Unusual And Undrinkable

21 November 2012

Most wines I write about on Odd Bacchus receive pretty good grades. I prefer to write posts about wines which excite me, because I like to think I’m helping bring unheralded wine regions and grape varieties to light. Even more important, I hope I’m helping my readers find some great values, since delicious unusual wines and spirits tend to cost less than delicious well- known wines and spirits.

But a regular reader of this blog could be forgiven for thinking that I am happy with almost any alcohol that passes my lips, an opinion shared by most of my family, friends, coworkers, acquaintances and neighbors. Indeed, I do try to be charitable with wines — a very non-snobby French sommelier shamed me into that — but a recent selection really rubbed me the wrong way.

My husband returned from Whole Foods last week with a bottle of 2011 Jam Jar Sweet Shiraz from South Africa, thinking it would work well with the red-wine pickled pears he planned on canning. Mixed with vinegar, cinnamon and other spices, it made a perfectly lovely pickling liquid for the pears, and I gaze at the Mason jars of pears with no small measure of anticipation. Drunk on its own, however, this wine was an offense to the palate.

A simulacrum of raspberry jam pervaded the nose, and something artificial marred the flavor as well. It started a bit flabby before coalescing into acidic, chemically-tinged fruit. An unpleasant tomato note took over before the wine climaxed into a diabetic, teeth-coating finish. I don’t know what Jam Jar did to make this Shiraz “sweet,” but I have a feeling it didn’t happen in the vineyard.

What a waste of money. My husband spent $12 for this bottle of raspberry sugar water. Don’t be suckered in by Jam Jar’s cutesy font — behind the innocuous label lurks an unpleasant, saccharine wine, offering yet more evidence supporting my theory that the cuter the label, the crappier the wine.


2011 Jam Jar Sweet Shiraz: Certainly sweet, but marred by chemically fruit and abrasive acids. Barely drinkable.

Grade: D

Find It: If you want to experience this charmer yourself, you can find it at Whole Foods. At the store on Halsted in Chicago, it’s on sale for $10 as of this posting. Still a poor value.

Leap Into Limari

29 February 2012
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There’s a lot more to Chile, it turns out, than Maipo and Colchagua, two of Chile’s most famous wine valleys. I recently ended up with a bottle of 2008 Tabali Reserva Especial Syrah from the Limarí Valley, a region I’d never heard of and certainly couldn’t place on a map. I couldn’t place Maipo or Colchagua on a map either, for that matter, so I knew it was time to reach for my trusty World Atlas of Wine.

In such a long, thin country, I assumed that latitude determines the climate of a particular vineyard. Most growers held this opinion until quite recently, and indeed, the wine regions are organized from north to south. But according to the Atlas, the terroir varies “much more from west to east, according to a site’s geology and proximity to the cooling influences of the Pacific and the Andes.”

The cold Humboldt Current running up the coast and the snowy Andes Mountains allow high-quality vineyards at latitudes much closer to the tropics than in most other countries. The days get quite hot, but crisply cool evenings keep things under control. The Atlas notes that Chile’s wide day-night temperature variation “is almost certainly a factor in the clarity of the fruit flavors.”

Until oenologists realized the potential of Chile’s other regions, most vineyards were planted around Santiago in areas like the Maipo and Colchagua Valleys. Unfortunately, this is “the wrong place,” according to The Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia. It argues that the Secano region harbors the most potential in Chile, but even today this “forgotten” region remains relatively inaccessible and underutilized.


(Purple) Porcine Pleasures

19 May 2011

I almost never dine near North Michigan Avenue, that famed Chicago strip so favored by deep dish-seeking tourists and overpriced restaurants. It was therefore with some skepticism that I approached The Purple Pig, a relatively new Spanish/Mediterranean hot spot set right in the heart of the beast: 500 North. But I wanted something a little fancy for my birthday, and I’d heard from a very trusted palate that it was “terrific.” And, well, it was.

Always thinking of my readers, I took copious notes about the experience (though it must be said their legibility and coherence deteriorated with distressing rapidity).


Boeuf and Principles

4 May 2011

We spent half our first day in Door County preparing Julia Child’s Boeuf Bourguignon, a deeply flavored beef stew we adore but rarely have time to make. The simple ingredients – beef, pearl onions, carrots, bacon, wine – belie the rich satisfaction this recipe provides.

To accompany the boeuf, I made Hefeknöpfle, a yeasted dumpling I found in a German cookbook. You essentially make a bread dough, but instead of baking it, you quarter the dough and boil it. Using a wire, you cut the resulting brain-like dumplings into thick slices, and voilà! Light but sturdy Hefeknöpfle. 

A side dish of barely bitter black kale sautéed in olive oil with garlic and peperoncino flakes contrasted the boeuf and brain dumplings perfectly.

I brought along a couple of unusual wines to sample with the boeuf, notably Slovenian and Istrian Terans, but I must now admit a moment of weakness. I betrayed my “unusual and obscure” principles  for our first boeuf dinner, selecting a 2007 Los Alisos Syrah from Santa Barbara County. A Central Coast Syrah surely cannot qualify as unusual, but even I could not resist Whole Foods’ sale on this wine: $13 instead of the usual $23. It called out to be drunk with the boeuf. The Terans could wait.


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