The Luck Of The Draw

Trying out a new grape varietal is always a draw for me when I’m perusing my local store shelves.  In this case, I saw that the majority of this white blend was made from the Italian grape Cortese.  Never having tasted a Cortese wine, I was willing to test my luck and gamble on a new wine experience.  After all, the stakes (ante up at $6.99) weren’t too bad.

Vineyard: Azienda Giribaldi
Wine:  Winemaker’s Selection White Blend
Varietal: White Blend
Vintage: NV
Appellation: Italy
Price: $6.99 at Whole Foods

Notes:   This blended white is made from 80% Cortese and 20% Chardonnay.  At 11.5% alcohol, it was moving toward sweet yet didn’t strike my palate as heavy or syrupy.  The color was a very pale lemon yellow, acidity was OK, and the body was quite light.  On the nose I found primarily citrus with hints of peach and floral notes.  Flavors consisted of citrus once again, some peach, and a fleeting hint of butter with a biting, grassy finish that also echoed the floral notes (think wild flowers or daisies).  Honestly, I can’t say that I enjoyed this selection.  It didn’t taste like gasoline or road tar, but the balance of flavors across the palate didn’t create an extremely pleasant experience for me, either.

Even so, I’m not giving up on Cortese.  I may have had an off day.  This may have been an off bottling for Azienda Giribaldi.  I certainly can’t say that I lost anything, because I did get what I was looking for – a new wine experience.  If I didn’t find a selection to fall in love with on the first draw, well what are the odds?  So I’m undeterred and will keep my eyes open for another opportunity with the Cortese grape.  Who knows?  I could get lucky next time.

This post is an entry into the 8th Monthly Wine Writing Challenge (#MWWC8).  Originated by The Drunken Cyclist, this month’s challenge – to write around the theme of “luck” – was issued by last month’s winner, The Sweet Sommelier.  Click on the MWWC logo at the top of this post to see details for this month’s challenge.

Tarima Organic Monastrell 2011

Another wine post about Devotion?  But of course!  We are all answering the call set out by our fellow wine blogger SAHMmelier for the monthly wine writing challenge (MWWC).  She won the gold medal last time with her entry for the Mystery-themed challenge, so now she has the honor of choosing this month’s theme!  You can read all the posts – and those from previous challenges – over at the MWWC blog by clicking on the awesome wine stain logo.  So what is my take on Devotion?

Well, first let me say that I have been well reminded what devotion means and what it can do as I watch the Olympic athletes compete.  In sport after sport, the backstory pieces about the competitor’s lives are constant reminders and shining examples of devotion.  Take, for example, the Russian pairs figure skater Maxim Trankov.  In order to train, he left his family home at 15 and had to sleep in the basement of an ice skating rink among a bunch of soldiers who were billeted there.  In addition, he received one (evidently only one) free meal a day there.  For three years!  Mr. Trankov is now the proud owner (with his partner Tatiana Volosozhar) of an Olympic gold medal.  But he is not the only athlete with this kind of story.  I’m sure we would hear many similar and perhaps even more compelling stories from other athletes competing – most of whom will not end up with a ribbon around their neck.

As I’ve been watching these Winter Games from my comfy couch, I’ve been devoting myself to a little wine exploration.  One of my recent 2014 Winter Olympics wines was the Tarima Organic Monastrell 2011 which has it’s own story of devotion to tell.  Or perhaps, more precisely, it’s label is devoted to a particular message.  Take a quick look at the picture of the bottle  Did you notice?  This wine was made with certified organic grapes.  In case you missed it on the front, it is repeated on the back label — FIVE times.  I kid you not!  In their defense, Bodegas Volver does produce a Tarima Monastrell that isn’t made with organic grapes.

