Topic: TN: My Vote for Values, Pt. 4: The Duty of Self-Indulgence
Author: Manuel Camblor/NYC
Date: 20050813101713

First things first… I must dedicate this fourth installment self-published set of tasting notes on wines that retail under $10 to the great Joe Dressner.

This dedication springs out of a two-fold gratitude: Joe imports to the United States some of the best under-$10 wines I know; and Joe has recently schooled me as to what tasting notes are really about.

I have been schooled, yes. I now know that lists of context-less descriptors jotted down in the fahsion of supermarket shopping lists are no good. I also know that, for a tasting note to have true relevance, its author must have developed at least a passing knowledge of the terroirs, people and customs behind the wine on which s/he reports. Little does a recitation of perceived aromas and flavors really serve if it conveys nothing of the “essence” of the wine, of the earht and the people’s work in creating it.

So why, if I am so grateful to the genius of Joe Dressner, do I insist on posting this set of fifty tasting notes on cheap wines—notes which contravene everything the master has set out as true and good?

Do I lack respect for wine, the people who produce it and the soils from whence it comes? Do I have absolutely nothing better to do? Must I self-publish these notes all over the internet because I am a chronic exhibitionist?

I am baffled by my own desires and wills. The notes must go up. I dedicate my sin to the master who has so convincingly explained to me that it is a sin, as a testament to my every inherent flaw.

And Josie is threatening grievous injury to my person if I don’t post this. She has said words to the effect of: “You BETTER post those!!! You BETTER not have made me drink all that ^%$*&^@ crap for nothing!!!”

So, a man’s gotta do…

2002 Trimbach, Pinot Blanc, Alsace, France: Wet stones, freshly cut grass, lemon curd and a hint of green tea on the nose. Nice citrus and herbal presence in the mouth. Clean and lively, with excellent structure and length.$9.99

2003 Moulin de Gassac, Le Mazet ‘Old World White Wine,’ Vin de Pays de l’Hérault, France : A blend of Grenache Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Clairette and Terret Bourret, according to the back label. Modest aromas of brine, anise, golden apple and honeysuckle. Also a hint of talcum. Fleshy in the mouth, with sweet pear, apple and peach flavors. There seems to be a suggestion of ripe banana in the whole thing, but it’s very faint. Medium finish with decent acidity. $7.99

NV Pere Ventura, Xarel.lo, Penedès, Spain: To start with, a whack of sulfur that never quite clears up, but eventually allows some aromas of grass and appleskins to show through. Simple in the mouth, with bracing acidity. It strikes one note of tartness and that’s about it. $5.99

2002 Castle Rock, Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast, California: A weird tutti-frutti nose with hints of volatility. Light-bodied in the mouth and so jammy about its gleeful fruitiness that it seems almost sweet. Short finish with a bitterish edge that reminds me of saccharin. I dislike. $8.99

2001 Boutari, ‘Lac des Roches,’ Central Greece: Toasted cashews, star anise, poached apples and peaches, a hint of dried flowers... An interesting nose on this white. Fruity in the mouth—apple, pear, white peach, preserved lemon, breadfruit—and with bit of grassiness. Good length, though the finish turns rather bothersomely hot. An unusual little wine. Not bad, but not especially good.$7.49

René Muré, Gewurztraminer ‘Schultzengass,’ Alsace, France: Aromas of lillies, gardenias, apricots, strawberries, vaseline, dill... Very Gewurzy, fat and rather blocky in the mouth, pushing the boundaries of off-dry. Not my thing at all. $9.99

2002 Gallo of Sonoma, Syrah, Sonoma County, California: Overripe, almost gone-off cherries and raspberries weighed down by cinnamony, vanillaish, burnt-buttery oak on the nose. Pruney and lacking in acidity on the palate, with jarring alcoholic heat and wood smacks on the finish. The worst part is that it could have been made from any grape, since there isn’t the faintest trait to make one think of Syrah when imbibing it (for those of you who have not been following these proceedings closely, this is a transcription of my note for the 2003 Gallo of Sonoma, Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast; having tasted th Syrah and the Pinot a couple of weks apart, I found myself writing identical tasting notes for both, so a copy/paste jobbie seemed fair enough for this report). $9.99

2004 Gaujal de Saint-Bon, Picpoul de Pinet ‘Cuvée des Dames,’ Coteaux de Languedoc, France : The first aromatic impression is of a strange cross between cactus flesh and tobacco leaves being cured. There are also notes of lemon and pear on the nose. Clean, bright and with nice citrusy acidity, plus pleasant herbal touches on the palate. Good length. Very easy to drink as an apéritif. $7.29

