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Tale of Two Reds – Are All Wine Lovers Eternal Optimists?

January 14, 2019 Leave a comment Go to comments

Let’s talk about red wines. And optimism. The connection between the two? You will see – give me a few minutes.

Let’s start from a simple question – how many chances do you give to a bottle of wine? Fine, let’s rephrase it. You open a bottle of wine. It is not corked, or if you think it is, you are not 100% sure. You taste the wine. The wine is not spoiled, but you don’t like it – doesn’t matter why, we are not interested in the reason – the bottom line is that it doesn’t give you pleasure. What do you do next?

Of course, breathing is the thing. You let the wine breathe – you pour it into a decanter, and let is stand – few hours, at least. You taste it again – and it still doesn’t make you happy. Your next action?

Let’s take a few notes here. First, we are not talking about the wine you feel obliged to drink – it is not a $200 bottle, it is not a first-growth Bordeaux – it is an average bottle of wine, let’s say, of $20-$40 value. Second, it is a quiet evening – let’s say, it is you and your spouse, and you have a luxury of opening another bottle of wine to enjoy.

As we said, two hours in decanter didn’t do anything. And another 4 hours didn’t help either. Or maybe you didn’t use the decanter, as you only wanted a glass, and dealing with moving the wine in and out of decanter was not your priority, so the wine was standing in the open bottle. In any case, it is the end of the day, and it is time to go to sleep – and the wine is still not what you want to drink. What is next?

At this point, you got a few options – leave the bottle on the counter, dump it into the sink, put it aside into the “to cook with” section, or pump the air out and see what the next day will bring. Let’s assume you’ve chosen the latter option, but the next day didn’t improve the situation – for how long will you keep trying?

While I’m sending you on the trip down the memory lane (or maybe not), let me share with you my most recent experience. On December 31st, I opened the bottle of 2012 Codice Citra Laus Vitae Riserva Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOP (14% ABV, $32). I had very high expectations of this bottle for a few reasons. First, the bottle itself is a BAB (for the uninitiated, it stands for Big Ass Bottle – a heavy, thick glass, pleasant to hold, bottle), which always creates high expectations for me. Second, I have high respect to the Montepulciano d’Abruzzo – was surprised with the quality more often than not. Third, I just tasted through the samples of a new line of wines from the same producer, Codice Citra (the line is called Ferzo), four delicious wines, more about it in a later post – obviously, all of this added up to the expectations. Only the first sip delivered nothing but disappointment.

I took a sip of the wine, all ready to say “wow”, and instead the first thought was – “heat damage”? Most prominent note on the palate was stewed fruit, which is definitely a problem for the 6/7 years old wine, clearly meant to have a long cellar life. What happened? Was the wine stored improperly? No way I can pour this to my guests, so put the cork in, pump the air out and let’s see what will happen.

Every day from there on, I would pull the cork out, pour a glass, taste, and sigh. Still, the stewed fruit in various amounts – day three seem to show some improvement only to go back on day 4. Can you see me winding up the drama? What do you expect happened on day 5?

January 4th, I’m pouring another glass, not expecting anything good, but willing to finish the “experiment”, and subconsciously still surprised that BAB didn’t deliver. The first sip extorts “wow” and the thought of “what just happened”? The core of pure, ripe, tart cherries with a touch of a cherry pit, the hallmark of good Montepulciano, is laughing at me. Firm structure, fresh tannins, balancing acidity – the transformation couldn’t have been more dramatic. I thoroughly enjoyed every last drop of that wine, still utterly amazed at how little I understand in the mystery of the wine.

The second wine, which I happened to open a day later, but played with in parallel to the Montepulciano, worked in a very similar fashion. I got the bottle of 2014 Ernesto Catena “Tikal Amorio” Malbec Mendoza Argentina (13.5% ABV, $30) as the present from Chuck Prevatte of Food, Wine, Beer, Travel blog as part of the “Secret Wine Santa” fun originated and run by Jeff Kralik, a.k.a. The Drunken Cyclist. Chuck sent me a bottle with the message that Malbec is his favorite wine, and he was hoping that I will also enjoy his selection.

