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In-Store Review: Melodía Malbec 2007 March 14, 2014

Posted by Alex Sawit in About Wine.
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By Alex Sawit

March 14, 2014

 

——————————————–

OUR WINE RATING GUIDE

                                 10 = Great
                                   9 = Exceptionally Good
                                   8 = Very Good
                                   7 = Good
                                   6 = Above Fair
                                   5 = Fair
                                   4 = Poor
                                   3 = Very Poor
                                   2 = Horrifically Poor
                                   1 = Abominable

To learn more, click here.

——————————————–

 

You know how folks always taught us not to judge a book by its cover?

Back in the 20th century (if you still remember what life was like before the internet, along with the resulting habit of hanging out at the neighborhood Starbucks for overpriced coffee and free WiFi), if you wanted to research on whether that bottle of wine you saw at the grocery was worth buying, you did it the old-fashioned way. You either asked a friend whose knowledge about wine you trusted or you leafed through a magazine stack of Wine Spectator to read the review. And if you couldn’t do either, you had no choice but to gamble on it.

So, wine merchants advised that if you had nothing else to guide you but your gut instinct, you should do this: judge the wine by how nice the bottle looks. In other words, judge the book by its cover.

Sounds childish? Actually, there’s practical sense in what the wine merchants advised. Making good wine is an art and a labor of love, they told us, and a good wine maker is always an artist. A wine maker who cares enough to craft his grapes into beautiful wine will also care enough to put it in a decent bottle. It doesn’t have to appear fancy; regardless of design, the bottle and especially the label should simply look well-crafted with quality. A sloppy, cheap-looking label, the merchants warned, tells you that this is likely a cheap-tasting wine from an uncaring wine maker. If it looks expensive, chances are it tastes that way too.

A lot has changed since the last century. The average Filipino wine drinker is now more knowledgeable, more discriminating. Plus, everything is available to read online. Nevertheless, the old-school advice of the wine merchants still works when you need it, which is exactly what I proved to myself with the Melodía Malbec 2007.

Originally from Bordeaux, Malbec is now famous as Argentina’s signature varietal. In France, it’s a tough, aggressive grape used primarily for blending, but in Argentina the soil and climate conspire to make a richer yet more elegantly full-bodied red that is a star on its own.

Melodía’s Malbec debuted at Cyrano thanks to Norma, the genteel lady who imports it from Argentina (the wine maker, Jorge, is her cousin, who produces very restricted quantities of wine from his family estate, which is located in one of the most admired wine districts in the country). As I explained in my previous post, I didn’t know a thing about Melodía winery when Norma first showed up at our doorstep. But she told such a lovely story about the passion of the wine maker that it made me believe, and I ordered from her without sampling anything first.

All I know is that when Norma showed me the bottle, I couldn’t stop enjoying it visually. Physically, it’s hefty, wide at the shoulders and tapering slightly toward the bottom. South American wineries traditionally save heavy bottles like this for their best reds – to showcase the weight of their accomplishment, so to speak. It’s one indication that this is probably something the wine maker takes special pride in.

But it was the simple, seductive beauty of the label that convinced me that this has to be a good bottle of vino. It’s just very well art-directed. At the top is written, “Melodía por J, Benites”, followed by the varietal name and vintage year, all set against a stylish, embossed wallpaper of sheet music. Norma explained that her cousin plays a classical instrument, which leads me to the fascinating presumption that the wine maker has left an actual melody on every bottle for customers to play.

 

Care to try the sheet music on violin or piano?

 

That was months ago and I’ve been recommending Melodía Malbec to customers ever since. I’m even happy to report that everyone who has tried it has become a fan.

And here’s the funny part: I only bothered to try it myself about two weeks ago.

I like the deep, powerful expressiveness of a solidly good Argentine Malbec. That’s what Melodía is. Newly poured, it reminds me of the rustic aroma of rich, fruity Brazilian drip coffee with hints of smokiness, along with a shot of Crème de Violette on the side, but after an hour of breathing it settles into a kind of creamy Italian espresso.

I’m used to good Malbec being on the thick side but this Melodía is far more finessed. Wine maker Jorge Benites practices extended aging in the bottle to give more gracefulness to his wines before they are released to buyers. Add the fact that this is already a seven year-old vintage and you have a full-bodied wine with velvety tannins. The flavors, too, are excellently ripened, like a smooth ristretto of Arabica downed after a teaspoon of old-fashioned blueberry preserve, finished with a tiny bite of chili black chocolate.

Looking back, I guess my subconscious was telling me to put that old-school advice of the wine merchants to the test. I kept waiting for a customer to step forward, saying, “I hate this wine! What? You haven’t tried it? And you had the nerve to recommend it?” I kept waiting to be proven wrong. But everyone just kept loving it.

Now that I’ve tasted it, I love it too. It’s just one vintage, I know, and I have no way of knowing if Melodía will be consistent with future releases. Goodness knows, I’ve been burned in the past by stocking up wines that were good one year and then awful the next. But I’m old-school about stuff like this. I trusted my gut instinct before about Melodía and I’m getting the same feeling now.

Melodía Malbec is here at Cyrano to stay.