Carpi-Golet, ‘Domaine des Roches,’ Mâcon-Igé, Burgundy, France : Steel, sweet corn, hay, anise, lemon peel and fresh figs on the nose. Compact and citrusy in the mouth, with accents of green apple and stones. Nice grip. A bit rustic, but fresh, tasty and with very good length. $8.99

2004 Marc Ollivier, ‘Domaine de la Pépière,’ Muscadet de Sèvre-et-Maine Sur Lie, Loire, France : A very welcome return to form after the highly atypical 2003. Bright, elegantly precise, citrusy, with an underlay of brine, oyster shells and dried savory. Tight in the mouth, but with great promise if one is patient and cellars it long enough. A beautiful Pépière. I didn’t have to think twice to order a case. Maybe I’ll order two... $8.99

2003 Xanadu, Sauvignon Blanc, Margaret River, New Zealand: This smells likea plastic jug left out in the sun, like crushed grass, canned jalapeño peppers and lime juice. Rather harsh and bitter in the mouth. Almost undrinkable. $5.99

2002 Cline, Syrah, California: Red berry jam with dired flower, beetroot and raisin accents, plus a dollop of vanilla cream. Flabby, drab, mildly cloying stuff, devoid of acidity or anything else that could possibly make it fresh and interesting. $8.99

2003 Willm, Riesling, Alsace, France: A citrusy nose (lemon, lime, white grapefruit) with hints of pine needles. Soft and round in the mouth, with lemon, a grassy undercurrent and a slight bitterness reminiscent of appleskins. Simple, forgettable stuff. $9.99

2003 Producteurs Plaimont, ‘Les Vignes Retrouvées,’ Côtes de Saint Mont, France : The curse of 2003 hits another one of my longtime value favorites. A ripe melon thing overpowers all other aromas. Very little appears of the habitual clean citrus and minerality I associate with this white. On the palate there is some acidity, but not enough, really. SHortish finish with hints of orange zest and golden apple. Best to wait for the 2004 or snatch up whatever remains of the 2002. $7.99

2002 Domaine Délétang, Sauvignon, Touraine, Loire, France : Strong aromas of citrus, grass and chalk. Fantastic concentration in the mouth, with sharply focused citrus and mineral flavors. Racy acidity on a long, graceful and extremely flavorful finish. Delicious. A winner. $8.99

2001 Domaine des Pensées Sauvages, Corbières, France : A bit of sweaty horse, soem rosemary, , walnuts, prunes and cherries on the nose. Same in the mouth. The tannins are gritty and there’s a none-too charming vegetal touch on the finish. $9.99

NV Rionolo, Prosecco, Vino Frizzante del Veneto, Italy: Apple soda? A very soft cider? Hard to say... This is to simplistic and not fizzy enough. A mild sweetness at the end doesn’t help it at all. $7.49

2002 Château de Chasseloir, ‘Chéreau Carré,’ Muscadet de Sèvre et Maine Sur Lie, Loire, France: Sea air, moss, oyster shells, lemon, green apple, pollen and all those things that make for good, clean Muscadet fun are present on nose and palate. Nice impact of citrus and minerals in a sassy little package. It lacks the structure and depth of, say, the Pépière from the same vintage, but is still very decent effort. $8.99

2003 Stellenbosch Farmers Winery, Pinotage ‘Oracle fo the Stars,’ South Africa: Smells composty in its worst moments and like a not-too-appetizing split-pea soup in its best. Putting it in my mouth against all better judgment, I get only jammy, nodescript berry stuff and an unpleasant hot rubber aftereffect, not to mention some seriously coarse tannins and a big thump of alcohol. Nasty. $6.99

2003 E. Guigal, Côtes du Rhône : The shelf-talker at Garnet proclaimed that this wine had received 90 points from Robert M. Parker, Jr. and that the Great Man had declared it “...the best Guigal hs ever made” of this generic cuvée, or words to that effect. When I bought the bottle I figured that I needed to be as thorough as possible in my research into wines under $10 and a Parker 90-pointer couldn’t be missing from my chronicles. And so... A raisiny, milk-chocolatey, vanilla-beany, anisey, burnt-breadish drop of liquorous undesirability, as far as I’m concerned. Blobby, low acid and hot of finish, with drying wood tannins becoming especially disagreeable on the finish. Bad, bad, bad, baaaaaaaaaad!!! $9.99

