Tag Archives: red

wine worth fighting for

i never really wanted to visit alabama. but after this week’s news – that the state has banned one of my all-time favorite cheapo wines for (get this) nudity on the art deco label of cycles gladiator wines – i’m pretty sure i never want to step foot on any of that sweet southern soil.

the powers that be – in this case, the ABC (alcoholic beverage council) claim that they were responding to citizen complaints about the wine in restaurants and liquor stores. according to the ABC, the wine’s label, which features a relatively well-known art-deco photo of a woman riding a bicycle, falls under laws banning the display of “a person posed in an immoral or sensuous manner.”

(read the full story here.)

i know what you’re thinking.

in an age where every one of paris hilton’s 2,000 parts is readily on display, and the kardashian derriere is as in-your-face as the reality tv show she stars in, this label must be particularly obscene, right? it must be really graphic – certainly closer to soft-porn than oh, say, the cosmo i picked up yesterday… right?



i’m sorry, but playboy, this is not.

if this is the sort of thing that the citizens of alabama want to get their panties in a twist about, they really need to get out more. forget the paris hiltons of the world. nudity in the form of art is some of the most ancient and beautiful.  have the members of the ABC ever seen statues of venus de milo, or michelangelo’s “david?”


(are those male genitals? oh my god. kids, avert your eyes.)

to me, the decision to ban gladiator says a lot about what’s wrong with some of our culture’s attitude towards sexuality. when a group of people demonize anything that even vaguely resembles the natural human form; when they turn a blind eye towards art and beauty and see only smut and salaciousness – we’ve got a huge problem.

we’re not protecting children from pornography. we’re instilling them with fear and distrust towards something that should be respected, enjoyed, and appreciated.

ahem. sorry. i promised myself that i would avoid the soapbox in this entry, but now i find myself climbing off of it… and attempting to get back to the reason why this wine is worth seeking out (and, if you’re in alabama, sneaking across the border – ooh, how prohibition-esque of you).

gladiator has long been one of my favorite bargain wines.  the most commonly available one – the cabernet sauvignon ($6-8) – is smooth, without the bitey, acidic finish often found in less well-made reds at this price point. it is a fruity, well-rounded cab with enough tannins to give the wine some backbone, but not so much that it’s not palatable without a juicy steak.

the gladiator wines (the label sells several other varietals, including syrah, chardonnay, and pinot grigio) are all affordable enough to have with dinner on any night of the week, and the stylized (or sexually explicit, depending on your point of view) label makes it perfectly suitable to bring to a friend’s place, or buy for a gift. each of the wines are incredibly good values for the price. they’re pretty widely available – you should be able to find them at any major liquor store.

and lucky for the rest of us, there are about 500 cases of gladiator making their way into liquor stores and restaurants…

straight from the sin-free state of alabama.

the wine: Cycles Gladiator Cabernet Sauvignon
composition: 100% Cab
hails from: Central Coast, California
flavor profile: Strong notes of berry, mocha, and a hint of mint. Sinfully delicious.
tannins: They’re there, but they won’t hurt you.
approximate cost:


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through a glass, darkly

i’ve never been one to wax poetic about the proper accouterments for fine wine appreciation. to me, most wines are enhanced but not transformed by drinking out of a good wine glass, as much as a matter of style as of substance. just like i’d smoke cigarettes in a heartbeat if there were a nicotine-free version that tasted like, oh, dark chocolate. (the backward swing of the wrist, the smooth puff outward. it just looks so goddamn glamorous. sigh.)


fortunately, a sturdy, well-made wine glass will neither give you cancer nor ruin your palette – in fact, it might enhance it mightily.

i was reminded of this reality a few weekends ago, when i brought a bottle of 2005 cumulus climbing shiraz to a friend’s house for some pre-bar relaxation (does that sound more grown-up than pregaming? i hope so).


the climbing shiraz tasted fine to me – peppery, as a shiraz should taste, without a ton of complexity. granted, it could have benefited from a a few years of age – but at a very reasonable price of $12, i would be hard-pressed to cellar this sucker.

drinking now, the climbing shiraz is heavy on the plum flavors with some blackberry and the requisite oaky shiraz smoke. it tasted absolutely succulent with the decadent dark chocolate moonstruck truffles my friend erin generously shared with me.



thrilled with the taste combo, i offered some to my friend megan. we were clean out of good wine glasses, and the bar’s siren song was getting louder by the minute. so, i committed what i consider to be a pretty venial sin. i poured some of the climbing shiraz into megan’s solo cup.

the look on her face was classic.

“euh!” she attempted to feign a half-smile.

“that wine is SALTY!”

she took another sip. i could tell this was pure torture for her. had some evil gnome attacked her tastebuds? were we even drinking the same thing?

suddenly, it hit me. the difference was the cup. in my big red glass, the climbing shiraz had some breathing room – something incredibly important for all wines, but even more so (i would argue) for so-called ‘value buys.’

shakespeare once said that some people are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them. i firmly believe that the same is true of wine. some are perfect right from the vineyard, some are savory after a few years in-cellar, and some… really need help. for this third category – the value vino that i know and often love so dearly – a decent wine glass can elevate a barely tolerable drink to a very quaffable one.

i offered megan my cup, suggesting that she try my climbing shiraz once more – this time, in a proper glass. she was amazed – she claimed that it hardly tasted like the same wine!

there is a very real science to the selection of a proper wine glass. in the instance of a shiraz, the wine needs to be channeled down the center and towards the back of the tongue, largely bypassing the tastebuds that detect sourness and saltiness (or tannins, in this case) and emphasizing the fuller characteristics of the wine.



don’t get me wrong. i’m not saying that there’s any need to go purchasing a new set of stemware for every type of wine (though the folks at glassmaker riedel would have you think it’s necessary – they have glasses for drinks from A to Z; apricot liquor to zwetchkenwasser. don’t believe me? check out the wine and glass pairing guide here.)

regardless, a proper wine glass can tangibly enhance your tasting experience. cheap wine in a good glass might still be cheap wine, but i guarantee that it’ll go down easier.

the wine: 2005 Cumulus Climbing Shiraz
composition: 100% Shiraz
hails from: Orange, Australia
flavor profile: Strong plum and jam, with a smoky, hearty underbelly
tannins: Extremely evident
approximate cost:
I paid $12 at my dad’s liquor store (thanks dad!) but you’re more likely to find it around $17.


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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).


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:

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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.


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
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:

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