28 December 2009

Assorted Leftover Bottles

Here's a few bottles that got tasted and reviewed, but not posted in 2009. They sat around in the bullpen for a while, and I decided I might as well let them out for the 9th inning.

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This wine comes from the time when Bonny Doon's Ca' del Solo line was still whimsical and lighthearted. With a move to biodynamics and a trimming of the wild mix of grapes and products, Ca' del Solo wines now bear very unusual labels. This older label reminds me of the children's book Madeline, though this little girl is obviously not an orphan.

There's not a lot of information out there about this wine--a few reviews of various vintages going back to the 90s, but Bonny Doon is a company that has grown, shrunk, exploded with products, focused on a handful of wines, reinvented itself, and has built up certain mythologies about its products. Like how people mistake the Ca' del Solo line for Italian wines, or think the Big House wines (no longer part of Bonny Doon) were actually made by prisoners. Press releases and company info on old products seem to disappear completely, like the Fraise strawberry liqueur I tried in 1997, leaving us with second- and third-hand accounts and reviews.

Our mystery white is the 2005 Ca' del Solo Malvasia Bianca from the Central Coast of California. $12, 13% abv. Lots of lime on the nose, like lemon curd but with more of a lime tang--think Key Lime Pie. Plenty of fruit flavor here, and a quick finish. Tropical fruits like papaya and pineapple. I had it with a little cold pasta salad, and it definitely needs something salty like olives to balance out the touch of sweetness. I would have liked to have tried this in its youth; I have nothing to directly compare it with, but I think there might have been some more sparkle a few years ago.

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Different European countries have different rules and regulations when it comes to what kind of grapes can be grown in various regions. France is pretty strict; I often think that Italy and Spain are more accommodating because they have thousands of indigenous grapes that might only be a few hundred distinct vines with ten names each. (It's possible for a wine grape to have over 150 different names.) In Italy the IGT system has permitted well-crafted wines to be produced using plots planted with both indigenous Italian vines and imported French vines. Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are popular blending grapes, even as far south as Sicily.

One relatively mainstream example is the 2005 Bonizio Cecchi from Maremma, Italy (the western corner of Tuscany). $10, 12.5% abv, 90% Sangiovese, 10% "other" red grapes. This little Tuscan IGT has a little blackberry and clove on the nose, with mild tannins and cherry flavors. It performs well for the price and was a decent accompaniment to a pepperoni pizza.

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This is a very inexpensive Pinot Noir, decent enough for the price. After Sideways a lot of people rushed out and bought the cheapest Pinot on the shelf. Many of those folks were sorely disappointed, but it doesn't mean that bargain Pinot doesn't exist. It's just hard to find. I've often considered taping a note to my wallet that says, "Don't buy a Pinot Noir under $20. They've never made you happy."

But for the same reason that I've always dated [REDACTED], I decided to try another bargain California Pinot that showed up at the local shop. This is the 2006 Jargon Pinot Noir that retails for a paltry $7, 13.5% abv. Surprisingly, it is pretty soft and smooth, with decent black cherry notes, but lacking real complexity. Just a touch of acidity, tannins are pretty much nonexistent. It's the kind of wine I'd suggest for a diner if my local diners actually served wine.

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A lot of folks like to beat up on Red Truck, and while it pales in comparison to fine Burgundy or Bordeaux I've always thought it was a fun table wine. Better in previous years, I think, but it's a great "gateway wine" for men. If a guy has never tasted wine before, flowery labels and French language aren't going to convince him. But if there's half a hog on the smoker, and you pull out a slightly chilled wine that has an old pickup truck on the label... You might have just made a convert. In five years he'll be criticizing your Barolo vintages and explaining why he prefers Spiegelau glasses over Riedel.

