I couldn’t believe my lyin’ eyes. This couldn’t be true, could it?
My topic this week was/is “wines we’re embarrassed to admit that we like.” In my wildest dreams, I didn’t believe that real life would give me hand in putting together this entry.
First of all, I subscribe to a bunch of stuff. I receive emails daily on what’s going on out there in the worlds of wine, food, and Vegas. I almost always have *something* to talk about each week.
I read a byline in the list of items from the July 4 mailing of the Sacramento Bee. And what I read absolutely stunned me. Published on the online version of the Bee was the following:
Dunne on wine: What's up? 'Two Buck Chuck' the state's best?
What does that mean? That means that the ubiquitous Two Buck Chuck (that’s Charles Shaw, available only at Trader Joe’s) Chardonnay won double gold medal at the California State Fair wine tasting. Better than every other California Chardonnay.
I was stunned. Absolutely stunned. So I felt it was my moral duty to do something about it. “Something” included stopping at Trader Joe’s and picking up a bottle of the double gold medal winner.
It didn’t look good. Even though I don’t have to, I decided to protect the names of the persons who commented on my choice of wine as I carried it, label carefully hidden from view while tucked under my arm: “I won’t even use it for cooking.” “You are buying that?!? What’s wrong with you?!?” “I’d be embarrassed to be seen buying that.”
Not exactly an encouraging, auspicious beginning. But because I’m willing to sacrifice for the cause of the best bang for the buck, I forged ahead, accompanied by my oldest son, Zach. We socialized with the folks there, Zach ran into an old friend, and we just visited for a while. Then it was time to go. “You go ahead and go through the checkout stand, Mom. I left my wallet in the car. Yeah, that’s it! I left my wallet in the car.” I felt abandoned even by my own son.
I put the bottle in the fridge to cool off while we kicked back and enjoyed a Paso Robles duo of Josephina Syrah Rosé and Opolo Mountain Zin, along with our Caprese (home grown basil, tomatoes, and “perlini” (small mozzarella balls), unfiltered Extra Virgin Olive Oil, and a sprinkling of Mediterranean black salt) and hickory-smoked boneless leg of lamb. Delish. Oh, we finished with a patriotic dessert of sliced strawberries, blueberries, and whipped cream. After all, it *was* July 4!
I asked Zach if he was ready to try the 2BC (that’s Two Buck Chuck for you newbies), and he took a deep breath and said, “Okay.” I opened up the bottle (real cork!), poured it into our glasses, and we peeked, swirled, sniffed, and tasted. Well. As someone who’s a Chardonnay snob (see the entry I made two weeks ago), there’s no way I could say that this was the best Chard in California. In the glass, the first thing I noticed was that it was very light, more like a Sauv Blanc than a Chard. The aroma was Chardonnayish enough, but the palate was, um, *disjointed* at best. And unlike the person at Trader Joe’s, I feel that it *can* be used for cooking! It’d make a decent enough Picatta reduction.
The best that we could do was to come up with the following opinions:
- It doesn’t completely suck.
- The judges were smokin’ crack.
- Every single judge got paid off.
- It was the last wine of the day and they hadn’t been spitting.
- The judges were ringers.
- They felt guilty about always awarding medals to the best wines.
- They really thought it was the best Chard in California. (That’s just so bizarre on so many levels).
- It wasn’t really 2BC in the bottle. They actually filled it with Cakebread.
- The tasting must have taken place on April 1.
The link to Mike Dunne’s article is to the right of this column. I’m sure that you will enjoy his disbelief as much as we did!
On to the topic at hand. There are a few things that I learned last weekend. One of them is that we Wineauz (like that?) still have a special affection for the fluid that “got us started” into wines. Unless, of course, we got started with 2BC. But I digress.
It was the regular Tex & Fritz’s Wine Club Thing’s lunch at Marché Bacchus. I had almost forgotten (errands, etc.), but as I drove past Regatta, I suddenly remembered the luncheon and made what was probably an illegal turn into the street so that I could meet everyone.
I was happy to see the crew there, and I was asked what I was planning for this week’s entry. Of course I shared!
I admitted that my first “wine” - other than my grandmother’s pear wine - was, like most people of my generation, Boone’s Farm. In my case, it was Boone’s Farm Strawberry Hill, but with about 14 or so flavors to choose from, it can fill anybody’s need for a fruity, artificially-flavored wine. Once I realized that wasn’t *really* wine, I moved on to the real stuff. Mogen David White Concord. A few bottles of MD, some crazy friends, and stack of Redd Foxx records can make for a fun night if you’re snowed in. Oh, I’m originally from Philly, which is why I live in Vegas.
My next discovery was “Chablis.” If I went out on the town, I usually ordered “white wine,” or, specifically, “Chablis.” It was tasty enough, and I could hold a glass in one hand and a cigarette in the other and look very cool and sophisticated. No, I’ve never smoked cigarettes, but it was the *image* that counted. During those years, having a cigarette between your fingers automatically shouted “cool chick” to the opposite sex. Hey! I’m almost a Senior Citizen, so I’m accurately reporting the correct slang!
I went through a wine wilderness period where ignorance was the theme. I knew enough not to serve wine on the rocks (seven years of bartending instilled that into the deepest reaches of my psyche), but other than just drinking out of a “wine glass,” I didn’t know where to start. So White Zin was the drink of choice, occasionally supplemented with Merlot or the “house red” wine. The rest, as they say, is history.
What were some of the wines that made an impression on the others? Lancers, for one. Reunite on ice. Boone’s Farm’s many flavors. Mogen David, or, worse, MD 20/20. Ripple. Manischewitz. And the current favorite beginner “wine,” Arbor Mist. We were suitably embarrassed as we compared our old favorites. Gidget had an interesting commentary on her experience with 2BC. “Smelled good. Tasted like s**t.” We laughed, and then began to focus on the wines we’d be blind tasting. (2003 Domaine de Penouillet, Beaumes de Vinese, Cotes du Rhone Village and 2003 Rutherford Hill Merlot. I bombed the first one but knew the second was at least Merlot based. Sheesh.).
Much later I realized that if not for those old favorites, many of us may never have discovered “real” wines. And, although I know I’m speaking heresy here, sometimes a cheap wine is the only way to go.
I’m not about to open a bottle of my Kosta Browne Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir to use as a reduction for my caramelized mushrooms. However, an inexpensive bottle of something that is relatively characteristic works just fine. All I need is the wine. Nuances aren’t important.
If I have visitors who don’t care for the impact of a good solid red or who are hanging out during a typical superheated Vegas summer day, then sometimes pulling the cork on a bottle of White Zin (or pulling the spigot from a box) is the only way to go. We’re talking about folks whose favorite wine is, in no uncertain terms, White Zin. It is (last I heard) the best selling varietal and is what saved the Zinfandel grape from almost certain extinction. What can impress many of these folks is White Zin on the rocks with a spritz of soda and a sprig of mint. A refreshing summer drink that even the most die-hard wine cynic can enjoy. So, as you can see, even these wines have their place in the Wineaux’s cellar.
Just stay away from my Kosta Browne.