Remember George Plimpton, the New York-based author and critic who died last autumn? Although he was American, the cadences of his speech carried a distinctly British tone, an aristocratic if somewhat affected accent that hovered between the New World and the Old, a linguistic blend sometimes jokingly called "Mid-Atlantic."
As it is with speech, so it is with wine: While it's often possible to categorize wines as "New World" (fruit-forward, oaky) or "Old World" (earthy, austere), some of the most interesting, if idiosyncratic, wine styles fall midway between the extremes, blending fruit and earth and an intriguing complexity in a style that's not always easy to pin down as a product of Europe or the Americas.
Some of the California wines that I enjoy the most fall into this class. Let's take a look at two of them today: affordable, interesting and distinctly "Euro-style" red wines from Joseph Phelps and Cline that underscore their international heritage with French terms - "Pastiche" and "Vin Rouge," respectively - on the labels.
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Joseph Phelps 2001 California "Pastiche" ($11.99)
This dark-garnet wine, described by the winery as "inspired by the rich diversity of flavors from the Rhone Valley," respects that inspiration, from its dark-garnet color and appetizing peppery, cherry-berry aromas to its mouth-filling, "chewy" black-fruit flavors and tart acidity. A whiff of sweet leather and gentle tannins add notes of "Old World" complexity in a structured, balanced California wine that's distinctively "Rhone-style." Primarily a blend of Grenache, Mourvedre and Syrah, with smaller portions of assorted other varieties. (June 22, 2004)
FOOD MATCH: A natural match with thick pork-chops pan-braised with Vidalia onions and a bit of Dijon mustard in the sauce.
VALUE: Particularly in light of the weak dollar against the Euro, it's fully competitive with "real" Cotes-du-Rhones in the same general price range. (At least at the Louisville retailer where I purchased it, it's also $2 less than the 2000 Pastiche.)
WHEN TO DRINK: Not really intended for aging, but its fruit, acid, tannins and structure will certainly carry it for several years in the cellar.
WEB LINK: Here's the winery fact sheet on the 2001 Pastiche:
FIND THIS WINE ONLINE: The winery Website sells Pastiche Red online for $12.50 plus shipping, available to 16 states where the law permits. Click the "Wines" icon on the Home Page for details. Find other vendors and compare prices for Phelps Pastiche on Wine-Searcher.com,
Cline 2001 California "Oakley Vin Rouge" ($7.99)
Although it's a blend of mostly Rhone varieties - Carignane, Mourvedre, Syrah, Grenache, Cinsaut and Alicante Bouschet - this bright reddish-purple wine's bowl-of-fruit aroma and flavor profile reminds me more of a Beaujolais ... with a wallop of oak. Fresh red-fruit aromas and rosy, cedary, spicy notes of oak rise from the glass. Soft, juicy and bright on the palate, it starts soft but builds lemony acidity as the wine crosses the palate. Simple but refreshing, the oak is forward but not unpleasant, and the wine quaffs mighty well for a low-end price. (June 22, 2004)
FOOD MATCH: Light, bright fruit makes a fine match with juicy pork chops.
VALUE: Plenty to enjoy here for $8.
WHEN TO DRINK: It won't die in a year, but its light, fresh fruit suggests enjoying it soon.
WEB LINK: For information on Cline and its wines, see the winery Website,
FIND THIS WINE ONLINE: The Cline Website offers E-commerce and wine-club sales, but Cline Oakley Red is no longer listed, suggesting that it has been replaced in the producer's portfolio by the low-end "Red Truck" (reviewed here on June 2, 2004). To find vendors and check prices for the various Cline Oakley wines on Wine-Searcher.com, click
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Wednesday, June 23, 2004