Never say "never" to a wine

I am embarrassed to admit that just like anyone else I have my prejudices, and like many, no amount of convincing can change them, until an eye-opening experience happens.

Prejudice #1 - I don't like non-European wine. Speaking of new world red wines, I find them jammy, alcoholic and lacking acidity and complexity - reminding me of fruit pie or yogurt rather than a food drink. When a month ago I was pouring new world Bordeaux varietals (Cab, Merlot, Malbec) at Vineyard Gate, most of the wines were unappealing to me. One in particular - Ghost Pines Merlot 2006 (blend of Merlot grapes from Napa and Sonoma) I actually called a "yogurt". So when yesterday a dear friend brought this wine for lunch at a neighborhood Mediterranean restaurant in San Carlos, I was suspicious. Guess what - the wine matched perfectly with the food - creamy mezzes, slightly sweet ground beef and lamb, eggplant with tomato base - the food was simple, comfortable, and tasty - and so was this Merlot. It tasted of pure ripe plums and cherries, with a hint of chocolate, and great creaminess on the palate. The wine was not hot - 13.9% alcohol, and it had enough acidity to stand up to the yogurt and tomato-based sauces. It lacked complexity, but frankly so did the food! I can't think of any other type of wine that would have matched that meal more perfectly. I kept thinking back to the tasting when I had dismissed that wine and feeling ashamed of my prejudice. It reminded me how careful we must be when we taste wines without food, in a line-up with other wines - always inclined to compare and judge rather than appreciate. It reminded me of importance of the setting in which we enjoy the wine, and the cuisine with which the wine is paired. With the renewed appreciation of a simple $15 (@VineyardGate) domestic Merlot, let's just say my prejudice #1 is "adjusted".

Prejudice #2 formed in my head just a few days ago when I tried an Italian wine I'd never tried before - made from a grape variety called Lagrein, native to the Alto Adige area of Italy. It was a Sudtiroler DOC Lagrein Riserva Taber 2000 made by Cantina Produttori S. Maddalena (13% alc, $42 @VineyardGate). I had this wine at the 4th-of-July party I was hosting at the Domaine du Chevsky (i.e. my house) along with a dozen of other wines, and I was underwhelmed by it, considering the price. Why would I bother with this unknown Italian variety from an unheralded region, if I can spend my $40-$50 on a decent Brunello or Barolo, not to mention many other much less expensive Italian reds with proven reputation like Chianti, Dolcetto, and Montepulciano. This wine tasted vegetal... on Friday. In fact no one seemed to like it, because I had more than half a bottle left unfinished, so I froze it.

On Sunday night, my wife had a craving for cheese and wine. Promptly I pulled out some Manchego and Gruyere cheeses, and thawed the Lagrein, after having warned her several times that the wine is uninspiring. I warmed the bottle up in a bucket of warm water, and once it reached just-below-room temperature, I poured a decent amount into a glass and gave it a sip. Oh my god! - the wine was olive dark color, warm plush texture, and a symphony of flavors from dry Serrano ham to bell pepper to chocolate all over the core of dark berries with very nice balance of fruity sweetness, earthy herbaciousness, spice and acidity. A 2000 - the wine was very smooth and lush, with just a hint of tannin. There could be so many reasons why this wine tasted so much better now. Perhaps it didn't go with the food on Friday? Perhaps it didn't go with the other wines? Or perhaps it needed some time to breathe? Or perhaps I was too busy running around taking care of guests to give this wine its due consideration? No matter! I almost dismissed this grape variety, if not for my wife's Sunday craving - once again the woman saves me!

There is a lesson in there, somewhere :)!


Interesting on the freeze concept. You'd think it would hurt the wine with the temperature variation. Perhaps I'll give it a try next time I have an unpleasing wine.
enochchoi said…
i find that value wines pair better with most of the food that i eat. i reserve most of my nice bottles for times they're the center of attention with friends who appreciate them.

i'll bet the italian showed better due to the bloom of the cheese which i find sweetens and brightens most wine i drink them with. particularly pinot noir.
Iron Chevsky said…
I froze the Lagrein again (for 2-3 weeks) and finally thawed and poured the remaining glass to my tennis buddies (one of whom - Krishna - is a big time French and Italian wine buff) on Sat. He was quite impressed by the Lagrein, which again showed satin smooth texture, black-olive color, great concentration, and a touch of greenness almost completely covered by a deep delicious and well balanced dark fruit. Very solid wine for $42, and to think that I'd dismissed it originally, shame on me! Should go buy some more.

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