faces and wine
play the game, you have to ante (belly) up
Texas Hold’em Poker
is big. Everyone’s playing it — kids at camp, commuters on the train,
even your grandmother gets together once a week to play.
(Have you called her
Even I like it, and
I’m a crank. I think it’s because the cards have such pretty names. The
Pocket Cards, Burned cards, The River and the Turn. They remind me how,
a few years ago, all the FM stations decided to brand themselves with
single-word names: The River, The Fox, The Rocker. You could probably
cross the country and listen to the same music format all the way, you’d
just have to pick up the next station as the signal fades. It’s very
comforting in a way, like being able to get Moons Over My Hammy in any
Denny’s you visit.
Wine is a bit like
that. You can find the major brands anywhere in the country. If you like
Woodbridge Chardonnay, it’s widely available. It’s a comfort thing and I
defend to the death anyone who chooses their same favorite over and over
again. Buying wine is little like playing Texas Hold’em — it can be a
gamble. It’s psychological, too. Why pass up a sure thing for an unknown
I’m on the opposite
side of the scale. It’s my job to try lots of wine and tell you about
what’s good, great and a bargain. I explore, ask questions and have
other people taste too. My tastes run to very dry Bordeaux like reds,
spicy Grenache Syrah blends and juicy Pinot Noirs. But I gladly try
Chenin Blancs and Rieslings to be able to offer the reader suggestions.
This week’s wines
are like this week’s Texas Hold’em game. Some busted, some bluffed and
some chickened out. It is like the second straight I nearly had until
Miss Haley pushed in 10 and I folded. As luck would have it, the River,
or last card, was a five and I would have won. So take this piece of
advice: sometimes you can be too cautious, especially when you play for
pennies like we do. The next time you feel experimental, go for it. Just
make sure it’s around $10 a bottle or clip this column out and try
something I suggest. And remember confidence is 90 percent of the game.
This week’s wines
Elvis is still dead,
but his wine hasn’t left the building. Elvis Wines from Graceland
Cellars in Graton, Calif. breaks my first rule of wine & spirits — if
it’s a collectible then you’re paying for the novelty, not the wine.
I’ve seen Frank Sinatra on wine labels and there’s something called
Marilyn Merlot. I’ve never tried these because right after Mr. Presley
died (and I remember where I was Aug. 16, 1977, when I first heard he
died — working as a stock boy in a supermarket) there were a slew of
Elvis whiskey decanters that had the same bourbon as the plain bottles
but were twice the price because they had the King riding in a Cadillac
But Elvis Wines
aren’t made to be a collectible. They are made for drinking and
enjoyment. There are four varietals all priced under $14. The Blue Suede
Chardonnay, The King Cabernet Sauvignon, All Shook Up Sauvignon Blanc
and Jailhouse Red Merlot. I tried the King Cab and All Shook Up
Cellars The King Cabernet Sauvignon $12.99 — Not a whole lot of skeleton
and structure, but the fruit is perfect, not overly sweet or fake
tasting. It’s refreshing to see a serious food wine. Flavors of elder
and wine berries with a dry start and a robust chocolate and green
Cellars Shook Up Sauvignon Blanc $9.99 — A refreshing little rile of
sweet gherkin flavors and citric hints ran through this wine. Pleasant
and easy to have alone as an aperitif or with tomato olive and basil
Trying these wines
made me feel like I got dealt two Pocket Aces.
Chenin Blanc $14.99 — Too sweet for me but Squiggy, a real card shark,
had a glass, liked it, and took the pot with a full house. Perfumey with
honey and cantaloupe flavors that I found hard to take on their own, but
really took off with salami and cheese.
2001 Glass Mountain
Cabernet Sauvignon $8.99 — Part of Markham Vineyards. Very much exceeded
my expectations. Lean and sinewy with plum, tobacco and cardamom. From
2002 Salmon Creek
Cabernet Sauvignon $7.99 — Too fruity and homogenized. One-dimensional
and listless. Like getting a three instead of a jack on the River card.
2003 Sutter Home
White Zinfandel $3.99 — After reading another wine column I tried this
and couldn’t really see any similarities with Old World rose wines.
Overly sweet, but it did make a damn fine spritzer.
1999 Paul Pernot &
Sons Santenay Bieveau $19.99 — Not like an American or New Zealand Pinot
Noir. Soft, with a green olive and vermouth-like finish. Very easy to
drink, but very delicate. New World palates may find this one a
shrinking violet. A Burgundy from the Santenay area.
1999 Patrizi Barolo
$25.49 — Went all in and lost with this one. Great Barolo’s are great
and expensive; this just had too much raisin flavor and was alcoholic
and fiery where it should have been tannic and muscular.