Category Archives: Wine

Gaily Koz

Dear Paul Booker,

You are the only other person in the world I know who would find this as simultaneously hilarious and annoying as I did, so I have to share it with you on the Internets.

It can't possibly be worse than the man's music, can it?

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Fine Wine for ≤ $9.99 – Cala Blanca Tempranillo

I think I’m in love.  Not with this particular wine, though it is quite good.  I mean with this wine maker.  You may recall that I reviewed Cala Blanca’s Monastrell last week and was quite smitten with it’s luscious, peppery deliciousness.  So I thought I’d give another one of its wines a try and, though it is a very different wine, it is every bit as good.

Cala Blanca Tempranillo - La Mancha, Spain 2009

This wine is from the land of Don Quixote, La Mancha, in central Spain.  But the wine itself is far from quixotic.  The bouquet is practically intoxicating on its own.  It’s a wonderfully subtle, playful blend of dark fruits and a floral scent that I’m not clever enough to discern.  It’s not quite lavender, but in the general neighborhood.  It smells wonderful.

It’s a very easy wine to drink.  Simple in the best possible way, not too bold, not at all tame, complex but not braggadocious.  All of the scents of the bouquet translate nicely into the mouth.  What you smell is what you get– the dark fruits and that mysterious floral flavor.  While it may not be as immediately striking as the Monastrell, I would a hard time choosing which one I actually like better.  They are both equally good for different reasons.  The Monastrell was very lively, the Tempranillo is very relaxed.  This has me very excited to try the other wines I’ve seen from this maker.

Purchased at BevMo for $8.70.  This is simply exquisite– the kind of thing that makes me reconsider some of my previous five-star ratings.  Because this may be better than some of those.  For now, I’m going to give it 4/5 stars with an asterisk.  If the other wines are as good, I may have found my new go-to winery.  Superior stuff, this.

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Fine Wine for ≤ $9.99 – Cala Blanca Monastrell

If you’re one of the three people who follow this blog regularly, you might have noticed the absence of wine reviews lately.  Fear not, fellow travelers, I have neither gone on the wagon nor dried out.  I have just had the luxury of having more time to drink than time to write about it.  I’ve actually come across a few remarkable bottles, which I shall be re-buying before reviewing because I’m useless and can’t remember anything about them now except that they were good enough to set the bottles aside so I’d remember to buy them again.

Thankfully, the holidays are winding down and I have time don my ponce cap and tell you to rush out immediately and buy a bottle of this.

Cala Blanca Monastrell - 2008 Jumilla, Spain

Descriptions on the bottle are almost always more annoying than informative, but this one has some actual factual information.  The vineyard is 2,100 feet above sea level in an area with chalky stone soil that receives little rain, thus a long growing season.  It also says the vineyard is located near the birthplace of this grape varietal.  I wish more wine makers would put stuff like this on the label instead of trying to be cute or handing the job to the cheapest PR firm on craigslist.

Immediately upon opening the bottle I smelled a delicious, rich cherry jam aroma.  But burying your nose in the glass reveals a complex bouquet of a sort of sandstone earthiness and black fruits.  In the glass, it’s a lovely, inviting deep purple hue. It’s bold and spicy in the mouth without shouting about it, making it remarkably drinkable.  I’m fond of wines with a nice, wet, peppery front and easy finish, and that’s exactly what this nice little surprise delivers.

I found this bottle at BevMo for $9.99 while perusing their small Spanish selection.  I was looking for something to balance out all the California wines I’ve been drinking for the past month.  I’ve been fixated on Paso Robles lately, and it’s been a bit of a mixed bag.  So after too many Zins and Zin wannabes, this was a welcome change.

Once again, I think this is a bottle that is easily worth twice as much as what I paid for it.  It’s elegant and quite good on its own.  Probably in the top ten wines I’ve tasted this year.  5/5.  Buy, purchase, consume.

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Fine Wine for ≤ $9.99 – Found Object Gewürtztraminer

Four things attracted me to this wine.  I’ll be honest and start with the price– only $4.99 at Trader Joe’s.  I’ve paid more for orange juice.  Second, I liked the name.  As a collector of des objets trouvés, I felt I recognized a kindred spirit.  Third, I like the label.  Simple, nice, and cute without being cloying, and printed on an elegant, textured paper.  Finally, it’s a Gewürtztraminer,  A good Gewürtz for a good price is hard to come by.  So if it’s good, I’d have found a winner.

Found Object Gewürtztraminer - 2010 Paso Robles, California

If you’re unfamiliar with Gewürtztraminers, my uneducated palate would place them somewhere between Pinot Grigios and Rieslings– The bright punchiness of the former coupled with the sweetness of the latter taking the edge off just a bit.  Generally, it’s the kind of thing more suited to a summer picnic than a winter’s evening, but I was in the mood for something light.

The bouquet is nice and complex.  Definite hints of sweet peaches (others have suggested lychee but I can’t recall the last time I sniffed a fresh one.)  I’m also getting hints of grass or hay and an undiscernible floral fragrance.  It’s a really nice combination of scents that has me sticking my nose in the glass, inhaling deeply several times before each sip.

