Prologue: Sometimes writing a weekly blog is an explosive torrent of words and ideas that I can't tame quickly enough; other weeks I am less inspired. Early last week both Brian and I were equally jubilant and coy with one another regarding our fledgling bon mots. I cryptically told my husband, "Mine is already written- in my head," pointing to my left temple. Brian concurred, "Yes, mine is all up here," pointing to his bald, right temple. Then I knew. Shocked, I said, ‘Are you writing about...it. The case?" Sure enough, we'd independently tackled the same topic. With a Thursday post, Brian had seniority over whatever I'd compose to follow his debut shout out on topic. But such is life when love, passion, hobbies, work, and hearty alcohol consumption repeatedly intersect daily. Luckily, we came at it from slightly different vistas. And so I give you yet another he said / she said. Behold my narrative interpretation of our holiday events. When was the last time you tried a new wine? I'm not talking about "I really like Robert Mondavi Estate Chardonnay, but I've never tasted the Reserve Chardonnay" kinds of new wines. I mean some geeky, esoteric grape like Malvasia or Terret, or maybe a wine from any of our lesser known wine producing United States. Tennessee anyone? What about from an unlikely wine producing country, like Vietnam? Isn't that the New Year's mantra of most wine writers and enologists this time of year? Try something new!
At the risk of sounding like an oeno-nerd or self-righteous buffoon, I'll disclose that we've been drinking new stuff all week. In a strange collision of sordid details, my step dad, a years-long, avid teetotaler, was knighted guardian of several cases of his friend's wine- from which Brian and I pilfered a mixed case of booze. Rather than steal wine in a panicked frenzy, we burglarized with discipline and academic precision. I opted mostly for weird-ish stuff that I'd always wanted to taste.
Exhibit A: the Portuguese vinhos verde. I recalled reading about this unusual varietal in my UCD enology class- something about harvesting green, unripe grapes. (Perhaps that should have been the first hint!) To celebrate the inauguration of our well executed theft, I cooked up some halibut (a perfectly acceptable if uninspired pairing with white wine), and we popped the cork. It was, to be generous, jarringly and wincingly acidic. Now I don't know the first thing about vinhos verde producers or vintages, so it is entirely possible that I Forrest Gumped upon the worst of the lot (but I did stay in a Holiday Inn Express last night...). I ran to retrieve my class notes and scrawled in the margin was the following, "é acid, ê CHO, ê EtOH; ML in bottle with fizz." Yup, that summed it up. The grapes, grown in cool, wet Minho, are over cropped, never fully mature, and are picked at a relatively low sugar concentration. The resultant wine is very highly acidic and low in alcohol. Because malolactic fermentation is completed in the bottle, the finished wine is lightly carbonated. When Brian held his wine glass to light and said, "That's weird, I've never seen that kind of sediment in a bottle of white wine before," I guess I had forgotten to tell him that those specks were deflating bubbles, not grime. Note to self: remember to vet and surreptitiously sample "unknown" wines before mentally committing to blog about them.
But it is about the process, dear Brigade, not the end product. So in the name of intrepid wine explorers everywhere, I opted for more self flagellation. The next night we opened a Riesling produced by the secondary label of a very well known and prestigious California vintner. I made a steamy chicken vindaloo, seasoned with garam masala, cardamom, and garlic, dizzying in its bursting Indian aromatics. I was super-excited since I love, love, love Rieslings, especially with food, but frankly this one smelled like gasoline. I'm unsure whether it was a volatile acid problem or my personal olfactory failure from last week's viral rhinitis, but I just kept getting fumes. And it didn't taste much better. Clearly the fanciful message to "spice up your life and try new wines" was sinking fast.
Obviously this wine experiment is much more fun when the bottles are free and/or the economy is vibrant. There is nothing romantic about the loud, wet glunks of a near-full bottle of wine being poured down your kitchen sink. But that shouldn't stop you from trying. Some of the best wine steals today are lesser known, smaller production, imported drinks- from the "fighting varietals" of Chile to Australia's current wine glut. And yes, while some will be easily delicious, others will require more concentration and coaxing. But you may get lucky and find a new house favorite. For me, I am still at it. I plan to make some chai spice biscotti to go with a California dessert wine tonight after the kids go to bed.