Totally out of the blue I received an invite for an invent at a local micro-winery in San Juan de Lurigancho, a district outside of Lima Peru. I wasn’t even aware of Bodega y Viñedos Candela, and certainly had never tried any of their wines, but suddenly I was in the middle of their annual pisa uva festival, which marks the completion of the harvest and start of the winemaking work itself: specifically, the traditional crushing of the grapes by foot. “Pisa uva” means, literally, stepping on grapes.
The Bodega is simply someone’s three-story home, with grapes grown on terraces shoved on the roof. The grape here is Borgoña, a table wine grape reportedly part of the Isabella family, which is rare in most parts of the world but which comprises the main ingredient in most of the domestic wines produced in Peru. Candela uses two strains, the “Borgona Negra” for its vino tinto, and “Borgona Blanco” for the vino blanco. I tasted both off the fine, and they were surprisingly edible, although definitely wine grapes, and — I’d find out later — the resulting wine carried over much of the original fruit flavors.
The grapes are also used for Candela’s other main product, pisco. This is a clear, fermented grape liquor, similar to grappa, that shoulders the pride of the entire nation of Peru. There are few things Peruvians are more proud of, other than pisco and its incredible ceviche, both of which neighboring Chile claims to have originated (but they totally didn’t.) Peruvian pisco is astonishingly strong, and is not taken straight, but instead in the famous pisco sour, a cocktail made of pisco, lime juice, gum arabic, egg white and bitters. It’s remarkably good — fantastic even — although you can’t drink much of the stuff if you want to maintain a respectable relationship with gravity.
The pisa uva event brought a sizeable crowd, clearly all locals from “SJL”, and despite some pretty rough surroundings, was a well-put-together event. Traditional dancers from a local dance school entertained the crowd, who downed the free pisco sour samples, and then dined on a traditional Peruvian plate called carapulcra con sopa seca. That dish is made from lentils, pork and mild spices, served with chicken, spaghetti and yucca. For me the dish fell flat — I’m not a fan of carapulcra — but that pisco sour was a hit! But something was off — we bought a bottle of what was supposed to be the same Pisco, and when we made our own sours at home, the Pisco was clearly not the same one offered at the event. Instead, we were hit with a rush of raisins, which is not what Pisco should taste like. This would make sense only later, so keep reading.
Next, the organizer of the event – an archeologist from San Juan de Lurigancho who promotes such events — gave us a personal tour of the Candela winery. As I said, this is literally someone’s home, with the bottom floor converted into a makeshift wine bar, and some grapes stuck on the roof. People live on the middle floors.
The terracing and wine placement is nothing scientific, total chaos necessitated by the lack of space. Both grapes — white and red — are strewn together, and despite the “harvest” having been completed — which must have taken a total of a few hours — there were still plenty of grapes on the vine. Some of the borgona blanco grapes showed significant rot and parasite attack, but the borgona negra appeared pretty healthy. Some of those, however, had an unspecified mold that I can bet my life wasn’t botrytis, since the region is hot and arid. Lord knows what it was.
I also saw no barrels, nor any of the traditional Peruvian ceramic casks that are often used in this country. There was, however, a large array of polyethylene tanks, sold for residential water storage or cistern use. Hmmm.
Now let’s go back to those grapes. Peruvians don’t know this, but you’re not really supposed to call it “wine” if you don’t use grapes from the vitis vinifera species. “Borgoña” is just another name for Concord grapes, or grapes from that family. They are meant to be eaten, not turned into wine. But the proliferation of Borgoña-based wines in Peru says a lot about the problems facing the country.
The main event was, of course, the pisa uva itself — three dancers climbed into a small concrete box which held the red grapes, and performed another afro-peruvian dance while traditional drummers pounded out an infectious beat. It was clear the girls hadn’t done this before, and it took them a few seconds to get their rhythm because, let’s face it, dancing on grapes isn’t like dancing on the floor. It was all ceremony and hype, though, since they didn’t actually finish the job. Since there was no other mastication equipment in view, likely one of the house’s residents would be finishing the mashing — by foot — over the next day or so.
The crowd went wild for this rare site, and the wine store was selling a good number of bottles. Most of these were being cracked open right at the tables of the event, and few were waiting to take them home.
We were given tasting samples of the wines, and it was … well, not good.
Peru has a strange relationship with wine. Surrounded by superior wine-producing countries like Chile and Argentina, the harsh climates of Peru offer little in the way of proper terroir. The coast is bone-dry desert, and the interior turns into either festering rain forest or frigid, snow-capped mountains. There’s not much in between. The main wine-producing region of Ica has been promoted as being a serious contender, a place where someday some seriously good wines may be produced, but for now it’s mostly hype. As a result, Peruvians themselves have an interesting view of wine, and there’s no way to describe it but to use the snobbish term “unsophisticated.”