Okay, so here is another gaping hole in my “I don’t discriminate against any wine” adage – Argentinian Malbec is not my thing. I will gladly jump at Cahors, but given an option, unless I perfectly know the producer and the wine, I will avoid Argentinian Malbec as a generic category (as an example Broquel, Kaiken, Achaval-Ferrer, Trapiche are all on the “good list”). Yes, I will still try the Malbec I don’t know (someone has to eat the broccoli, right?), but only if asked. If you are interested in the reason, it has something to do with the flavor profile – I had a lot of Argentinian Malbecs which lack acidity and have too much of the overripe fruit and baking spices – interestingly enough, that exact flavor profile often wins the “easy to drink” praise among wine consumers.

Anyway, the Tikal Amorio Malbec had a very attractive label and sounded good from the description – the wine was created for the love of the grape and represented a blend of Malbec grapes from 3 different vineyard sites in Mendoza. Besides, it was recommended, so as I was opening the bottle, the thought was a happy “what if…” The first sip, however, brought (I’m sure you guessed it) the “this is why I don’t like the Argentinian Malbec” sigh – flabby fruit, very little acidity, and lots of baking spices. Ooh. I will spare you the day by day description – not much changed over the three days. But on the 4th day… The first sip brought in perfectly ripe blueberries with the core of acidity – nothing flabby, perfect structure, firm, fresh “pop in your mouth” blueberries with undertones of tobacco. The wine beautifully transformed (another mystery), and similarly to the Montepulciano, was gone in no time.

Here it is, my friends, a tale of two reds – and an ode to the optimism, don’t you think? Have you been in a similar situation? What do you do when you discover the wine you don’t like at first sight? How many chances would you give it? Cheers!

  1. January 15, 2019 at 11:20 am

    Very interesting story, thank you for sharing! We had a similar experience with Chateau Lafite 1995. We aerated it in a carafe for 24 hours and then tasted it and it tasted like it was corked. We took it to our dinner at a local restaurant (where we provided many bottles of very nice wine for our families enjoyment) to share with others what a corked bottle of wine tastes like…by then the wine was open 36 hours. We tasted it and it was fabulous!

    • January 15, 2019 at 12:24 pm

      That’s a good story, Becky. The wine is a living thing, so we need to treat it as such – but ohh, we never know. Thanks for reblogging!

  2. January 15, 2019 at 11:22 am

    Reblogged this on BubblyBEE.net and commented:
    A fascinating story…here’s to optimism!

  3. January 15, 2019 at 2:48 pm

    Fascinating story. Perhaps sometimes I decide to pour down the sink too quickly (in my book one doesn’t use a bad wine for cooking). When the acidity is too high, it usually won’t get better, but I haven’t tried waiting for more than two days yet. Thanks for the inspiration to try 4 or 5 days next time!

    • January 15, 2019 at 4:06 pm

      I had similar situations few times in the past, but the wine never appeared flawed. If I get tannins grip and full absence of any fruit, I know that I need to wait – had a bottle of 11 years old Dunn Howell Mountain Cab, and had to wait for 5 days for it to become delicious from just a tannic bomb. But this was the first time I thought the wine was spoiled, and it transformed.

      Yes, give it a try next time!

      • January 16, 2019 at 1:30 am

        I often have wines that appear flawed or ‘over the hill’ (albeit not corked) that ‘clear up’ after a few minutes or perhaps an hour. If a wine first seems corked and then isn’t, I’d say it was another problem than corked in the first place, a term that I reserve for contamination with TCA.

  4. January 22, 2019 at 2:07 pm

    Wines can be so hit or miss. It’s hard to know when to open them. I would have had high expectations for the Italian wine, 2012 Codice Citra Laus Vitae Riserva Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOP. We have made a lot of Italian friends in Saint Louis, and the wine they serve always seem to be delicious (though we are not experts, like you!). Malbec seems to disappoint us lately. We first got into them because of the large Argentinian population in Cleveland at the big research hospitals, when Greg was a med student. I think that the vineyards have lowered their standards due to need to overproduce for Americans who just want a “Malbec.”

    • January 22, 2019 at 9:57 pm

      There are many factors which affect taste of the wine. In case of Montepulciano, this was quite possibly my fault – I should’ve decanted the wine for 3-4 hours instead of waiting for 5 days – but I don’t know. As far as Argentinian Malbecs are concerned, as a category, it never was my favorite – however, if you will look for producers I mentioned in the text, there is a very good chance you will like them.

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