The friendly drivers of UPS and FedEx bring wine to my door, not every day of the work week but often three or four days, sometimes two or three. It varies by circumstance and weather; shipping drops off during the hottest and coldest months. Some weeks, I receive a couple of cases of wine altogether; other weeks only a few bottles. Without these samples for review, a blog like this couldn’t exist, just as newspaper and magazine book pages couldn’t exist without the copies of books sent by publishers.
On August 20, I received seven bottles of wine, one from Argentina, two from Australia, one from California and three from Oregon. Prices ranged from 8 to $105. Contemplating these wines and the enormous variety and variation they representeded, I thought, “Eureka! Here’s an interesting post for BTYH, reviews of the wines I received on a single day, whatever their origin or cost.”
The order is from cheapest to most expensive.
Black Swan Wines, which carry a South Eastern Australia designation, are imported to the U.S. and bottled by Barossa Valley Importers in Modesto, Cal., the mention of the town of Modesto telling us that Black Swans are Gallo wines. I received two from an extensive roster, the Shiraz 2008 and the Riesling 2008. Of this pair, the Riesling ’08 is the Bargain.
Not that I minded the Black Swan Shiraz ’08. Produced in 230,000 cases, it offers the definite character of a mass-produced wine, that is, one feels it as a “red wine” rather than as anything definably shiraz-like. Its mildly spicy black fruit scents and flavors are passably decent and it offers a pleasing texture, and if we were at a party and someone handed me a glass (or plastic cup, more likely) of this wine, I wouldn’t turn to LL and raise an eyebrow too noticeably. In fact, that setting would be this wine’s highest purpose, as a red vinous beverage to be knocked back when dozens of people are thwacked by loud music and have to shout in each others’ ears to be heard and the whole situation borders on the mindless. Fun!
The Black Swan Riesling ’08, on the other hand, makes a real claim to varietal character. The wine is fresh and clean, as we would hope, and displays sufficient hints of peach, pear and lychee highlighted by the grape’s requisite note of petrol (you may call it rubber eraser) that when I swirled, sniffed and sipped, I thought, “Well, shut my mouth, this is riesling,” not, I hasten to say, riesling of great intensity and purport, but certainly more than merely decent. The texture niftily balances crisp acidity with moderate lushness, and the finish brings in spice and limestone.
I rate the Shiraz as Good and the Riesling as Very Good. Each about $8.
Don Miguel Gascon is an actual winery, founded in 1884, with an actual winemaker, Ernesto Bajda. This, too, is imported by Gallo, though unlike the Black Swan wines, Gascon Malbec 2008 is made, aged and bottled in its home, the Mendoza region of Argentina. This is a great wine for the price; I have used several previous vintages as Wine of the Week.
Made from 100 percent malbec grapes and aged seven months in a combination of French and American oak barrels, Gascon Malbec 2008 is a dark ruby-purple color with a violet rim (that’s when you tilt the glass and look through the edge of the wine to reveal all the hues); the bouquet bursts with scents of ripe blueberry and blackberry, spicy oak and briery, brambly elements. Black fruit flavors are permeated by plum dust, hints of coffee and tobacco, a bit of cedar; the texture is dense and chewy, and though the wine is robust (and a little exotic), tannins and oak influence are kept to sensible supporting roles. We drank this one night with grilled pork chops, and it was a hit. Very Good+. About $14, Good Value.
The words no producer wants to read in a review are “disappointed” and “I liked the less expensive wine more than the expensive one.” Alas, that is what I must write today regarding three pinot noirs from Willamette Valley Vineyards.
The one I liked best, the one that seemed purest, most intense and unsullied is the Willamette Valley Vineyards Whole Cluster Fermented Pinot Noir 2008. “Whole Cluster” means that the freshly picked and sorted grapes are placed, uncrushed, in stainless steel containers that contain carbon dioxide gas, sprayed with yeast and then sealed in. As fermentation slowly occurs, the weight of the grapes on top begins gently to crush the grapes below, releasing the juice. The result, as in this example, is urgent freshness and elixir-like fruitiness, first grapey and then redolent of black and red cherries and mulberries. In the mouth, this wine dips a delicate toe into the dark waters of spice and macerated black fruits; a few minutes in the glass manifest something slightly leafy, a little mossy and earthy. The texture is so satiny as to be almost viscous, but vibrant acidity cuts a swath. Utterly charming and delicious. Drink now through 2011. Very Good+. About $19.
I loved the bouquet of the Willamette Valley Vineyards Pinot Noir 2007. A welter of cranberry, black cherry and sassafras, lilac and baking spice, it would easily seduce the most jaded nose. When you taste the wine, however, you find that touch of brown sugar and emphatic spice that too often characterizes West Coast pinot noirs. This element coasts on a tide of burly oak, and together they swamp the wine’s fruit, so that the finish devolves to wood and wood’s austerity. Very good. About $25.
My mantra is “If a wine smells like wood and tastes like woody, it’s too damned woody.” That’s my reaction to the Willamette Valley Vineyards Elton Vineyard Pinot Noir 2007. Yes, ’07 should turn out to be a fine year for Oregon, and, yes, the Elton Vineyard is highly respected, but vintages and vineyards matter little if a wine is over-manipulated in the winery. At first glance, one might think that the oak regimen for the wine was perfectly balanced, 14 months in French barrels, 20 percent new, but there’s many a slip between the cup and the lip, and for my palate the wine was insufferably oaky. I spent half an hour or so with this glass, swirling, sniffing, sipping, waiting for some nuance, some detail to emerge, but those pleasurable factors seemed not to have a chance. 410 cases. Perhaps a few years aging will make a difference, but I don’t have much hope. About $45.
Here’s the story: 14 years ago, young Will Jarvis, son of the owners of Jarvis Winery, had an 8th grade science project. It seemed natural to make red wine, for which he had to receive permission and made a two-gallon barre, illustrating the whole process. Ten years later, he and his parents tried the wine and thought it was so good that it inspired the present wine, a first release of Jarvis “Will Jarvis Science Project” Cabernet Franc 2007, Napa Valley. No, readers, this is not the original wine, but it’s certainly one of the best cabernet franc wines to be made in California.
The color is dark ruby-purple, almost black. The first impression is of immense minerality, like shoals of granite and shale, but the wine is immensely fruit-endowed too, bursting with scents and flavors of spiced and macerated blueberries and black currant jam. The wine exhibits tremendous heft and substance, breadth and depth, but it’s neither heavy nor obvious; it wears its size stylishly, legitimately. As moments elapse, the wine unfolds layers of smoke and charcoal, touches of loam and burning leaves, deeper hints of violets and tar. When you take a sip, it’s not only mouth-filling but encompassing. Yes, quite a wine. It was in all new French oak, but only for nine months; how reasonable is that? 391 cases. Best from 2010 through 2015 or ’17. Excellent. About — ouch! — $105.