Sunday, April 24, 2016

Issue XLI: Terre del Nero d’Avola Edition

Terre del Nero d’Avola

One of my favorite things about wine in general and red wine particular is that it, more than any other beverage of the *ahem* “spiritual” type, is contains great character. In fact, if there is one aspect of this drink that I think is a hallmark, aside from the actual chemical properties and taste differences, it would be this and nowhere is this more evident than in this wondrous grape from Sicily, the Nero d’Avola.  “Nero”, in this case, refers not to the emperor, but to the black hue of this grape, which is called the most important grape in all of Italy and is one of the more prominent indigenous ones. In my view, it is not too distant from Syrah, which is, as noted repeatedly here in the HSC, one of my favorites.

Here we have a study almost of contrasts, which manifests itself in a bit of astringency, but soaking up all that sun in Sicily also imbues it with a smoothness and depth of taste that counters that nicely. Perhaps this wine is a metaphor for the sun itself, where gravity does battle with the force of millions upon millions of energy discharges from fusion to keep it functioning with just the right levels so it doesn’t fall in on itself or give rise to a supernova, either of which would make this column and everything else on our spectacularly colored planet academic.

Apocalyptic visions aside, for the price point, this is a very difficult wine to beat, as is nearly every other entry on this list from Italy, the south of which, including Sicily is itself still my most favorite wine-producing region. This is a gorgeous wine and since evidently this is the column where I wax metaphoric, if Sophia Loren were a wine, I’d imagine she would look like this one: deep, rich, full-bodies, at once both sweet and wild, subtly refined at times, beautiful, burgundy…actually, maybe not that last one for Ms. Loren, but definitely for this wine.

I’ve never seen it on SPA, but at the fairly moderate price this usually is at normally, it’s still a tremendous value. Lately, it’s been a bit difficult to come by, so I suspect that others have discovered this gem. This is a very strong entry and always enjoyable and by my accounting, a Standard.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Issue XL: Juan Gil 12 Meses [Monastrell] Edition

Juan Gil 12 Meses [Monastrell]

A couple things in order on this one. First is the “meses” part of this. “Meses” translates to months and is used here to denote how long the wine was aged in French barrels prior to being bottles. The second is the varietal itself. While not specifically mentioned, rather there is some indication Jumilla, which is a wine region of Spain, is in the name, the grape used is Monastrell, which is growing in popularity there. This is one of the best parts of the HSC, at least from my perspective, a chance for me, in the name of this column, to experience grapes I would never have dreamt of and certainly never tasted otherwise.

This particular grape is a very dark, dense one, which produces wine both high in alcohol, but also notable for its very earthy aspects, dark violet color and a certain fullness to the body. This is yet another of the so-called “heavy grapes”, which show up in the list. There’s quite a lot going on here, from aspects of smoke, leather and toastiness to a very smooth mouth feel (trying to find the alcohol here, despite its relatively high content, can be a bit of a chore) to some very rich fruit flavors that are at once reminiscent, yet difficult to pin down as they seem to shift a bit between sips. That busy of a wine can be a bit off-setting and this is not one of my wife’s favorites, yet I will happily and contentedly churn through a bottle, marveling at the differences.

It rather defies comparison to a Syrah, lacking the characteristic sweetness there and while a bit similar in heaviness to the other full-bodies types, namely the big bad Cabs and the Zins, it has a completely different taste and mouth feel. It is not, however, easy-going in that if you’re going to get into this one, it’s a bit of a commitment. It’s not there to be idly consumed; it’s there to be experienced. Its heaviness also plays into that and it does not do well as a light, casual wine. It is, perhaps all in all, that one wine that makes you wish you had a fireplace if you don’t already and that the fireplace was lit and roaring and you in front of it, if you do.

