Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Colores del Sol 2009 Malbec

Producer: Bodegas Colores del Sol
Varietal: Malbec
Region: Mendoza, Argentina
Vintage: 2009
Tasted: July 29, 2012
ABV: 13.5%

I have always appreciated technology, but I do insist on standing athwart the remarkable lack of perspective that people allow it to introduce. For example, I have altogether too many friends who plan get-togethers to play "Words With Friends" or some such game with each other. Why not just take out a Scrabble board? "Geez, Dan, what is this, the 1800s or something?" Well then why do they have to get together? Could they not each just sit at home and play from there? "What are we, losers?" Ah, well.

But even I can be swayed. My friends used to listen in bewilderment as I waxed indignant that a phone is a phone, a camera is a camera, a computer is a computer, and people ought to know the difference. Then last holiday season I was given an iThingy, and have not looked back. What a keen gizmo. Why, just last week, my parents were on vacation in the Bay Area, and swooned so much over a bottle of 2010 Colores del Sol Malbec that they just had to share it with me. So out came their iThingy, and within twenty seconds I was opening an e-mail with a high-resolution picture of the bottle on my own iThingy as I walked down the block back on the East Coast. Remarkable!

As much as I am taken with this recent example of technology, they were ten times as taken with that Malbec. But alas! Upon their return, they could only find the 2009. Swill - swill, they say! - compared to the 2010 they had tried in San Francisco. Pour it out! But I begged some patience, and it was granted. Evidently aeration did not help them like it any more, and down the drain it eventually went. But, that did give me the chance to conduct a proper tasting so that I can review it, and I am very glad that it did.

If the 2009 Colores del Sol Malbec was swill compared to the 2010 of the same, then the 2010 must have been nothing short of legendary. The 2009 may not be the best thing since crushed grapes, but it is certainly a lovely, rewarding glass of wine. In fact, it is pretty darn good. It has a subdued aroma of sweet, fresh cherries, and a flavor, similarly subdued, of strawberries. What puts it all together are the tannins, which flow about themselves and the fruit notes as the wine hits the palate. It is not quite a dry wine, but it is light; structured firmly enough without being heavy. Imagine a building being put up with a framework of titanium as opposed to cinder-blocks. Finally, the finish is a wisp of cranberry and pomegranate, nothing major, just enough to wish you well until your next sip.

After breathing for about twenty minutes, this Malbec gets a little richer, but not enough to alter the experience. The wine is still sufficiently light for the flavors to frolic playfully on the tongue. The nose turns to hints of strawberry and rose-petals. The former note remains when the wine is sipped, and the latter gives way to hints of hibiscus. Finally, the finish gives cherries an encore, back again at the very end after an appearance at the very beginning. The tannins have not gone anywhere during this time, keeping things together and flowing seamlessly, smoothly, agreeably.

The wine has a profound ruby red color, with just a glance of plum on the edge of the shimmer. It is the kind of tinct that compliments fabulously the olfactory massage that one is already getting.

Really, it was all my parents could do to keep me aware of the fact that there is something the same but different that is supposed to be sooooooooo much better. I was busy getting wrapped up in how wonderful this vintage is that I was tasting. They plan to move heaven and earth to find the 2010. And that is all well and good. But as it is, I still greatly enjoy the 2009.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Organic Peruvian Coffee

Type: Single Origin Organic Peruvian
Origin: Peru, South America
Purveyor: McNulty’s
Roast: Uncertain, seemingly dark
Preparation: Freshly ground, French-pressed, sipped black

In its catalogue, McNulty’s describes the organic Peruvian coffee thusly: “smooth body, low acidity”. Four little words, and it already sounds like all I have ever asked for in a coffee. Even better: It lives up to all of the hype.

The coffee has a bold, nutty aroma, specifically that of chestnuts. The aroma also has undertones split between the earthy and the acidic. The notes of acid vanish upon sipping, however, and we are left with a slightly earthy, mostly nutty cup of coffee. (Whereas the nose detects chestnuts in particular, the tongue definitely detects peanuts instead.) It has a medium body, and the flavor is certainly robust: nothing light or subtle here. The flavor is not bitter, but nor is it even remotely fruity or floral or sweet or tart. I can only think to describe it as a savory sensation, but of nutty, earthy delights instead of the fleshy foods more commonly associated with that word. There is not much texture to the finish, but a ghost of the flavor remains, not at all unpleasantly, beckoning the sipper to g’won and have some more.

