. But for all the promise, for all the hype, and for all the anticipation, you just can’t pull the trigger on the purchase because you fear the Greasy Grosshauser Effect. The Greasy Grosshauser Effect happens when something falls way short of its huge expectations. (For one example of the GGE, Google “Herschel Walker trade”). The name stems from a kid in my elementary school: Greasy wore his dad’s clothes by the age of eleven and could remove lug nuts from cars with his bare hands. His older brothers and sisters each held a state record or two in various sports.

The problem with Greasy was that for all his athletic potential, he had the coordination of a giraffe in a potato sack race and the killer instinct of a sponge on Quaaludes. In addition, after half a lap around the track, Greasy was easily distracted by pretty butterflies. Coaches and teammates could only shake their heads.

Expensive wines can burn you with the GGE too. Nothing is more frustrating than dropping a huge bundle of cash on a bottle of wine only to have it leave you shaking your head like you just watched it miss a layup. Although some brands have a stellar reputation and history, none are immune to making a bad bottle on occasion. For that reason I have compiled a short list of high-end, special occasion wines that leave me feeling like a winner and are worthy of their high-end price.

Rombauer 2007, Chardonnay ($32.99): The creaminess in this wine creates a perfect pairing with Brie cheese. Just try to calculate the points you would earn by having them waiting for your husband/wife after work.         

Domaine Serene 2005, Evenstad Pinot Noir ($59.99): Sour cherries, wet earth and cigar box linger throughout a long finish. Wet earth? Yes, in this wine it’s delicious.        

Continuum 2005, Cabernet Sauvignon ($125.99): After the Robert Mondavi brand was bought out by a huge conglomerate, the family now runs the Continuum Winery. Balance is the key word here. Cherries, red fruit, cola, and oak are delivered on a silk plate. A big investment, yes, but still not as much as popcorn and candy for the kids at the theater.

Tasting Wine Smackdown Style

March 10, 2010

When I took the Pepsi challenge I discovered one cola, Pepsi, tasted bigger and fresher than the others. By comparison, Coke seemed weak and thin. I needed to experience both of them right next to each other to really taste the difference. It was the same with Hostess Ho Hos and their leading competitor, Little Debbie Swiss Rolls. When comparing them at the same table, in the name of science, I discovered Ho Hos to be moist, rich, and aromatic. By comparison, the Swiss Rolls, tasted like waxy sawdust, only not as delicious. The point is, I drank Coke and ate Swiss Rolls for years without knowing they weren’t my first choice. It required a side-by-side, head-to-head smackdown to really learn how one compared to the other. It went on from there. I began testing other things next to each other and can now tell you exactly why I prefer Vietnamese cinnamon to Ceylon cinnamon, Columbian coffee over Ethiopian, and don’t even get me started on why I prefer the AMC Gremlin to the Dodge Aspen.

Tasting two wines next to each other in the same way is a great way to learn what you like in a wine and why. Pop the cork on two different bottles and pour a glass of each. Start with two different grape varietals. Notice the differences in their aromas. Do they feel different on your tongue? Do the flavors of one wine stay with you longer than the flavors of the other? Push the cork back in and try them again the following day. They’ll last for a day or two. Have they changed after breathing for a day? For a tighter competition, try two wines of the same grape varietal next to each other.

Performing tests like this accelerates your wine knowledge quickly. Below are two good side by side tests to give you an idea of where your tastes lie with both reds and whites.

Oyster Bay 2008, Sauvignon Blanc ($11.99) vs. J. Lohr 2008, Chardonnay ($12.99): One of these is fresh, crisp, and loaded with citrus, while the other is rich, creamy, and loaded with butter.

Mark West 2008, Pinot Noir (13.49) vs. Ave 2007, Malbec ($12.99): Again, these wines stand on opposite sides of the isle when it comes to flavor profiles and body weight. One is driven by fruit and has a lighter body while the other sports bigger flavors of oak, cedar, and tobacco.   

The Grapes Less Tasted

March 5, 2010

As a five year old kid, there was nothing cooler than going to the Paul Bunyanland Amusement Park in Brainerd, MN. I would wake up early, slam down a huge bowl of Chocolate Covered Sugar Bombs, and then scream, yell and squirm in the car the entire way there. By the time I was eight I still loved the park but I had seen Babe the Blue Ox a hundred times. I no longer became disoriented in Mine No. 1 and I didn’t really believe that it was Paul himself speaking to me when the voice came out of the giant statue. It was time for a change. Soon Valley Fair and the Renaissance Festival were added to my repertoire and my passion for the big day out stayed fresh.

Wine needs to be thought of the same way. Cabernet, Merlot, Pinot Noir, and Syrah – what I call the Big Four reds, offer a great ride but sometimes it’s refreshing to hit the midway with a new varietal. Leaving the Big Four to taste wine made from different grapes may not be for everyone. After all, not everybody likes sporting a renaissance era outfit to a massive public event. But by that same logic, you never would have discovered those golden nuggets of calories we call cheese curds if you’d just kept eating the same old corn dogs.

Below are two recommendations that will make you a believer in trying new wines.  

Yangarra 2006, Old Vine Grenache ($16.99): Tasting this wine directly after trying a Cabernet is like seeing “Kung Fu Panda” right after watching “A Clockwork Orange”. It is so different and yet there is still so much about it to appreciate. The medium body carries a complex stew of dark fruit and its deliciousness factor is off the charts.  

Callabriga 2005, Tempranillo ($15.99): This wine is made from the grapes Tinta Roriz, Touriga Nacional, and Alfrocheiro Preto. How’s that for stepping away from the Big Four? Wine Spectator also ranked it 57 on their top 100 wine list in 2008. The nose on this wine draws you in like the toothless carnie outside the Ring Toss. The difference is you don’t feel cheated after trying it. Cinnamon and spice are tucked nicely into a medium body. I originally bought this wine as a sideshow for weeknights but now I find it taking center stage for big weekend events. 

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