 

 

 

CYRANO’S RATING:

  EXCEPTIONALLY GOOD (Score 8.5)

 

Wine: Melodia Malbec 2007

Grape: Malbec 100%

Country: Argentina

Wine Region:
  Mendoza (Central)
  – Vineyard in Agrelo, Luján de Cuyo

Ageing:
  8 months in 100% French oak
  Minimum 12 months in the bottle

Production:
  1,300 cases (12 bottles each)

Suggested Food Pairing:
– Bistecca Fiorentina
– Manchego Cheese

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Sweet Melody March 5, 2014

Posted by Alex Sawit in About Wine, Stuff in General.
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By Alex Sawit

March 05, 2014

 

As curator of a wine shop, I don’t like offering stuff that I wouldn’t care to drink myself. My longtime suppliers know that if they bring something new for me and I feel that it doesn’t taste the way I like it for my customers, I won’t carry it. That’s why Cyrano friends feel they can trust what’s on our shelves. They know that as a general rule, our wines have already been properly vetted for them. Repeat: “As a general rule.”

Well, here’s the happy story of why I broke my own rule.

It was late one afternoon, the start of the work day for me, and I had just parked my car around the block from the shop. I was getting ready to exit when my cellphone rang, the incoming call displaying an unlisted number, and I answered it.

A lady’s voice inquired in a soothing Hispanic accent if I was the manager of Cyrano. I said yes. The caller introduced herself as Norma Nolly, an importer of wines from Argentina, and she asked if she could present her brands. Sure, I said, thinking we could meet another day.

“I can meet this evening,” she replied.

“Oh, uh…yeah, sure thing,” I kind of said.

An hour or so later, a taxi pulled up in front of the shop. A tall, dark-haired, Española-looking lady in jeans and high heels got out, gingerly cradling a carton of half-a-dozen wines as she walked up our front steps accompanied by a teenage girl with curly locks. I opened the door for Norma and her daughter, and asked them to make themselves at home (her daughter being more fluent in English from growing up for a while in the Philippines, she acted as defacto translator, explaining to her mom the nuances of my idiomatic expressions).

Listening to Norma making her sales pitch was a pleasantly surreal experience. Her softness of speech and gentleness of manner was so calming yet she was clearly passionate about the wines she was presenting. Although she did not open any of them for tasting that night, she went through each bottle as if she was taking great pride to show me freshly baked goodies that she was pulling hot from the oven, one tray at a time.

I’d never met a supplier who was so personally involved in the product. Yet nothing about what I’d seen made me think that she was a veteran wine merchant. So I asked her the obvious. She said that after she arrived in the Philippines with her husband and daughter a couple of years ago, it wasn’t long before she started feeling unproductive with just being a housewife.

“I am from Argentina,” she said with sweet satisfaction. “So I think, why not start a business to promote famous products of Argentina? Why not show the Filipinos the wines of my country?”

It was perfect, she realized, because her cousin runs a small wine estate in Mendoza. She showed me a bottle of wine, on which the name Melodía was printed on the label (say, “melo-dee-ya”). “That is my cousin,” she said, pointing to the writing on the label that said, “J. Benites”.

Call it intuition but there was something about the name Melodía that intrigued me, so I asked Norma if there was a story behind it. A big smile came over her face. “Ah, my cousin,” she said. “He wanted a new name for his wine.”

“For a long time, he could not think of a name. One day, he was relaxing in his vineyard. He was looking at the vineyard. It was a beautiful day. The sky was blue, the leaves in the trees were making happy sounds because of the wind, the birds were singing, he could hear how quiet it was in his vineyard, he could hear everything. He felt so happy.”

Norma’s gesturing hands raised themselves to shoulder level, pausing in the air for effect as she concluded her story.

“It was music to him. And he just felt so happy.”

“Norma,” I said slowly. “Your story makes me think of a poem written in Spanish. The name of the poem is Oda al Vino. It’s all about the song of the vineyard, just like the happiness of your cousin. It was written by a famous poet from Chile, named Pablo Neruda.”

Norma’s eyes lit up.

“Ah, Pablo Neruda!” she exclaimed in delight. “Yes, I know him, he is very famous! I visited his house at Isla Negra in Chile. It is in Valparaíso, by the sea. It is so beautiful there!”

I paused. I sighed.

“You know what,” I finally said. “You got me. I love that story about your cousin and you got me at that story. I’m getting your wine.”

Just like that, I ordered the Melodía wine range for our wine shop without having tasted a single drop first – Chardonnay Extra Brut, Malbec Rosé Brut, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec.

Just like that…

“You didn’t bother to try it and you still ordered it?” exclaimed my astonished business partner Joco when I told him the next day. He was actually not disapproving, just amused by my emotional decision.

“It’s a wonderful story,” I told him, feeling even more amused than he was. “And it tells me something important about Norma’s cousin, something very meaningful. A winemaker who is that romantic about his vineyard is a winemaker with true heart. He really cares about his wine. That means we can trust what he makes.”

In fact, here’s what the winemaker says on the back label of each bottle:

“We believe that wine is the song of the land,” writes Jorge Benites. “One of your favorite melodies to be treasured during the memorable moments with family and friends.”

It’s many weeks later and I’m happy to say that I made the right call. Melodía is now one of the favorite brands of customers at the shop. “It’s awesome,” said our neighbor Christina, who regularly drops in late at night to take out some wine and who is now a big fan of the Melodía Malbec. “I liked the Cabernet too but the Malbec was awesome.”

Here’s the funny part: I just recently got to taste the Malbec myself and I agree, it really is awesome.