NV Domaine d’Oby, Colombard-Ugni Blanc, Vin de Pays des Côtes de Gascogne, France : 75% Colombard and 25% Ugni Blanc, sez the back label. Shame they forgot to say whether this was from a given vintage... Clean aromas of Granny Smith apple, lemon and grape. Light, fresh and simple on the palate. Medium length, with a subtle savory aspect adding some interest to the citrusy aftertaste. $6.29

2002 Domaine de l’Olivier, Chardonnay, Vin de Pays d’Oc, France : Smells like a bowl of hard candies in flavors like apple, lemon and pineapple. This bowl hs been topped off with meringue. On top of that, some dried herbs and crushed macadamia nuts have been sprinkled. A weird nose, almost too confectioneryish for my taste. In the mouth the wine is surprisingly clean, with no overtly aggressive oakiness, though undeniably there is some wood there. Some apple, some lemon and grapefruit... A shortish finish. This could just as well have come from Chile. A facile and anonymous throwaway. $7.99

2004 Domaine de Saint-Antoine, Rosé, Vin de Pays du Gard, France : Strawberry and redcurrant with a bubblegummy edge on nose and mouth. Simple and candyish, but with good acidity and a nice tart-cherry bite on the finish. Okay if you don’t mind bubblegum.$8.99

2003 Rosemount Estate, Traminer-Riesling, Southeastern Australia: This was a last-minute grab during a visit to Garnet. While waiting to pay for other wines, the headline of an issue of The Wine Spectator caught my eye. They were haveing a “Top Values” moment. Needless to say, I felt compelled to compare what I had tried so far in the under-$10 against what they had tasted and scored. Of course, they are believers in the whole “$15 is the new $8” thing, so a lot of their “Top Values” were out of the range of this experiment of mine. But there were some reccos within my register of action.

Never mind that the review in the Spectator was of the wine from the 2004 vintage. I figured with a big, industrial producer like Rosemount, the name of the game is consistency, so how different can the 2003 version of thsi cheapie white be from its 2004 brother?

Anyway, this 2003 Traminer-Riesling is a simple, off-off-dry wine with notes of tangerine, apple and something vaguely floral. In the mouth it is completely devoid of acidity, or anything that could be construed as giving it “grip”. Just a smooth, flabby drop of blah that finishes with a slightly saccharin-sweet-bitter note. $6.49

2003 Castelvero, Cortese, Piedmont, Italy: Grassy, lemony and with a faint mineral-medicinal vibe that reminds me of crushed aspirin. Also a mild suggestion of green apples on the nose. Very simple in the mouth, this strikes only one note of citrus (a slightly flat note, at that) and then fades, to be immedately forgotten.$8.99
2003 Loosen Brothers, Riesling QmP, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, Germany: Pear, white peach, a hint of lemon basil, grapefruit, wild strawberries and plaster of Paris; a nice enough nose that could even seem slightly complex... Plenty of clean fruit flavors in the mouth (grapefruit, pear), but only the slightest suggestion of residual sugar. Very good length and decent acidic grip, with some savory notes on the aftertaste. Extremely quaffable. $9.99

2004 Las Rocas de San Alejandro, Rosado, Calatayud, Spain: The color is a fuchsiaish raspberry—a sort of light Robitussin™ shade. Slightly candied nose of plums, raspberries and strawberries. Sooth entry into the mouth, with flavors of plum and cranberry. At midpalate, though, something happens and the wine changes key, coming on with a burst of tart acidity that seems utterly disjointed. It’s drinkable, but that moment of acidic shrillness should prompt some superciliousness. $7.89

2003 Esporão, Branco Reserva, Reguengos, Alentejo, Portugal: A blend of indigenous grapes, this is fermented in American oak and manages to reek in the way so many Californian Chardonnays do... Vanilla cream, butter, camphor, overripe cantaloupe and tangerine. Same in the mouth. Flaccid crap. And I have a feeling it would have taken a lot more than an acidic backbone to save it. $9.99

2002 Terrale, Primitivo, Puglia, Italy: Smells like Sara Lee™ pound cake and cherry jam, with a faint hint of eucalyptus floating in the background. As this swirls around in my mouth I find imyself trying to imagine the sort of person who would actually enjoy the infernal cocktail of prune juice, Vicks Vap-O-Rub™ and alcohol I’m tasting. At least it’s short... $8.99