Winemaker:  Tarima by Bodegas Volver
Wine:  Tarima Made With Organic Grapes
Varietal: Monastrell
Vintage: 2011
Appellation:  Alicante DO, Spain
Price:  $9.99 at Whole Foods

Notes:  This Spanish Monastrell (aka Mourvèdre) was a deep dark garnet color.  The bouquet held musty earth, dark red fruit, wet leather and mothball scents.  Body on this selection was fairly light with a softly plush mouthfeel.  Tannins were moderately grippy and lingering.  Acidity was good and alcohol was at 14.5%.  On the palate I tasted violets, dark plum, and black olive with a finish of bitter wood.  And that despite the fact that it was evidently fermented in stainless steel.

Now that I’ve finished getting this post up, I’ll get back to watching athletes devoted to their sports and (at an acceptable hour) my own wine exploration.  I suppose if I were more devoted —  to either/both — I could have typed this up while sitting on the couch in front of the TV and sipping wine.  Sigh!

Addendum:  As I tasted this bottle, I wondered about the possibility of cork taint.  The bouquet was fairly unusual, to be sure.  So I decided to look around and see what others have said about this selection.  Unfortunately, I didn’t find much on this vintage of the organic Monastrell besides at the Bodegas Volver web page.  The flavor profile I tasted is certainly on the darker side than what is described by the winery.  Of course, I often don’t agree with precisely what a winery says about it’s own wines.  That being said, they do mention “toasty barrel power” which agrees with my bitter wood even though they use only stainless steel.  So …  If anyone else has tasted this wine and can share their own thoughts, I’d be very interested to read your comments.

Vinetalkers: Riddle of the Wine Review

The Riddle

I don’t know about you, but the first time I ever read an expert wine review, I was mystified.  Some of it I understood, certainly.  But the rest of it was like a riddle – a coded message full of strange words and hidden meanings.  Yet here’s the thing: no matter how opaque or mysterious they seemed, I wanted more.  I wanted to gain access to the information they held.  I wanted to crack the code and solve the mysteries within.  I still do.

Deciphering the Message

While I haven’t yet made a complete breakthrough on cracking the code, I have made some progress.  The first thing I had to come to terms with was the heavy use of foreign language in the reviews.  I was OK with that, actually.  I studied languages in school, so facing down a new foreign word can even be enjoyable to me.  I also understand that wine production and therefore wine reviewing have been going on much longer in a primarily non-English environment.  So I get that there are terms which have been developed for the purpose of describing a wine in French or Italian, let’s say, that may be more insightful than any in the English language.  I just have to find a good dictionary to help me.

A smattering of foreign words and phrases encountered in recent reviews include — sous-bois, bresada, pastis, garrigue, kirsch, pâtes de fruits, fleur de sel, fines herbes, and sanguine.  [See below for discussions of the terms printed in dark lavender throughout this post]

Next were the strictly wine-related terms that I needed to understand in order to get a better grasp on these coded messages.  For example, I’ve seen words like leesy and grip bandied about.  But with some reading and a bit more understanding into how wines are made, these kinds of terms can be deciphered, too.

Cherimoya by Hannes Grobe

Then came the names of stuff I’d never heard of.  I’m talking about fruits, vegetables and herbs with flavors and aromas that I hadn’t any clue about.  Luckily, we have the internet today that can help us more quickly research these items, even if we can’t immediately get our hands on the real thing to fully comprehend what’s being described.  I’m talking about items like cherimoya, green plum, bergamot, etc.  It isn’t as if these items can’t be found, but most aren’t in everyone’s local market.

Darker Mysteries

Add to that some mystifyingly imprecise or “blurry” terminology.  I’ve seen, for example, a review which described a selection as “a pure red.”  Is that as opposed to a polluted red?  Or not a sinful red?  And better yet, I ran across a reviewer calling a particular wine “a vinous version.” Given that vinous means “of, pertaining to, or characteristic of wine,” you’d think every single bottle of wine made is a vinous version.

Hidden Meaning?

So just what is it these reviewers are saying?  I’m not sure.  I haven’t found the key to translate these yet.  I feel, though, as I gain more experience and knowledge in the world of wine, I may be able to venture a guess.

