September 20, 2007


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Small world of wines
To try these bottles, phone a friend
By Tim Protzman

Got a weird call the other night.

Squiggy’s roommate won a sales contest at work and had 1,000 free minutes and a new phone. They wanted some international numbers to call. The phone has free long distance to anywhere in the world. I looked them up on the Internet. First we called Japan since it was tomorrow there already. The receptionist spoke only Japanese.

“Ask for free samples,” I said.

But we never got that far with Suntory Distillery. Then we called Australia. Penfolds in Melbourne.

“Get samples,” I said.

But they answered the phone with, “Thank you for calling Foster’s, how may I direct your call?” So we hung up. The Foster’s Group owns Penfolds, Seppelt, Lindeman’s, Rosemount Estate and Greg Norman Wines.

Then we called Argentina. I’ve been drinking a little more Argentinean wine lately. Just because it’s inexpensive and there seems to be more available. We called Luigi Bosca and not speaking Spanish we hung up again.

Soon we grew bored with the phone game. Our attention span is low because we had been to a casino and won. Squiggy hit big on roulette and I hit four of a kind on video poker, twice.

And we bought some booze with our new- found wealth.

The first purchase was vodka. We’re always looking for good-tasting vodka. Smooth vodka without the wood alcohol afterburn. Jewel of Russia Black Label was $72.99 so, not wanting to blow our windfall on stupid stuff like bowling or a gas company budget payment, we split a bottle.

I had tasted a small amount before and thought it was great, but the whole bottle had a different effect.

First it was smooth. The smoothest vodka I’ve ever tasted. But I wanted a little more flavor. This was almost like drinking vodka-flavored bottled water. I prefer a little spice and vanilla notes in mine. The beauty of Jewel of Russia is that it mixes invisibly. Couldn’t detect it in orange, cranberry or grapefruit juice. It blended seamlessly into Red Bull. And while sipping, it barely had any taste at all. I’d drink it again and I’d definitely order a cocktail made with it in a bar, but I wouldn’t buy it again. Unless I hit five-of-a-kind on the Deuces Wild video poker machine.

The next installment of gambling cash went for a prime rib. I’d been to a wedding and got beef the week before. But it was one of those that came marinating in a flavor seal pouch and it (unlike the vodka) had too much taste. So we bought roast. It was delicious. With it we had a 2003 Franciscan Magnificat Napa Valley ($39.99). Call it a blend or a meritage (rhymes with heritage). The blend is 71 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 25 percent Merlot, 2 percent Malbec and 2 percent Petit Verdot. I haven’t been in love with this wine in the past. I should, considering it was sort of created by Andre Tchelistcheff, the Russian émigré winemaker who put Napa and California on the wine map. He supposedly visited the Franciscan Winery and barrel tasted some of the Oakville Estate vineyard varietals and thought they’d be perfect in a Bordeaux style blend. They started making it in the early 1980s.

We thought this wine was very dry. Not tannic, but dry. The tannins which would mar an inferior wine had softened. There was a velvety quality to the wine. Supple and silky. The fruit was tame and subdued. But there was little layering. It was everything a more expensive Saint-Estephe was, but without the layers. I would drink this wine anytime it’s offered but wouldn’t buy a 2003 again. I’d wait ’til the 2004s came out.

So it was on to Luigi Bosca 2005 Reserve Pinot Noir ($13.99). I’d heard good things about Chilean pinot noir, but it was hard to find. Chile has some great merlots, some nice chardonnays and now pinots. I like their cabernet sauvignons, but I haven’t tasted anything that blew me away. I grabbed this pinot despite the fact that it came from Argentina, outside Mendoza in a town called Maipu, which is not to be confused with Chile’s Maipo Valley. They’re close to one another — about 200 miles, but the Andes are in between. This pinot was so different and exciting. It was bone dry. Had little fruit flavor and even though the tannins were hard at work they left no after burn, no cotton mouth. It was exciting to taste an honest pinot without the fruit. The wine drank more like a female version of cabernet sauvignon than your average pinot. I’ll drink this again for the price and the uniqueness.

Who says branding doesn’t work? The instant I saw this wine I recognized its label. The same color as Château Léoville Poyferré, a pricey second-growth Saint Julien from Bordeaux. The wine is from the Argentinean vineyard of the family that makes Château Léoville Poyferré and it’s nice. It did not have structure, but it was just as tasty as the Magnificat. The wine was a blend of 62 percent Malbec, 20 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 7 percent Merlot, 8 percent Syrah and 3 percent Petit Verdot. It was very good and eye-catching because of the color scheme and lettering on the label.

2005 Cuvelier Los Andes ($20.99). Blackberry, chocolate, some spice and tobacco smoke in a one-dimensional blend. I love the fact that they were brave enough to let Malbec be the lead wine on this. I would buy this wine again, but only after I tasted more of the comparable wines from Chile and Argentina.

9/13/2007 How not to get screwed