3.23.2014

Wine column no. 45: Sleight of hand — and cheese — can salvage disappointing cheese

March 2, 2014: People tell me it happens all the time. They buy a wine based on published, glowing reviews and yet, when they serve it at the dinner table, it’s just not what they expected.
Maybe that bottle of chardonnay is too acidic. Maybe you’ve just opened a cabernet sauvignon that’s too tannic. Either way, while the wine isn’t yet corked, it still doesn’t pass the smell test.
Here are some ways to rescue a bottle with a poor flavor profile from the clutches of the sink. Think distractions. There are many.
Cheese is a delicious conduit toward making a wine tolerable. Hard cheeses like cheddar and Parmesan are good pairings with tannic wines. For acidic wines, try something creamy, like Brie. Salty blue cheese pairs well with sweet ports, too.
In all of these cases, it’s about the art of disguise. You are trying to shift attention away from the poor-quality wine itself. Wine is a subjective experience and, in every case, it’s best to do your own research. Yet keep this sales secret in mind: Sometimes something unctuous helps to change the subject and can even sell more wines.
If the wine is distasteful yet still must be served, consider lowering its temperature. Wine served at cool temperatures won’t give off as strong of a nose. Cold temperatures can be an effective tactic in muting offending flavors that expose inconsistencies or fundamental problems within the glass. Besides, very cold, bad wine can temporarily stun your senses, especially if you expected more from the bottle.
Here’s a wine that aims high: The 2010 Cuvée Le Bec is a blend of syrah (44 percent), Grenache (34 percent), mourvedre (13 percent) and counoise (nine percent) grapes, the likes of which hail from Santa Ynez Valley, Calif. It is Beckmen Vineyards’ interpretation of a specific style of red Côtes-du-Rhône.
The Rhône Valley is north of Provence, a province in southeastern France. The four California-grown grape varietals in the Le Bec fit the profile of a southern Rhône-style wine, with one major difference: terroir. There is no one English word to describe terroir. In French, it can refer to soil, climate or orientation to the sun and elevation, all of which ultimately impact the flavors of the wine that end up in your glass.
While the grapes themselves can easily be transported to, and grown in, various other parts of the world, terroir is particular to the regions where the wine is produced. It’s a function of what exists yet isn’t always seen, acknowledged or heard.
The best southern-Rhône-style reds, in my opinion, are robust yet nuanced. They are often layered with distinctive red fruits, tannins and black pepper, and they remain some of my favorite wines largely because of their complexity.
Grown from grapes in the Santa Ynez Valley, Beckmen Vineyards’ Cuvée Le Bec has a different approach. At 14 percent alcohol, this red wine lacks depth, yet still manages a smooth finish. In some viticultural circles, it’s possible to negotiate an intricate balance between the two. Others demand one over the other.
Beckmen Vineyards is a Central Coast winery founded by Tom Beckmen and his son, Steve, in 1994. Tom Beckmen, a self-described “music man,” was a traveling salesman who pioneered the merger of music and computer applications. When he sold Roland Corp. U.S., a leading manufacturer and distributor of electronic music instruments, it was to develop the winery as a hands-on farmer.
Tom grew up gathering onions and picking tomatoes from the soil outside Chicago, where he spent his childhood working on a ranch.
With his father, Steve applied that work ethic and winemaking style to “maintaining character and diversity. During any given vintage, Steve individually ferments as many as 100 small lots of fruit, often employing techniques such as native yeast fermentation or whole cluster pressing to highlight the personality of a given clone or block. Described by Steve as both “hands-off” and “hands-on,” this approach has resulted in an acclaimed portfolio of wines that consistently bridge the divide between power and elegance.”
Power and elegance are good, strong words. So are character and diversity. I wish Beckmen Vineyards all the best in achieving its goals.
This wine is sold at The Winetree on Weinbach Avenue for $18.99.

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