The 2006 Red Truck is $12, 13.5% abv, and shows notes of plum, brambles, with notes that are vegetal. Just a touch of herbs. Big tannins and acidity but they subside with an hour of breathing. The grapes are a proprietary blend of Syrah, Petite Syrah, Cabernet Franc, Grenache, and Mourvèdre. While this may sound like a confused mess, it's probably close to the spirit of pre-Prohibition California "red wine" that used to flow out across the country years and years ago. Fortunately, you'll get a chance to enjoy it in bottle or cask form instead of having it shipped in tankers via train.

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I'm an unabashed fan of the metric system and curse the archaic, illogical standard system we use here. However, for historical and literary purposes I do find obscure forms of measurement fascinating. Fathoms, leagues, hogsheads... Italian miles versus German miles versus Arabic miles... Gold gets measured in troy ounces, and horses get measured in "hands" from the ground to the withers, units now standardized at 4 inches. 14-16 hands is pretty average for a horse. (Similar human body-derived units are feet, paces, cubits, and the Selleck, used to measure mustache thickness.)

Another random wine selection based on the name is the 2007 14 Hands Merlot, $12, 13.5% abv. It's comprised of 85% Merlot, 14% Syrah, and 1% "other", sourced from a variety of locations in Washington state. Pacific Northwest wines are growing in popularity and availability, and it's always interesting to talk to people that just got back from a trip to Washington or Oregon wine country. They talk about it in this dreamy way like they've been to France.

Jammy, with an initial cherry and blueberry nose that can be overwhelming. After some breathing, it mellows out and you're able to get notes of chocolate, tobacco, and tomato vines. Definitely fruity, with medium tannins and a long chocolate-covered-cherry finish.


Wine Tonite! said...

You make a very good point up top about 2nd and 3rd hand reviews as wel as lost or confusing information about for wines on the internet. Have you heard of the OwnIt! initiative by Cruvee that is trying to provide accurate and streamlined wine data across the web and allowing the wineries themselves to control that information? (http://yourwineyourway.com/)

Have a Happy New Year!

Benito said...


I've heard about the project but haven't followed it closely. The few times I've attempted to build a database out of my own notes I've gotten frustrated and quit. Simple things like a region field get complicated based on how much detail you want. Or grapes: should a search for Zinfandel also pull up Primitivo as well? Greek wines listed using the Greek or Roman alphabet? I recently tried a wine that was a 50/50 blend of 2007 and 2008 vintages, which I think is more significant than merely calling it NV.

Of course, I run into the same problem with organizing my DVDs. Some people go purely alphabetical; I prefer genre groupings with subgroups by director or lead actor. I spend way too much time thinking about these things. :)

Cheers, and Happy New Year,

The Wine Commonsewer (TWC) said...

I haven't had the Red Truck in a while, so it may be better this year. My complaint is that it is afflicted with that sickly sweet taste that is often passed off as cherries, a code word for predictably crummy wine. :-)

I've often considered taping a note to my wallet that says, "Don't buy a Pinot Noir under $20. They've never made you happy."

Good advice. I have to say that in my entire life I've only had three or four Pinots that were really good. All were more than twenty bucks.

I'm almost ready to conclude that I'm not really a pinot noir kind of guy and maybe it's nothing more than that.

Happy New Year, Ben.

The Wine Commonsewer (TWC) said...

Speaking of disappearing info, I always think it odd that wineries sometimes take their own tasting notes down after they've sold out a particular vintage.

The other problem with winery info is that it tends to be optimistic. :-)

Benito said...


The better Pinot Noirs I've had were a bit on the pricey side and had been aged properly. Obviously I don't get to enjoy that kind of wine very often, but when it's made well and handled properly it can be amazing.

Happy New Year to you as well!


Michael Hughes said...

Yeah I did kinda wax poetic when I got back from Oregon & Washington. You simply must go! That 14 hands is a great little merlot.

Benito said...


I wasn't just praising your lovely words about the area--I've heard similar dreamy tales from many others. Indeed, I visited Oregon at the age of 13 and didn't touch a drop of wine or visit a vineyard, but the state occupies this magical place in my memory. Great seafood, great cherries, forests/mountains/coast/desert... it's like a mini-California.