The dark side of wine
“Eat the polenta!” she told me. “Eat it. Quickly! It’ll get that taste out of your mouth.”
And a nasty taste it was. The polar opposite of the magical perfect match, this combination of Montepulciano d’Abruzzo and smoked fish, created a flavor that I needed to remove from my mouth as quickly as possible—utterly horrid.
Now, I’ve had my share of mismatches. Usually, each part simply doesn’t go with the other—the food refuses to speak with the wine, or perhaps, one overpowers the other so only the food or wine can be tasted. Forgettable experiences that one shrug shoulders at, and simply moves on from.
But, this combination—this unique flavor that was impossible to tolerate, that I shoveled polenta onto to obliterate—this was a spectacularly wong match. One to remember. To either avoid or recommend to enemies.
When I say food and wine matches Matter, with a capital M, this is what I mean.
Yes, I know—red wine with fish.
And, yes, I also know that it’s trendy to do that.
Yet, with the right wine, this is neither inappropriate nor without precedent.
But, with this Montepulciano d’Abruzzo?
In my defense, I happened to really like this wine, and know it reasonably well. I had also had a Crianza La Mancha red with the same fish the night before, and they agreed quite well with one another. We were dining on a paté de champagne, accompanied by cheddar and parmesan polenta. We just wanted to finish up the small amount of smoked mackerel we had left. This wine, being medium-bodied, with some interesting smoky elements, went well with the pate and polenta.
And, so with the fish? Well, the fish was smoked and so fuller flavored. And, the smoke notes in each one seemed to be complimentary.
I was dead wrong.
We had to eat the fish without wine, and I marked that oily, smoked fish with any wine with big tannins as being right out.
Well, at least this time, my dining companion knew this Montepulciano d’Abruzzo and loved it.
Of course, no wine is perfect for all occasions, and some bottles go bad.
When I had brought a bottle of the same wine to brunch only the week before, no one knew the wine. And, I popped it open and poured it out.
No one was that impressed.
Well, I thought, there is no accounting for taste.
Then, I poured myself a glass. Sipped it. Wrinkled my forehead. Raised an eyebrow. And, looked oddly into the glass of…well…bland wine, something not matching the wine I spoke so highly of just minutes before. I excused myself, saying this bottle must be corked.
So much for being the wine expert whose column half of the people sitting around the table read, who spoke so highly of this “great wine for under ten bucks.”
In the end, most of the tasters liked it, even if it were not what I knew it should have been.
Plus, it was only $9.50 a bottle.
Five wines under $20†
Inexpensive wines make up the bulk of most people’s wine drinking. But, inexpensive doesn’t have to mean boring. Added bonus – not only are these wines guilt-free for the budget, but they match everyday fare better than more expensive wines.
†(Prices are what I paid retail in Manhattan, circa 2003. Current, local prices may vary.)
Condesa de Leganza
Palm Bay Imports
A wine from a relatively new Spanish wine region. One that I had originally found about two years ago, and I wanted to see if it has kept its flavor over that time. It has.
This vintage is starting to show its age: it’s garnet with brick edges, yet still looks lively with cranberry highlights—looking promising so far.
And, the nose follows up, though it’s not as forward as it once was. It has hints of red fruit with, possibly, cherry fruit standing out. The caramel and the touch of spice show off the time in wood indicated by the “Crianza” level marked on the label.
The palate follows the nose in red fruit and the taste of wood, followed by quite fine tannins and solid acids. Appealing and bright in the mouth. Medium body, with fine tannins on the finish over general fruit and a dollop of tartness.
Contrarily to my later discovery, this oaked wine went well with smoked mackerel, red onions, and tarragon potatoes. I can only imagine that the aged and soften tannins in this wine worked with the fish. In contrast, the more gripping, young tannins in the Montepulciano d’Abruzzo created the flavor disaster.
Frederick Wildman importers
On the high end of what I want to write about. But when my dinner companion had described how fantastically it had gone with a red snapper dish she had had with a friend the night before, I decided that it was worth the risk.
Very pale straw, with solid legs, indicating good alcohol and extraction. The nose is classic: full of cut grass, earthiness, and minerals. The palate opens with bright acidity, white fruit, and a touch of caramel. It has a medium body with a slick, long finish of sour apple tart, solid acidity, and teeth licking glycerin. The fruit is so ripe and alcohol at such a level that a definite impression of sweetness is given. Excellent wine. Went brilliantly with split pea soup and croutons, crudités with thyme-garlic oil, smoked kingfish, and potatoes with black truffle butter.
