Sunday, September 4, 2011

NxNW:  Alfred Hitchcock Would Be Proud

I am conflicted, gentle readers.  Long a proponent of labeling multi-varietal wines, and even longer a proponent of more 'truth in labeling' so as to raise the general consciousness gently about what was in those bottles that tasted so good, I come across something like this, a marketer's dream turned into a nightmare of specificity and a mockery of pseudo-geeky cork-dorky regional wine jingoes.

The acronymic umbrella name for the brand I like.  It's visual and catchy for a moderate priced wine and grabs the eye to pull you in.

But beyond that, uh?

Let's see:  looks like eleven different vineyards contributing fruit here.  And of course, we can pick out the influence each had to make this wine what it is. Of course.  Especially the three with the contribution of 1% each.

Then we are told these grapes were harvested over a forty-five day period (but vexingly, not when each vineyard was harvested.  Why not!)

Further, we find the varietal breakdown of the contents---Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot---apparently they could not find any Malbec in time to burnish this mix.

Wait?  So now we know the eleven vineyards and their precise percentages. And roughly what time they were harvested (given a month and a half window).  And the percentage of varieties in the blend.  Okay.  Okay. Good information all, I'll admit, although I'm not sure of any usefulness it might have...maybe so I can muse over the relative ripeness of the grapes and whether the seeds when bitten were green or brown?  Perhaps.  Perhaps.  Trouble is, appetite whetted with this overload of information, I now want to know what vineyard grew what grape in what percentage?

And let us not forget the proud declamation of "French & American Oak".  Oak must not have sufficient respect though, for the brand to give  us specific percentage of how much of each constituted the regimen here.  And doesn't everyone want to know which French & American oak---lot of difference imparted between Limousin and Nevers, you know.  And surely there must be some Vosges in there?  Stylish winemakers all use at least a little bit of Vosges these day, if only to say when asked, "Oh, there's some Vosges, of course.  We like those tight grains in the Vosges."  Vosges is in vogue in the Northwest.

There's the conflict I suffer.  For years I've explained to anyone who would listen (most didn't; they didn't care very much) about providing more information that people might want to know, and providing some of it (more of it) clearly on the front label.  And here this label comes along to do much of what I wanted to see---and it emerges as a marketer's jibble jabble, providing a profusion of information that appears to inform, but doesn't, essentially making the information part of the brand image, although the information provides little to no substantive information for the person buying this wine!  The old sizzle sans steak rule.

How fitting this is also the name of one of Hitchcock's best flicks, a story where all is not what it appears to be, and of a man who just wants a little explanation and gets smoke and mirrors instead.  Imaginative and attractive smoke and mirrors, mind you, but still nothing more than elaborate charades.  Ooo, there's another movie that works!!!

Or wait again:  maybe this is a cunning effort by the marketers to satisfy the desire of those wine geeks who love nothing more than endless discussion over wine---you know, those people who will bore you to death with the discussion of infinite pinhead-dancing angels regarding esoteric things like biodynamics and natural wine, and speculating avidly over what color Robert Parker's urine was after consuming an entire bottle of Chateau Lynch-Bages 2004?  You know.  Those people (blush).

(Feel free to tell me I'm making much ado about nothing [Ding. Another one.] or I'm focused on a tempest [Ding.] in a teapot, and should find better things to do than maunder around about this while simultaneously coming up with atrocious puns.  But it irritates me.  And after all, what are blogs for if not to air out the meaningless irritations of an old guy and waste other people's time?)

[And to my friend Thor, who might but probably won't read this:  please note I did not misuse the word "variety"herein.  Although I did otherwise mangle and disgrace the language in other ways.]

Friday, September 2, 2011

Stunning single cask Benedictine Liqueur

Benedictine Single Cask Liqueur

Wow!  Just...Wow!

Anyone who knows me, or reads the drivel I write, knows that I'm not often at a loss for words.  This Benedictine so stunned me, though, that I was unable to describe it.  All I wanted to do was have more.

You'll all be pleased to know that I got over it, and am now able to provide words with my usual logorrhea, however poor they may be at fully explaining how good this liqueur was.

The Benedictine Single Cask Liqueur, as far as I can determine, is still unreleased and unavailable in the U.S.  And I have no idea what their plans are.

