Missing the Merlot Mark: J. Bookwalter 2015 “Readers Blend” Merlot.

Bought this Merlot for $19.98, as you can see. It is a mostly Merlot blend, with 90% Merlot, and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. I’ve enjoyed a lot of great Bordeaux blends in my lifetime, including some amazing Grand Cru’s, and some of the New World’s best. I’ve also always had a soft spot in my heart for Merlot. Yes, it was over-produced in the nineties, and became something of a parody of itself for a while, at least until one throwaway joke in the movie “Sideways” sent sales into a nosedive. This was actually a good thing, as it left making Merlot to the folks that do it well, and passionately. Of course there is some great irony in the character of Miles in Sideways, and his most treasured bottle, but that is an Easter egg for all of you to discover… I’m not in the business of spoilers.

Merlot is indeed one of the noble grapes and a good Merlot is a wondrous thing to behold on one’s palette. A well-made Merlot is silky-smooth and supple, like sipping velvet or doeskin. It is worth your while to seek out a good Merlot now and then to remind yourself why it has earned its place among the greats.

This one though? Not that great. It is a GOOD WINE, but it is not a great Merlot, sadly. Not even a good one to be honest. Not really sure why, other than perhaps the 10% of Cabernet Sauvignon blended in. If I were to taste it blind I’d guess the blend to be opposite of what we have, with 90% Cabernet, and 10% Merlot.

I had it with a nice, perfectly medium-rare T-bone steak and some roasted sweet potatoes. As I was grilling I imagined how the flavors would all blend in my meal and experienced one of those wine-nerd record scratch moments when I tasted the wine at the table.

Oh well. As I said, not a bad wine, but not the Merlot experience I was looking forward to having.

A new varietal for me, Tannat.

Bought this bottle for $19.99. What a delight! Tannat is an old French grape varietal, but has taken hold in Uruguay, the next door neighbor of Argentina in South America. I’ve never tried this particular varietal before. Upon opening it wasn’t very impressive, with not much nose and not much in the mouth. But an hour later it is nirvana in a glass. Very Merlot-like, in that it was all oak, leather, and earthiness on the nose, and silky smooth and supple mouthfeel. Likely one of the best under-$20 wines I have tasted in a long, long time. It paired wonderfully with a filet mignon.

I highly recommend seeking out this wine. One of the better values I have ever encountered.

The Un-Bordeaux Bordeaux: Bouscat Caduce Bordeaux Superieur 2012

I bought this wine in 2017 for less than ten bucks a bottle. $9.98/bottle in fact. For some reason I haven’t touched any of my six bottles, until today.

Note to self, save the other five bottles for a sunny summer afternoon.

This is the most un-Bordeaux Bordeaux I have ever tasted. It drinks like a Rosé. Bright, acidic fruitiness. No oak at all. Mild tannins, and only in the finish.

It is like a bizarro-world Bordeaux.

I’m not sure who Jean Pierre Dubernard is, but I’m surprised he can walk around safely in daylight anywhere in France. Not that I’m not liking this wine, I just don’t know what his countrymen think of this juice and how different it is from their norm.

Like the CH Barbera from Lake County this is a red that drinks very un-red like. It is fruity and refreshing rather than dark, brooding and oaky. Again, I can appreciate that for what it is (I drink a lot of Rosé wines in the summer!) and I will plan on drinking these on summer evenings on the deck.

Barbera di Lake County: Cameron Hughes Lot 621

I could never be a sommelier. My nose just isn’t developed enough. I can usually zero in on a wine’s country of origin… at least with France, Italy, Spain, and the USA. And MAYBE New Zealand, if it is a Pinot Noir. I can almost always get down to a Varietal as well… provided it falls within the list over there in the sidebar—>

But that’s it. The only way I got to this point is drinking a metric shit-ton of wine.

BUT, I can claim one wine superpower, and that is knowing Lake County. One of the first wines I ever fell truly in love with is a Petite Sirah from Guenoc in Lake County, California. I’ve tried Cabernets, Petite Sirahs, Zins, blends, and now a Barbera from Lake County, and as per usual, I can feel that terroir in this wine as well.

Unlike all those other reds however, this one has a very different character overall. Lot 621 is a light, fruity, refreshing wine. It is the sort of wine that you would enjoy out on a deck on a hot summer day… sitting in the shade of an umbrella over some patio furniture. Sunglasses on. Surrounded by friends and maybe some light appetizers like a charcuterie board. Olives, cured meats, light cheeses.

But here I am, literally watching snow melt off my deck, drinking this little bit of summer. Go figure. This wine shipped to me as part of my CHWine Club Spring shipment last year priced at $13/bottle(!) I should have opened it and tried it then, and had I known, I would have bought several more bottles to share with friends on the deck last summer (instead of, or maybe in addition to, the case of mixed Rosés I did share with friends on the deck last summer!) But no, like the idiot I am, I failed to see it until tonight, when I went in search of something to pair with a pork tenderloin. As soon as I tasted it I went to the CHwine website and checked… Lot 621 SOLD OUT.

Oh well.

This wine is refreshing, and delightful. Very fruit-forward. It finishes well. I wish I had a case of it.

An Updated “About the Vinagoth”

I realized that I’ve been writing about wine here for over ten years. There have been long periods of silence in that decade, and a LOT of changes to how I buy and drink that wine. The silences have mostly been due to work and family situations. My wine buying and drinking habits have changed a lot around those themes as well.

