What Wine Pairs with Filing Your Taxes?

I don’t know about all of you, but I was in no hurry to get my taxes done. It’s a combination of future knowledge of my lack of willpower (that return would probably end up being invested in a ridiculous wine shopping spree if I got it today) and the overwhelming prospect of filing not one, not two, not three, but FOUR W-2s this year, one of which was from a company that went defunct last summer. As such, I put it off. For a long time. I finally got all my W-2s together around the end of February and… just did not want to take the next daunting step.

Last night, I finally took the plunge and began the arduous task of allowing an electronic program to compile all my information for me. Since I was essentially punching in numbers over… and over… and over… and over, I had a hand free for a glass of wine. Which wine would go well with swallowing the bitter pill of last-minute taxation, but with a long reward in the making? The 2009 ranga.ranga Sauvignon Blanc, of course.

ranga.ranga, like all of the Barker’s Marque line-up, is a New Zealand wine from the Marlborough wine region. Marlborough is inherently suited to growing dry white wine, what with the cooler growing season and unusually dry, sunny weather. Though the weather is incredibly dry, the soil is almost entirely clay, allowing it to hold just enough water to keep the vines healthy without an overabundance. A hefty sea breeze perpetually blows through the valley, keeping temperatures down. The 2009 ranga.ranga is somewhat of an anomaly in that, while their Sauvignon Blancs are usually a blend of different vineyard grapes, this vintage is entirely comprised of fruit from the Muritai vineyard in the Awatere Valley, which means the acidic, aggressive wine qualities the above conditions would create are  increased even further.

From here on out, I’ll let the wine speak for itself.

The Results:

The appearance of the wine is almost entirely colorless. It has a very slight yellow tint, and its viscosity seems fairly low. I would expect this wine to have a lighter body and a thinner, but not weak, texture.

The nose of the wine is very interesting. It’s tropical and citrusy with a very distinct lime and passion fruit, and a slight, cool alcohol scent makes an appearance. There’s an unusual herbaceous quality to it and an effervescence that contributes to an overall smell of a lime-flavored tonic water. It smells wonderful.

The mouth feel of the wine is extremely vibrant. It’s hard to describe. Theres a puckering bite to it, and you can tell it’s got a ton of acidity, but it’s not overwhelming or uncomfortable. It’s somehow quite smooth.

The flavor of the wine is incredibly complex. It’s actually more medium-bodied, the alcohol holding up the aggressive flavors extremely well (13% alc). The attack is very citrusy, a lemon-lime, grapefruit, and tropical fruit mash-up that matches the high acidity very well. There’s a distinct array of green flavors, with grass clippings, green bell pepper, and a hint of green chili. The acidity comes forward even more so on the finish, which provides the flavors and sensations you would get from biting into a slice of fresh, ripe lemon. I would typically say the acidity is a little high in a wine as light as this, but I really think it works here. Every flavor in this wine benefits from the vibrancy the acid provides. You want dry? This wine gives you dry. The acidity comes in at a  3.27 pH, and the residual sugar barely tops 2 g/l.

For the Casual Drinker:

Don’t be fooled by the light color and the relaxed-looking label; this wine is an aggressive specimen. The sugar is low, the acidity is high, and the flavors are active and complex. It’s perfectly suitable to drinking on its own, but it would match really well with a spicy chicken or seafood meal. Believe me, it could hold its own against the spice. The acidity is dangerous for heartburn, so be prepared for that. This is a fantastic outdoorsy sort of wine. It just smells and tastes like a summer party after a hard day of gardening and yardwork. It’s the wine equivalent of a productive day.

The Conclusion:

Great wine, great price. $12 gets you a fantastic, aggressive, and complex wine. An anecdotal testament to this wine: after I did my tasting, I poured it out to share, and the immediate reaction was a loud, “Wow! I LOVE this wine.” 7/10

It’s available online from several retailers, but Raleigh-Durham-area readers can pick this wine up at Weaver Street Market. Buy local!

