March 03, 2010

2003 Fortia Chateauneuf Cuvee du Baron

I've been thinking lately about my wine buying habits and wine cellar. I'm a cheapskate, so I generally buy things that I find tremendously underpriced. That means my cellar is a mish mash of things that pretty much only have one thing in common -- they were incredible deals. That doesn't mean I have a cellar full of wines I don't like. Instead, I don't have a cellar full of wines I specifically picked to be in the cellar. That's a big difference. Part of me is ok with that. What's the fun and where's the exploration if you know you like certain producers, even great producers, and then go out and stock your cellar with them? Then again, how insane is it to have lots of producers you know are really good and not have them in your cellar, because you found other stuff cheaper? That's not exactly how it is with me. I do have some near and dear things in the cellar. B it's not completely off base. Ultimately, my cellar is full of experiments, some very successful and others very promising. I don't buy without discrimination. It's just so random.

So it seems clear to me that I need to focus more on things I know I like, or have more of a vested interest in besides being a good deal. I need to get over the hesitancy of paying a little more for those wines. I don't think doing that means giving up the surprise and exploration that intrigues me about wine. Every bottle is a surprise. Perhaps part of what holds me back is the dashed expectation of something you bought with so much intention, and maybe cash, that doesn't deliver. That's much easier to take with something you were experimenting with, and didn't cost much. Ultimately, I look at my nearly 400 bottle cellar and wonder if I'd be happier with it if I have 100 fewer bottles and a higher percentage of less experimental things. Then again, there are many excellent wines down in the basement and I know I don't overpay.

To ponder all this, I opened a prime example of what I'm getting at. Here's the 2003 Ch. Fortia Chateauneuf du Pape Cuvee de Baron. Fortia is a terrific value producer in one of my old favorite appellations. Fortia isn't as interesting to me as Vieux Telegraph, Bois du Boursan, or a few other Chateauneuf producers I've enjoyed over the years. And 2003 isn't my favorite vintage. Hot, hot hot, in weather and often in wine. But I see a local shop with this on the shelf for $20 and I can't help trying it.

The color is ruddy ruby, the aroma intense and intoxicating. There's no shortage of alcohol here, though with a burly wine like Chateauneuf I'm more tolerant of alcohol levels. I love peppery, almost Burgundian Chateauneuf. This isn't that, but I like it just the same. There's lots of kirschwasser, flowers and meat aromas and pretty good freshness. The palate is where this hurts. The alcohol is just too much. Everything else is great. Lovely savory cherry fruit, hot stones, dried meat flavors, and chewy tannic grip. There's just too much alcohol burn through the mid and especially on the finish, scalding the palate. Overall I find this wine enjoyable but flawed, sort of like a person you like but who has a serious flaw that you can't overlook. For a cut rate, I'm happy trying it. But this isn't a wine I need in the cellar. You might think it wouldn't require such reflection to undersand and, more importantly, act on such truth. For me apparently things aren't immediately so clear. I do think I'm seeing the light. However, if you see me at check out with the next "incredible deal," go easy on me. It might take a little time to turn this ship around.

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