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What We Drank To Protest Pennsylvanian Puritanism

Vinted on October 24, 2013 binned in crowd pleaser wines, elegant wines, kick-ass wines, wine review

I live in one of the most puritanically backward states in the Union.

I know, this should’ve dawned on me some time ago, but I never said I was quick study. It took hosting our hairdresser and his boyfriend for dinner to make me fully realize how ass-backward PA really is. [ Editor’s note: Yes, the hairdresser is actually gay. Sometimes dogs pee right on the fire hydrant, too, okay? Just because it sounds cliché doesn’t mean that it doesn’t actually happen from time to time. If I could have made him a firefighter instead of a hairdresser I would do it, not that there is anything wrong with being a gay hairdresser, but it would’ve sounded more original. In any case, it wouldn’t have been true, so just get over it! ]

I’m not actually talking about the fact that Pennsylvania is one of a handful of states that operate as an anti-capitalist monopoly regarding the sale and distribution of alcohol. That’s just the tip of the disquieting, anti-intellectual iceberg. Or that PA seems to be in a near-continual battle to have creationism taught in schools, as if it were actually a science, which it’s not (not even close). [ Editor’s note: Don’t get me started on this… but since we did get started, I feel it’s worth noting that there are very few areas of science which have both overwhelming evidence in support of their theories and insanely good track records of measurable predictability. Three of these are quantum physics, the General Relativity theory (including gravitation), and… evolution. Saying one doesn’t “believe” in evolution is more or less akin to saying that one doesn’t “believe” in gravity. Neither gravity nor evolution nor quantum physics – nor all of the evidence in support of all three, of which there is… well, a lot – care that you don’t agree with them, they just *are* and they go right on predicting outcomes to insanely long decimal points of accuracy. ]

The kicker for me is that Pennsylvania has yet to recognize same-sex marriages. The whole thing is getting embarrassing, frankly. It’s like we made it out of 1957, only no one bothered to tell most of my state (or its legislators). At this point the natural reaction is to think, “well, why don’t you just move somewhere else, dumb ass?” Which of course fails to take into account everything else – family, neighborhood, friends, school systems, jobs – particularly the fact that otherwise I love the state enough to want to actually change things for the better here.

Anyway, despite our hairdresser’s boyfriend having worked as a bartender, neither of our guests professes to be well-versed in wine. And so the idea was to expose these guys to vinous stuff that they might not get to try very often, but that was also tasty enough to be enjoyed without too much context or “geeking.” Tasty enough to temporarily salve the pain inflicted by the policies of their home state? Well, let’s just say we all managed to forget about PA’s anachronistic transgressions for at least one evening…

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What We Drank With The Greeks (When I Had No Greek Wine)

Vinted on October 3, 2013 binned in crowd pleaser wines, elegant wines, kick-ass wines, wine review

1,200 bottles of samples in the basement, and not one Greek wine among them.

What. The. HELL?!!?

This would happen to me, since I was on the hook for bringing wine to a family dinner date with our neighbors, the Voutsakis clan, who you will have already suspected by reading their name are Greek and would be cooking homemade Greek fare.

The Voutsakis family (father, mother and three young children) is as easy-going and neighborly as they come, thankfully, and for nearly the entire day leading up to our dinner Lorelai was practically beside herself with freakish five-your-old joy at the prospect of playing for hours with their kids (anything for the only child to be able to escape grown-up talk for a few hours, right?). So we weren’t going to let the severe lack of Greek wine samples deter us.

But while the Voutsakis patriarch, Frank, is a lawyer by trade, he’s an aesthete by heart, and we frequently go off together on conversational tangents about politics, literature, wine, and geekish things like the relative importance and levels of raw talent between composers Mahler and Sibelius (you know… important stuff!). He’s also the author of a well-received novel about life in Greece in the 1920s (The Sapphire Elixir), in which wine plays a not-unimportant role. Soooo… I wanted to make sure we got some Greek-food-friendly but also serious (and potentially seriously good) juice.

Here are the samples upon which I took my chances…

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Rain, Raisins And Retrospect: Klein Constantia’s Battle To Hold On To The Past

Vinted on September 26, 2013 binned in elegant wines, kick-ass wines, on the road, wine review

“This would be impressive, really, if you could see any of it.”

We’re driving through a winding, makeshift “road” of mud and ditches in the hills of Constantia. I’m wincing in sciatic pain with every bump, which come approximately forty nanoseconds apart courtesy of the damage done by a South African winter of intense rainfall and flooding. The impossibly young winemaker Matthew Day is my guide on a day in which the clouds have decided to settle almost directly on top of Klein Constantia’s mountainous estate vineyards.

It doesn’t help that I’m also having panic attacks with almost as much frequency as we’re encountering those bumps, thanks to what the orthopedist told me about my blown-out lumbar disk, just before I left for South Africa: “you should be okay to travel… but if your ankles roll, or you loose control of your bowels, then that’s a medical emergency that will require immediate surgery.”

Loose control of my bowels?!??? This is NOT what you tell a borderline-hypochondriac who’s prone to anxiety attacks right before he’s about to get on a plane for two days of non-stop travel!

Let’s just say that it’s tough to focus on cloud-covered viticultural beauty when you’re irrationally-but-constantly worried about literally loosing your sh*t.

There’s a point to our vineyard tour, which we have to abandon early due more to the poor state of the muddy roads than to my physical and mental issues. Day looks out at the wet mist; “our goal is to farm here for the next three hundred years, and we only have this soil to do it; so we’re trying to get away from the ‘old style’ of farming.”

The “old style” – spraying pesticides, conventionally farming – is about the only “old” thing from which Klein Constantia is attempting to move away. Otherwise, the focus is to restore the quality behind a name that was once synonymous with the greatest wines in the world…

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Highlights From The 2013 Nederburg Wine Auction

Vinted on September 19, 2013 binned in elegant wines, kick-ass wines, on the road, overachiever wines, wine review

Ok… so… South African wine is almost hopelessly underpriced.

As in, shot-themselves-in-the-foot-and-will-be-limping-through-the-U.S.-wine-market-for-a-few-more-years underpriced. Which means that exciting bargains exist for the budget-conscious wine lover who’s willing to seek out the best wines from SA.

That’s the big take-away for me from my time speaking at the 2013 Nederburg Wine Auction near Cape Town earlier this month. Of course, some touring of the region’s wineries went down on that trip as well, so there will be some features on the best of those visits coming your way here over the next few weeks. For now, I’d like to focus on some of the highlights of what I tasted during the two days of the Nederburg Auction itself.

Not all of these wines will be available in the States yet (alas), but those that are generally have price tags that goofily belie their quality and pleasure-inducing vinous super-powers Clark Kent style, which means it’s like bear-market prices on some very, very nice wines for those now in the market for the best that SA has to offer.

For the sake of the lovely people making wine there – many of whom I now consider friends after breaking bread, cracking corks, and eating strange game meats with them – I’d love to not have to say that about how they’ve priced their wares, and would love to say that their wines will command the prices that similar quality would demand from other regions… BUT… it just ain’t so.

The truth is that SA in a crappy situation market-wise on that front, and the declining value of the Rand versus the dollar and the euro isn’t going to help matters much. And of course they already know all of that, so this isn’t news for them – but it does mean potential bargains for you, if you’re the open-minded wine drinking type…

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