How Virginia Does It: Viognier from the Piedmont

The Back Story:

It’s been awhile since I’ve reviewed a Virginia wine. Through no fault of my own, I’ve recently turned my attentions east, towards the Tokajis, Grüner Vetliners, and Gewürztraminers of the world. It wasn’t too long, though, before my attention wandered back to local fare. Thus, I picked up a Virginia wine on one of my recent wine shopping trips: The Horton Vineyards 2008 Tower Series Viognier.

Because what actually happened was rather dull, allow me to utilize the age-old writer’s device known as creative embellishment, and to point out that the unnamed wine shop villainized as such below is decidedly not evil in real life:

*cue the string quartet*

Scene: Caroline of the North Empire’s Wine Fortress. Year unknown.

Our hero, the wine explorer, nameless, approaches the imposing storefront. Glowing, blood-red letters embellished with a cluster of insidious grapes materialize in the air before the building, swelling a lump in his throat and beating him down to his knees. Give in, give in. The unreadable glyphs pierce his mind, forcing him to gaze into them one by one, each one sapping more of his energy.

He wrenches free of their hold, rolling to his feet as a terrible shriek cuts through the air around him. He sprints towards the only entryway, two glass portals framed by bars of pulsing obsidian. As he nears them, he throws his hands forward and snaps them apart, splitting the doors and sliding them in either direction as he tumbles through the doorway. Just before a sentry turns his way, the explorer rolls behind a stand of wine, the bottles rattling as he brushes by them.

Peeking around the corner, our intrepid hero spies multiple sentries throughout the area. He studies them carefully, seeking any kind of weakness that he can exploit. He notices several denizens unlike them, lacking uniforms, shambling throughout the aisles, collecting various corked bottles stored on racks on the walls. The sentries indicate which bottles are acceptable to remove, and if a denizen selects incorrectly, the sentry uses an overwhelming aura, what they call “snobbery,” to break their spirit and mold them into proper servants. All the hero has to do, he thinks, is shamble forth and submit to the sentries when spotted. So long as he didn’t let on his true target, the 3-liter casks of wine strategically placed far, far away from the Châteauneuf du Pape, he should be able to complete his quest.

Mere seconds after he rises from his crouch, he is approached by a sentry.

“Why have you entered our domain?” The sentry begins to emanate his oppressive aura, prepared to batter the explorer’s intelligence and willpower with a sickly wave of snobbery. Unprepared for such an encounter, the explorer grasps at the first diversion he can find.

“I seek the ambrosia of Greek Moschofilero.” The explorer hopes the obscurity of such a treasure would satisfy the sentry’s inclinations and suppositions. The sentry begins to tremble with anger, and the explorer worries he may have overreached in his estimation of the varietal. As the explorer considers his escape and steels his mind for a painful onslaught of magic hidden in thinly-disguised invective, the sentry slumps, the wave of snobbery all but vanishing around him.

“We have failed to procure most of such treasure, though the meager stores we have exist to the far west, there.” The sentry points towards one corner of the room and then hurries away, warming up his aura to exact his anger upon an unsuspecting denizen in the zone of Italian reds. As our explorer watches, horrified, the sentry grabs the denizen and flings her across the room where she lands in a wooden chair bolted to the floor. The sentry straps her legs and arms and turns on the TV in front of her. Sideways is on loop.

The explorer dashes in the direction the sentry had pointed, rounding the corner and swiping a bottle of the ambrosia as cover. Just around the corner, he senses, are the casks, his true goal, also stuffed in this forgotten corner. He approaches the wall of casks with caution, ensuring no sentries are in sight as he begins his cautious approach towards the musty shelves of casks. There are so many! He stands in awe of the vast array of casks, trying to discern which the most potent of them all. He only has room for two, and he had not expected such a selection. He wonders briefly why creatures such as these sentries, who reviled these casks so, would continue to stockpile them in such great quantities, but his musings are cut short as one rounded the corner. In his haste, he stuffs two casks that seemed most likely to hold the liquid he sought into his satchel and moves onward to the next zone. He finds himself face to face with shelves of wine from his homeland, Virginia.