Peruvian wine is sweet. I mean, often, sickly sweet. One blogger wrote this off as part of the Peruvian sweet tooth, and while it’s true that Peruvians seem to amp up the sugar in their desserts, I’m not buying it. The sweetness of Peruvian wine is partly due to the grapes used — Borgoña is one of the only grapes that can grow here with any reliability — but then partly due to Peruvian obsession with making everything “on the cheap.” They can’t justify using a steel vat if they can buy a plastic cistern tank at the local hardware store for 1/100th of the cost.
Without much decent land to grow grapes, entire generations have grown up thinking Borgoña is a wine grape, and the country drinks the most sickeningly sweet, raisin-flavored syrups imaginable. Here we got a lesson in this problem close up: Borgoña can grow on your roof, so if you have enough of it, you can open a “winery.” Peru has no regulations on what is put on the label.
There’s also little sophistication in the winemaking processes used. The overall goal appears to be to process the wine as quickly as possible in order to get it to market. Local wines often go out with labels misspelled, bad corks, and highly inconsistent content. The result is sweet wine because they simply don’t bother to do anything else, and the Peruvian population has been calibrated to believe all wine is supposed to be sweet. The two Candela offerings, both marked “semi-seco,” were in fact on par with the sugar level of a Niagara icewine. When a Peruvian offers you a “dry” wine, it just means it has less sugar than a stack of syrup-soaked pancakes, but not as much as if you threw a bag of sugar on top of them.
The main national producer here is Santiago Queirolo, and they pump out hundreds of thousands of syrupy garbage as fast as they can make the stuff. It’s priced at Thunderbird levels, so winds up on everyone’s table because Peru has not yet learned to go beyond its Third World culture when selecting wine. There’s little excuse for it, too, since Chile and Argentina have economies similar to Peru, and yet they take pride in their wine. Peruvians have no such pride in wine, and don’t even know they should.
So the Candela offerings were approached with the usual mental adjustments. They still failed to live up to expectations.
First up was the Candela Borgoña Negra Semi Seco NV, and yes, it tasted like raisins. There’s just no getting around that when you use grapes intended for eating to make table wine. As for the “semi seco” part, it’s just not true. This is sweet as hell, and I would put this at 100 g/l RS at least. I’m not kidding, this is what they think is semi-dry. The wine itself had both a bitter foretaste and aftertaste, and there was no structure to speak of. There were no perceptible tannins at all.
Candela Borgoña Negra Semi Seco NV
The white variant, Candela Borgoña Blanca Semi Seco NV, didn’t fair any better. It was slightly less raisiny, but only by a bit. Again, the raisin notes overpowered anything else, and given the terroir — someone’s roof — there are no other ways to introduce any additional nuances. I’d put this at less sugar, probably 65-80 g/l RS. Still sweet.
Candela Borgoña Blanca Semi Seco NV
So, yes, both wines landed a single star, alas. But the event itself was fun, filled with lively people and amazing music, and the food was good. The people were very proud of their wine, without a clue about how bad it was, so I won’t try to convince them otherwise.
But, wow, that was one batshit crazy winery visit.
Faced with a business trip to Texas — shudder — I opted to make the week a bit brighter by stocking up on some German rieslings to test against each other. I intentionally chose three budget reezies, each at $15 or less. These are readily available in the US, although would be treated as expensive “imports” if you try to get them in, say, South America. It’s nutty what I have to pay for a cheap riesling when I’m in Lima Peru.
The three Teutonic tipplers tasted were Dr. Herman “H” Riesling 2015 (Mosel), Blüfeld Medium Sweet Riesling 2011 (Mosel), and Schlink Haus
Riesling Spätlese 2013 (Nahe). I expected the Mosels to dominate the Nahe outside, but that’s not quite how things ended.
First out of the gate was the Schlink Haus Riesling Spätlese 2013 from Nahe. This was a fantastic hit, and not nearly as sweet as a standard spätlese. Still sweet enough to mark itself as a non-dry wine, with honey on the nose and gentle apple and green tea once past the choppers. Low acid, with no bite at all, but which worked very well with the mild sugar. Finish lasted forever; in fact, I think it was still going on months later. Highly recommended.
