March 01, 2008

Wine As Background Music

I love music, but the older I get, the more music seems to be in the background of my life. In my teen years, I largely spent weekend nights with friends in secondhand record shops -- usually Rhino in Westwood. We'd always go straight home to listen intently to our latest purchases. These days, music is mostly something I listen to alone, unless we have friends over. Only then we rarely listen to the music. It's usually just background noise.

Wine seems to be similar. With non-wine geek friends, wine becomes background music, something considered for ambiance. At the least, something that should be inoffensive. But I wish you could talk about the background music more without interrupting the evening. Especially if you want to be a bit critical.

For example, the other night our neighbors had us over and we drank the 2006 Gascon Malbec from Argentina, which seems to be the latest brand to saturate the local market. To my taste it was sweet, either from sugar or some other enhancements that give a sweet impression, and had a "liquid smoke" smell and taste that just repulsed me.

I countered with two wines, one a 2006 Casa Silva Carmenere Reserva that I'd opened the night before as an experiment. I never drink Chilean wine after tasting too many long ago and learning to hate the weedy, vegetal flavor that seemed pervasive in the category. Then I heard about Casa Silva on a GrapeRadio podcast that mentioned their syrah, with the suggestion that things have changed in Chile. Researching the producer on the internet, I found positive tasting notes on this Carmenere, which is available locally. I bought one and wouldn't you know it -- it has all the vegetal notes of the old days of Chile. But this wine, like so many others these days, has twice or three times the level of extraction and a most unoriginal mix of unripe and overripe qualities that defy taste imagination. This is simply bad merlot.

Of course, the wine geek pick didn't do much better. The 1998 Chateau la Roque Pic St. Loup Cupa Numismae from southern France smelled and tasted a bit old though the cork looked fine and storage hasn't been an issue. The last bottle was considerably richer and youthful, but this one was more gamey and lean with some bottle sweetness but some oxidation as well. Still, I'd rather drink this flawed example of a good wine, but I'm sure the non-geeks hated it. But who knows? We didn't discuss the wines, and I'm not sure how much we even heard them. But like the other two bottles, we had no problem consuming this one. The background music keeps playing.

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