A compunction to liberate one overwhelms his senses, and just before the sentry can approach him, he swipes a golden bottle from the shelf and sinks softly into the shadows. In his search for a single legendary cask of wine, he had collected four different containers, each one glowing brightly with the promise of invaluable treasure. He is amazed at how easily and quickly he had gotten them. Escape, he thought glumly, will be a whole other matter. What will it cost to get these home?

Fin

The Results:

Horton Vineyards Viognier in glass and bottleThe appearance of the wine is an extremely light straw. When I say light, I mean the wine is almost clear. The color in that glass is almost entirely from the light in the oven behind it. The swirl suggests a creamy texture and a very high viscosity.

The nose of the wine is pungent and palatable. Floral and tropical notes combine for a very exotic, perfume-y scent. There are hints of mango and banana that jump out, and a honeyed, slightly musty odor lingers on the nose.

The mouth feel of the wine is as the swirl suggested. It was very creamy, with an extremely active acidity and effervescence that gave it a tingly, tangy consistency similar to a Frizzante.

The flavor of the wine was rather unlike a typical Viognier. It was very dry and extremely complex, full-bodied and refreshing. The attack was both floral and citrusy with a toasty undertone, followed by strong mineral and honey flavors. The finish was rather long with subtle mango and peach flavors coming through the minerality. at 13.8% alc, there was no suggestion of the alcohol in the flavor. It was an all-around harmonious wine.

For the Casual Drinker:

This is a fantastic summer sipper. It’s aggressive, full-bodied, and refreshing. There’s some sugar in this wine, but the acidity and alcohol are so high that it manages to be crisp even though it has a thick texture. This is one of those wines that you want to experience on its own: take a sip, close your eyes, and enjoy the flavors and sensations as they wash over your tongue. If you had to pair it, I would suggest a lighter seafood or pasta meal. This wine would not handle tomatoes, spiciness, or red meat well at all.

Conclusion:

Though I wasn’t expecting this style of wine at all from this region and this grape, I was thoroughly impressed by it. It’s well worth the $20 price tag. And seriously, are you gonna turn down a bottle that beautiful? 7/10

The Search for the Best Boxed Wine: Week 4

The Back Story:

We’re well into our experiment now. We’ve officially opened 15 liters of the boxed stuff and spent a little over $100 to do it. Has it been worth it so far? Well… no. Not at all. But there IS hope on the horizon.

This week, I received in the mail an industry sample from Octavin Home Wine Bar, a new boxed wine distributor. They seek out up-and-coming wine-makers who would be willing to offer their wines in a more environmentally-friendly packaging. They will begin releasing their wines in May beginning with the 2008 Monthaven Central Coast Chardonnay. Coincidentally, they will also begin distributing the Pinot Evil that I reviewed two weeks ago.

To be honest, I like the direction this company has taken. They only release their wines in these distinctive packages, and they’re staking their reputation on making boxed wines that are a step above the rest. I’ve already had the Pinot Evil, and assuming the quality persists, it’s a good addition to their line-up. How does the Monthaven Chardonnay fare, though? At the very least, it exceeded my expectations.

The Results:

The appearance of the wine is light gold with a greenish tinge. It appears to be fairly viscous.

The nose of the wine is predominately green apple, with oak, slight floral and tropical notes. It’s not terribly aromatic. Cool alcohol scent coming through the aroma.

The mouth feel of the wine is very full and tangy, with a moderately creamy texture.

The flavor of the wine is rather full-bodied. I’m getting apple first and foremost, as in the nose, but with a distinct oaky, buttery undertone. A hint of overripe bananas combined with floral characteristics round out the finish, which becomes a trifle bitter as it lingers. It’s off-dry, with a high acidity balancing with a considerable sweetness. I’m actually rather impressed with the flavor, though the acidity is a little high. The alcohol, at 13.5%, fits right in with this wine.

