Wednesday, January 21, 2009

HIGH ALCOHOL - Not always a bad thing

I tasted a few wines in the past day which, at over 14.5% abv, could be considered 'high alcohol' for red table wines. In fact, I tasted many such wines, as I tasted a large number of domestic reds yesterday. Most of them were of no interest to me. Overly fruity, oaky, burnt from heavily toasted French oak, lifeless from lack of acidity, you name it. A range of what many picky palates would call out as flaws in modern winemaking.

However, two wines stood out for their relative sense of balance. One was Spanish, the other from the Suison Valley (southeast of Napa Valley). Both had 15.5% alcohol, something you'd no doubt note after drinking a few glasses, but tasting the wine, perhaps is somewhat less noticeable.

The 2005 Val Llach Val Llach is classic, modern Priorat. With its bold aromas of cassis, blackberry jam and sweet mocha it probably will not win over those who generally do not enjoy big, brawny, intensely fruity Priorat. Typically, I'm the first to hate on Priorat (for that matter, throw in Ribera del Duero as well). Overly ripe fruit and way too much new oak seem to rule the day. However, this particular Priorat, produced by the president of the Priorat D.O., just worked for me. Yes, it's big and not shy about utilizing some new oak, but that llicorella (slate) minerality is there, as well as nicely balanced acidity. Gonna go out on a limb here and guess that this is one of the few Priorats I like due to a.)CARIGNAN makes up the majority of the wine, and as we all know carignan is just delicious and/or b.) the vineyard site really is top notch, with an incredibly steep slope composed largely of black slate.

Abe Schoener, best known for his Scholium Project wines, also makes slightly more accessible, lower priced wines under the Ten Brick label. The 2007 Tenbrick Pinot Noir Suison Valley shows intensely flavored, red fruit, of a candied quality, that I often associate with Russian River pinot noir. Like the very few decent Russian River pinots out there, this wine has real acidity to balance the intensely ripe fruit flavors. It also shows lively, with a natural, tense structure that shows its stuff mainly mid-palate and towards the end taste. That's the way I like it. As one might expect in the location, near Fairfield and heading towards on the Amtrak line towards Sacramento, the grapes have no problem with ripeness - alcohol is 15.5%.

While both of those earned my respect, they probably would not earn my dollar. For the price of the Val Llach (about $75) I'd go with an '07 JJ Prum Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Auslese, using the extra $15 or so for a bottle of good muscadet. And for the price of the Ten Brick Pinot Noir, I'd go with a bottle of '06 Louis Claude Desvignes Morgon Javernieres.

Further proof that, though I respect good winemaking in new world and trendy, stylistically new world leaning regions, more often than not I'll continue spending my money on the classic, and often times less fashionable, wines out there.


Anonymous said...

I am beginning to become very turned off to Spanish wines in general because of the samey qualities many of them exhibit. I'll have to pick up some Lopez de Heredia so I don't just write the country off.

Joe Manekin said...


Don't write the country off. And if you feel up to it, participate in the pop quiz above. Hell, you partially inspired it (though it is something I've been meaning to put out there for a while).

Sounds like you just need some more qualified explorations into Spanish wine. Like wines from any other country, there is a lot of mediocre (or worse) shit out there. As you mentioned on your blog, a wine bar in San Jose probably is not the best spot for such exploration....

Anonymous said...

I'll participate in the pop-quiz and I'll throw something on my blog as well looking for recommendations. I was being partially sarcastic, there is some Spanish wine I like, especially from mencia. Part of the problem is the paucity of people who know anything about Spanish wine, and instead just sell me something French, Italian, or German.

This is all forgetting sherry of course, which I love.

Brian said...

it's actually TENBRINK, Joe...for the family farmer in the Valley where Abe makes wines.

They are fine folks.