12.07.2014

Wine column no. 61: When it's fortunate to know wine, but even more fortunate to love it

Dec. 7, 2014: A number of writers won’t admit this. But I find charm in the first, second and third drafts of a narrative — the ones you don’t usually see. 


Sure, these versions are often rough, and the words can struggle to right themselves on the page. Sometimes the words even wobble, later, when you take more time to think them through. But when you discover a wine that makes you think, that makes you feel, there’s this immediate rush to get those words to the page — before you forget them or, worse, they refuse to reappear. These are the words that capture the emotion of a wine, that both reign it in and let it fly, and that, finally, reveal it for what it is: Graceful, or bland, or powerful, or watered down, or gentle, or challenged, or just plain not ready. And often, and to their credit, drafts do that before anyone else has had a hand in the process.

Here are some of my first impressions of wines that impacted me:

2013 Blindfold White Wine, California, The Prisoner Wine Co.: This wine is good, and it won’t disorient you. Blindfolded or not, just consider it mellow. This blend of Chardonnay, Viognier, Roussanne, Grenache Blanc, Chenin Blanc and a few other grapes has a pineapple nose and a smooth texture.

“This wine was a lot of fun to make as we were not constrained by a specific region or varietal,” said winemaker Jen Beloz. She worked with vintner Dave Phinney, the original creator of The Prisoner, as that wine was sold and spun off into its own company. The Blindfold is actually supposed to be The Prisoner’s white wine companion, according to K&L Wine Merchants. “We used Chardonnay as our canvas and layered on interesting aromatic varietals that complimented the base to create something that is truly unlike anything out there.”

The Wine Advocate’s Robert Parker agreed, saying he wishes more California wineries would consider using such innovative blends. 14.2 percent alcohol. $32.99. Winetree East.

2011 Joseph Phelps Pinot Noir, Freestone Vineyards, Estate Grown, Sonoma Coast, California: I chilled it and opened it way too cold, but it still had a bright blackberry nose. This Pinot Noir is tannic and a bit bitter — it’s on the more serious side and has a darker color than most California Pinot Noir I’m familiar with. It’s tightly controlled and tightly wound; it doesn’t fall apart easily. Very compact, dense. Good with baked Coho salmon from The Fresh Market. The bitterness in the wine was enhanced by the bitterness in sautéed turnip greens with bacon (note to self: don’t pair these three again.) But with mostly bacon, this Pinot is juicy, luscious. This might be better paired with a fatty dish like pork. It has black pepper elements. I really like this wine. Some Pinots are so sweet they are inconsequential — throwaways you can quickly dismiss with the flick of your wrist. Not this one. It has more personality and elegance. 13.5 percent alcohol. $41.99. Friar Tuck Beverage in St. Louis.

2012 Machete, California Red Wine,Orin Swift Cellars, Napa: Do all wine roads lead to Dave Phinney? No, but many of mine do. The Machete is a blend of Petite Sirah, Syrah and Grenache, and at 15.7 percent alcohol, it hits a high note on the fun spectrum. Pair this one with cheese, or with butter and bread, since the ending tannins can hit you pretty hard. Honestly, at that level of alcohol and tannins, this wine should cellar well for several more years. But its blackcurrant and cherry flavors are both appealing and likeable, especially with something creamy. Petite Sirah is Phinney’s favorite grape varietal, and his wine notes describe it as massive and powerful, with intense color and structure. I’d agree. $52.99. Friar Tuck Beverage in St. Louis.

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