I've had it twice now: once from an internet journalist who received a preview sample, and again just recently courtesy of a bootlegged bottle luggaged back from a trip to England and Scotland by a bartender who wanted to get first hand knowledge of London Dry Gin and Single Malt Scotch and discovered this along the way.

The Benedictine Single Cask, billed as a "Very Fine Dry Liqueur", is just that.  It is also subtle, elegant, delicately but profusely flavored (oxymoronic as that might sound) with the most intriguing and beguiling botanicals unobscured by too much sugar.  This is a liqueur with a half-life, slowly trickling out scents and flavors that tease and tantalize right at the threshold of your awareness in what seems a never-ending sequeunce.

It's a liqueur I doubt you could ever get to the bottom of.  And certainly not in one small serving.

I'm already a fan of the monastic liqueurs, both Benedictine and Chartreuse (more the green than the somewhat anemic yellow), and this version of the Benedictine represents the highest and grandest expression of botanically-driven liqueurs that ever I've had.

So seek this one out.  Look for it when you travel abroad.  Hope that it eventually makes its way to this country so you can score a bottle.  Don't worry about how much it costs (quite frankly, I expect it will be an ultra-premium price, as it should be).  Doesn't matter.  Just get a bottle.

You'll be glad you did.  And then you'll be sorry you didn't get two when you had the chance. And if you manage to get three, remember your old drinking buddy Hoke for turning you on to this most excellent of liqueurs.

Gemischter Satz at Gruner

Crappy Picture of Good Wine
Gemischter Satz at Gruner

In which I continue my fascination with a particular wine from Austria known as "Gemischter Satz".

Having had occasion to meet up with old friend and bon vivant Jake Parrott and his wife Christina, Roxi and I ended up having dinner at Gruner in Portland, OR, an "Alpine-influenced" restaurant dedicated to bringing Alpine cooking from all the countries, regions, and cuisines of that area.

The wine list is a wine geek's dream, but we never got past the whites on this night, because the selection was so good, and whites suited our food choices so well, that we didn't have to go any further.

Which means, of course, we'll just have to go back and focus on the other side of the excellent wine list.

With so many choices, and with Jake and my own humble self being so devoted to Austrian, German, Friulian and Jura wines, we diddled for a long while and then compromised with the Wieniniger Wien Gemischter Satz 2009, a wine with which I was both very familiar and very fond of.

It's imported now by Winebow, and handled in Oregon by Lemma Wine Company.

The Wieninger Wien was all I had hoped for.

Served too cold for total enjoyment, it needed to warm up at the table, so we (barely) managed to restrain ourselves until the wine warmed and the apps arrived---said apps being an outstanding classic maltauschen, a Germanic pasta and ricotta that was so sublime you could hardly tell where the ricotta stopped and the pasta began; a concoction of eggplant, tomatoes, blistered red peppers, and delicious gypsy peppers in oil; and a thin, crackling, comfort food to the max, Alsatian flammenkuechen.  (Yowsa! is, I believe, the technical term to apply at this point.)

The Wieninger then proceeded to explode with flavor, and since the rule of the Gemischter Satz, a tiny little zone/type found only on the outskirts of Vienna (Wien) is that of various un-announced field blends, we had the further wine geek's delight in trying to figure out what the hell was in the glass!

We knew there had to be Gruner Veltliner.  And we were all pretty sure there was a sizable component of Pinot Blanc.  Jake even went so far as to remark that the wine reminded him of Trimbach's Pinot Blanc from Alsace.  But finally, we just gave up, gave in, and simply enjoyed the mingling of varieties of the wine.

The wine was profoundly responsive to the foods on the table as well (spaetzle with herb roasted chicken, house-made sausages with sauerkraut (which were truly exceptional, by the way, and I say that as a guy who lived for three wonderful years in Germany devouring as many great sausages as I could; plus the sauerkraut was more in the manner of French choucroute, one of the best dishes known to man), and a trout wrapped in speck that Jake was chowing down on.

Delivery of the bill at Gruner
The wine handily accommodated everything and adapted to it---hey, with all those field-blended varieties in there, it had to be flexible, right?---and made the meal a success.

And as a bonus, when opened the wine bottle made that most romantic of sounds that transported us into the land of bliss, that singular sound that all true wine lovers adore----the neat, crisp crack of the screwcap being snapped loose!

So go out and get yourself some Wieninger Wien Gemischter Satz, avaiable (hopefully) wherever Winebow's extensive tentacles reach in the U.S.  You'll be glad you did.