6.02.2011

Wine column no. 7: Rebels with a cause

Don't wear white pants before Memorial Day. Always match your purse to your shoes. And never, ever drink a screw-top bottle of wine.
Those rules would be fine, if you didn't recognize that times have changed. For one thing, it's been pretty hot this month. On the one day I worried that I'd be criticized for wearing white linen before Memorial Day, three other women wore white pants as well. As for matching your purse to your shoes, Vogue, especially, knows the pitfalls of fashion stagnancy. And when it comes to wine, insisting on corks means you'd hardly ever try Australian Shiraz, New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc or even some versions of Pinot Noir.
The fact is that screw tops aren't what they used to be. Often times, some wine producers -- and certain customers -- prefer them if they know they won't be cellaring that wine for a long while.
Take a recent bottle from 1982 that my father opened up to toast my sister's engagement, her move to Chicago, and a recent meeting with her fiance's parents. The cork was a bit red, but it didn't fall apart. Yet, when he poured us all a glass, the wine seemed a bit musty. The nose and flavor weren't exactly "corked," as some say, but they weren't ideal, either.
This largely could have been because of the cork. According to Wine Spectator, mustiness is typically a sign of contamination with the chemical TCA. Corks also impact a wine's potential to age well, since cork's permeability to oxygen is inconsistent.
Read into the academic parts of that sentence and you'll find this phrase: Corks can cause problems. That's why winemakers like Mollydooker in Australia, Kim Crawford in New Zealand and Meiomi in California have turned to screw tops. And we think there's absolutely nothing wrong with that.
Take the 2008 Mollydooker Sarah and Sparky Marquis The Boxer Shiraz, which was opened with a firm twist of my left hand. We've always been keen on pairing Shiraz with spicy bratwurst from Pearson's Rivertown Butcher Shop in Newburgh. But jammy, inky wines like these could just as well be enjoyed on their own, even if the high octane alcohol levels -- this one was 16 percent -- might keep you at home for a while. By the way, Mollydooker is a fun winery, and it's introduced some concepts that might seem anathema to those stodgy old wine drinkers who haven't seen fit to change with the times. For one thing, Sarah and Sparky Marquis suggest you shake the bottle of wine after it's been opened and a bit of the wine has been poured into a glass. This "Mollydooker Shake", as it's called, helps release the nitrogen in the wine that the winery uses to help prevent oxidation. Sarah Marquis says the nitrogen "flattens the fruit" in the wine, so "we need to get the nitrogen out" to properly taste the fruit. After shaking the bottle, the nitrogen creates a line of fizz at the top of the bottle, and once that fizz is gone, the wine is ready to drink. How's that for going against the grain? Here's a link to the video:http://www.wineinterview.com/video/wineries/mollydooker/mollydookershake.php Winetree has a lot of Mollydooker wines. The 2008 Shiraz was rated a 91 out of 100 by Wine Spectator.
Then there's the 2010 Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough, New Zealand, which I had a glass of at a bar in Chicago a month or so ago. If you like grapefruit (and Greg doesn't, but he wasn't with me on this particular trip), then this is the wine for you: All crisp and very citrusy, this is a bottle that might be well-balanced against a dish with goat cheese. Schnucks has this. Wine Spectator rated this an 89 out of 100.
Finally, there's the 2009 Meiomi Pinot Noir, which is a blend of grapes from Sonoma, Monterey and Santa Barbara counties in California. My father found this in Sarasota, Fla., while on a vacation there, and since then it's been a reliable staple when we've had roasted chicken or fresh fish. This smooth, slightly sweet, red berry-flavored wine is quietly elegant, and you can get it at Binny's in Chicago. The 2008 vintage was rated an 87 out of 100 by Wine Spectator.

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