Given that Standards have a bit of touch and go, namely that if my wife isn’t a fan, it generally can’t be a Standard, unless I want to slug and plug through a bottle solo (not averse to the idea, but she can get a little weird if I do…), it’s best to confine that to wines we both can enjoy and it’s not enough that I’d choose to make a stand over it. I’ve never seen it on SPA and it’s relatively high price point also work against it there, so, for all those factors, it comes in at a Mixed, albeit a highly enjoyable one.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Issue XXXIX: Terra-Barossa Shiraz Edition

Terra-Barossa Shiraz

Let us, as they say, start at the start...Barossa refers to a specific geographic locale, which houses the vineyard producing this wine. As we know by now, Shiraz is the Australian name for Syrah. As I was talking a bit last week about my favorite region of wine, I thought I might take a minute for some metrics of the full HSC list, including ones that are now discontinued, just to get a glimpse at where the numbers statistically are falling. Feel free to skip the next 3 paragraphs if you don’t care about such things, but I do have a point to this…sort of.

As of this writing, [Editors Note: the date this installment was written was 01/25/15: several of these numbers have changed considerably since then, however, for the sake of posterity, let the verbosity continue] of the 62 wines currently on the list, California, as a wine-producing region, is by far the most well-represented, with 24 of the entries, or ~39%. However, it is worth noting that they have by far the largest selection in the various liquor and wine stores, do not face strict import laws and tend to be overall the least expensive, which gives them huge advantages in this regard. The next closest, Italy and France, both tied at 9 each, both have a fraction of the selection and have little opportunity to change that, as I’ve already gone through all of the French wines that meet the price criteria for the list and almost all of the Italian ones. The least well-represented on this list, conversely, is a 5-way tie with Austria, Germany, Portugal, Chile and Argentina all having 1 slot each on the list. So, we don’t have anything telling there. Greater opportunity results in greater numerical results and doesn’t accurately reflect my personal preference, that being the Italian wines, though California is admittedly a closer and closer overall second. There are more metrics to analyze here, but I’ll defer in favor of the meta-analysis.

As to ratings, to further cloud the issue, we have the ratings, which are the Standard, Mixed and SPA-Only. Refer back to the first couple posts for what they mean respectively. The entire HSC list is intended that one can simply buy any wine on it and enjoy a good quality wine and/or value, but the Standards are ones that price ceases to be a consideration, which makes them sort of the crème de la crème, whereas conversely SPA-Only means that price is the main consideration. As of this, my 39th posting to the HSC blog, taking out the whites, which are not rated, we have a pool of 35. Of those, 11 are standards, which is right around 31 percent. In that 11, 2 are dessert wines, which I’m throwing out.  9 remain and California again leads the charge with 4 and Blends represent type best with 5.

From there, we next look at types of wines. Discounting the cooking whites, the dessert wines, including champagne and the non-grape wines, such as mead and sake, we have a pool then of 51. Of this shallower pool, we have “Blend” showing up 16 times or ~31% of the time. Next closest does not reach double digits, with Bordeaux, Syrah and Pinot Noir showing up 4 times each. The lowest is not worth mentioning. In light of those overwhelming numbers, when countries represented ceases to largely matter, it would be foolish for me to say that anything other than Blends was my overall favorite type of wine, as it is represented right across the board in the presence of any statistically significant numbers.

When we go to single varietals, though, we can see some different shapes emerging. Bordeaux was far and away my former favorite. However, I definitely enjoy a great Pinot Noir as well, but for some time, Syrah has done a great job of nudging itself into the slot as my all-around favorite. Yes, I certainly harbor strong fondness for the Nero d’Avola as well, but the wonderful Syrah has resonated well with me and if I had to pick one that was the best of all possible worlds, it would be hard for me to look past it.

Australia was, for quite some time, most prominent with this grape and this wine is a wonderful example of that grape, robust, a bit toothy, solid, with plenty of depth and that wonderful mouth feel and flavor that is a hallmark to me of this varietal, when done right, of course. This one is a bit softer and has a longer finish than some of the others, but this just provides further evidence to the potential complexity of that truly special grape.

Price on this one gets a bit into the upper ranges of the HSC cap and I’ve not ever seen it on SPA. While I like it, it’s not of sufficient measure to deem it a Standard, thus is comes in at a Mixed.