Much as with the Sumatra Mandheling reviewed earlier, the roast of the organic Peruvian from McNulty’s is not certain. However, I would venture to guess that it is a dark roast. The tones are smooth, rich, and profound, not airy and jumpy and all over the place like a yippy dog as with lighter roasts. The feel of the flavor is definitely that of a darkly roasted coffee.

About the organic-ness: I am a recent convert to the organic foods movement. The bottom line is, it is much healthier in important ways. But as with any person engaged in any type of health or dietary situation, I am prone to allowing myself exceptions. (In other words, I cheat.) When it comes to my wine, coffee, tea, and spirits, I am very concerned about how the quality might be affected with the focus being shifted from growing the right plants in the right soil to make the right beverage, towards, well, anything else at all, including organic certification. Therefore, I have always tended to avoid such organic beverages. But I am very glad to report that there has not been any apparent sacrifice in quality at all with this organic Peruvian coffee. It tastes like coffee should taste, and if nobody had told me that it is organic, then I never would have imagined that anything other than growing delicious coffee was on the farmers’ minds.

In fact, I think that this coffee has – after one cup, no less – made me amenable to venturing towards other organic beverages as well. I will not make organic certification (or any similar criterion) an absolute requirement, of course, but organic stuff is now granted full access to my shelf. I have been shown that quality need not be a sacrifice.

Get yourself a cup of this delicious coffee today, and enjoy!

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Borsao 2010 Garnacha

Producer: Bodegas Borsao
Varietal: Garnacha
Region: Campo de Borja, D.O., Spain
Vintage: 2010
Tasted: July 27, 2012
ABV: 14%

Twinings of London has a flavored black tea called “Four Red Fruits” in which there is a combination of strawberry, cherry, raspberry, and redcurrant flavoring, as well as an image on the packaging that does a very nice job depicting this confluence of sweet-red-berry-ness. The 2010 Garnacha from Bodegas Borsao might as well have the exact same image on the label, because that is what will pop into people’s heads as soon as they lay nose to this wine. (And no, the taster did not have any such tea on the day of the tasting.) 

The garnacha’s rich, sweet aroma is predominated by redcurrant, as well as plum and cherry, but there are also plenty more facets of reds and berries and red berries to go around: strawberry, raspberry, blackberry, boysenberry, crème-de-cassis, even some prune. When the wine is sipped, the fruitiness continues on in full force, this time with the prunes in the forefront but still with all of those other flavors making their due cameos and then some. Redcurrant returns as the main note in the finish, along with crème-de-cassis.

After breathing for about twenty minutes, the wine still has massive notes of the red, but with different fruits strutting their stuff. Boysenberry jam joins both redcurrants front-and-center in the nose and prunes front-and-center on the tongue. The finish becomes oddly subdued, but in a nice way, with the full mélange of reds evenly spread to leave the taster with a pleasant closing ensemble reminiscent of every facet of his experience with the wine, not to mention a palate ready for more.

As even my less astute readers must surely have guessed by now, the watchword with this garnacha is SWEETNESS. Interestingly, though, this smooth, mellifluous sweetness is balanced by a slight but very real sharpness where the alcohol hits the tongue and palate, a feature of the wine that actually picks up after aeration. A glance at the ABV of 14% and this starts to make sense, but it still comes rather unexpectedly after the deeply sweet, almost sugary nose, and is a pleasant balance. Because of that, in fact, this wine would stand up just fine with a meal that includes spice and/or herbs. Still, it would be most in its element paired with a simple roasted meat. Lamb shank comes to mind, maybe with a spot of mint jelly or else a port demi-glaze, and a side salad to assuage the guilt of a further side of mashed potatoes.