I don’t expect to be breaking my own rule again any time soon. But props to both of you, Norma and Jorge. At least now I know what it would take for it to happen again; I’ll be good with that if it ever does.

It just takes a sweet melody.

 

 

 

 

 

Ode to Wine October 18, 2013

Posted by Alex Sawit in About Wine, Stuff in General.
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By Alex Sawit

October 19, 2013

 

 

 

In for a penny, in for a pound.

After completing my translation of Neruda’s Sonnet No. 12, I then decided to also translate his poem, Ode to Wine. This is another Neruda poem that I felt I could render into English better, especially given my insights in the wine business. In other translations, crucial details of the wine story get lost due to the translators’ lack of familiarity with winemaking traditions, which is a pity because the poem is an honest window into Neruda’s rich vineyard experiences (for instance, the poem actually describes the vineyard sights he encountered on the stunning Mediterranean isle of Capri).

I used the same translation software for Ode to Wine that I used for the sonnet to generate lines of raw English text from the original Spanish. But unlike my previous effort where I first examined other English versions before proceeding, this time I took the lines of raw text and then crafted them into the most meaningful interpretations, only after which did I check the versions of other translators to see if they compared favorably.

All this has given me a more profound opinion of Neruda as a fellow wine drinker. So just like before, I invite Neruda fans who may disagree with my translation to come to the shop for a friendly debate over a bottle of something nice. Because for me, his poem is the most magnificent tribute to the love of wine that has ever been written. I’m glad I got it right. Cheers!

 

 

Ode to Wine

by Pablo Neruda

 

Wine the color of day,

wine the color of night,

wine with purple feet

or topaz blood,

wine,

starry son

of the earth,

wine, smooth

like a saber of gold,

suave

like a decadent velvet feel,

wine decanted in a spiral seashell

and suspended,

amorous,

marine,

you’ve never belonged in one cup,

in one song, in one man,

chorus-like, gregarious are you,

and at least, feeling’s mutual.

Sometimes

you feed on our memories

of fatalistic melancholy,

sloshed in your wave

tumbling in tomb dead drunk we go,

you mason of this stone-cold sepulcher,

and we cry

passing tears,

but

to be in your handsome

picnic suit

is a different scene,

the heart rises to the treetops,

the rustling breeze keeps the day going,

nothing is left unmoved

within your immovable soul.

The vintage

puts in motion the springtime bustle,

the joy of winemaking grows like a plant,

derelict walls are felled,

vineyard-laden cliffs are beheld,

the steep drops are closed,

the song is born.

Oh thou, jug of wine, in the desert

with the tasty woman whom I adore,

songfully recited the old bard.

Now that be the pitcher of wine

whose kiss complements the kiss of love.
 

My love, instantly

your hip

is the full curve

of the wine cup,

your bosom is the bunched fruit of the vine,

the bright teardrop lines of the alcohol your hair,

the grapes your nipples,

your navel the vintner’s genuine seal

stamped on your wine vessel womb,

and your love the cascade

of wine inextinguishable,

the clarity that illuminates my senses,

the earthly splendor of life.
 

Yet no true love,

burning kiss

or heart consumed with fire

are you, wine of life,

but for

the friendship of others, in the open,

in the conducted chorus of song,

in the abundant flowering of conviviality.

I love having on a table,

when engaged in conversation,

the light of a bottle

of intelligent wine.

That in drinking it,

I remember in every

drop of gold

or cup of topaz

or spoon of purple

that job that is the autumn harvest

all the way to the filling of wine in the vessels

and the man who seeks illumination learns,

in the ritual celebration of his business,

to remember the land and his duties,

to propagate the sacred song of the fruit.
 

 

 

Translated by Alex Sawit
October 19, 2013

 

 

 

 

 

In-Store Review: Laurus Syrah 2007 January 11, 2011

Posted by Alex Sawit in About Wine, Reviews.
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By Alex Sawit

11 January 2011

 

——————————————–

OUR WINE RATING GUIDE

                                 Great = 10
                                 Exceptionally Good = 9
                                 Very Good = 8
                                 Good = 7
                                 Extra Fair = 6
                                 Fair = 5
                                 Poor = 4
                                 Very Poor = 3
                                 Horrifically Poor = 2
                                 Abominable = 1

To learn more, click here.

——————————————–

 

Many years ago, I asked a sweet old Spanish lady to explain to me what a salerosa is.

Although no one really says this Hispanic word in the Philippines anymore, I’d heard that generations ago it was eagerly exclaimed by smitten colonial bachelors, who used it to describe the bewitching mestizas of our country whom they fell madly in love with. The lady explained it to me vaguely, however. She simply said that a salerosa is a pretty girl with a certain something. “It means cute,” she cheerfully added after phoning a friend just to offer me a second opinion.

But there are cute girls and then there are cute girls. Reading between the lines, I realized that no proper Spanish lady could bring herself to explain it any further, especially to a young man. Only gentlemen of a bygone era were free to talk about the fairer sex that poignantly. How the world has changed. Nowadays we vulgar brutes just say, “Dude, that chick is ******* hot!”

I’ve been using this elegant word ever since.

But being a wine lover, I also find it fun to describe a sensuous, luscious bodied, amorously arousing wine that catches my fancy as a “salerosa” (the last time was for a pair of Chilean beauties, whose Hispanic backgrounds made the description perfectly appropriate). That’s just how I want to describe the Laurus Syrah 2007, which has become the new darling of folks at the shop.

