When we moved last summer, I needed to pick up a six-pack of beer and happened to pass through a major intersection where a young man stood in the baking sun, jittering as though he was high on meth (or was being electrocuted) while spinning, flipping, waving, and otherwise calling attention to a big sign advertising The Cellar. A wine store.
Never one to pass up serendipity when it slaps me in the face, I visited The Cellar, and fell to talking with the owner, who had just started a Wine Club. You give him your credit card number, and he picks a wine every month and bills you for it. If you like it, you can buy more at the discounted price of the Club. Why not? I signed up for the $15 “Silver” plan.
Truth is, I’ve tried $25 and even $40 bottles of wine, and it was a waste of both money and wine. I actually had a single glass from a $200 bottle once — I was on a business trip with two corporate Vice Presidents who were impressing and being impressed by another corporate Vice President from DuPont — and that was a good wine. I was all of twenty six years old, and had no idea what I drinking. It was red, it was delicious, and I managed to (somehow) stay sober enough to keep my mouth shut at the table. I wouldn’t mind receiving a case of that, whatever it was, as a Christmas gift. But I generally find my favorites in the under-$15 range.
Anyway, every month when I go in to pick up a new wine at The Cellar, the owner asks, “So how did you like the last wine?” Usually, not so much. After a month, however, I don’t even remember the type of wine, much less what I did or didn’t like about it. That isn’t really fair.
So I think I’m going to start wining a little on this blog, as a counterpoint to whining about the fall of Western Civilization and all that. After all, the whole problem with watching civilization flush itself is that a lot — a lot — of really cool stuff goes with it. One example of which is truly excellent, inexpensive wine.
It’s worth saying that I’m an absolute amateur when it comes to wine. A total tyro. A bloody beer drinker. So any true connoisseurs out there can just keep quiet and let me embarrass myself in peace. Which I intend to do without restraint or further apology.
At the moment, I have open a Fleur De Lyeth (that’s the winery, located in Saint Helena, CA), something they call their 2011 “A proprietary California red wine.” They don’t have a single word about what kind of grape is in it. I suppose that’s covered in the “proprietary” part.
I opened it yesterday, and I don’t like it much more today than I did yesterday.
Incidentally, this is NOT a wine from The Cellar. This is something I picked up blindly on a “wines for under $12” random tour of Wilbur’s, and I chose it because I liked the label. Period.
The first thing you notice about a wine is the smell.
Well, no, that’s not true at all. The first thing you notice about a wine is the price, and the size of the bottle, and the label. And the second thing you notice is the color. Usually red, or pale yellow, or somewhere in-between. This one is a dark enough red to dip in a quill and write your sparkly-vampire memoirs with it. I like the dark red wines.
So the third thing you notice is the smell. That’s “fragrance,” unless the wine is really awful, in which case you can call it the “odor.” The connoisseurs use the term “nose,” which skirts around the question of whether it was a “good nose” or a “bad nose” (I’m thinking of Dorothy upon meeting the White Wine Witch of the North) unless you happen to be in the company of Cyrano de Bergerac, in which case referring to the “nose” of anything is asking for a fat lip.
This nose is complicated. There’s something distinctly floral in it that overwhelms the underlying smell — sorry, “fragrance” — of grapes. Something dry and slightly pungent, like a floral perfume. I wish I knew my flowers, but I don’t. Well, that’s not entirely true: there’s Rose, everyone knows that one, and then Mirabilis (we had a big bush in the back yard when I was growing up) and Baby’s Breath (cloying and bitter) and Chrysanthemum (the vegetable equivalent of body odor) and Sweet William (the vegetable equivalent of a fudge-chocolate brownie covered with almond sauce.) I don’t know this flower. One of the dry, pungent ones.
I don’t like to mix perfume with wine. It’s like kissing a woman on the neck and getting a mouthful of Eau de Something-From-A-Small-Bottle. Of course, it is wine (or kissing a woman on the neck) so you don’t let that slow you down. But you can’t help thinking about gargling a few ounces of whiskey to clear the tongue.
Sure enough, the first flavor that hits me is green bell pepper, which simply does not belong in a wine of any color. Well, maybe a green wine. I’ve never tried a green wine.
After the bite of green pepper passes, the blend is very, very smooth. It doesn’t burn or pucker the way some Merlots do, and it isn’t a punch in the mouth with fruit flavors. Not tart, not sweet. Just smooth. And, unfortunately, with no “finish” to speak of. One of the best parts about a rich wine is when it stays on your tongue afterward, filling your head with fragrances (not odors) and flavors (not tastes) and memories of places you’ve never been and things you’ve never done. They call that the “finish.”
Alas, this wine just … vanishes. A flash of green pepper, utter smoothness, and then … nothing. Your mouth tastes like mouth.
Now that I’m a little deeper into the bottle, the Pinot grape is coming out strongly, which explains all of this. Pinot always reminds me a little of bubble-gum, which is at the stale end of the floral fragrance I started with. I watched the movie (or “film”) Sideways, and went through a brief Pinot phase. It didn’t last very long. I’m not a big fan of Pinots.
I saw Fleur de Lyeth all over the shelves at Wilbur’s so I’ll probably want to try some of their other grapes or blends at some point. But this one isn’t on my keeper list.