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…
2011 Vallformosa Col Leccio Pinot Noir Brut (Cava, $35)
For the most part, this berry-red Cava – made not from the traditional Cava bubbly grapes but from Pinot Noir – will make you do a triple-head-fake move and keep looking at the bottle to see if it’s really from Cava. I mean, I’m a Cava fan generally for the value, but I admit that a lot of the cheaper stuff tastes like moonshine infused with baby aspirin. Not this puppy; definitely not in the value category, but this is worth the thirty-five bones, as it’s pure cherries-and-rose-petal infusion, and I found myself agreeing with Ed McCarthy (look, I’ve judged with the man – he knows of what he speaketh when it comes to bubbly) on the surprising elegance of this wine.
2011 Salomon Unhof Steiner Kögl Riesling Erste Lage ÖTW (Kremstal, $30)
Good luck pronouncing it (it’s better to just have it in your mouth so you won’t be tempted to try, anyway). Salomon Unhof has been in the biz for over 200 years, the productino beginning in the late 1700s by Capucine Monks. Fortunately for us, not much seems to have been lost in the multiple generational hand-offs since then, if this Riesling is any indication. Pithy, full of stone fruits, lychee, minerals, and an insane amount of ginger and spices.
2010 d’Arenberg McLaren Sand Hills Grenache (McLaren Vale, $85)
Part of a new lineup of single-vineyard releases by d’Arenberg, I found it difficult to understand why half of this bottle was left by the end of the night. Maybe it was the back label, which has several paragraphs devoted to the wine’s background, which I don’t feel it’s necessary to repeat here (especially when you can read it yourself on-line, which I wouldn’t, because then you’ll want to buy it and you’ll be out $85 bucks). Anyway, I, for one, was doing my part to make up for everyone else’s difference in that regard, because I loved it. Spices, leather, flowers, and above all a tart red fruit core that suggested several years aging might still see this wine presnting itself a fresh as a daisy. The kind of red that’s a gourmand and an intellectual.
2010 Barton & Guestier Sauternes (Sauternes, $25)
Not the wine of the night, but a better (and less expensive – that price is for the full bottle) introduction to what Sauternes has to offer you’re unlikely to find. And it’s a bit of a rarity in that it’s really a Sauternes for now, and not one for a-few-decades-from-now. Lots of cooked, honeyed fruits, golden hues, bready funk and a shot of vinyl. Now, after a few days in the bottle this also will introduce you to the other side of Sauternes; namely, enough volatile acidity to think you’re in a nail polish removal chemical production facility. But an opened bottle of this viscous treat is unlikely to last that long, anyway.