Monday, January 30, 2012

Cotes du Rhone (again)

Three bottles of Côtes du Rhône blends later and it looks like my New Year’s resolution is already shot. Ah well… I suppose that’s what you get for trying to break away from such a delicious group of wines. At least I’m writing about it.

This wine-writing experience for me is not only about drinking wine and writing (two of my greatest loves), but it’s also about learning. I certainly don’t pretend to know everything there is to know about great appellations or terriors. Nor do I know very much about the specific and varied grapes that come from every different region. And my affair with Côtes du Rhône is a perfect example of my naiveté.

I found myself unable to answer my mother the other night when she asked me if a Côtes du Rhône was a type of grape or a region. Though I knew it was a region, I couldn’t figure out what specific varietal it was – probably because I’d never seen anything on the label but "Côtes du Rhône" and the name of the winery from which it came. And so, I started to do a little bit of research. 

Côtes du Rhône (hills or slopes of Rhone) is a controlled appellation in the Rhône wine region of France from which a whole host of delicious blends emerge. Though the Côtes du Rhône, is not, as I may have thought, a varietal – it might as well be, as most wines that come from this region are primarily Grenache and Syrah blends (either red or white from Grenache blanc). To be considered a Côtes du Rhône blend, the wine must have a minimum percentage of Syrah. Though I haven't delved into the white blends, they have similar requirements with a minimum percentage of Grenache blanc required. My favorite Côtes du Rhône, the Reserve Perrin is composed of 60% Grenache, 20% Syrah, and 20% Mourvedre - a relatively common assortment of varietals for a glass of this appellation's wine.

I’ve written about  my favorite blend, the 2009 Perrin Reserve Côtes du Rhône ($10.99), but I haven’t written about two different blends I tried recently. The first, at the recommendation of a Professor of mine, was the 2007 E. Guigal Côtes du Rhône Red ($10.99-12.99). This red, given 90 points by Robert Parker, was delicious, but a bit too Syrah-y for my tastes. I’m not a big fan of the Shiraz/Syrah varietal and as this was about 50% Syrah, it was too much for me. Though the wine was certainly smooth, with a great finish, I thought the cherry and currant led it to be a bit too sour without any tempered soft spices to really balance it out. Though it certainly wasn’t difficult to drink, I found myself, like many other reviewers, wondering why this wine was so revered when less expensive alternatives tasted better.

The second Côtes du Rhône blend I recently tried had a nearly indistinguishable name and label from the 2009 Perrin Reserve Côtes du Rhône. However, the wine was completely different. From the Famille Perrin, the Perrin Reserve Côtes du Rhône Rouge 2010 ($8.99) is a delicious, less expensive alternative to the 2009 Perrin Reserve Cotes du Rhone blend. Though they are nearly identical in name and almost impossible to look up online, the wines were similar in smoothness, spicyness, and both full of rustic Côtes du Rhône flavor. Like the Reserve blend, this wine is also made up of more Grenache than Syrah, lending it a spicy element that countered the sour cherry and currant fruit that was so heavy in the Guigal. We did have to let it sit in the decanter for quite a while, as the sharp tannins at the end were a bit harsh at first and made me feel that the wine was still a bit young. I’d recommend this wine with a lighter meal (or perhaps before the meal entirely), and save the Reserve blend for the heartier pastas and meats.

Friday, January 27, 2012


I’m a picky person. I don't like very many things. I find the majority of fruits to be a bit too squishy, a small population of vegetables to be horrifying (brussel sprouts, lima beans, peas, cauliflower, etc.), most nuts to be too nutty. I don’t care for most sodas, the majority of tropical-themed juices, and anything MinuteMaid makes my teeth hurt.

And so it constantly surprises me how much I like wine. And how much I like all of the varietals. It's very rare that I'm horrified by a wine, Cupcake Red Velvet, being the most recent exception to the rule. (If it's a sweet red that makes non-wine drinkers go: "Mmm! Tastes like chocolate!" then I probably hate it. And it's probably Cupcake Red Velvet.)

Maybe a year ago, I would have put quite a few varietals in the list of things I didn’t care for – Shiraz, Zinfandel, Chardonnay, Riesling, Pinot Noir. But time and money have conquered most of these dislikes and turned them into loves. I have already chronicled my fear of Pinot Noir and the Oregon summer that lead me to drinking more regularly than a Cabernet or Merlot… But I haven’t spoken about many white wines.