Schlink Haus Riesling Spätlese 2013
Next up was the Dr. Hermann “H” Riesling 2015. I anticipated this would be great. The German “doctor” branding is surprisingly reliable and not kitschy, and it comes from Mosel, so that would be a plus. Sure enough it landed its own 4.5 stars, matching the Schlink Haus. The color is golden and gorgeous. The nose of pear and spice almost invokes a gewurtztraminer, which happens often enough in that region. The flavors are soft green apple with just the right tartness, with a rush of other fruit following behind: pear, melon and lemon. Finish is a bit abrupt given the potent flavors, which probably cost it that final 1/2 star. But lovely, just lovely.
Dr. Hermann “H” Riesling 2015
At this point, I was certain we’d have an interesting trio, but none so far had hit the 5-star mark. I had low expectations for the everpresent “blue bottle” reez, since this bottling is typically an indicator of some low-grade stuff. The Blüfeld Medium Sweet Riesling 2011 wasn’t a terrible wine by any stretch, but it didn’t come close to the first two contenders. Surprisingly unsweet given the label, with an uncharacteristic minerality that rarely applies to a Qualitätswein riesling. It’s good, for sure, but the misleading expectations coat this a full star. Almost comes off as a blend, and did not at all feel like a typical Mosel offering. Still, not terrible and given the price, worth it. Just carry it out in a paper bag so no one sees that ridiculous bottle.
Blüfeld Medium Sweet Riesling 2011
If you’re a German Riesling fan, though, any of these are good picks. This also shows how you can’t go merely by the label to determine the final sweetness of what’s in the bottle, and doing tastings and knowing the brands helps quite a lot.
Recently I reviewed two vastly different wines that suffered from a similarly horrible problem: they tasted like utter garbage, as if someone had bottled the water used to put out a dumpster fire.
The first was a Trapiche Varietales Sauvignon Blanc 2011 from Argentina. I’d reviewed Trapiche before with mixed results (here, here and here), but the “Varietales” seemed like it might be interesting. The odd color appeared to hint that Trapiche was using SB to experiment with the “orange wine” idea, as the color was… well … orange. But the flavor was nothing less than horrid. It reeked of gasoline of prune juice. Orange wine has a quirky flavor profile, with some saying it invokes wood varnish, but this was not that. Something entirely different, and entirely horrible.
The next was another Argentino, this one La Rural Pequeña Vasija Malbec Syrah 2017. This one smelled and tasted exactly like burned pea soup, which if you’ve ever burned pea soup you know it not only ruins the smell of your house for a week, but you have to throw the pot out afterward because there’s no getting rid of the taste.
A day later I realized something. The two wines could not be more different, other than their country of origin. But clearly Argentina produces fantastic wine, so that’s not it. Instead, I remembered they were both impulse buys at the large Peruvian Sam’s Club knockoff, Makro. Makro has a small and unimpressive wine section that usually features the syrupy garbage that passes for wine here, often at a few bucks a bottle, but with a few occasionally nice (if also low priced) sparkling wines. It’s not a place you can rely on to buy anything of value, but I had just gotten off a stomach bug and hadn’t tasted anything in weeks, so I was not thinking straight. I bought the Trapiche and the Pequeña Vasija together.
I also now remember how irritating it is to shop at Makro because the place isn’t air-conditioned. It’s a giant warehouse store — again, much like Sam’s Club — but they don’t have the money to cool it properly, so the inside runs at least 80-85 degrees on cool days. Often, when shopping, I have to dip into the employees-only frozen locker just to cool off before I can finish shopping there. This same problem is noticeable at any of the typical “liquor stores” in Peru, which nearly never have A/C, and have wines sitting on the shelves often for years. The two higher end wine shops, Almendariz and Via Venum, do it right: they are properly air-conditoned, have chilled wine fridges for some ready-to-drink whites, and a walk-in “cellar” with temperature controls for the reds. But anywhere else, you’re likely to get wine that’s been exposed to 90+ degrees F for days, weeks or even years.
That has to be the explanation. Both the Trapiche and the Pequeña Vasija were probably sitting in the Makro shelves for weeks, at least, at impossible temperatures. You can’t be sure, either, how they were shipped; often wine is delivered to such store in the back of open pickup trucks, driving under the hot Peru sun.
Americans may not have this problem, but they need to watch out for it anyway. If the store’s temperature isn’t right for storing wine, you shouldn’t buy your wine there. You’re likely to find yourself drinking burned pea soup.
It was slow going last year, with a struggle to find some 5-star winners until mid-year, but 2018 hit the road running. The very first wine tasted nailed a coveted cinco!
Meet the Errazuriz Estate Series Carmenère 2013 from Chile, a budget carmy that will absolutely defy your ability to suss out the price by taste alone, and which truly proves we continue to live in the Golden Age of Wine. No longer must you worry about spending a fortune to have an outstanding glass, and this Carmenère proves it.