Laurus is the prestige brand of Maison Gabriel Meffre, a highly esteemed winery and négociant founded in 1936 in the Rhône Valley wine region of France. To Cyrano friends who have tasted the Laurus Syrah, if you’ve sensed something familiar it’s because Gabriel Meffre also produces the Fat Bastard Shiraz that you like.

But as much as you and I enjoy that Shiraz with the happy hippo on the label, it comes across as thin and rough by comparison. The more graceful, deeply purpled Laurus Syrah is all about what’s ripe and ravishing. On the nose, there is greater depth to the Laurus, melding dark espresso, violet and faint traces of cinnamon. In the mouth the difference intensifies. The Laurus feels shapely and smooth, its taste offering a seductive concentration of stewed blueberries, cocoa and licorice, ending with a peppery, long-legged pose of spice and everything nice. Darn, I love this wine! It hits the spot.

Laurus Syrah 2007 retails at the wine shop for PhP 700 a bottle, actually a down-to-earth price for something so alluring. For me that’s like finding a gorgeous woman who is the honest opposite of a high-maintenance princess.

What real man wouldn’t want to drink that? Viva salerosas!

 

 

laurus_syrah_bottle.jpg

 

CYRANO’S RATING:

  VERY GOOD (Score 8.0)

 

Wine: Laurus Syrah 2007

Grape: Syrah 100%

Country: France

Wine Region:
  Sud de France / Languedoc-Rousillon

Category: Vin de Pays d’Oc

Ageing: 9 months in 275 liter oak barrels

 

Suggested Food Pairing:

– Barbecued baby back ribs
– New Zealand vintage cheddar

 

Cellaring Options: Drink until 2012

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s Our Wine Rating Format January 10, 2011

Posted by Alex Sawit in About Wine, Reviews.
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By Alex Sawit

10 January 2011

 

Happy New Year, Cyrano Friends!

To start the year right, I’m introducing our “In-Store Review” feature in which I’ll be reviewing newly added wines in our inventory. These reviews should be especially welcome to those of you who ask me every once in a while about what wines I personally like and why.

I’ll also be rating these wines to guide you better, although I still feel a little wary about doing this for a wine review. There are just too many wine critics in the world devoted to giving ratings with ultra-precise point scores and I feel that it’s misleading when critics insist on precise numbers to quantify something that is so subjective. I honestly feel that descriptive words can more faithfully communicate the quality of a wine than a numerical score can.

Yet the reality is that consumers prefer scores, which make life easier for anyone who simply wants to buy and enjoy a nice wine. So I’ll harmonize my descriptions and scores together this way (scores are from 1 to 10, allowing increments of 0.5 points):

 

    Great = 10

    Exceptionally Good = 9

    Very Good = 8

    Good = 7

    Extra Fair = 6

    Fair = 5

    Poor = 4

    Very Poor = 3

    Horrifically Poor = 2

    Abominable = 1

 

Now my reviews and ratings reflect my preferences, which may or may not agree with your own. So it’s more important to remember that my purpose is merely to help you make better-informed decisions about which wines to choose. At the end of the day, the final proof about whether you like something or not is entirely up to you.

So let’s get ready for the first review.

 

 

Pour Your Bubbly Like a Beer December 30, 2010

Posted by Alex Sawit in About Wine.
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By Alex Sawit

30 December, 2010

 

It’s that time of year again, Cyrano friends, so get your New Year’s Eve party checklist ready.

Fireworks? Check.

Balloons and confetti? Check.

Champagne? Well, uh…

Okay, so I love the sentimental value of Veuve Clicquot if only because of how flamboyantly it’s mentioned in the movie Casablanca (“I recommend Veuve Clicquot ’26,” actor Claude Rains says famously). Nevertheless, there are lots of happy choices when it comes to sparkling wine that isn’t as outrageously priced as Champagne. You can get great value with Italian Prosecco or have delicious fun with Spanish Cava. Even England, whoopsie-daisies of all places, is now making reasonably priced bubbly that experts say rivals some of the finest Champagnes.

In other words, you don’t need expensive Champagne to toast the New Year.

But whichever you choose to pop open, allow me to repeat this simple, scientifically proven tip to help you fully enjoy your bubbly this New Year’s Eve. That is, when serving it from the bottle, tilt your glasses at a sharp angle and pour the wine like a beer.

I repeat: pour it like a beer. According to the scientists, that’s how Champagne and all sparkling wine should be served from now on.

This advice is still unpopular with conservative restaurateurs and hoteliers. These folks tend to resist scientific evidence that contradicts their artistic approach to fine dining, which is why they were annoyed when a group of French scientists published their controversial study earlier this year in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry (study entitled, “On the Losses of Dissolved CO2 During Champagne Serving,” July 2010).

Even prominent English wine critics dismissed the findings of the French scientists (I find it funny, by the way, how many English wine critics love to display a title called “Master of Wine,” a peculiar British-invented credential that just sort of means, “I Studied For Three Years So I Could Be A Wine Lecturing Geek At Cocktail Parties Blah-Blah-Blah”).

“Pouring Champagne like a lager is seen as a really naff way to serve it,” scoffs British wine critic Tom Stevenson, who is labeled outside France as the world’s leading authority on Champagne. “You would not see a sommelier doing it in a million years.”