2004 Artazuri, Rosado, Navarra, Spain: I try not ot allow the memory of the dismal 2003 red from this producer to influence my assessment of this rosé. It takes great effort, but seems to work in the end. The wine is a bright raspberry color with a volet undercast. Cherry, raspberry and orange, all with a jammy angle, plus a hint of violets on the nose. Juicy and simple, with flavors of cherry, raspberry and plum. Nice balance, with a pleasant splash of citrusy acidity. Good length. $7.99

2004 Kumkani, Sauvignon Blanc, Stellenbosch, South Africa: Grassy, citrusy and very simple. It lacks the tropical elements fo so many other latter-day industrial “crowd-pleaser” Sauvignons from all over the world, an absence that, though the wine is quite mediocre anyway, I welcome.Light in the mouth and quite hollow. There’s healthy acidity, yes, but who cares? $6.99

2000 Musella, Valpolicella Classico, Italy: The nose smells like chocolate-covered raisins and bread pudding, but not in a good way at all. This is a bullshit New-Wave Valpolicella aged in new French oak and it won’t let you forget that it’s all about the wood... Bland flavors of cherry and raspberry preserves and a strong current of chocolate syrup in the mouth. Gritty, unpleasant tannins from the wood and a whack of alcoholic heat in the end. $8.99

NV Yurganheira, Bruto Tinto, Tavora Varosa, Portugal: A sparkling “Método Classico” red form Portugal... I must confess that when Lyle Fass proposed this to me at Crush, though I tend to despise sparkling red wine, I knew I had to include it in this sordid narrative of mine... Smells like grape-and-cherry soda gone very serious, with meaty and herbal (thyme) undertones. Goes into the mouth like a bone-dry but very fruity grape soda infused with dried herbs. Clena and long, with ripe tannins and bright acidity, plus spicy accents reminiscent of clove and cumin on the finish. The fizz weirds me out slightly, but this definitely manages some charm to compensate. $10 (Tax included)

2004 Labbé Marc & Roger Gaec de Mont Royal, ‘Abymes,’ Vin de Savoie, France : Grassy, white-peachy, lemony nose with a hint of spun sugar. Light spritz in the mouth. Clean, bright and citrusy. A one-note wine of little length or width. But the note is a pleasant one, so one drinks, and then pours another glass... $8.29

2003 Bodegas Murviedro, Blanco ‘El Copero,’ Valencia, Spain: Sprite™ gone flat. $4.99

2001 Château Les Vallées, Bordeaux Supérieur, Bordeaux, France : A forward, soft, Merlotish plummy-cherryness with a peppery edge on nose and palate. Round and cutesy on entry, with good acidity and slightly grainy tannins. A short, common, uncomplicated and quaffable little red that perhaps would feel slightly better if it had a lower price. $9.99

2001 Perrin, Réserve, Côtes du Rhône, France : Cocoa, black tea, prunes, cherry jam, black olives and a hint of anise on the nose. Smells promising, if slightly on the woody side. Unfortunately, on the palate the promise shatters. Pruny, flat and hollow. Crap. $7.49

2004 Valdelainos, Verdejo, Rueda, Spain: Could very well have been a Sauvignon from Chile or New Zealand, this drop of mediocrity, so insulting is its desire to conform to an identikit profile... Tropical fruit on the nose. Some citrus that manages to be both zippy and completely lackluster in the mouth. Double crap. $8.99

2003 Gorgo, Bardolino Chiaretto, Italy: A pink drop of hay, plum cherry and clay on nose and palate. Flat, low acid, unfocused and a bit hot of finish. It makes an attempt at tannic grip at the very end, but there isn’t enough of anything to hold my interest. $9.99

2004 Concha y Toro, ‘Frontera,’ Carmenère, Valle Central, Chile: This was being poured “en magnum” at an acquaintance’s garden party. I memorized its name and later sought the wine out in stores, to find out if it was indeed as cheap as it smelled and tasted.

Not quite, but close enough. I had guesstimated it to be in the $3-a-bottle range and it went for a couple of bucks more when bought in 750 ml. bottles (I was told the 1.5-liter jug is a better deal, since it’s only a couple of dollars more—a sort of “buy one, get one half-off deal...)

