Well, my mother-in-law Sally is a wonderful person. And she loves wine. So, when she was in town recently, I decided to have her play along on the next edition of Twenty Buck Luck. Red wines again, all sourced from Schnuck’s. With the pressure of a guest taster, I managed to pick two of the best wines I’ve tasted during this exercise, but also the absolute worst bottle. This is also the first time I came in under $20, with a whopping $18.86 spent.
2004 Beaulieu Vineyards Coastal Estates Merlot California ($6.88 – on sale) no alcohol % stated on the label
Why? Well, I hadn’t had anything from this producer in a long time. I’m not a big enough fan of Cabernet Sauvignon to buy any of BV’s spendy offerings, which is what they’re best known for, but this was nicely marked down from about $10, so I gave it a spin. I continue to labor under the (perhaps delusional) idea that there are bargains to be found in Merlot these days, as the popularity of the grape has fallen after a period of greatly increased planting during the surge of popularity that Merlot experienced in the late 90s/early 00s. Are better grapes making it into these relatively low level bottlings? Let’s find out.
How was it? Clear full purple in color. The initial nose is plum and blackberries with a touch of supporting vanilla. Quite nice really. A bit lean in the mouth, with some tannins showing. After about 30 minutes, the oak seems too prominent, and it seems to fall apart a bit after being open for several hours, with a reduction in fruit and a slightly lactic quality to the palate. It’s still decent, but it was really nice there for a while. It does a bit of a Lazarus the next morning (My palate is fresher first thing in the morning. Really!), reintegrating into a somewhat slimmer but competent wine again that is well-balanced, and pretty nice. It was certainly the most “winey” of these three, and felt the most honest and least manufactured. I actually drank the whole bottle of this over the course of three days.
Sally had this wine in second place to the Pepperwood Grove, below. She thought it had nice fruit, but that there was more intensity than she preferred. She also picked up on a slightly sour aftertaste (I think this is the same as my “lactic” comment). When she tried it later that evening, she also noticed the drop in fruit.
2005 Pepperwood Grove Old Vine Zinfandel California ($6.49 – on sale) 13.5%
Why? In the past, I’ve had some surprisingly good bottles from this brand. They’ve gone upmarket a bit in packaging and price, but I thought this sale bottle represented potentially good value. I also wanted to try another bottling made up of (likely) Central Valley/Lodi Zin to see if was as good as the Mondavi Woodbridge bottling I had in the first installment.
How was it? Clear, medium red. Dusty, spicy fruit typical of Lodi Zinfandel. Relatively slender at first in the mouth, with a good dose of acidity, With a little air, this one gets going much better. The nose becomes a somewhat monolithic whack of ripe peppery raspberry, with some raisiny notes and the Lodi loaminess. Never gets going very well on the palate, where it remains somewhat short and simple, though the ample acidity makes it fine at washing away the food and providing some refreshment. Holds up well over time, being virtually the same on both day 2 and day 3. This is virtually identical wine to the Woodbridge Zin, though I give the Mondavi product a slight preference for a bit more complexity, combined with a cheaper price.
This one was Sally’s favorite. She liked the intensity of the fruit on both the nose and the palate, but enjoyed the fact that is was relatively light in the mouth. The combination of the ripe berries and peppery flavors was really pleasing to her.
NV Pinot Evil Pinot Noir VdP de l’Ile de Beaute, France ($5.49 – on sale) 12.5%
Lot No. L57000C
Why, oh why? Well, it was really marked down, from $8.99 to $5.49, and it had somewhat cute monkeys on the label, a “punny” name, and it was from a VdP that I’d not heard of before. Oh, and I needed to pick out a third wine quickly to make my doctor’s appointment on time. Of course, in retrospect, all of these should have been warnings, rather than invitations.
How was it? This is easily – easily – the WORST commercial wine I’ve ever tried that was not obviously flawed in some way (corked, too much brett., etc.). It’s a clear, somewhat iridescent pale pinkish red. It initially smells like Welch’s (no offense intended to the fine folks at Welch’s) grape jelly. Very confected and manufactured. It has a rather unpleasant chalky mouthfeel and absolutely no flavor at all (which may really have been a blessing). Unfortunately, with a bit of air, the fruit does eventually come out on the palate, and it is the same disgusting fake strawberry/grape crap as the nose. Honestly, if someone gave this to me blind, I don’t think I’d even think that it was wine. Flat Faygo (again, no offense) RedPop or Grape soda would likely be my guess. Sadly, this one remains the same throughout the night. As an extra bonus, it adds a swampy/sewer gas aroma the next day. Utterly atrocious.
Sally was of a similar mind here. She identified the nose as Grape KoolAid, and also found the taste lacking any identifiable flavors, apart from a vague sweet/sour Sweetart-like taste. Since she was not honor-bound as I am to subject herself to the abuse of retasting over time, she politely (and wisely) abandoned this one in reliance on my representations that it was still atrocious.
Sally tends to downplay her ability to taste, often remarking that good wines are “wasted” on her. The biggest positive to be taken from this tasting was that she no longer believes that. Especially when we pulled out the remainder of the 2002 St. Innocent Pinot Noir Villages Cuvee, Wilamette Valley that we had with dinner the night before, and the remains of a Cameron Hughes Lot 41 McClaren Vale Shiraz. It was abundantly clear to Sally then that she could, in fact, taste the difference between “good” and “bad” wine, and that she preferred the former.