Unfortunately, it’s not that interesting in the mouth.  It’s a bit flat and…not sour, but it makes my lips pucker a bit. It’s big and wet, but not terribly remarkable.  It’s not unpleasant– In fact, I’m pretty damn buzzed after a glass and a half and there’s something to be said for that– but it doesn’t live up to the promise of its lovely bouquet.

I suppose I could argue with the ponciest wine ponces of the value of time spent sniffing over the time spent drinking any given wine.  What percentage of the joy one gets from smelling a wine worth?  I’ve spent as much time sniffing this wine as I have drinking it and think the olfactory experience is at least twice as good as the taste-factory one.  Let’s put it this way– If I met a girl that smelled like this, I’d fall in love.  Unfortunately, she doesn’t have anything interesting to say.  3/5 stars.  Worth the five bucks for the bouquet and alcohol content.  Serve it chilled at a picnic and you’d be golden.  But on its own,  just me and the bottle, it’s just north of fair.

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Fine Wine for ≤ $9.99 – Terasses Ventoux

After my taste test of three very different Spanish Grenaches, I thought it might be interesting to try a French Grenache– or in this case, a blend of 70% Grenache and 30% Syrah.  I love Syrahs and, after 2/3 of my Spanish Grenaches proved excellent, it was with a high degree of expectation that I plunged the corkscrew into this bottle from Chateau Pesquié – Terrasses Ventoux from 2009.

Terrasses Ventoux - 2009 Rhone Valley, France

Though I am only a humble aspiring wine ponce, I can say for sure there are few things more disheartening than a cork that breaks off as you attempt to pull it out.  It’s not always the end of the world, but when you recover the reluctant piece and discover a good bit of discoloration of the cork, it tends to raise an eyebrow and crinkle a nose.  Gritting my teeth, I poured a glass and smelled the tell-tale signs of what I thought was “corked” wine but may actually have just been oxidized wine.  It smelled sour and vinegary.  Just to make sure I hadn’t let my visual and aural senses pre-judge things, I tasted.  And it was quite vinegary.

So I guess I’ll be finding out what the return policy is at Wine House.  I’m hesitant to get another, but I’d hate to blame the vineyard or winery for a faulty cork.  I suppose it could happen to any wine at any price.  If I’m given no choice but a replacement bottle of the same thing, then I will try again.  But if I’m offered a store credit in the same amount, I’d be hard pressed to try the same wine.  Is that wrong of me?  In the meantime, I can’t give it a fair review.

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Fine Wine for ≤ $9.99 – Laya Granacha

After my two previous Spanish Grenaches faired so well, I was excited to open this lovely bottle, which is actually a blend of 70% Granacha Tintorera and 30% Monastrell.  In the grand idiotic tradition of judging a book by its cover, I saved this bottle for last because I liked the label most.  One of these days, I’ll learn.

Laya Garnacha/Monastrell - 2009 Almansa, Spain

The whole experience can be summed up as disappointing.  To think that for the same price, you can get a wonderful bottle like the Borsao I enjoyed so much just a few days ago…well, it’s part of what makes this exercise so interesting and frustrating.

The bouquet is vague. It smells like something– probably dark fruits, maybe leather– but I’m wearing my nose out in a futile attempt to find anything distinct.  In the mouth, it’s just more vagueness.  It’s wine, alright, but completely unremarkable wine.  The kind of thing one thinks about when one hears a certain combination of the words “buck,” “chuck,” and “two.”

After two glasses, I can’t even bring myself to finish it.  2/5 stars.  I’ll use it for steak marinade.  Why anyone would buy this when for the same price you can have the infinitely better Borsao Garnacha is beyond me.

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Gay for May, Part the First

Most Americans who know about James May (and there are frightfully too few) only know him as the slow one with bad hair on Top Gear.  This is a shame and I aim to do my part to correct this sad state of affairs.  Over the coming weeks, I intend to prove that James May is nothing short of a modern day Renaissance Man.  I see him as a role model and truly believe the world would be a better place if more people, men especially, did the same.  When ever I find myself in doubt, I ask WWJMD?  What would James May do?

I was an aspirational wine ponce before I knew there was such a thing.  Thankfully, James May co-hosted this wonderful, funny, and enlightening series with wine ponce extraordinaire, Oz Clarke, to give me something to aspire toward.

In the first season of Oz & James’ Big Wine Adventure, the two travel around France in a Jaguar, pitching a tent, visiting vineyards, attempting to define “terroir,” and drinking themselves silly.  It’s definitely entertaining and you might even learn a thing or two about wine.

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Fine Wine for ≤ $9.99 – Kizakura Nigorisake

Sake is often referred to as “rice wine,” which works nicely for my cheaper than a tenner wine series.  But there’s a reason we don’t call whiskey “wheat wine” or bourbon “corn wine.”  There’s really no sense comparing grapes to grains.  Similar as the fermenting process may be for both, the end results couldn’t possibly be more different.