I’ll start with Chardonnay. The Chardonnay obstacle was a mental roadblock - buttery whites that dominate female ordering on 90s television shows spelled out a “No thanks!” for me. The name even sounds terrible. When I say it in my head I imagine a bigger man from a Southern state pronouncing it in an accent, his large hands around a tiny, cheap glass of wine. Maybe it’s the alliteration, or the ugly “Chard” introduction to the word…

But then I had a really cheap, really great encounter with the Columbia Crest Two Vines Chardonnay. I don’t usually make it a habit to buy $6-$7 wines, but one summer day the Wine Spectator’s 89 point rating and the teeny price tag drew me in. You can read more about the tasting experience here.

And then I had another encounter, at over 2x the price of the Columbia Crest that solidified my taste for Chardonnay. I went to a Safeway wine tasting recently (it was every bit as sterile as it sounds, but I’m glad Safeway is trying to offer this!) and they had available a La Crema Chardonnay, Pinot Noir (from the Sonoma coast) and Kendall Jackson’s Summation red. I won’t go into how much I resist buying anything with a name so boring as Kendall Jackson and I’ll admit that I loved the Summation blend (against my aesthetic, creative judgment). I didn’t have high hopes for the Chardonnay, but once again, was surprised.

The 2009 La Crema Chardonnay ($14.99 on sale at Safeway/off sale $20) is a delicious, more adult Chardonnay). Though it was still rich with oak and silky smooth, the wine had a great hint of acidity that cut the smoothness. The dimension in this Chardonnay, blended flavors of honey and apple, complimented by the acidity, pushed it beyond the designation of an easy drinking, summer porch wine Chardonnay. I was blown away by the taste in store and bought it to go with some fresh basil, tomato, and mozzarella pizza. The freshness of all of the flavors reminded me of the crispness of early spring.

If you, like me, fear the large man holding a tiny glass of Chardonnay, pronouncing Merlot “Mer-lot,” or equally fear turning into a mini-skirt clad 90s lawyer ordering Chardonnay at a local bar (I’ve been watching Ally McBeal) – then try the La Crema Chardonnay. I think you’ll take a sip and picture a satisfied oenophile on a terrace somewhere in California, looking over a rolling sea, listening to sea birds.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Stuck in France

I get stuck in food/taste ruts quite often. I'm not sure what to call it but it's categorized by long bouts of eating the same thing, until I overload my taste buds with the same tastes and swing in a drastically opposite direction. I'm in a yogurt and granola rut right now. Organic blueberry flax granola and greek honey yogurt... I could eat it for every single meal, all day long, for the next two weeks. Last time, it was Pace Medium Picante salsa and Mission Tortilla chips. I ate jars and jars worth of salsa. I can't say it's healthy, but it's taste-bud satisfying and it makes for easy bulk-shopping.

It seems to be the same with alcohol. You can probably chart my wine drinking ruts through this blog. Right now, I'm smack dab in the middle of a Cotes Du Rhone binge. I don't want to drink anything else. And seeing that there are about 2 worthwhile Cotes Du Rhone wines in my price range, there isn't much differentiation in my drinking habits. As for beer, I'm only drinking IPAs. Nothing tastes as rich or as refreshing as a really good, 6%+ IPA. So it's Cotes Du Rhone and a variety of IPAs (Deschutes Inversion IPA and Ninkasi Total Domination IPA, primarily) at our apartment right now and I can't seem to break free. My last alcohol rut was probably Cabernet Sauvignon and Porters... I suppose the difference isn't huge in this case, but I certainly have my patterns.

The weather has been insane here in Washington lately, a big snowstorm (for us) with some nice snow days off of work, an ice storm immediately following, and then big puddles from the snow melt and a bunch of rain. Though the temperatures have been warming up, it's a great time to be drinking rich red wines that serve as fantastic alternatives to turning the heat up all the way to the "Comfort Zone" range. At a dinner party we had last night, a friend brought over a Malbec and Cabernet and Ben, after having a small glass, remarked that he forgot how good a nice glass of red wine can be (the beer drinking seems to have erased his memory) in the chilly weather. I was the designated driver and so I didn't try the Argento Malbec, but everyone around the table seemed to thoroughly enjoy it.

And so the Malbec realization and the wine rut realization merged and I've come up with a resolution (a little late, I know) to drink more variety, beyond the usual big reds I like (into France, Italy, Spain, Germany, Mendoza, South Africa, some more of California and Oregon, and finally into some richer white wine territories). And then I want to pick up writing about it again. I know the blog has fallen off a bit lately with work getting busier and busier and my spare time now filled with using my KitchenAid mixer rather than my Waterford decanter. But, I think it's a ridiculously easy resolution on the scale of self-improvement resolutions.

So off into the wine world 2012 I go. Let me know if you have any pressing recommendations or suggestions on how to break out of ruts - a particularly good varietal would suffice!