$18.99 retail *
W. J. Deutsch and Sons
Found this one in a discount bin for 11.99 *. I like white Bordeaux, and this one seemed a steal. And it was.
It is just starting to show a touch of age with caramel brown hints in its clear, straw color. The bright highlights indicate that, even with a bit of age, it’s still young and lively tasting.
The nose carries this suspicion on with a rich, bitter almond start, that showed fresh and dried apricots, and hints of exotic spices, with clove standing out. Very pleasing.
The palate opens up with bright citrus, then shows acids, then a mouth-coating richness, full of pear, apricots, and figs. Pretty finish of white fruits with a touch of caramel and solid acids. Great balance. Lovely wine. Excellent with a charcuterie of paté and smoked sausages, and a side of hard cheese and sliced baguette.
I’ve been a fan of this wine for several months, ever since I tasted my first bottle of it.
It also starred in the worst food and wine pairing of my memory.
This vintage is not a richly aromatic nor as extracted as 2000, my first exposure to this wine, but is still very well made and a good value. I’m hoping the 2002 picks back up some of the leather and roast meat notes that first attracted me to this one in the 2000 vintage.
It’s a deep plum with ruby edges. Almost opaque.
The nose is full of pastry shell, and berries. Like a berry tart. There is a slight dustiness to the fruit.
The palate opens flat, then moves into acids. But then, it expands into medium-bodied, berry/cherry danish flavors. Pretty and attractive. Long acid finish, almost bitter, with a touch of berry danish all the way to the end. A lovely wine. When I showed this at the party, most everyone liked it a lot. I alone was disappointed, because I knew what it had shown before. (At the party, I suggested it was corked. That was my first thought. I had not yet noticed the vintage change.)
Still, this wine is a good value.
Palm Bay Imports
An example of one of my favorite styles of wine, from the one region in the world that, if I were forced only to drink wine from there, I would choose. And, St. Joseph, even though it has the same granite soil as Hermitage, costs one-third of Hermitage. Cheaper because the vineyards face east, as so loose two hours of sunlight a day that the south-facing Hermitage gets.
Showing some age with a solid garnet color and a touch of brown on its edges. Big, slow legs indicate high alcohol and extraction.
The nose is classically earthy with roast meat notes playing over a touch of pepper. Spicy, with earthy red fruits.
The attack starts with basic fruitiness, then bursts mid-palette into red fruits, acids, and fine tannins. Full-bodied with some spice. Late in the palate, it is a touch dilute versus a Hermitage or Côte-Roti, but it’s still sharp with some spice. Long finish of spice and meats with some red fruit, fine tannins, and acids making for a reliable food wine. Excellent with a beef roast and root vegetables. Better even with grilled beef.
A great way of enjoying a typically expensive style of wine.
New wines Tasted Fresh for Your Perusal
Velistsikhe Veranda Gurjaani Rkatsiteli Quevri Wine 2015
(Imported via Luggage)
A wine for the more adventurous: it’s all about the clay and earth from the Qvevri it was raised in. The bottle I have was purchased at the winery, so it could be different from the export versions. Clear amber to dusk-orange (which is typical for this style/region says the winemaker) Slender legs, with distinct earthy notes and hints of dried apricots. It has a reserved attack, but it grows into an earthy, medium body wine, with a touch of bitterness (pleasant) and fine tannins late. Absolutely dry: 3 of 5 🍷 🇬🇪 #whitewine #Gurjaani #Rhatsiteli #Quevri #GeorgianWine
Kris Pinot Grigio Delle Venezie 2017
Very light, practically clear with a touch of parchment—mostly sheeting with some occasional legs, low viscosity. Light, bright nose with a bit of citrus and pinch of custard late. The attack follows bright some firm acidity, light body—fresh with floral and almond notes and a citrus-lime finish—a touch of honey late in the finish. Solid wine without being wow. Likes its food well: 3.5 if 5 🍷🇮🇹
#DelleVenezie #PinotGrigio #WhiteWine
A slick, lean Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. Very pale parchment—nearly Lear with a hit of parchment tan. Numerous legs around the glass. Low viscosity. Green apple and grapefruit pith on the notes. Very bright. The attack follows with grapefruit and zippy acidity, tip to tail. The fruitiness helps balance the acidity and light bitterness. The acidity lingers into the long finish. Refreshing quaff: 4 of 5 🍷🇳🇿
#Marlborough #SauvignonBlanc #WhiteWine McGovern’s Wines & Liquors
Purato Catarratto Pinot Grigio Terre Siciliane IGP 2016—Pale goldenrod that starts with sheeting, but a few legs form late in spots. Reserve nose with some floral notes and a pinch of citrus. Medium body, a bright attack that rounds out with caramel, citrus, and acids that linger on the tongue—honey undertones, with warm spice notes: Enjoyable. Get’s the malolactic fermentation treatment to good effect: 3.5 of 5 🍷
Vias Imports Ltd.