But those French researchers were merely following an age old hunch. Consumers have long suspected that the standard practice of pouring Champagne straight down a glass to create lots of mousse (foam), which is taught in every sommelier class, wastes effervescence and can even have an undesirable effect on the taste.

 

oldpour.jpg

Image source: Decanter.com

 

“In champagne and sparkling wine tasting, the concentration of dissolved CO2 is a parameter of great importance,” wrote the scientists, whose tests clearly showed that the standard serving method results in an excessive loss of dissolved carbon dioxide. This, they said, causes sparkling wines to taste flatter and smell less fragrant.

Since sparkling wine retains better “mouth feel” and bouquet if CO2 loss is minimized, the scientists concluded that the best solution is to simply angle the glass and pour slowly along the side. In other words, use the “beer method” of pouring and it will taste better.

 

bubbly_howtopour.jpg

Image source: Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry

 

“The beer-like way of serving champagne is much softer than the champagne-like one,” says the study.

Hooray for the scientists. It’s silly that the wine world still has to suffer so much closed-mindedness in this day and age. No matter. Sooner or later, everybody from wine stewards to wine snobs will be following what the researchers have correctly advised. I’ll be happy to toast to that, then, Champagne glass in hand, with all Cyrano friends this New Year’s Eve.

Check!

 

 

The Magnificent Three April 7, 2010

Posted by Alex Sawit in About Wine.
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By Alex Sawit

07 April 2010

 

“The great evening lay before us like a world: an evening filled with talk, stories, games music and lamplight.”

Edwin Muir       

 

In a purportedly civilized world, it’s ironic how elegant drinking is often out of place in modern night life. Hanging out in a fashionable but rowdy city pub, for example, demands something bawdy and frothing from the tap, while bar-hopping gives way to hard-hitting liquids in tiny but innumerable doses, all to be downed quickly before stumbling on to the next trendy destination.

But for wine lovers, the art of the magnificent evening, of drinking to the pleasures of conversation and companionship, can never go out of style. Cyrano friends know by heart that good wine nurtures a more thought-provoking gathering. And we know by experience that no wine is more thought-provoking than a full-bodied red.

So be it. Say good evening to “The Magnificent Three” – Spy Valley Pinot Noir from New Zealand, Snake Charmer Shiraz from Australia and Marques Carménère from Chile – our new signature series for Cyrano friends.

It’s only our second signature series, by the way. If you recall, last year we overhauled our inventory in order to position our little neighborhood shop as the home of “fun wines, smart buys” (adopted the motto, too). We assembled half a dozen quirky labels – Los 3 Bandidos, Goats Do Roam, Fat Bastard, Goat Door, Bored Doe and The Goatfather – and made them the cornerstone of our revised selection. Customers have loved the “Silly Six” ever since.

While not quite as whimsical, The Magnificent Three is likewise a collection of amusing labels. They’re pricier but don’t let that mislead you. Together they offer the kind of quality that one normally encounters only at much higher price ranges.

And they have what we need for our kind of evenings. The Aussie red has the classic profile of big Shiraz, while the Chilean boasts a fullness of style second to none among the world’s best Carménère. Even the Kiwi entry is hefty for Pinot Noir by New World expectations.

Of course, you don’t have to take my word on all this. Put the wines to the test. By all means, you’re welcome to drop in and uncork a magnificent, leisurely night among fellow Cyrano friends. It’s what you love doing anyway.

As we already know by heart and experience, evenings at Cyrano can never go out of style.

 

 

 

Spy Valley Pinot Noir (Retail Price: P995). “The devil made Pinot Noir,” a famous winemaker once said out of frustration. Cultivating Pinot Noir is notoriously difficult, which is why when you do find something good it’s almost always expensive. That’s why I’m so pleased, even relieved, that we have this great-value Kiwi offering. Though New Zealand is best known for award-winning Sauvignon Blanc, its reputation as one of the New World’s top exponents of Pinot Noir is equally well deserved.

Found in the famed Marlborough wine region, Spy Valley Wines takes its name from an unofficial moniker for the winery’s locale, which is home to a satellite communications center for military intelligence – a “spy base” shall we say. The spy theme is even subtly played on every bottle (labels display a pixilated vineyard photo in the manner of a raw satellite image, while the name “Spy Valley” is printed in Morse Code around bottle necks). These are jeans and T-shirt winemakers, which in New Zealand is a sign that we have passionate, capable people here. Until now, most of the accolades the winery has received have been for its white wines. But I met Spy Valley winemaker Kathy-Lee Bird when she was in the country and it was clear that they’re excited about the future of their Pinot Noir.

I like this fleshy Pinot Noir style, which is the result of the region’s sunny yet colder growing conditions. Think of it as Old World finesse meeting New World savor. Think, too, of beloved Pinot Noir sensations – cherry, raspberry, beefy juiciness, peppermint – just make them more full-flavored. And make the wine heftier but keep it smooth. That’s Spy Valley Pinot Noir.

[Snack Suggestion: When drinking Spy Valley Pinot Noir at Cyrano, try it with a take-out order of gravy-rich poutine from Gustavus steak house, which is just a short walk up the street from Cyrano. Remember to ask for more goat cheese toppings.]

 

Snake Charmer Shiraz (Retail Price: P850). When Australia burst onto the global stage as a formidable wine producer in the 1980s, it was done on the back of its powerhouse Shiraz. Aussie Shiraz was big and bold and the world loved it, resulting in Shiraz becoming one of the most sought-after varietals on the planet. Today, the Aussies also produce milder, softer versions for a more diversified world market, but it’s the old-school stuff that I find most endearing.

