Grenache: A New Cool

September 16, 2010

I had a friend in college who was a blast to party with. I think everyone knows somebody like this. They walk into the party and the room lights up. They’re boisterous, a bit over the top, edgy, and maybe even a little vulgar in a way that makes them endearing in a bad boy sort of way. With this person at the party, the evening will likely end with a bed or closet set on fire and the rest of the party-goers beating on pots and pans as they dance around the blaze. You want to be just like him, and with a couple drinks down your throat you make a silent promise to yourself not to take life so seriously from now on. You’re going to quit the internship at the accountant’s office and look for a crew that needs a helping hand lassoing crocodiles in Australia. You’re going to ask not just one, but both cute girls from the mail room out; maybe on the same night. Yes, your life should be bigger and bolder–just like your popular friend’s.

Then, by the end of your senior year, something changes. His stories don’t capture you the way they used to. You’ve heard most of them before. He seems a bit too loud for the situation. Yes, he’s still popular but the way he still refers to himself in the third person (usually by a nick-name like “Big T” or a misspelled word like “Rude Boi”) is a bit over the top. Some nights just seem to call for more subdued company. You find different people at the party to talk to. These new people are more refined. Maybe they don’t climb mountains but they do stuff like rebuild old cars, and that’s pretty cool too. Before long, you find these new people fascinating and a better fit for your taste.

This is exactly how I discovered Grenache. I just had a few too many nights in a row with the “Rude Boiz” of the wine world. It got old drinking wine where too much of a good thing was crammed into the juice. It got to be too loud, not right for the occasion, too over the top–a bit like drinking jam or syrup. This week’s recommendation is a Spanish Grenache.  

Etim 2006, Grenache ($16.99):  Etim is not the loudest guy at the party. With balanced flavors and a great aroma it has a quieter respectability–like the guy you don’t mind when he asks out your sister.

With Wine, Trust Your Own Palate

April 9, 2010

“Who are three people who have never been in my kitchen?” replied Cliff Clavin, the know-it-all character from the sitcom Cheers, during his appearance on Jeopardy. This was not the answer host Alex Trebek was looking for when the he asked the contestants to identify the three names listed on the board. Technically, Cliffy’s answer was correct; the three never once stepped foot in his kitchen.

            “But that’s obviously not what we were going for here,” said Trebek after hearing Clavin’s technically correct answer.

            “Obvious to whom?” replied Clavin, again making a legitimate point.

            Cliff’s answer was right yet in the end, the response was ruled wrong and Mr. Clavin lost all his prize money.

 Tasting wine differs from Jeopardy because with wine there are no incorrect answers about what you experience. How can somebody else possibly tell you what you taste, what you like, and why? So many times people believe, incorrectly, that they need to have the same experience as the critics. They’re told which wines they should like or dislike. This is exactly why such a culture of snobbery surrounds wine. Here’s my point: Tasting wine is not like completing a history test or filling out an IRS form; you can put whatever answer you like and it’s still right. When your friend at a wine party describes “hints of forest floor” in a wine, your description of, “tastes like those little plastic green army men I used to play with,” is no less valid. If it tastes like plastic toys to you, nobody can, or should, tell you otherwise.

 To prove my point, a highly regarded wine critic recently admitted that his palate changed when he scored a wine 91 points. He said he would have rated it at 89 if he tasted it 18 months earlier. C’mon, what math teacher has ever said, “The answer for this problem is 42 but last week it was 18”?  

 So next time you’re in a situation where someone is telling you what you should obviously taste in a wine, think “obvious to whom?” Then see if you denote a nuance of those little plastic army men. Like Cliffy, you’d be correct. Below is this week’s recommendation.   

 Cline 2008, Cashmere ($15.99): This wine is very smooth. No hints of forest floor but I do get a very unique mix of burnt marshmallow on the nose and graham crackers on the palate. Remember, that doesn’t mean you should too.

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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