For the Casual Drinker:

I would wholly recommend this wine… if it weren’t for that bitterness. There’s just something off on the finish. As it stands, it’s still a heck of a bargain, and aside from the finish, it’s got a great flavor. It’s not over-oaked like many cheap Chardonnays from the West Coast, but it aged just long enough in American oak to pick up an extra dimension to its flavor. For the price, you can’t go wrong, especially if you’re looking for a more aggressively-flavored white wine to pair with a spicier meal.

The Conclusion:

Like the Pinot Evil, there’s just something slightly off on the flavor that ruins what could be a home run of a boxed wine. In the end, it suffers the fate of other boxed wines, and that’s being cursed to only reach the level of averageness. It retails at $23.99, averaging to $6 per bottle. If it weren’t for the lack of balance and the extreme bitterness on the finish, I would call this far and away the frontrunner for the best boxed wine. 5/10

Disclaimer: this box was provided by the distributor as a sample.

Current Line-up:

Monthaven Central Coast Chardonnay 2008

  • Week 0 – 5/10 – imbalanced (high) acidity, balanced alcohol, apple, tropical, oaky flavors and nose, medium, way too bitter finish.

Washington Hills Merlot NV

  • Week 0 – 3/10 – imbalanced (high) alcohol, decent acidity, red fruit, blueberry, oaky flavors and nose, short finish.
  • Week 1 – 3/10 – Still hot on the tongue, balanced acidity, flavors are all holding true. Nose hasn’t changed.

Pinot Evil Pinot Noir NV

  • Week 0 – 5/10 – slightly imbalanced acidity, balanced alcohol, earthy nose, red fruit flavor, short finish, slight metallic undertaste.
  • Week 1 – 5/10 – Still as fresh as when it was opened. Similar earthiness, red fruits, short finish, slightly imbalanced acidity.
  • Week 2 – 5/10 – Still tasting pretty fresh. Still balanced. Flavor tastes on par with previous tastings.

Bota Box Shiraz California 2006

  • Week 0 – 3/10 – imbalanced (high) acidity, imbalanced (high) alcohol, smooth texture, black fruits, very hot nose
  • Week 1 – 3/10 – imbalanced acidity and alcohol, smooth texture, no loss in flavor, hot nose, maybe a bit more bitter finish
  • Week 2 – 3/10 – Still imbalanced, same texture, flavor, and nose. Holding its meager flavor well.
  • Week 3 – 3/10 – There’s something a little off on the flavor, but it’s not enough to drop the score. Still mostly the same.

Retired Line-up:

Black Box Chardonnay Monterey 2008

  • Week 0 – 4/10 – imbalanced (high) acidity, balanced alcohol, briny, weak texture, slightly sour, fruit-forward, weak nose
  • Week 1 – 3/10 – lost nothing on the nose, lost some flavor, still very imbalanced acidity, similar mouth feel, texture, increased sourness
  • Week 2 – 2/10 – Nose and flavor are starting to get musty, still overly acidic, beginning to taste flat, metallic, alcohol flavor still balanced
  • Week 3 – 1/10 – Nose and flavor lost distinguishing characteristics. Taste mostly of acid and alcohol. Flavor is officially wince-inducing. Consider this guy retired.
  • Average score: 2.5/10. Length of stay = 3 weeks. Final score is 2/10. Started off all right, but deteriorated too quickly to make it a contender for the best boxed wine.

Hunting for Red Wine Bargains at Trader Joe’s

The Back Story:

So, even though I’ve recently been exploring the over $30 fare in wines, I felt like revisiting an experiment I conducted weeks ago. I went bargain hunting for wine, trying to spend less than $60 for 10 bottles of wine. This was all too easy, of course, with Trader Joe’s in town. Though they carry some fare up to and over $20, by and large their focus is on the sub $10 market. They’ve got several brands in the $4 to $6 range, roughly the price per bottle of a boxed wine.