Thank goodness for Snake Charmer, a classic Aussie Shiraz that tastes the way I like it.

 

 

Just read the promo material, which declares, “Bigger, darker…and more seductive!!” Like the shapely circus temptress depicted on the bottle, this Shiraz is daring from the first pour, exploding with plum jam and red licorice. Let it breathe and it mellows into a voluptuous harmony of vanilla-infused blackcurrant and thick, spicy espresso.

Sourced from top quality grapes from different vineyards in McLaren Vale, South Australia, Snake Charmer belongs to one of the country’s most flamboyant wine negociants, Vinaceous Presents…! (yes, that’s their official name, punctuation marks included). How flamboyant? Vinaceous madly promotes its wine range in the image of a post-Victorian troupe, each wine represented by a circus character. The ringmaster is Cabernet Sauvignon, the mermaid act is Pinot Grigio, the fire eater is the Rhône-style red blend and…drum roll please…pree-zenting the snake charmer! Taa-dah!

[Snack Suggestion: When drinking Snake Charmer Shiraz at Cyrano, try it with a take-out order of fantastic pork rillette from Restaurant CiÇou, which is at the corner of San Lorenzo Drive and Arnaiz Avenue and several minutes walking distance from our shop.]

 

Marques de Casa Concha Carménère (Retail Price: P1,500). This is currently the only offering in our selection that exceeds our theme-imposed retail ceiling of P1,000 per bottle of wine. But it’s worth the exception. Made by Chile’s most celebrated producer, Concha y Toro, the Marques de Casa Concha range of varietals has been one of the most consistently praised Chilean brands of the last decade (their marketing people like to point that the brand has been listed every year for the last ten years in the Top 100 Wines of Wine Spectator magazine).

It’s the first time in the brand’s history that it has been made as a Carménère, my favorite varietal. I was jumping for joy when I got my hands on my first bottle because 1) Concha y Toro makes the best Carménère; and 2) this is probably the best Carménère they have in terms of quality-to-price ratio.

I’ve always appreciated how Concha y Toro’s Carménère style is consistent from the top of the portfolio down to the entry level. I salute their winemaking culture, which takes inspiration from the best traditions of Bordeaux. This helps explain why their Carménère has always been mellower than those of their rivals.

But while the suaveness may have Old World origins, the exquisite richness of our Marques is pure Chile in a glass. The gentle scent of fine Italian leather and spicy Java cigar wrapper on the nose serve as a prelude to the melding of heavily concentrated blueberry with deep mocha flavor, punctuated by the subtle sweetness of tangerine. Tannin levels are substantial but comfortable in the mouth, giving it a big yet balanced feel that should reach optimum smoothness after two to three more years in the bottle. It’s projected to keep until 2015 but by all means enjoy it now.

[Snack Suggestion: When drinking Marques Carménère at Cyrano, try it with a special order of my foccacia beef burger wedges that you folks have come to love. And when I say “special order” that means it’s only available when we have the ingredients. Please don’t just spring the idea on me when you get here – you gotta let me know in advance, well in advance. Sigh, I’m such a pushover with Cyrano friends.]

 

 

Re-edited 28 May 2012

 

 

Craving Carménère December 27, 2009

Posted by Alex Sawit in About Wine.
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By Alex Sawit

27 December 2009

 

La raison et l’amour sont ennemis jurés.

That’s what I said not too many nights ago to some friends as they discussed matters of the heart over a bottle of Macallan (forgive me but I actually don’t speak French, though I’ve been told my pronunciation is quite good). “The French have a saying,” I answered them, quoting the phrase followed by the translation. “Reason and love are sworn enemies.”

The mind imposes and the heart fights back. It’s the eternal struggle.

I mention this because I’m suddenly reminded that wine lovers are just as susceptible to such conflict. Take me. I’m mad about Carménère. And right now it’s a frustrating passion to have to think through.

In a global market where the ubiquitous Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot dominate consumer preference when it comes to red varietals, Carménère is still largely unheard of. Yet no other grape variety in recent years has generated as much anticipation among industry experts cheering its return to prominence. Native to France, Carménère was once the darling of Bordeaux’s vintners, who used it to bring vivid color and splendid flavor to their greatest blends. Tragically, Carménère was wiped out by an infestation in the 19th century and is virtually extinct in its home country. Today, Chile is the adopted homeland of this grape variety, placing the Chileans at the forefront of developing the best Carménère wines in the world (the most acclaimed label to date is the luxurious Carmín de Peumo, currently the highest scoring Carménère ever rated by Robert Parker’s all-influential publication, The Wine Advocate).

 

“A Candidate for Chile’s finest wine,” declared Robert Parker’s
The Wine Advocate about Carmín de Peumo. It received
a score of 97 points from the influential publication
(awarded to vintage 2003 and again to vintage 2005),
the highest it has ever awarded a Chilean wine.

 

If you’ve never tried Carménère, I’d very loosely describe it to you as a red that combines the suaveness of Merlot with a depth of character akin to that of a Cab. It’s not an easy grape to coax, though. Vintners who lack the discipline to cultivate it are punished with an incoherent cocktail of vegetal flavors. But made properly, it is for me the yummiest red varietal of them all.

