Corkscrews at Twenty Paces

Let me tell you about my friend Dave
Johnson. We‚€™re related, sort of ‚€“ he‚€™s my sister‚€™s husband‚€™s
sister‚€™s husband ‚€“ and we share a passion for the grape, which we
indulge every Christmas Day when our families join to celebrate the
holiday. While everyone else is noshing on the spiral-cut honey-baked
ham, the roast turkey, smoked salmon and various cheeses, chips and
patés, occasionally stopping by to refill a glass, Dave and I are
squirreled off to the side playing what he calls ‚€œWine Camp,‚€ an
oenological version of stump the chumps. We don‚€™t eat until every wine
has been tasted, discussed, guessed and revealed, because we don‚€™t
want to cloud our palates.
I don‚€™t remember what year this started. It may have been the time I
poured an Israeli Merlot and dared him to identify it. (He pegged the
grape and narrowed the location to Eastern Europe or Greece, which
earned props from me.) Or It may have begun the time I identified a
Spanish Garnacha on one sniff. (I never told him I‚€™d had the same wine
the previous week.) Perhaps it just grew out of our mutual interest in
wine and the opportunity to have a little extra fun. Somehow it seems
less geeky to combine a blind tasting with a family party.
Every wine lover should have a friend like Dave, who relishes the
finest, hard-to-find cult wines but gains even more pleasure in
discovering exceptional bargains that taste more expensive than they
are. He primed us well this year with a lovely Hamilton Russell Vineyards Chardonnay 2004 from South Africa ($24) ‚€“ easily identifiable as a top-notch Chard but hard to pin down by location ‚€“ and an Attilio Ghisolel ‚€œCarlin‚€ 1997, a close-out special from the Langhe, showing well the cocoa-dusted cherry flavors of Sangiovese. There was also a Jade Mountain ‚€œLes Jumeaux‚€ 1991
from Dave‚€™s cellar, a Cabernet-Mourvedre blend that was still showing
beautifully.
Then he poured an inky, spicy-smelling red. ‚€œAhh,‚€ I thought,
‚€œAustralia.‚€ It coated the glass, smelled of Shiraz, though not
purely so, and offered a mouthful of sweet, ripe fruit. It was actually
a blend of 57% Cabernet Sauvignon, 32 Shiraz and 11% Merlot called Pillar Box Red 2004
from Padthaway.
‚€œWhat do you think this wine would cost?‚€ Dave asked us after we
raved about it.
‚€œWatch out,‚€ said his son, Drew, a student at the University of
Virginia who is already showing a talent for nosing varietals out of a
glass. ‚€œHe only says that when it‚€™s under $10.‚€
Dave confessed he‚€™d bought the wine for $8 a bottle from ‚€œsome guy
in Chicago.‚€ (I‚€™ve since seen it at $11 on the Internet.)
His final wine was Pax Sonoma Hillsides 2004, a Rhone
blend of Syrah, Grenache and a splash of Roussane from the winery that
is the latest and greatest thing, blessed with a rave and sky-high
ratings by HE WHO MUST BE OBEYED and therefore
available only to those who know the winemaker, the winemaker‚€™s
daughter, or certain secret Masonic passwords. It was gorgeous, sweet,
thick and syrupy, and packing a wallop at 15.4% alcohol. It also closed
down within a few minutes, losing its fruit and showing only fumes and
giving more evidence to my theory that such wines are best for blind
tastings where they are rated on a single sip or larger groups where
everyone gets only a small taste.
Anyway, I went back to the Pillar Box Red.
[OK, so I‚€™m leaving out the wines I brought to the party. First was a Breaux Vineyards Lafayette Cabernet Franc 2001 from Virginia, a medium-bodied wine with nice balance and acidity, which Dave and Drew felt was European, then a Bedell Cellars Merlot 2001 from Long Island, which was a bit light and disappointing. My ringer this year was Grover Vineyards ‚€œLa R√©serve,‚€
a Michel Rolland wine from India, of all places. The label did not
identify the grapes, and they were not obvious. But the wine was
surprisingly good ‚€“ not bad at all for $18. Was that a hint of
fenugreek I tasted? Well, probably not ‚€¶ ]

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