Anyway: Aromas and flavors of bell pepper, cocoa, cherry and plum, all present in exactly the same proportion. This industrial drink has all the allure of a not-quite-cold can of Diet Dr. Pepper™. Still, it surprises by being quite clean in the mouth and actually having a finish. $4.99

2003 Domaine Faillenc-Sainte Marie, Corbières, France : “This has to be the foulest thing I’ve smelled in ages,” says Josie. “Yep, it’s like mercaptans run wild,” I retort. And either of us is exaggerating... The pong wafting up from our glasses is something like what would emanate from a skunk that has been run over by an SUV, then number-twoed upon by a particularly dyspeptic cow. Nasty/ A truly menacing smell. The wine never makes it to my mouth. I return the bottle to the store and am given a fresh one. I open it and it’s the same thing, though perhaps there’s a more pronounced burnt rubber element the second time around. $9.49

2004 Marqués de Cáceres, Rosado, Rioja, Spain: This, though a big-producer industrial rosé, remains very good value for the money. The color is a deep raspberry pink with fuchsia highlights. Clean strawberry-cherry-plum fruit on nose and mouth. On the back palate there is a creamy sort of vibe and a note of something not unlike dried oregano. Nice freshness on a medium-length, remarkably clean finish. $5.49

2004 Borgo Nuovo, Nero d’Avola, Sicily, Italy: Notes of plum, black cherry and thyme with an earthy undercast on the nose and palate. Bright and freshly fruity, with decent acidity and perky tannins on a medium-length finish with pretty herbal accents. $8.99

2003 Señorío de Aylés, “Aylés” Garnacha, Cariñena, Spain: The aroma is somewhere between raisins and framboise liqueur, a cloying, syrupy one of the kind that tends to predispose me against its source. It mets all my expectations in the mouth—an unfresh juicy clunker iwth astringent tannins and marginal, somewhat alien-seeming acidity. $8.99

NV Justino Henriques Filhos, “Justino’s Madeira” Rainwater, Madeira: There are few things in this world that I love more than a fine Madeira. Of course, we all know that fine Madeira is not to be had for under $10 these days, so one could say I was asking for some pain by trying this stuff... But I was compelled to get the bottle when I noticed a very large “gold medal” thingie smack in its midsection. It said that this wine had won just such a medal, or some other manner of big props, at the Indiana State Fair.

Indiana. Okay. I wonder what the competition was like. Probably fierce...

Anyway, this has mild VA (not enough for me to use a phrase like “high-tone”) and smells like poundcake, caramel, tea and dried cranberry. Bread-puddingy, short and conspicuously hot in the mouth. This is a flat, rather humorless drop of mildly sweet nothing. $9.99

2003 Cortijo, ‘Cortijo III,’ Rioja, Spain: There’s a streak of volatility weaving through the aromas of raisins, plums, cherries and cranberries and adding liveliness to the overall effect. Juicy, sweet, supple and nicely balanced in the mouth. Quite quaffable, especially if slightly chilled. When Josie askes “Is this what you mean by slutty wine?” I can only reply: “Yes, but in a good way...” $7.49

2004 Hillinger, Welchsriesling, Burgenland, Austria: The nose starts off with a yeasty note, followed by almost Veltlinerish notes of pear and white peppercorns, then hay, strawberries, breadfruit and lemon, all nicely tied together with some gravelly mineral accents. Citrusy (lemon, white grapefruit, tangerine) and strongly mineral in the mouth. Excellent length and structure. A well built wine that’s refreshng and with more than enough personality to hold my interest for quite some time. $8.99

2003 Craftsman, ‘Woodman’s White’ Király Leányka, Neszmely Region, Hungary: From a grape variety about the existence of which I had no clue... Green apple and jícama with a faint citronelle touch. Weak aromas, weak flavors. Flat, watery and structureless in the mouth, with weak, fleeting suggestions of apple, green pineapple and lemon. So flavorless it won’t even serve to cook with. $7.99

2003 Monarchia, Müller-Thurga, Budai, Hungary: No nose at all. Zero. Zilch. I swirl it and swirl it in the glass, but nothing comes up to greet me. New York tap water definitely has more aroma... In the mouth it rings one innocuous lemony note and that’s the end of the story. Buying one lemon and squeezing it into a glass of water from the kitchen faucet would have been an infinitely better deal. $8.99

2000 Ca’ Ntele, Riserva, Salice Salentino, Italy: Made from 85% Negroamaro and 15% Malvasia Nera, this smells of leather, green olives, bitter chocolate, raisins, black cherries, pencil shavings and sage leaves, all with a reasonable dollop of volatility added for extra interest. Rustic, sweet and forward in the mouth, with blackberry, cherry, caramel and spice flavors. Good acidity and rpe tannins. An easgoing little red with no pretensions. $8.99

To be Continued...