And that brings me to the most intriguing and disconcerting of all the descriptors.  I’ll call them DMWRT (Dark Mysteries of Wine Review Terminology).  The DMWRTs continue to befuddle me completely.  Take the wine review that listed road tar as a key flavor.  Not just tar, road tar.  Which begs the question, “Where has that reviewer’s tongue been to come up with a flavor like that?”  Others I’d put in the DMWRT category include (but are not limited to) clean earth, hot stone, crushed granite, and underbrush.  These were all used as flavors – not scents, flavors.  But you know what?  I’m not the expert; I’m a wine enthusiast.  So I’ll bet those flavors are there.  After all, I’m only drinking inexpensive wines, and I haven’t received the extensive training that the wine pros have.  Maybe I should stop sitting here being mystified and get busy   . . .   licking on some road tar, sucking on crushed granite, and chewing sprigs of underbrush.  Then again, perhaps some things are better left a mystery.

Caveat Humoris

If you’ve made it this far, I have to thank you for sticking with this post.  And I hope you have taken it in the spirit in which it is intended – a bit of edification, a tad of information, and lots of entertainment (i.e. humor).  I don’t know what I’d do without the wine professionals out there writing their reviews and helping me find my way through a world of wine choices.  The service they provide is invaluable.  While I admit that I don’t always understand them, I do keep reading them – growing, learning and benefiting from them.  And, of course, I myself post my own tasting notes here on this blog.  What is it they say about pointing a finger?  One at you and three pointing back at me?


This post is a response to the Monthly Wine Writing Challenge.  Begun by wine blogger extraordinaire the drunken cyclist, a theme/subject is picked each month for all those participating to use.   Once the entries are in, they are voted on by  wine blog readers, and the baton is passed to the winning blogger.  He or she is responsible for choosing the theme for and administrating the next month’s challenge.  This is the 6th such challenge: the theme is Mystery.  If you haven’t already done so, head over to the MWWC blog and check out the previous challenges.  Enter into the fray by January 13 if you also blog about wine and have a mind to.  And don’t forget to vote for your favorite Mystery post beginning January 14!


bergamot — is a small citrus tree, Citrus Bergamia, having fruit whose rind yields a fragrant essential oil but which is not considered edible.  The oil is used widely in perfumes and in some cases as a flavoring.  Bergamot oil has a scent which is citrusy, bitter and sour, reminiscent of eau de Cologne (the original cologne, 4711 or Kölnisches Wasser).  The oil is also used to flavor Earl Grey tea.

bresada — The word “bresada” means braised in Italian.  Since I don’t think braised works as a specific flavor or scent, I looked further.  Etymologically, the term braseola seems to have originated from the word “bresada” and is an Italian antipasto dish consisting of dried, salted and sliced beef (from the top round part of the animal).  I think this is what the term bresada in a wine review is meant to conjure.  I’ll readily admit that I’m not certain about this one.  If you have some clarification on this, please leave a comment.

cherimoya — The cherimoya is the fruit of the species Annona cherimola which is generally thought to be native to the Andes.  The fruit is fleshy and soft, sweet, white in color, with a sherbet-like texture, giving it its secondary name, custard apple.  Some characterize the flavor as a blend of banana, pineapple, papaya, peach, and strawberry.  Others describe it as tasting like bubblegum.

French Dictionary

fines herbes — Fines herbes is a combination of herbs that forms a mainstay of Mediterranean cuisine.  The ingredients of fines herbes are fresh parsley, chives, tarragon and chervil.

fleur de sel — is a hand-harvested sea salt collected by workers who scrape only the top layer of salt before it sinks to the bottom of large salt pans.  Fleur de sel has more mineral complexity than common table salt.

garrigue — Garrigue is a French term denoting a type of low, soft-leaved scrubland ecoregion found on limestone soils around the Mediterranean Basin, generally near the seacoast.  And according to Dr. Vinny of The Wine Spectator, garrigue in a wine review – “refers to the low-growing vegetation on the limestone hills of the Mediterranean coast, not the limestone itself.  There are a bunch of bushy, fragrant plants that grow wild there, such as juniper, thyme, rosemary and lavender, and garrigue refers to the sum of them.  Think herbes de Provence, or a mix of fresh minty-herbal notes with more pungent, floral fragrances.”

