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. 

Friday, August 15, 2014

Issue IX: Marqués de Cáceres Crianza Rioja [Blend] Edition

Marqués de Cáceres Crianza Rioja [Blend]

If you’ve spent any time following wines at all, you quickly realize it is a very trendy world, where rumor can quickly grab hold in people’s minds (the French make the best and/or only drinkable wine in the world) and where something as relatively trite as a Hollywood movie can sell cases upon a cases of a particular varietal, as the movie “Sideways” did for the formerly much less publicized and formerly considerably less popular Pinot Noir.

Several countries have taken their turn as “the next big thing” and Spain had their moment in the sun before rising prices drove the seekers of bargains and hidden gems elsewhere (I believe the current locations for TNBT are somewhere in South America, either Chile or Argentina). While Spain was hot, it introduced the world to some of the wonderfully luscious and sweet offerings of that locale that was perhaps best known for a crazy practice of letting enraged male bovines run rampant through the streets, footloose, fancy free and horns wild.

One of those was the grape behind this wine, the lively Tempranillo, which yields a very fruity taste, highly reminiscent of berries, both blue and black. Rioja refers to the area from which this comes, probably the most famous wine region of that country, up in the northern part. This particular wine, which is a blend, but clearly utilizing Tempranillo as a backbone, is one that feels light in the mouth and tastes fruity out of the gate. The closer you drink it from opening the bottle, the greater the backbite, though it loses the majority of whatever minor harshness is there starting about 15 minutes after airing. The longer it airs, the greater complexity and fullness emerges, with the full effect coming right around the 60 minute mark. It’s a very adaptable and enjoyable wine and is a fantastic representative of both the wines from that country, as well as that particular grape and region.

For $13 or less a bottle, however, this is another that is mostly SPA Only as my tastes tend towards some of the others that come in on SPA that can be had for less.  Still, if you’re interested in taking a wine tour of the world via package stores, as I did when compiling the list initially, this is a good starting point for Spain.