Thursday, October 2, 2014

Issue XII: Columbia Crest Grand Estate Merlot Edition

Columbia Crest Grand Estate Merlot

Although this one is listed as a straight Merlot, it actually is a blend, though a slight one. The addition of the Syrah and Cab lend this a nice complexity and ever so slightly present heaviness, which adds a nice degree of richness to what can sometimes be a fairly spare wine. The predominant taste and feel here is of Merlot and this one has a bit of spiciness and just enough astringency to put it at a near perfect level.  It’s still an overall very smooth drink.

When people ask me for recommendations for US wines, even though they’re usually asking for a Californian wine, I will sometimes recommend this one, which goes a long way towards solidifying the Washington and in particular the Columbia Valley, which is the region where most of that state’s wine originates. In fact, if you see “Columbia” in the name of the wine anywhere and it’s a domestic, chances are better than not it will come from both Washington and this region, although I think the Columbia part is greatly overused. Most of the people asking don’t really care where it comes from, of course and just wanted a drinkable wine and that’s one area where this one excels greatly, combining the lighter and spicier notes of the Merlot with the Syrah and Cab, while keeping the Cab low enough so as not to introduce the clunkiness that can sometimes accompany that grape. All in all, an extremely well-rounded wine and despite it being a blend, still one of the better entries out there representing Merlot.

This is one that will usually be around for around $14/bottle, which puts it in an odd range, because I can usually find something I like better for less money. There are frequently times when I’ll get in the mood and only Merlot will do and this is one I’ll reach for…if it’s on SPA. This one, while a fine wine, is SPA Only.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Issue XI: Dark Horse Big Red Blend Edition

Dark Horse Big Red Blend

Every wine blog, every wine list needs a "ringer," a benchmark, a standard, a base of comparison. Dark Horse is the official litmus wine of the HSC. If the list were just for and up to this author, it would probably have a different litmus test, but given that my wife likes the heavier, darker (bigger, if you will) reds, that element winds up factoring into things. The idea with the litmus test (and once you find one, it may winnow down any list you’re making quite a bit) is to find a wine that’s relatively cheap (in this case, DHBRB, while never on SPA, is usually around $8 or $9/bottle) and if you would rather drink the litmus wine than whatever other wine, it probably doesn’t belong on that list. Exceeding (and sometimes equalling) DHBRB is essentially the first gatekeeper to entry on the HSC list.

Like most blends, this one aims for a “best of all worlds” sort of approach and it succeeds to a qualified degree. It has a lot of body, not quite up to a full-on Cab or Zin, but on the heavier side, yet light (and inexpensive) enough that it could be used a very reasonable choice for any everyday wine. Where it departs from several other wines is not so much the mix of grapes (Malbec, Syrah, Temperanillo & Merlot) but the mix of countries. Argentina, Australia and the USA (California) are all represented in this huge, smashing blend.

For all of its solidity, this is a fairly smooth wine. You can definitely feel the higher body than some of the other wines, yet it carries very little to none of the harshness (what I call the taste of “cheap” – not always undesirable) you might expect from such a mix or a price point. There is hints of astringency to provide a subtle bite, but it’s mostly lost in those huge, dark taste overtones of darker fruit, i.e. black currants, blackberries, plum, hints of dark cherry. It has a nice linger, but doesn’t stay around long enough so as to wear out its welcome.

For $9 or less a bottle, this is one of the best values in any of the Utah liquor stores. I don’t wind up buying this a lot regularly, as a lot of the other names on my list are more my preference, if they happen to be on SPA, but if those are out or I’m having trouble trying to decide if a new wine should be added to the list, I’ll grab a bottle (or more...sometimes I'll get on streaks) of this, either for comparison or just to have. It is a terrific life-ring and fallback (“saver”), consistent, readily available and inexpensive. As such, this meets all the criteria to be a Standard.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Issue X: A By Acacia [Pinot Noir] Edition

A By Acacia Pinot Noir

Continuing the discussion last episode in which we referenced the movie “Sideways” and how it largely put the until-then lower key Pinot Noir on the map, this, then, is a wine featuring that particular grape and one in which it demonstrates much of what that wine can be and why it has maintained a lot of the fire that the movie lent it.

As to this particular brand, I’ve sort of been fascinated by the forays of celebrities into alcohol, be it Vince Neil or Sammy Hagar’s brands of booze (not a fan of either) or Francis Ford Coppola or Geoff Tate sticking their toes into the wine world or Iron Maiden or Motorhead putting out various concoctions of beer or even branching out further. If someone slaps a band logo on something like that, odds are pretty good I’m going to try it and I have no shame about that. In this case, I stumbled on this one trying to find a wine from the vineyard that Maynard James Keenan owned and got things really confused.

It was all to my benefit, though. This is a gorgeous, gorgeous wine, rich and vibrant, with a good deal of balance. It is also one of the fastest to aerate as you can get into this 15 – 20 minutes in and be good to go, though, like with all reds, more time improves it. You can expect a lot of lingering taste with this one. It’s a very smooth, silky wine and you can catch bits of cherry and some of the darker berries and even a dash of plum in there. This is another where you want to catch an older one (this is also what they frequently mean by a “Burgundy” wine and some of them will store forever), though this particular one is aged in oak, which imbues it with some subtle hints as well as really adding a lot of that smoothness I mentioned.

This wine clocks in generally around $13 and is usually not on SPA. It is, however, a Mixed, as I will pick up bottles of it when I’ve got the urge for a healthy glass of Pinot. Pinot is still one of those grapes that carries a degree of prestige and hence, expense and what that means is generally higher dollars shelled out. Still, for under a $20 spot, this is a very good value.