Sat 30 Jun 2007
First story: We go to a little Greek restaurant, oops, there’s no wine, so back into the car we get and drive about a mile to a good wine store where I shop frequently and know the people and they know me.
Clerks: Hey, Fredric!
Me: Hey, guys!
Clerks: Whaddaya looking for?
Me: Something to go with Greek food. That little restaurant doesn’t have a license.
Clerks: Hey, we love that place! But right, no wine. So, we’re thinking Rhone grapes, maybe grenache, we have this great Spanish grenache, maybe the best grenache in the store, but it’s like $24.
Me: No problem, I’ll take it.
The wine is the Alto Moncayo Veraton 2004, from Spain’s Campo de Borja region. Heavy bottle, deep punt, fancy label, obviously intended as a wine to be taken seriously.
Back to the restaurant, waiter opens the bottle, pours the wine, out comes this stuff that looks like motor oil. The wine is incredibly oaky and toasty and spicy, with super, over-the-top ripe black fruit, strident smoky, spicy and vanilla qualities. It’s like a late-harvest zinfandel channeling an Amarone, with the hotness and faux sweetness of high alcohol. I look at the alcohol content; 16 percent. What the hell does this have to do with grenache? And who in their right mind would make a wine like this monster in Spain?
What’s interesting, or dismaying, or discouraging, is that this model of exaggeration and lack of balance received rave reviews all over the place. Please, ladies and gentlemen, let’s stop the madness.
Second story: I’m in a wine store near my house, everybody there knows me well and knows that I like odd and out-of-the-way wines, I’ll try almost anything. So the clerk, a longtime wine acquaintance, picks up this Battely Sojourn 2003, from Victoria, South Australia and says, “Whoa, now this is really interesting,” which could mean, “Whoa, this is fantastic” or “Whoa, this is weird.” It’s $35, but I take the plunge.
The blend on this wine is 60 percent syrah — ok, shiraz — and 40 percent durif, a hybrid grape created in France in the 1880s by crossing syrah with the obscure peloursin. In the South of France, the grape, while resistant to disease, produced wines of no distinction whatever, though in California, most of what’s called petite sirah is actually durif; in the Golden State, the grape makes wines of rusticity, robustness and exuberance.
Anyway, the Battely Sojourn ’03 sits around the house for a few weeks, and one day I pick it up and check the alcohol. Get this: 17.5 percent. This is really close to the alcohol content of port. One would open such a table wine with trepidation, but I wait a few weeks and finally pop the cork.
Whoa, like, no joke, this wine takes hyperbolic ripeness and the heat and sweetness of soaring alcohol to ludicrous extension and stridency, though, once again, here’s an Incredible Hulk of a wine, which I found overdone and unbalanced and actually unpleasant, that received all sorts of rave reviews for its “bigness.” Ladies and gentlemen, please, let’s stop the madness.