This brings me to my present dilemma. For more than a year, our wine shop’s best-selling Chilean Carménère brand was absent from our shelves due to the current distributor’s long running refusal to import it. During the time of the old distributor, Casillero del Diablo Carménère had been my popular recommendation to customers who had never tried Carménère before (the 2004 Casillero vintage was by my reckoning one of the best-value Carménère wines of the decade, a velvety smooth red with raspberry chocolate fatness whose outstanding quality belied how affordable it was). So imagine my relief when the current distributor finally imported a shipment and delivered my order. Then imagine my sinking feeling when every bottle I opened showed red stains seeping up the corks. It was heat damage. I deduced (and later confirmed) that they had left the shipment container at the port baking under the sun for weeks before transferring the wine to the warehouse. To be fair, the deterioration was minimal. But that’s no excuse. I had a right to expect it to taste a lot better than this.

It was the second time in a month that the distributor had disappointed me with my favorite varietal. A few weeks earlier, they supplied a low-cost Chilean red to an all-Carménère blind tasting at Gene Gonzales’s Café Ysabel (Chef Gene is a big Carménère fan, you see). Despite its low-end status, the surprised judges found the samples impressive. I, too, was impressed after I received and tasted my own sample. So I ordered it. To my shock, the wines delivered to me were painfully inferior. It was the exact same brand but the vintage was completely different. What happened to the vintage that had delighted both me and the Café Ysabel judges? Not a single bottle was to be found at the distributor’s warehouse. Had stocks of the correct vintage run out that fast? Had they bothered to import it at all? It turned out that the samples of the distinctive vintage that the judges and I had tasted were part of a limited package sent by the Chilean winery strictly for promotional use. Frustrated, I simply returned the delivery.

I miss my old distributor, who had represented the Chilean winery for many years prior to all its brands being awarded to the current group. For all their limitations, my old distributor understands the passion that wine lovers have. They understand that wine is passion (thank you, Robert Mondavi, for famously saying that). Sadly, the current distributor has only minimal experience in the wine trade. It’s even been confirmed that the owners who run the company don’t drink wine.

I love the brands of this renowned Chilean winery, their glorious Carménère above all, but their current distributor hasn’t gotten its act together as a wine merchant. So what shall I do with my Carménère cravings? What say you, my mind and my heart?

Decisions, decisions….

 

 

Cyrano’s Silly Six November 26, 2009

Posted by Alex Sawit in About Wine, Reviews.
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By Alex Sawit

26 November 2009

 

“Oh, that is so cuuute,” gushed another female customer. “There’s a fat smiling hippo sitting on the corner of the bottle!”

Sigh. Girls will be girls. They all give the same reaction when I show them a bottle of Fat Bastard, which is now quite popular at the shop. I do tell them about the unusual crafting that goes into producing this delightful wine from the South of France. It’s all about the wine, I explain. But ladies just can’t help going all goo-goo and gaga over that happy little hippo weighing heavily on the front label.

Welcome to life at our re-booted Cyrano Wine Shop. It’s been a month since we celebrated our fifth year anniversary and it’s clear that customers love the new concept. Our new slogan says it all: “Fun wines, smart buys!”

That means fun flavor, fun character and just plain fun to drink wine that’s good value. I like to think, of course, that Cyrano has always been about fun wines. We just never thought of positioning ourselves this way to the public before. From now on we want Cyrano to be known for really fun wines, stuff so endearingly outrageous you won’t expect to find them in any typical retail establishment (and definitely not on any supermarket shelf).

Hence, we’ve proudly assembled half a dozen unique wines on which to build our new reputation. We call them Cyrano’s “Silly Six.” Made by some of the most unconventional, anti-establishment winemakers in the world today, these six wines are sure to impress customers by being every bit as quirky as they are delicious.

Remember: It’s all about the wine… duh! Cheers, Cyrano friends!

 

 

The revoultionary wines of Los 3 Bandidos.

 

Los 3 Bandidos. Don’t be fooled by the Spanish name. Los Tres Bandidos (“The Three Bandits”) is 100% French. This amusing fact recently offended one Spanish visitor at the shop. “Why are these Frenchmen,” complained the indignant Spaniard, “using a Spanish name for a French wine?” Lighten up, amigo. It’s made by wine rebels in the South of France who produce full-bodied wines as they please. See those bullet holes in the bottle label? That’s because Tres Bandidos is named in honor of Mexico’s three most famous revolutionaries – Pancho Villa, Emilliano Zapata and Venustiano Carranza. Maybe the name is due to the red wine being made entirely from the Grenache grape, called Garnacha in Spain, which is used to make classic Spanish reds. Or maybe it’s because the winemakers recommend it with Mexican cuisine. Or maybe it’s just a bold statement about how they make “revolutionary wines” that defy French tradition (yes, they actually describe it that way in their promo materials). French wine with a Spanish name… so what? Tres Bandidos is hilarious and, more importantly, it tastes really nice. And it’s fantastic with lechon. “Ay caramba!”

 

Our CSI officer took this closeup of the bullet holes. Note the
points of entry, indicating the precision with which the shooter
avoided the logo. But there are no marks to suggest that
blunt force trauma was suffered during the attack.