green plum — Despite what it seems to suggest, this is not an unripe plum.  Prunus mume is an Asian tree species.  Its common names include Chinese plum and Japanese apricot.  Although generally referred to as a plum in English, it is more closely related to the apricot.

grip — has to do with the tannic acid in a wine and it’s effect on the taste buds – that sensation of pins and needles on your tongue.  The more intense the tannins, the more “grip” the wine has.

kirsch — Short for the German term Kirschwasser, it is a colorless, unaged brandy distilled from a fermented mash of cherries.  Kirsch = cherry; Wasser = water.  The cherries are fermented complete (that is, including their stones).  Kirschwasser is dry not sweet with subtle flavors of cherry and a slight bitter-almond taste that derives from the stones.

leesy —  Lees are the sediment at the bottom of a wine barrel or tank.  There are two kinds of lees – those that consist mostly of dead yeast cells and those made up of grape pulp, seed and other grape matter that accumulates during fermentation.  Allowing a wine to age on the lees or sur lie can add complex aromas and flavors to a wine.

pastis — is an anise-flavored liqueur from France.

pâtes de fruits — are French chewy candies with intense fruit taste made from purees of fresh fruit. To prepare them, fruit is boiled and cooked down with sugar to an extremely concentrated, almost jam-like consistency before being poured, cooled and cut into small squares and rolled in sugar.

sanguine — is short for l’orange sanguine and is the French term for a blood orange.

sous-bois — A French term to denote damp woods smells – the leaves rotting, an air of decomposing matter.  Think autumn walks in the woods after rainfall.

The Librarian Is In

The Reference Desk

Here is the list of informational sources I consulted and borrowed from when researching this post.

The Random House College Dictionary
Merriam Webster online
Dr. Vinny at The Wine Spectator

La Caumette L’Authentique Red

I’m always curious about where the wines I drink come from.  I like to get as much information as I can to help me understand more about, among other things, the practical results of “terroir”.  When it comes to a table wine, though, there is often a lack of info about where the grapes were grown beyond a very general description.  So then I look at the winemaker and where they are located.

Carte du diocèse de Béziers

This inexpensive import is made by the company La Caumette SARL in Béziers, France.  Looking at it on a map, I see that it is just a few kilometers from the Meditarranean coast in the Languedoc region.  What does that tell me?  Well … I’m not sure that it tells me anything.  But as I look over the map of southern France, it does remind me of something.  Something I’d rather forget but somehow can’t seem to shake the memory of.

Give me a few moments of your time, and I’ll share with you a tale of trouble, calamity and woe.  A tale that is seared into my memory banks like burnt cheese on a frying pan.

photo by Sven Storbeck

When I was a young boy – 5 years old – my family was living in Europe.  While there, my father did his best to expose his American children to as much of the Continental culture as he could.  We managed to see quite a bit as we camped our way across western Europe.  Oh yes!  We had a VW camper, a pup tent, a camping stove, sleeping bags, etc.  Each trip was an adventure.

Let me say first that we had some great times on our treks.  On one of our trips through France I learned how to swim at the campground pool.  But that place was not on the southern coast.  Thinking back now, I can’t recall exactly where on the coast of France we pitched our tent.   Was it near Nice, Marseille, Montpellier, Narbonne?  I just can’t say.

photo by Lewis Clarke

What I can say is that once settled in at our campground, we decided to visit the local public beach.  My first surprise – the beach was pebbly not sandy.  Very big pebbles, too, for a little guy of five shod in flip flops.  Then there was the smell.  This beach had a very pungent odor – fish, seaweed, and something else.   So far, I wasn’t especially thrilled with this outing.  I hung with my family, of course.  It’s not like I could get anywhere by myself.  Five years old, didn’t know the area, didn’t know the language.