But perhaps that is merely the reviewer’s stomach talking. The truth is, with almost any meal, or even just to sit around and sip something yummy, one cannot go wrong with this delicious, surprising, playful, and, most of all, rewarding specimen of Spanish viniculture.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Finca La Linda 2011 Viognier

Producer: Finca La Linda (by Luigi Bosca)
Varietal: Viognier
Region: Luján de Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina
Vintage: 2011
Tasted: July 25, 2012
ABV: 12.8%

The Mendoza region of Argentina is high up in the Andes Mountains, about 1,000 miles inland from the Atlantic Ocean. Funny, then, that the undercurrent of taste of this viognier by Finca La Linda, in Luján de Cuyo, is a spot of saltiness.

It opens with a great deal of pungency. I mean that literally: As I first opened the bottle, I was immediately treated to a huge whiff of the stuff. The nose has the crispness of a fresh green apple, and its scent, too, along with notes of pear and ginger. It is at the first sip of this wine that the sensation of salt comes through. It also has a taste of fruit to it, but not such that it is sweet. In The Wine Bible, Karen MacNeil describes viognier as having "musky fruit" flavors; that sounds about right. Specifically, in this case one can taste lychee and some grape juice (i.e. white concord, such as what might come in a carton). The saltiness lasts through the finish, which also includes a note of citrus.

The texture of this viognier is medium edging up on the side of strong. It has some structure, but it is not one of those whites that takes it upon itself to vigorously rearrange one’s palate until the mouth is sufficiently deformed to fit into the wine’s unbending framework.

After twenty minutes of aerating, this viognier does not change much other than in the nose. Its aroma acquires a huge rush of kumquat. Also, the structure mellows out just a little.

Perhaps the best part about this wine is its appearance. The first word that came to mind when I looked was "limpid", a word that would not go away easily as I tried to think of others. Slightly champagne colored in hue, this viognier has a crystal clarity unlike any other wine I have ever seen. Were it not for the tint, Evian or Poland Spring could do no better than this wine in their commercials to visually demonstrate purity, freshness, and perfection in crisp liquid form. I was nearly mesmerized just looking into the glass.

I was not, unfortunately, even close to mesmerized by actually drinking the wine. I did imagine myself dining on a plate of scallops as soon as I tasted it; indeed, it would probably pair well with most seafood dishes. But the salty tones make the rest of the flavors come on harsh. A viognier’s fruitiness, however "musky", should still come through brighter and fresher than what Finca La Linda has to offer from 2011.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Sumatra Mandheling Coffee

Type: Single Origin Sumatra Mandheling
Origin: Sumatra, Indonesia
Purveyor: McNulty’s
Roast: Uncertain, seemingly medium
Preparation: Freshly ground, French-pressed, sipped black

One sunny weekend morning, when I was still first starting to learn about coffee and to pay attention to the different varieties, I suddenly leapt up from my chair, sending the newspaper flying over the balcony rail and some apricots onto my neighbor's lap, and cried, "Whoa! Man, that is some excellent coffee! What kind is it, again? Su-ma-tra something? Phenomenal, just amazing! What luck to have stumbled across it! I wonder if my friends know about this…"

Ah, to be a young grasshopper, full of passion and naïveté, tasting of the good things in life for the first time. I envy me back then.

Anyhow, those Sumatra Mandheling beans, as well as the ones that I brewed this morning to formally review, were purchased at McNulty’s. McNulty’s just might be the best little hole-in-the-wall in all of Manhattan (the Strand bookstore being the best large hole-in-the-wall). I get most of my coffee and tea from there, as New Yorkers have been doing for well over a century now. Great stuff they have. I recommend not only reviewing their website and catalogue, but also visiting the actual store if you have the opportunity. The staff is knowledgeable and helpful, and even just browsing the vast selection in that old-fashioned atmosphere is a treat.

McNulty’s does not say in its catalogue how the Sumatra Mandheling is roasted, and I have not asked. It tastes like a medium roast. There is a mere hint of bitterness, and just as the coffee cools off the acidity shoots up quick before slowly mellowing off a little. One can taste notes of citrus, and maybe it is just the acidity playing tricks but I would swear that there is a touch of English Breakfast tea flavor lurking in the most subtle depths of the coffee. Overall, the flavor is bold, but not a punch-you-in-the-face kind of bold; perhaps a better word would be "robust". Finally, the coffee finishes syrupy, leaving the palate nicely primed for the next sip.