Kizakure Nigorisake - Kyoto, Japan

I’ve always been attracted to sake.  I like the ceremonial aspect of pouring it into another bottle only to pour it into tiny cups.  Even though it’s more of a social drink, I still bother with the pomp and circumstance when I drink it on my own.  I saw this bottle at Nijiya Market and was smitten with its chubby shape and clean design.  It was also the Nigori (cloudy) variety which I had never tried, so that was intriguing.  As was the text on the bottle,  “Cloudy sake is made by mildly filtering unrefined sake.  Enjoy the fresh, mild taste with the bouquet of a sake cellar.”  The ingredients on the back listed “Koji mold.” Unrefined, cellar and mold?  I’m so there.  And at only $5.99, no further enticement was needed.

See my cute little sake set there?  I’d have been better off eating it than drinking the swill in the bottle next to it.  Have you ever had Rice Dream?  The bouquet is that of sweetly fetid Rice Dream.  Like if you had let the Rice Dream you poured over sugary cereal in the morning sit in the bowl all day and your curiosity got the better of you, so you sniff it.  Undaunted, I put it in my mouth.  It has the texture of Rice Dream and a not entirely unpleasant sweet and sour mash mix taste in the mouth.  If you’re familiar with Asian sweets, you know how some of them have a sort of pungent streak beneath the sweetness?  That’s what’s going on here.

The worst thing about it is that it didn’t even come close to getting me drunk.  If I’m going to endure the sour mash taste, there needs to be a reward.  Otherwise, it’s just asking someone to drink rancid Rice Dream.  On the plus side, it’s not absinthe.  1/5 stars.  If I’m lucky, it will unclog my sink on its way down.

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Fine Wine for ≤ $9.99 – Borsao Garnacha

On my previous trip to Wine House, I failed to realize that I was walking out with three Spanish Grenaches.  I would like to attribute this minor oversight to my being overwhelmed by the sheer size of the selection of this fine West Side establishment, but it could just as easily be chalked up to my being an idiot.  Though I prefer variety, I figure I should make the best of this happy accident and teach myself a thing or two about Spanish Grenache and compare the three.  The first, Evodia, is reviewed here.

Borsao Garnacha - 2010 Borja, Spain

Evodia set the bar pretty high, so I was prepared to be let down by this bottle.  The bouquet was much less intense, but equally pleasant with a nice combination of pepper, cherries and chocolate easily discernible to novice noses.  It also doesn’t look as heavy in the glass as the previous Grenache.  Putting those two together, I assumed it would pack half the punch in my mouth.  Happily, I was wrong.

As I’ve said before, I enjoy drinking wine by itself.  Borsao Garnacha is perfect for this.  It’s very easy to drink, delightfully light yet flavorful.  Nice, wet, and unassuming, this is exactly what I imagine when I think of a typical Spanish table wine.  I’m sure it would be right at home with an assortment of tapas, but, more importantly to me, it is excellent on its own.  At $6.99, it is a very practical bottle to have on hand.

One of the most common problems I have with drinking red wines by themselves is that many of them are too solemn.  For a red wine, Boraso is crisp and cheery.  I smiled every time I had a drink and even found myself going “ahhhh” when I finished off a glass.  I would certainly recommend it to red wine neophytes  as it’s such an easy and pleasant wine to drink.  Full of flavor, but not overpowering.  I would also recommend having one or two on hand for when you want a nice glass of wine by yourself or for when you have a friend pop over.  I know I’ll be picking up another.  4/5 stars.  Won’t knock you out, but it is very good.


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Fine Wine for ≤ $9.99 – Evodia Grenache

I picked up this Spanish Grenache for $8.49 at Wine House on a recommendation.  It’s easily one of the nicest-looking bottles I’ve brought home in ages.  The look of it alone will wow your guest, or better yet, present it to the host at the next soiree you’re invited to and you’ll automatically be in their good graces.  The label itself is printed on some sort of satiny paper and looks and feels like a wine I couldn’t afford.


Evodia Grenache - 2009 Calatayud, Spain

The cork made a most satisfying pop and the smell of pepper and spices leapt from the bottle. It was a lovely, rustic bouquet that tripped the switch to my salivary glands.  I cannot recall a more intense aroma coming from a wine before I had actually poured it.

After such a remarkable pop and sniff, the wine was actually a bit disappointing in the mouth.  It’s not that it was bad, far from it.  It’s just that initial wafting had such an unexpectedly dramatic impact, I had expected a similar intensity on my tongue.  The spicy scent gave way to a fruity flavor, which again was not bad, just not what I had expected.

I like to drink wine by itself.  This, I think, is a wine that needs to be paired with food.  It’s like a cross between a Pinot Noir and Merlot and, to my taste, is a bit much to drink on its own.  I wouldn’t call it heavy, but after two glasses, I was feeling a bit of the grog setting in.  But this wouldn’t likely be a problem if I was eating as I drank.  I hesitate to call it complex, because after the initial deception between smelling and tasting, Evodia is a fairly straightforward wine.  In fact, I drank the rest of the bottle the next day and it seemed to have mellowed out somewhat.

Buy this wine.  It is an excellent value.  But pair it with some nice food and a friend or two.  This is one of those situations where I fear I let the wine down, not the other way around. I’d buy it again just to impress someone with it.  4/5 stars.

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