8.24.2011

Wine column no. 13: Wine has its actors, too

Some people are experts at sizing people up. One look, and they've already made up their minds: Like, this one's soft. Or, that one's a loose cannon.
The same could be said for some grape varieties. A good Cabernet Sauvignon? That's like being punched by Rocky Balboa. One false move, and he's got you down for the count. But this guy's so good that you don't even care; you're seeing beauty in the color of the bruise, and the pummeling can be exquisite.
But Pinot noir is another grape altogether. If Cabernet Sauvignon is a Type A, then a good Pinot noir is the most skillful Type B you've ever met. This means it's snake-like -- The Hollywood version of a chameleon, weaving a deceptive blend of sweet (fruity) charm, a dry (tannic) wit and a mean (acidic) streak into something that even the most adept of us might not fully acknowledge. Balanced just right, the resulting performance can be awe inspiring. If any grape would be up for an Oscar, then Pinot noir would be it, hands down.
You like me, you really like me.
Truth be told, it's hard to find a Pinot noir that isn't flush with confidence, but the 2007 A to Z is mellow enough not to flaunt its talents. This Sally Field of Pinot noir is from Oregon, and paired with salmon, it's quite good in a fruity, smooth way. If you're looking for an affordable red wine that imparts flavor and body, this would be it. Winetree. $10-$19.99 range.
Super models can't act
Speaking of thin, the 2008 Van Duzer Vinter's Cuvee from Willamette Valley, Ore., could use a little food. This one had a cassis nose, and it was definitely sleek and smooth in terms of texture, but by itself, there just wasn't much there. It was like minutely spicy purple-colored water, without much flavor -- except when it was paired with salmon doused in lemon, salt, pepper, fresh basil, garlic, parsley and olive oil. Then, and only then, did it seem to come alive, settling into the evening like a body that's just found that sweet spot on the couch. Maybe it was the lemon on the salmon; maybe it was the salmon itself. But whatever the reason, this is a food wine, definitely. Winestyles. 13 percent alcohol. About $20.
I'll be back
Arnold Schwarzenegger may have been The Terminator. But the 2009 Block Nine Caiden's Vineyard will end your search for a tasty, affordable California Pinot noir in a heartbeat. Smooth and sleek, with a eucalyptus nose and a fruity flavor, this Pinot noir sells for around $15. As we did with the above two Pinot noir, we paired this with salmon marinated in lemon juice and other spices, and the combination was quite good. Winetree. 13.1 percent alcohol.
Meryl Streep in a glass
If acting were just about memorizing your lines, then anyone could do it. The ones that have the smirk, but not the soft tones, fall flat. So do the ones that have the look, but not the substance. Enter Meryl Streep, the actress's actress. And a working man's match -- for those of us who haven't yet won the lottery  -- might be the 2006 Argyle Reserve Pinot noir. This Willamette Valley, Oregonian, is silky smooth, rich and bursting with cherry flavors. You won't think of B-movies, or of what you should have had instead. This Argyle's meant for celebrations, and honors. Maybe even an Oscar. Winetree. $40-$49.99 range. 14.5 percent alcohol.
When in doubt, go live
Stage performers may not have the glitzy Hollywood names. But they're the ones who'll stand 10 feet from you with sweat on their brow. They understand that the biggest risks generate the biggest rewards, and that being well known doesn't necessarily mean you do good work.
Wine's the same way. Take the 2009 Chehalem 3 Vineyard Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, which earned a 91 out of 100 from Wine Spectator. This $22 purchase from Schnucks on North Green River Road should have stunned the audience just on ratings alone. But something must have been lost in translation. It wasn't that it wasn't fruity; strawberries and cherries definitely got the spotlight here. But as with all good actors, charm can't always cut it. In the end, mean, acidic streaks will always do them in. 13.1 percent alcohol.

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