bottle lust

Friday night.

I mosey into the wine store, fully prepared to spend at least a half hour meandering. As I stroll through the aisles, I pause to read the posted reviews or to note the price of a favorite vintage. My fingers glide over the smooth, cool bottles, as if mere touch could summon the taste of the contents inside.

Sometimes, I manage to play it safe, and come home with a delicious-but-predictable bottle of Cycles Gladiator or Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc. But more often than not, a more daring bottle beckons and accompanies me home. Sometimes I’m lured by the label: embossed, perhaps, or monochromatic. Other times it’s the name: quirky over cute or profane, but always offbeat.

Either way, I’m a sucker when it comes to judging wine by its bottle. It’s gotten me in trouble more times than I can count.

Not so with VOGA Quattro ($10).

quattrobottlelowres

Quattro is a Sicilian merlot varietal with obnoxiously chic packaging and a publicity campaign to match. (Seriously. The VOGA website’s Flash intro could double as a rookie marketing campaign for D&G.)

The streamlined VOGA bottle certainly stands out from its curvy companions on the wine shelf – much like the VOSS water that I’m convinced it ganked its look from:

vossCoincidence? I think not.

Experience has made me careful. Countless cases of bottle lust have have taught me that, like men, wines with suave packaging often conceal swill-infested interiors.

But with Quattro, I do believe I’ve struck the (pre-Goodwill Hunting) Ben Affleck of wines: devastatingly good looking, but as yet unspoiled by its own beauty.

Quattro isn’t the best value for the money, and aside from its looks, it doesn’t do much to distinguish itself from the pack.  It’s a fruit-forward, medium-bodied, clean merlot with good strong structure and a juicy finish. It’s decent with or without food. It’s available at almost any liquor store. And it looks damn good on my kitchen counter.

But Ben Affleck would look better.

the wine: 2007 voga quattro merlot
composition: this version is 100% straight merlot varietal, but previous vintages incorporate shiraz, pinot noir, and cabernet.
hails from: sicily, italy
flavor profile: full and balanced, straightforwardly fruity, a moderate wine in the tradition of chianti
tannins: low to medium
approximate cost:
$9-11

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sweet dilemma.

it’s spring, and i’m a cheat.

as the weather in new york has shifted, so have my tastes in wine. in the course of a few weeks, i’ve shamelessly abandoned my wintertime lovers – strong, heavy, hedonistic reds with a ton of juice and tannins for days – for light and airy whites that look nothing like their dark and handsome counterparts.

suddenly, i can’t stop buying bright spanish albarinos, apple-tart verdejos, and new york rieslings that would shudder at the touch of oak. floral, fresh, light, sweet: i’ll take it, without a backward glance at the thick reds that filled my glass and warmed me during those endless chilly nights.

as long as i’ve admitted to playing fast and loose with my wine morals, i may as well make another confession: this spring, i’ve strayed from the semi-predictable world of traditional whites to the schizophrenically-confusing california varietal.

it’s not an easy wine to love. some are amazing, some amazingly bad.

amazing: caymus’ conundrum ($26).

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perhaps fittingly, i first tasted conundrum during one of my first nights in grad school. condundrum is only offered by the bottle at alto cinco, but the bartender that evening had a table who had left a bottle unfinished. (quel horreur!)

it was my lucky night.

condundrum is, without question, the most perfectly balanced white wine i’ve ever come across. it’s silky and lush, with a slight citrus bite working in perfect counterpoint to a soft, vanilla-floral backdrop.

it’s jaw-droppingly, mind-numbingly, drink-a-whole-bottle-without-a-second-thought good.

it’s also way out of my price range. talk about a conundrum!

(ba-da-bah! i’ll be here all night.)

so, like any good pauper, i’ve taken to searching for a decent imitation.

problem is, the quest for a passable conundrum knockoff is turning out to be as difficult as finding a perfect chanel bag replica in the backstreets of chinatown. maybe even harder. i’ve tried several, which i’ll be reviewing in future posts. some are passable, and some are downright good, but all of them pale in comparison to my beloved blend.

no matter the difficulties. i’ll keep looking.  it’s bad enough to be cheating on reds this spring. i hate to think how my wallet is feeling.

the wine: 2007 caymus conundrum
composition: only the vintners know; that’s the conundrum. according to the website, it’s a blend of napa valley sauvignon blanc, tulare county muscat, chardonnay and viognier grapes. a little of this and a little of that, really.
hails from: monterey, california
flavor profile: smooth and bright, citrusy and fragrant.
tannins: peek out from behind, lending structure and complexity to the wine (about 3/4 of the conundrum grapes are oak-aged)
accolades: 88 pts., wine spectator
approximate cost:
$25-28

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gren-ache

headaches are a sort of work-related injury for wine lovers. for most, it’s a sign of one (or two, or five) too many, but for connoisseurs truly serious about their work, it’s a sure indicator of a job well done.

i’ve been waking up with a low-grade headache for several days now – and i couldn’t be happier about it. the culprit: evodia grenache, a truly phenomenal spanish red.

i learned about evodia a few weeks ago, when i showed up at pascale’s liquors looking for my favorite house red, cycles gladiator. pascale’s didn’t have gladiator, but the george harrison lookalike on the sales floor recommended evodia.

i didn’t know much about grenache – the peppery, high-alcohol grape found mostly in france and spain – except that i’d once had it as a varietal, blended with australian syrah. at $10.99, evodia was definitely a bargain, but considering that gladiator is even more grad-student-budget-friendly at $7.99 a bottle, evodia felt like an indulgence at the time. fortunately, i’m a sucker for guys with beatles-esque haircuts – and prettily modernistic wine labels.

evodia

that night, i uncorked evodia – and was blown away. the tannins in evodia are practically nonexistent, making it the perfect red to drink without a juicy steak or a hunk of brie. it’s juicy and fruit-forward, with bright and luscious flavors of raspberry, plum, jam and pepper infusing the wine with complexity. though it’s insanely drinkable, it’s 14.5% alcohol. this fact alone makes the morning-after gren-ache practically inevitable.

it hurts so good.

the wine: 2007 evodia grenache
composition:
100% old vine grenache
hails from: calatayud, spain
flavor profile: bright and juicy. clobbered me with fruit, but left with a peppery finish.
tannins: practically nonexistent
accolades: 88 pts., wine spectator
approximate cost:
$10-12

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