While the cost of manufacturing a bottle of wine can vary greatly, if we assume they’re at least breaking even on the wine they’re selling, then they’re probably quickening or cheapening the wine-making process, not getting the most out of their grapes. This means they’re more at the mercy of the quality of the grapes themselves, so the quality will vary more from region to region and from year to year. No salvaging wine through reverse-osmosis, no cherry-picking (or grape-picking, I guess) the best fruit, no limiting yields.

The moral of the story? If you find a bargain wine you like, make sure you try it every year before you invest heavily in the next vintage. On the slate for today? 2007 Il Valore Sangiovese and 2009 La Finca Malbec.

The Results:

2007 Il Valore Sangiovese, from the Puglia region in Italy

The appearance of the wine is a very dark purplish-red, barely translucent. Appears fairly viscous.

The nose of the wine is very fruity, ripe red-fruits, with slight floral notes. It’s rather spicy, and the alcohol comes through a little hot at 12.5%.

The mouth feel of the wine is nothing special. It’s rather smooth, rather light-bodied, a little lacking in tannins and acidity but not terribly weak. Honestly, for $4, I’m satisfied if it has any character at all.

The flavor of the wine is rather soft, subdued. It’s red fruit forward, primarily cherries, with an herbal, peppery finish that’s shorter than average but not a complete disappointment. The sweetness of the wine comes through more than I would have liked, but with the simple flavor it’s not really an issue.

6/10

2009 La Finca Malbec, from the Uco Valley in Argentina

Finca La Celia has (thankfully) much more than just this wine

The appearance of this wine is a deep-purple with a reddish tinge at the edge of the glass. The depth of red increases greatly directly in the light.

The nose of the wine is unimpressive, to say the least. There’s a slight aroma of blackberry and vanilla, but by and large, even away from the glass, all I could get from this wine was an overwhelming scent of alcohol, much higher than you would expect at 13% alc.

The mouth feel of the wine is probably the best part. It’s very smooth and doesn’t feel too heavy compared to its lighter flavor.

The flavor of the wine was an utter disappointment. The nose portends the weak flavor, which has notes of red fruit and pepper but mostly just tastes of alcohol. The wine is a little harsh due to an imbalance in acidity, tannins, and alcohol, all of which are, sadly, too high for this wine’s meager flavor. You’ll taste more of the imbalanced aspects of this wine jousting than you will the wine itself.

2/10

For the Casual Drinker:

These guys are on two ends of the bargain medium-bodied red quality spectrum: the Sangiovese is a smooth drinker with great flavor and many pairing possibilities. You’d do well to pair it with tomato and cheese fare such as ravioli or pizza, so long as the sauce isn’t too spicy. The red fruit flavors are a definite crowd-pleaser, and the balance of the wine ensures that even the more experienced wine drinkers won’t have much to complain about. The Malbec, with its harsh flavor and heavy alcohol presence, is best left alone entirely. There’s little you can do to salvage this wine.

The Conclusion:

The Il Valore Sangiovese is a fantastic bargain wine at $4, and it would be worth pretty much any price under $10. It’s far too simple to warrant a higher score than 6/10, though. The La Finca Malbec, however, just doesn’t cut it, and I’d be hard-pressed, even at only $4, to award it higher than a 2/10. I’d be interested to try another vintage to see if perhaps the Uco Valley simply had an overly wet year during this wine’s production, as from what I gather, Finca La Celia usually has much better output than this wine. For 2009, though, I can only recommend leaving it on the shelf.

(Don’t) Spin the Wheel: Nostalgic Music Wine Pairings

This week I overrode the randomizer and chose two songs myself as a way to reacquaint myself (and acquaint you all) with two bands that I’ve spent some time away from. The first, Atom and His Package, I haven’t listened to at all since high school. The second, The Besnard Lakes, I’ve only listened to sporadically since last summer. Shame on me on both counts.

Atom and His Package – I Am Downright Amazed at What I Can Destroy with Just a Hammer

This song is one that you listen to and just grin the whole time. The lyrics are absurd, chronicling a trio of college-age kids who buy a fixer-upper and realize only one of them knows how to repair things while another is marginally useful. The other one, bored with the process and with being utterly unhelpful, roams about the house indulging in destructive fantasies with his trusty hammer.