🇮🇹 #whiteWine #Sicily #PinotGrigio
Sharp Barolo that really wants food to play with. Light garnet color with browning on the meniscus. Long, very slow legs evenly spaced around the glass. Fairly viscous. The bouquet pours out of the glass to greet you halfway. Slightly hot, warm caramel, with floral notes, caramelized berries (you want to take a bite out of it). The lean attack, with firm acidity sort gripping tannins in the forefront to the finish, picks up stewed fruit in the back. This wine is about the structure and feel. Well balanced: 4.5 of 5 🍷🇮🇹 #redWine #Barolo #Italy
Jandell Selections importer
Very clear goldenrod, many long legs around the glass, slightly viscous. Rich nose, full of banana, custard, and vanilla, plus a little toast sets in late—almost want to bite it — full-body, mouth-coating attack, with zippy acidity and lemon curd. Oddly thins out mid-palate. Brightness lasts deep into the long finish where som flan notes show up. Solid Cali card w/o too much oak or toast. A suggestion of Pineapple late: 4 of 5 🍷🇺🇸.
Tasting Room Wine Club
A workhorse Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. Very clear goldenrod, with slow, fat legs and a bit viscous. Bright, citrusy nose, with a touch of caramel. Bright, light attack, with acids and a hint of citrus. Fair finish. Overall, a bit lighter than expected: 3 of 5 🍷
ACE Distributing, LLC importers
🇳🇿 #sauvignonBlanc #Marlborough #NewZealand
Sharp wine. Deep, dark plum, opaque in the glass, with many, fat, slow legs around the glass—13.5% ABV. Warm spice and dark fruit with earthy notes. Comes on smooth, velvety with fine tannins, spice, and dried fruit notes—firm acidity late—balanced lushness into a long, pleasant finish. A big wine: 4 of 5 🍷🇬🇪#redWine #Saperavi #Kakheti
Georgian Wine House importers
Solid Cali Pinot noir with a touch of intrigue. Clear bing cherry color with clear meniscus—long, slow, fat legs—moderately viscous. Cherry and warm spices on the nose with a bit of earthiness and touch of vanilla. The attack is firm acidity, which gives away to plush dark fruit caramel and vanilla notes. Fine tannins lead into a soft, long finish underpinned by firm structure—delicately gripping tannins: 3.5 of 5 🍷🇺🇸#RedWine #pinotNoir Robert Monavi
A good, if somewhat tame Barolo. Light garnet with a touch of browning on the meniscus. Many long fat legs around the glass. Relatively warm notes with earthy and floral notes (violets) with a bit of red berry jam-like drinking a glass of violets, with fine tannins and acidity: 3.5 of 5 🍷🇮🇹 #RedWine #Barolo
Light bing cherry in color, with a clear meniscus—lots of long, fat legs on legs. Reserved notes—hints at dark fruit, but doesn’t reveal much. A forward fruit attack, with a touch of earth, warm spice, and fine tannins—leans forward a Beaujolais vs. Malbec but is enjoyable nonetheless: 2.5 of 5 🍷🇦🇷#RedWine #Malbec #Argentina
Frederick Wildman importers
from Park Avenue Liquor Shop
Trilus California Pinot Noir 2017
Stellar Cali Pinot, especially for the price: Moderately clear with distinct browning on the meniscus; several long, slow legs all around the glass, with a touch of sheeting. Smokey, roast meat nose, with a suggestion of red berries and spices. The attack is smokey with acidity—medium body, fine tannins. That spiced, roast meat and smokiness goes all the way into the long, dry finish, where it meets a hint of cherry-filled chocolate: 4.5 of 5 🍷. #redwine #pinotnoir #California
Tasting Room Wine Club
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