 

 

Goats Do Roam. For sillier stuff, try this one from South Africa. Created by folks who are mad about French wine appellations and goat herding – at the back of the bottle, the estate owner cheerfully describes the vineyard as a pseudo goat farm – this un-oaked wine adapts the same grapes used in France for making a white Côtes du Rhône (say “coat-doo-roan”). Rename it Goats Do Roam and you’ve got South Africa’s irreverent version of a French classic, its refreshing, crisp character evoking ripe citrus and gooseberries. We still don’t have the red one, which is their original effort, but we’re working on it.

Here’s the kicker. Back in France, the higher classification of a Côtes du Rhône wine is called “Côtes du Rhône Villages” (it’s French, so say “vih-LAJ” please). So we shouldn’t be surprised that those South Africans also make a higher variant of their version. Goats Do Roam in Villages is lightly aged in oak barrels, resulting in a softer, creamier white wine.

Baa-baa…

 

 

Fat Bastard. Business partners Thierry and Guy, a Frenchman and a Brit respectively, decided to thumb their noses at France’s old fashioned wine industry by running a rebellious operation of their own in the Languedoc region in the South. Armed with winemaking ideas and technologies pioneered in the New World, they produced exactly the kind of rich flavors they were hoping for. “Now,” proclaimed Thierry after tasting his creation, “zat iz what I call eh PHET bas-tard!” It’s a British expression but the name stuck. Fat Bastard comes in Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Syrah/Shiraz, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, all with discernable French character but with a twist of delectable of richness. By the way, nobody sober at the winery seems to remember how the heck they wound up with a fat golden hippo on their label.


L to R: Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Shiraz.
All varietals (plus the Pinot Noir, which is not depicted) except
the Sauvginon Blanc are now available at Cyrano.

 

 


Goat Door. Those winemakers at The Goats Do Roam Wine Company just won’t quit with the homonyms. This time they take inspiration from the area known as the Côte d’Or (“Golden Hillside”), where the most famous and most expensive white wines in France’s Burgundy region are produced entirely from the Chardonnay grape. Likewise, Goat Door is exclusively made from Chardonnay, lightly aged in oak barrels to preserve the freshness that is the hallmark of the Goats Do Roam style of white wine.

 

 


Bored Doe. One day, the folks at The Goats Do Roam Wine Company had another smashing idea. “Hey,” they thought, “in South Africa we have all five grape varietals used in Bordeaux to make red wine. Why don’t we make our version of a classic Bordeaux red?” So they blended Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot, aged the wine in oak, put it inside a claret bottle and stuck it with an old château-style label illustrated with a pretty little French deer frolicking around (she’s described as “an udderly gorgeous doe” on the back label of the bottle). Just don’t expect Bored Doe to be like its French counterpart. South Africa’s terroir produces a richer, fruitier savor in its wines and this one is decidedly, though elegantly, full-bodied in style. But yes, it’s good – different but darn good. How ironic that it should go well with venison, heh-heh…

 

 

“The goats will roam… capisce?!”

 

The Goatfather. The last of the Silly Six is my favorite among the wines of The Goats Do Roam Wine Company. A blend of several varietals that includes four grapes of Italian origin – Barbera, Sangiovese, Primitivo and Nebbiolo – this is a remarkable mimic of a Northern Italian red, comparable perhaps to a praiseworthy Chianti Classico Riserva. It even bears some comparison to a classy Sicilian wine we also carry at the shop. Whether it reminds you of Northern or Southern Italy, either way The Goatfather is serious Italian-style vino at heart… uh, with a gratuitous portrait of “Don Goatti” on the bottle for laughs. Never mind. This stuff is wonderful. Starting with soft lavender and subtle mocha on the nose and ending with a touch of cranberry on the palate, The Goatfather is a suave, tangy red that makes for eminently comfortable drinking.

 

In case you thought we were kid-ding about The Goats Do Roam Wine Company, here’s owner and winemaker Charles Back with The Goatfather
along with his property’s very real livestock. Baaa!

 

 

 

 

Wine Makes Women Want More Sex? March 31, 2009

Posted by Alex Sawit in About Wine.
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By Alex Sawit

31 March 2009

 

As if we really needed convincing to begin with about the link between wine and the amorous activities that often result after men and women partake of this liquid indulgence.

“Red Wine Increases the Female Sex Drive,” declares the headline in Decanter Magazine’s list of online news articles. The report (24 March 2009, decanter.com) reads as follows:

“Red wine increases the female libido, research has found.

“According to a study carried out by the Santa Maria Nuova Hospital in Florence, drinking one to two glasses of red wine a day increases female sexual desire.

“The study investigated 789 Italian women aged between 18 and 50.

“Drinking red wine not only helps to release inhibitions, but also has a direct effect on sexual activity.

“Women who drink one to two glasses of wine a day were found to be more sexually active than those who abstain.

“Dark chocolate, which is rich in antioxidants, has a similarly positive effect on the female libido,” concluded the news article, implying that both red wine and chocolate have aphrodisiacal properties due to the compounds common to both substances (consider that Merlot is a red wine varietal often cited by wine tasters for it’s chocolate-like flavor characteristics).

Wow. I guess this means the ladies at the shop aren’t just being extra friendly after some Pinot Noir – as if we ever needed much convincing about this to begin with.

 

POSTSCRIPT: As entertained as I am about the findings of the Italian researchers, critical thinking obligates me to remain skeptical about their conclusion. The real question is: Does red wine make Italian women more sexually aggressive, or is it simply the case that sexually aggressive Italian women have a preference for red wine? Bada-bing, bada-boom!