Eventually, nature called, and I had to make my way to the restroom.  The very old, very well-used, public restroom.  For some reason, I was wary going into this facility.  Once inside, though, I saw they had individual stalls.  I quickly disappeared into one and locked the door behind me.  When I turned around from locking the door, what I found took the breath out of me – literally.

I was facing a behemoth of a urinal.  Beginning at floor level, it was almost twice as tall and wider than me.  It was stained and cracked.  The large drain hole didn’t have any cover over it, and from it’s mouth escaped an odor that made my nose burn.  Given that I had business to take care of, I screwed up my courage and approached it’s gaping maw.  Everything proceeded handily until, preparing to leave, I had to shift my weight slightly.  Unfortunately, around the base of the porcelain monolith the uneven cement floor was slick.  One small shift, and my world was turned upside down.

photo by Bjørn Christian Tørrissen

In a split second, my left foot slid forward and into the jaws of this horrible beast.  It was inside the hole, not above it.  As soon as I realized my situation, I yanked my foot out of the blackness.  In so doing, however, my flip flop caught on the edge of the nasty mouth and was ripped from my foot.  My shoe fell forever into that horrid darkness.  Now in a hurry to retreat, I turned and unlatched the stall.  But it didn’t budge.  The latch remained perfectly in place to keep everyone else out … and me in.  I looked around for another way out.  Maybe I could crawl under the stall door?  No!  The door and walls went all the way to the ground.  I looked up, but at five I couldn’t have scaled a normal-sized stall.  And this stall was much taller than any I’d seen before.  So I tried the latch again.  And again.  Finally, having run out of options, I yelled.  A cry for help to any good Samaritan who might be passing by.

As luck would have it, my sister was just coming out of the women’s restroom.  She bolted to my parents and explained that I was trapped.  Trapped by a nefarious French commode.  And so my father came to assess the situation.  Ever the logician, he asked me to try the latch again.  Again?  All right!  One more time — to no avail.  And that was it!  I had put on a brave face walking across huge pebbles in nothing but flip flops.  I had faced the crusty, crumbling porcelain demon alone.  I had been attacked by the demon and lost a flip flop – almost lost a foot, in my mind.  I had tried to escape on my own.  Had tried the latch many, many times.  So rose in me the anger, the frustration, and the howl of a cornered animal.

In a matter of seconds I heard scrabbling and scraping and scratching.  Then I saw the stall walls shake ever so slightly.  I looked above me to see my father clambering over the very high walls of my prison.  Climbing down to join me in my dark cubicle.  Then he was pulling hard – very hard – and releasing the latch that had secured the stall door.  And I was free of that wretched adventure!

I have plenty of marvelous memories from France and our time in Europe.  But this day, this one day in the south of France.  This is still a day of trouble, calamity, and woe.  On my bucket list is another trip to France’s southern coast – Provence or perhaps Languedoc – to make a new memory and banish this 5-year-old’s day at the beach.  In the meantime, though, I think I’ll have another glass of wine.

Peck_LaCaumetteLAuthentiqueNVWinemaker:  La Caumette
Wine: L’Authentique Red Table Wine
Varietal: Red Blend
Vintage: NV
Appellation:  France
Price:  $4.99 at Trader Joe’s

Notes:  The La Caumette red blend was dark purple in the glass.  The bouquet held scents of earth, dark berries and pepper.  It was a light-bodied selection with a slightly velvety feel in the mouth, mild tannins and good acidity.  Alcohol was 13%.  On the palate I found earth, dark cherry and blackberry, oak, a hint of licorice and bitter eucalyptus on the finish.  Really not a bad wine for the price.  It was light, yes.  It was definitely light.  But that might be just what you’re looking for.

This post is part of a monthly wine blog challenge.  Begun by wine blogger extraordinaire  the drunken cyclist, this month’s challenge has been issued by The Armchair Sommelier who won the transportation-themed challenge.  The theme for this month’s challenge?  Trouble.

Important:  I am not a professional sommelier or wine connoisseur.  See “About” for the full disclaimer.