Our story so far: Last April, the Muddler spent time with wine critic and cigar aficionado James Suckling. The Muddler is learning the tricks of the wine-critic trade and he has returned for a follow-up lesson from James.
James: I’ve working on a concept for a new category of wine. I’m thinking of calling the category “a wedge wine.”
MuddleMan: Is the concept like the wedgies I used to get in the University dorm or are you thinking about wines that would go with a wedge salad?
James: Lord, it is hard to fly like an eagle when you work with a turkey. No, I’m basing the category loosely on the concept of a “wedge issue.” In case you don’t know, a wedge issue is an issue that divides or causes conflict in an otherwise unified group.
MuddleMan: You mean an issue like Omar Khadr.
James: Khadr? You Canadians can be so provincial but, okay, let’s go with that example. So, you are at a cocktail party and people are happy and chatting and you bring up Khadr…what happens next?
MuddleMan: Well, that’s easy, controversy happens next, people will get upset at the views expressed by others and the happy group of people becomes very divided and is no longer happy.
James: Exactly, that’s why the world needs a topic to provoke thought and healthy debate and discussion…a topic that adds depth to the party’s buzz but not a topic that is a buzz killer. That’s where wine comes in and, specially, a wedge wine. Here’s a bottle of Chardonnay from the Jura region of France. I’m thinking that this wine would be a wedge wine. Can you tell me why?
MuddleMan: Well, wine from the Jura typically has some oxidation, alcohol levels can be lower, and the flavors often are not characteristic of Chardonnay. I’d say that some people will not like the wine while others would find it enjoyable and interesting. A wedge wine?
James: Yep, a wedge wine. People that don’t like the wine would say something like “I don’t like the Sherry aromas” or “I was expecting at least some of the characteristics of a Chardonnay.” People that like the wine will say that the wine is “funky..in a good way.” Talking about this wine will divide the group but that division will be good. People will enjoy themselves, they will talk about the wine and everyone will learn something.
James: Let’s give this wine a score of 92 and move onto the next wine.
MuddleMan: But, but, but, we have not tasted it yet. How do we know the score is 92?
James: Taste? Christ are you trying to kill me? I can’t taste every wine. My prostrate is the size of a grapefruit and gout has my right leg swelled up like a Redwood trunk. You don’t have to taste a wine to write its story. You do realize that there is no Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry in the Highlands of Scotland? People don’t give a shit whether you actually taste a wine. You just have to be able to write a passable story. Understand?
[Long and uncomfortable pause in the conversation]
James: Screw it. 94 it is.
After traveling for nearly seven weeks it was great to get back to Muddle Central. Our wine monopoly, the KGBO (a.k.a. the LCBO) chose “Spain 2.0”as the theme for the July 8 release (did the KGBO somehow know that the last two weeks of my travels were spent in Spain?). Many of the wines showed in a mediocre way but there are several good buys in this release.
Let’s start with:
The clear winners
The $22 Domaine Sigalas Assyrtiko/Athiri 2015 (VINTAGES#: 74781) is worth your money. Minerals, steely, focused, and crisp. This wine works alone and would pair well with seafood. It’s the same price that you would pay in the Excited States. Great value.
The $25 Descendientes de J. Palacios Pétalos 2015 (VINTAGES#: 446484) is a home run. We were able to taste and contrast this 2015 vintage with the same wine from 2009. Grab these opportunities when you can as they give you a window on how a wine will evolve over time. The 2009 had all together and we could tell that with a few years in the bottle the 2015 likely would evolve similarly. You can buy the 2015 vintage and enjoy it now and you could also buy a few bottles and let them age for 5 or 10 or more years. Great wine from a good producer.
The $21 Dr. Hermann Erdener Treppchen Riesling Spätlese 2010 (VINTAGES#: 181917) is a steel. Yes, it is a sweet wine, something that the typical consumer is shunning today. Check your prejudice, make this wine the focal point of a discussion or pair this wine with Asian food or a tart dessert. You’ll enjoy how the wine’s high acidity balances its sweetness. A lot going on here for a small price. We had the opportunity to taste the 2007 vintage of this wine and compare it to the 2010. The 2010’s level of acidity is very appealing. This wine would age and evolve for decades.
The $20 Bastide Miraflors Vieilles Vignes Syrah/Grenache 2015 (VINTAGES#: 320499) is a great value. Here is a house red wine that has complexity, will work with food and will be a people pleaser. Give it lots of air by opening the bottle hours in advance or by decanting it.
Looking for a wine to sip on your deck (or dock or balcony)? Then consider buying the $20 Follas Novas Albariño 2015 (VINTAGES#: 488981). Good fruit flavors, nice acidity and refreshing.
Wines you may wish to try?
The $19 Cave de Roquebrun La Grange des Combes Saint-Chinian-Roquebrun 2015 (VINTAGES#: 155804). A little too much perfume and cherry fruit for my palate but a wine with some complexity and a good price.
The $20 Marcel Cabelier Vieilles Vignes Côtes du Jura Chardonnay 2013 (VINTAGES#: 485839) is our “wedge wine.” I loved this wine but it was not loved by all. The tasting notes indicated that one of the flavors is “binned apples” …those bruised apples that they use to make apple cider. Add nice acidity and oxidized (Sherry) notes and, to me, a winner. Enjoyable by itself and works with food.Don’t buy the $14 Barón de Ley White 2016 (VINTAGES#: 145995) based on the published tasting notes. The notes overstate the case. But there tropical fruit flavors and a fruity / floral nose. This is the wine you buy to make white Sangria.
If you are hosting a gathering and need a budget friendly crowd pleaser then consider buying the $15 Pago de Valdoneje Mencia 2015 (VINTAGES#: 268805). The wine has character and structure at a good price.
Wines to avoid?
We tasted two wines classified as Crianza: the $17 Conde De Valdemar Crianza Tempranillo 2012 (VINTAGES#: 356089) and the $18 Ochoa Crianza Tempranillo 2012 (VINTAGES#: 481093). Both wines are okay and enjoyable but our collective reaction was “meh.” There are better wines to buy in this release.
Sadly, I don’t think that the $35 LAN Gran Reserva 2008 (VINTAGES#: 928622) is worth the money. The tasting notes indicating “nice weight with flavors of red cherry, red currant, pipe tobacco, black olive and hints of baking spices” is overstating the situation. The wine disappoints.
The $22 La Cadiérenne Cuvée Grande Tradition Bandol Rosé 2016 (VINTAGES#: 119453) would be a good buy at $15 but there is not enough going on to justify the asking price.
The Rosés we tasted disappointed as the $15 Barón de Ley Rosé 2016 (VINTAGES#: 117283) is also a wine that I would avoid. Rosés that have an aroma and taste profile of candy cane are a turnoff for me. In fairness, these aromas were not nearly as offensive after the wine was open for a day but I can’t imagine that anyone would buy and decant a $15 Rosé hours before its consumption.
The $33 Majella Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 (VINTAGES#: 301531) is like putting a Corvette engine in a Vega (this analogy obviously dates me). Sure there is a lot going on in this wine but it is all power and not very enjoyable.