This coffee should have been roasted darker than it was. It would have been more natural. Much of the acidity would have been preempted, and the smooth flavor would have been in its proper element, all the better to shine as it was meant to. But that is a mere quibble; this Sumatra Mandheling is still far and away my favorite coffee. How significant is that? Every time that I go to McNulty's, from which I have tried dozens of coffees (really liking about a third of them), I get a few new varieties to try; and some of this Mandheling for those mornings when I just want what I know and like; and nothing else.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Pythagoras by Pindar

Producer: Pindar
Name: Pythagoras
Varietals: Cabernet Franc; Cabernet Sauvignon; Malbec; Merlot; Petit Verdot
Region: Long Island, USA
Vintage: Unknown
Tasted: July 22, 2012
ABV: 12.5%

This is my first review, and I would like to take the occasion to honor a red wine from my native Long Island. So, first, a disclaimer about that: I am a Long Islander through and through, proud of the place in which I was born, was raised, and have lived all my life (with an interlude for college) to the point, occasionally, of parody. However, that oikophilia does not extend to the realm of blind cheerleading. I have no qualms about noting a poor wine by an LI winemaker, even if it means making my hometown appear inferior to other wine regions, for the sake of honesty, for the sake of wine, and perhaps in the hope of encouraging my paesani to do better (in that order).

That said, I recently tried the Pythagoras blend from Pindar Vineyards, and was very pleasantly surprised. I bought it on a whim of equal parts adventure and parsimony, not expecting much from these varietals, which I normally do not prefer. (Give me a tempranillo, maybe blended with garnacha, or a sangiovese, any time.) Pythagoras is precisely the type of wine that I would normally pass over in favor of a Rioja reserva or Chianti classico without a second thought. However, it really comes through quite wonderfully. It bills itself as red table wine, but I do not hesitate to place it a couple of notches above that.

Pythagoras opens with a nose as though someone soaked a tiny piece of sandalwood completely through with a pungent, fruity raspberry vinaigrette, crushed it all into a fine powder, and used that powder to coat a small almond. It has a color just slightly more scarlet than blood red. At first sip, one can taste in Pythagoras notes of vanilla extract, and somewhat stronger notes of roasted chocolate braised with berry jam. The body was a medium body, with a slight sense of smooth “puffiness” that just might be a hint of butteriness. Those first sips finished with notes of crème de cassis.

After twenty minutes of breathing, not too much changed. Indeed, usually a wine needs to breathe a while to get to the point of smoothness at which Pythagoras was right away when opened – and from which it did not weaken over the course of the evening. The nose did take on a slight note of cherry/currant/strawberry, and lose the almond, after that time, and the finish was a little spicier with just a touch of rhubarb. But the taste and the body – and the sense of refreshing deliciousness – was quite the same throughout.

I do have some qualms with Pythagoras – or rather, as it were, with Pindar. The bottle says that this blend celebrates the vineyard’s fifteenth anniversary of winemaking, but their website says that it celebrates the twentieth. That means that even if I were inclined to do some research and then some math (right away, nope) just to figure out the vintage of the darn thing, inasmuch as it is not marked on the bottle, I am denied that option. And, while Pindar does list the varietals used in the blend, it does not mention in what percentages. Perhaps an experienced sommelier could taste the wine and amuse himself by taking an educated guess (full disclosure: I look forward to the day when I can do precisely that), but most of the world would rather know what it is getting into before taking on the financial and opportunity costs of acquiring the bottle.

Fortunately, I can assure said world that my beloved Long Island, and Pindar specifically, has produced in Pythagoras a wine worth much more than a retailer will charge for it, which is not very much at all. My notes from tasting it say it all: "Inexpensive, LI, no vintage, no percentage breakdown of the varietals, I don't usually like those varietals – and yet this wine is excellent." Get yourself a bottle today, and enjoy.