When I started writing about wine in 2008, it was generally about wines that I bought in the grocery store, usually on the bottom bargain shelves, and my purpose was to find great values. Stuff that tasted good, and paired well with food, at or below a $20 price point.

Now, in 2019, I can’t even recall the last time I bought a wine at a grocery store. A work-related move in 2010 had me relocating to a very rural area, and losing my connection to a pretty damn good local grocery store with an excellent wine department. However I had started buying wine online (as noted here) and over time joined several wine clubs, especially with vintners I liked, and of course the Negociant Cameron Hughes. Many of the “vintners I liked” I have never even mentioned here because they have above the price point I started focusing upon. My wine collection grew into a proper cellar. I would only write about the “cheap” ones here.

Then, something else happened. The man that taught me about wine, my father, grew old, and eventually passed away. He left me a portion of his wine collection. On special occasions I pull out his old wines and share them with friends. These are great wines from Burgundy, Bordeaux, Piedmont, Rioja, Oregon, and Napa… going back to the early 1960s in some cases. It has been a privilege to taste them and they have helped me treasure his memory.

If you like my writing about wine, you might be able to find me on the Vivino. I’m in the top 400 reviewers in the USA, and some of the wines that have appeared here recently I have also covered there. Beyond that hint, it’s a treasure hunt.

The nose knows.

I don’t know very much about Italian wines. I have enjoyed many of them, but my knowledge of them is as limited as my knowledge of Italy and Italian itself. I went to Italy once, for two and a half days, and I very swiftly discovered how little I know. My AirBnB host had been using Google Translate to email me for weeks, but upon arrival I learned that she spoke about as much English as I spoke Italian… zero. Yeah, I can say “spaghetti” and “Lamborghini” and wave my hands a lot, but that only gets you so far. My host speaking Italian LOUDER didn’t help me use their Wi-Fi at all.

Even my school-boy French, which saved my ass at least three times in France, got me fuck all in Italy.

That said, I LOVE a good Italian wine and oftentimes they can be a real bargain. I bought this one about four years ago, on sale for about $10/bottle.

I’m now kicking myself for only buying three because it is absolutely amazeballs.

The nose this wine puts out is incroyable! It just bulldozes up your nasal passages like a wide ship in a narrow canal. “Coming through!” Big red fruits. Otherworldly earthiness. And a whole lot of notes I can’t even begin to describe. I could just sit and sniff this wine all night long.

In the mouth, it doesn’t quite live up to the nose, but it’s pretty damn close. Wonderfully dry. Paired amazingly well with some rosemary-crusted lamb chops.

Since my knowledge of Italian is so minuscule, I can’t tell you much about this wine beyond it being from Tuscany, and mostly (if not completely) Sangiovese grapes.

Bella!

Nice Carmenere!

I’ve had this $16.98 2013 Santa Carolina Family Reserve Carmenere in my cellar for many years. The other night I finished a Carmenere from Washington state, and had a jonesing for some more Carm. Went digging around in the depths of the Southern Cone section of the cellar and pulled out this plum. Even with over five years of age, it was pretty tight upon opening, so I decanted it and let it breathe for a bit. Substantial improvement after an hour. Super earthy nose. Bone dry astringency in the mouth. Really mellows with more time to breathe. Mild fruit. Oaky finish. Nice Carmenere!

Cranberry Petrel

I have no recollection of buying this wine. My cellar tracking app says it came into my possession in October of 2016, which means it left the winery very soon beforehand, as it was harvested the previous Spring (on our side of the globe). I think it was a gift or perhaps someone left it here after a party. No idea really.

Normally I love Carmeneres.

Not this one. It’s terrible. Awful. Thin. Watery. Tart. Weak. Smells strongly of cranberry.

I disposed of it appropriately…

Best Adapted… anything. 2012 Adaptation, Napa Valley Petite Sirah

I bought this wine years ago from The Accidental Wine Company. Can’t recall what I paid, but I doubt it was very much. It’s been laying around my cellar for at least six years.

I opened it tonight. Wow!

I’m kicking myself for not buying a case when I could have. As you likely know by now, I REALLY like Petite Sirah. This one is one of the better ones I’ve had in quite a long time. Punching well above its weight class. It has a density that feels like licking Jupiter. (Aren’t you glad I didn’t say Uranus?) Deep, dark, and weighty, it will stain your teeth just holding the bottle in your hands.

The finish is akin to a Rutherford Cab… the tingly dust sensation.

Delicious and delightful.

Early Peak. CH Lot 530

I don’t drink a lot of Syrah these days. It seems to be at the same place where Merlot was in the late 90s. Overproduced.

That said, I seem to have a lot in my cellar. Most via wine clubs I belong to that send me bottles every year. This one isn’t just a Syrah, it has some Grenache in the (Rhône) blend.

Home alone last night I had a steak and some veggies in the pan as the sun approaches the horizon and I figure I should grab a bottle to round out the meal. This one is resting atop a rack within easy reach in the cellar… that’s the extent of thought that goes into my choice.

Upon opening, the wine is terrific. Softer and more subtle than I expect it to be. I enjoy a half glass as I cook, and a full glass along with dinner. I put a good quality stopper into the bottle and leave the half or so overnight…

This is where something goes terribly wrong. Today around mid-afternoon it is unseasonably warm and sunny and I think “wow, it would be great to sip a glass on the deck…”

The first sip is a shock. Harsh. Sour. Undrinkable. I never make it to the door; instead a swift U-turn to dump the remaining wine down the sink.

Some wines take a day or three to get to this stage. Not this one.