June 17, 2006

Wherein bad wine is apparently good

Sometimes wine just makes me scratch me head. Despite the subjectivity of taste, I still think I know good wine from bad. But then I go and try something popular with the critics and subsequently the masses, and I feel completely lost and disconnected from my fellow humans.

Case in point - the 2004 Las Rocas de San Alejandro Garnacha. This is Spanish red wine made from the grenache grape, the king of the southern Rhone Valley in France and hardly anywhere else.

Along comes Spain, with seemingly endless tracts of old and young wine grenache that is allegedly - if you believe what you read - taking over the wine world with some of the best quality wine for the money anywhere.

Las Rocas, a co-op wine from the Calatayud region, has a few vintages of glowing reviews from the tastemaker himself, Robert Parker. Do a quick Google search and you'll find bloggers drooling over this stuff. So I see a bottle of the latest release for $10, which isn't as cheap as you can find this...wine elsewhere, and listen carefully the wine clerk's assurance, "I think you'll really like this wine," and toss a bottle in the grocery cart. Never mind that the clerk doesn't know anything about me or my taste in wine. Who needs to know any of that? This is good wine, everybody knows it, so naturally I'll enjoy it.

I get home and open the wine, pour a glass and notice a seemingly unnatural purple color. This is grenache, which even with the best producers tends to give a cherry red wine (if not something much lighter). But this wine looks more like motor oil, with an oily sheen and a violet tinge to the black/red color.

I smell the wine. Burnt rubber tires, stewed cherries and plums, pepper (this is grenache after all), and strange vegetal fruit syrup aromas. This is a winner - weirdest wine of the year, to date. What is this? Who did what to common grapes to end up with this? Can a wine smell harsh? This one does.

Reluctantly, I taste the wine. It's predictably sweet and fleshy, with warm alcohol and possibly a touch of residual sugar, cola flavors with berries, that vegetal syrup thing, more burnt rubber tires, low acid until a strange, false sense of acidity pokes holes in the revolting flavor, gracelessly but happily ending the experience.

I smell the wine again. It's still the same. I taste it again. No change.

Honestly, if I made this wine - and make no mistake, this wine is true creation - I would think it should be sold off in bulk. In winespeak, it's clearly reductive, which can go away with exposure to air. But it also seems to show mercapten, which isn't so easily reversible. Mercapten is the nasty stuff they put into odorless natural gas so you'll smell as gas leak. So that the smell is nasty enough that you'll do something about it. Quickly.

No, this is critically acclaimed wine recommended by wine retailers, resold by wine bloggers, and apparently loved by the masses. Great value, terrific QPR, back up the truck, buy it by the case.

But I'm left thirsty and in a foul mood for having wasted time and money on this wine. Not to mention the fracture in my soul for knowing such wines exist and that I clearly can't tell you what will appeal to the average person. So note that and read further entries in this journal accordingly. You've been warned.


Marshall Manning said...

Dude, to a lot of people a dark purple color, intense front palate fruit and a big burst of alcohol are all signals of a really good wine. How do you think 90% of the CA wineries stay in business?

Vincent Fritzsche said...

A little tardy on the reply, but honestly, how do people get past the vegetal streaks in these "great value" cheap wines? The Panarroz red from Spain is another example, though in truth one bottle of it tasted really good. But every other time I came across this wine, cheap green grape juicy wine. How is that popular? How is that the sign of a really good wine?

Marshall Manning said...

Honestly, I don't know. I get the same kind of thing from a lot of the big name CA wines (Turley, SQN). There's a lot of up front fruit, but then the rear palate seems thin, weedy, and without any depth or complexity.

I'd rather look for good $15 wine that's closed out at $10 than buy any $10 wines...they all seem to have that cheap, buttered-popcorn thing (whether it's yeast or oak) and never seem to have much interest.

Rube said...

What do you mean by the term reductive?