Friday, May 6, 2011

The World In A Wineglass

The blackish-gray sky is filled to the brim with fat and swollen clouds. The clattering of the rain on the windowsill and the roar of thunder might have quiet down the birds, but it nevertheless still sounds like a rainy jungle out there. Although it is beautifully green everywhere, after months of the monotonous white and grayish fare that the winter dished up, trees have blossomed and here and there the irises, columbines, clematises and dianthuses are displaying their bounty of early spring beauty. Nevertheless, in the wake of near-constant rainy days nature has taken on a solemn demure on a day like today. Everything is damp and wet and weighted down with heavy raindrops. It’s spring, the rainy season, but there is no spring in nature’s step, only heavy footfalls of storms and tornadoes and more storms and more rain.

Looking out the window I feel like humming Eddie Rabbitt’s I Love A Rainy Day, but instead Tab Benoit is bluesing in my ears about being on the Night Train from his excellent 2005 album Fever For The Bayou, true gumbo blues, swamp music.

I recently attended a wine tasting at one of the wine shops in town. V-The Market, a wine, beer and gourmet food market holds a tasting every Friday evening. Every week they offer something different, although they quite often focus on bourbons, which I can understand in their effort to promote local produce, seeing that 90% of the world’s bourbon is made in Kentucky.

I went to taste 5 reds. Cover cost $5. Cheese and snacks are free. Not bad.

Swirling through Europe

The night started off with an Italian red, Barco Reale di Carmignano 2008 from the Fattoria Ambra winery. Carmigano is a small DOCG region just west of Florence with a bit of history to it. Carmignano was one of the four wine zones cited in the 1716 decree of Grand Duke Cosimo III de’ Medici, and as such is one of the oldest wines of denominated origin in the world. In this tiny appellation, just 300 hectares, is Barco Reale, meaning “royal park” because the de’ Medici family use to hunt there.

The 2008 Barco Reale di Carmignano, made from Sangiovese (75%), Canaiolo (10%), Cabernet Sauvignon (10%) and Merlot (5%) was classic Chianti in appearance: bright, ruby red. Although fruity on the nose, the flavor was medium-bodied, slightly tannic and dry. Too dry for my taste. The Barco Reale, made from younger vines, first pressed harvest and designed to drink early, must be seen as the little brother of the Super Tuscans or Chianti's that come from the same DOCG.

From Tuscany we crossed the Alps to Austria to taste a Heinrich Red 2008. Truly a surprise to me because I didn’t know Austria can make such decent red wines. The Heinrich, made by Gernot and Heike Heinrich Winery is a blend of three quite obscure grapes – Zweigelt (60%), Blaufrankisch (35%) and St, Laurent (5%) in the Neusiedlersee Hugelland region in eastern Austria. This medium-bodied red was purplish in color, with lots of cherry fruits on the nose, and juicy, very fruity and a distinct peppery taste on the palate. Tannins were rounded and overall a very enjoyable surprise.

For the 3rd wine to be tasted we went south in location and far south in taste. It was a total let down. Maybe it is my mistake of always expecting something great from the Rhône Valley. The 2007 Chateau Sainte-Elisabeth originates from an appellation called Costiéres de Nimes, which is on the western side of the Rhône River and east of the ancient Roman city of Nimes. The wine lacked everyhing that makes Côtes du Rhône wines great. It was terrible on the nose and in taste. Made mostly from Grenache it was flat, tarish, and very minerally. I am sure this was a simple village wine, meant to sell locally, but unfortunately exported.

Then we went further southwest, cross the Pyrenees Mountains between France and Spain to Spain’s premier wine region, La Rioja, to taste the Marques de Cáceres Crianza 2006. Made from Tempranillo, Mazuelo and Graciano grapes, the wine was a typical Rioja in smoothness and taste, but lighter, without the usual heavy tannins. However it was still dry, but with a velvety finish. Generally I like Tempranillo for of its spicy, herby aromas and clear berry fruit flavors and this one didn’t disappoint. Good value for $16 a bottle.

Changing hemispheres

For the last tasting we crossed the Atlantic to the foothills of Argentina’s Andes Mountains, to the high-elevation vineyards of the Uco Valley in the Mendoza region, the world’s capital for Malbec production, for the best wine of the evening. The Finca El Reposo Malbec 2008 is a single-vineyard 100% Malbec, full of raspberry, black current, peppers and mocha. The Finca El Reposo ("sleeping vineyard") had a fresh taste, which could be contributed to the light use of oak aging, but a smooth finish. Fermentation is done in stainless steel tanks to preserve freshness and brightness in flavors. At $12 a bottle, it was most certainly the best-value-for-money wine of the evening. No wonder I bought a bottle or two.

Who says a short drive around the block can not be transformed into an evening of world travel through a glass of wine.

Heading picture: The Uco Valley in Argentina. Credit to  Tom Bryce-Gardyne at

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Ai, jy laat sommer my mond water met hierdie lekker beskrywings. Ek dink $5 vir so 'n wynproe is baie goeie waarde vir geld!