The instrumentation for this song is all provided by Atom (Adam Goren), who plays a guitar and a synthesizer, and his “Package,” a sequencer, a hardware music device that allows him to play multiple recorded or generated instrument sequences simultaneously while focusing on his live guitar-work and keyboarding. He snaps back and forth between chorus and verse with nary a pause in some sort of ADD stream-of-consciousness flood, the synthesizer barely keeping up with the manic output. The synth drums maintain a ridiculously quick 4/4 time signature, sounding more like an overexcited metronome than an actual instrument.

This song is giddy, simple, and short. It seems to me like it would pair very well with a late harvest Riesling. A late harvest Riesling stands well on its own, is enjoyable by even casual drinkers, and works when you don’t want a wine that commands focus and attention. The flavors are generally safe, harmonious flavors that match the higher sweetness and acidity levels: floral, light fruits, minerals. It’s almost syrupy sweet, though just acidic enough to give the wine some depth. Atom and His Package is assuredly irreverent, but there is enough substance, social and political commentary, there to keep it from being overindulgent nonsense.

Other songs by Atom and His Package include “The Palestinians Are Not The Same Thing As The Rebel Alliance, Jackass,” “(Lord It’s Hard to Be Happy When You’re Not) Using the Metric System,” and “People In This Computer Lab Should Shut the Hell Up.” If you need a good dose of angry, harmless, funny, nerdy punk, well, I think you’ve pigeon-holed yourself very nicely. Enjoy!

The Besnard Lakes – And You Lied to Me

Wine first. Considering I’ve only had dry Tokaji before, it would be dishonest of me to pair this with an Aszu. That’s fine, because I think a dry Tokaji goes very nicely with this music. Its acidity and residual sugar, though both generally fairly standard at around 6.5 g/l, are paired with a higher alcohol level (typically 14% and up). Higher alcohol, within reason, tends to enhance the flavors inherent in a wine, so long as the acidity and sugar aren’t overwhelmed.

Everything about a good Tokaji would be described as sumptuous. The acidity is very active, providing a nuanced mouth feel that I would liken to the feeling of ball bearings rolling across skin. The sugar and alcohol balances with the acidity well, giving the wine a very full, sensual flavor. The complexities in this wine persist through a long finish, many different aspects of fruits, minerals, and herbs constantly jostling for attention. The wine is simply chill-inducing.

Chill-inducing describes this song perfectly. There are few bands that warrant headphones, closed eyes, and focused listening. For me, The Besnard Lakes always command that dedication of my time. This song in particular makes me stop and listen no matter what I’m doing at the time.

The ominous vocals, sung both solo by Jace Lasek (also the guitarist and keyboardist) and in chants with his wife Olga Goreas (also the bassist), cast a surreal pall over the ornate instrumentation, pumping wave after wave of distraught emotion into the rising, triumphant guitar riffs to maintain a continual dissonance, a sense of unease. They fill empty spaces between verses with subdued distortion and wavering vocal harmonies, barely holding the song together and making the anticipation for each resurgence palpable. Like a dry Tokaji, the sweetness is tempered by a subtle mordancy; the song embraces dichotomy.

And, like any good wine, the complexity persists through a long finish. Generally, after the final verse of a song, a repetition of the verse or chorus riff or a guitar solo ends abruptly or fades out. The Besnard Lakes instead begin a second guitarist’s distorted guitar interlude before the final repetition of the chorus, replacing the chorus riff. As the chorus ends, another guitar solo begins, with a third guitarist and guitar bringing in a cleaner, slower sound. The original guitarist, Lasek, playing a subdued version of the chorus riff underneath of the solos, suddenly comes forward with a hammer-on solo as the third guitarist fades away, providing the most complex guitar-work seen thus far before one final choral riff finishes the song.

I would have a hard time finding a more appropriate metaphor for the progression of the flavors of wine from the attack to the mid-palate to the finish than this song.

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