Here, smoke is the leading note, but not so much that you feel you’re drinking this over a barbecue pit, so don’t worry. It’s subtle, but definitely makes itself known in both the nose and tongue. From there, it’s fruity goodness with low sugar, all dark berries and silky smooth tannins. Paired well with a spicy Italian dish, but drank equally well by itself during another occasion.
Learn more by visiting the Errazuriz website here.
The third annual Winepisser Best Wine Award goes to Alvear’s Pedro Ximénez de Añada 2014, a fantastic dessert wine that my original review boldly claimed didn’t need dessert because it was the dessert.
Let’s get this out of the way first, as I am sure some wine snobs are shocked — shocked, I say! — that a dessert wine could beat out a fantastic assortment of reds and whites tasted over the course of an entire year. I am not a fan of sweet wines unless they are specifically intended for dessert or as an aperitif. I prefer my day wines dry, and my after-dinner wines any way they might best accent the plate I just ate. I am a fan of icewine, for sure, as well as port. But if I pick up a bottle of Peruvian malbec and find it tastes like maple syrup, I will gag, spit and write a scathing review, in that order.
There’s a place for sugar. I get that.
But good lord, man, this Pedro Ximenez is just astounding. The sugar content is insane, for sure, but never have I had a wine this sweet that avoided all the usual tropes, and one you’d be hardpressed to label “saccharine” or “cloying.” Yes, you’ll have to drink this after dinner. Yes, you will have to sip it (it’s packing a whopping 17% alcohol. Yes, you’ll have to break out the tiny glasses. No, you won’t want to eat a white cake with this at the same time.
If you do it right — serve it after a dinner, especially a meaty one, and serve it by itself — your guests will be enthralled. They will ask you what it is, where you bought it, and how many virgins you threw into a volcano to make it. It’s that good.
When I encounter a glass like this, my first tendency is to bark, “Que brujeria es esta?” In this case, we must go to the Alvear website to glean the details of said witchcraft:
“The name tells you all about this wine’s origin: this sweet young wine is obtained through drying the Pedro Ximenez grapes on mats in the sun. It is the best way of bringing an intense Andalusian summer sun to your table from a single harvest. The wine is aged in the traditional earthenware jars, tinajas, where it is left for 12 months.”
Despite the poor choice of wording on the Alvear website indicating it tastes like raisins, this is not quite true. I am keenly aware of sweet wines that make me suspect they were made by Sun-Maid, and this wine is not cursed with this problem. The flavors are not raisiny, but something quite different. Alvear isn’t kidding when they say it has a slight citric after-kick; it’s very faint, but totally changes the overall flavor. Fantastic!
You can read the original review of this fantastic offering from Alvear here. To visit the Alvear website, go to www.alevear.es, but you can find the Pedro Ximenez Anada page here. To see who the final contestants were in 2017’s Winepisser Best Wine race, click here.
To read who won the 2017 Worst Wine Award, click here.
For the past two years, Winepisser has reveled in its negative reviews of wines — hell, snark is in our site’s name — but we hadn’t given the really terrible wines their due at the end of the year, during award season. This year we launch a new tradition: the annual Winepisser Worst Wine Award.
For 2017, I’m happy to announce — and I mean that, I am happy to, since this wine totally deserves all the bile and revulsion one can muster — that the 2017 Winepisser Worst Wine Award goes to Franclin Delgado Castilla Cavas de Caral 2015 from Peru.
First of all, it’s no confidence builder when you can’t be sure the label on the wine is even spelled right. The 2015 bottle I had was — or at least I could swear from memory it was — spelled “Franclin Delgado.” But no search results come up for it, spelled that way. Instead, import records from Peruvian searches show something called Flanklin Delgado, and others still Franklin. So who knows what the hell it’s called, but we do know the war criminals who make this stuff have a Facebook page, anyway.
You know you have a horrible wine if everyone at the wedding where it’s served chooses to remain totally sober, rather than touch the stuff. That’s where I encountered this filth-laden basura, at a wedding in downtown Lima. When I smelled it, I thought someone had just rubbed the glass in horse shit. I checked… that smell was coming from the bottle, not the glass. I looked around: sure enough, people were scrunching their noses, and entire bottles of the stuff sat untouched … for the entire evening! A friend of mine, a Peruvian attorney and wine snob, drank it, but it was his sister’s wedding and I suspect he didn’t want to insult the bride’s father for apparently buying wine from a horse stable, rather than a liquor store.
I am not kidding. The reek of this wine was a combination of gasoline and horse shit. It was the only wine that ranked a 0.5 in my reviews all year, and possibly the only one that got ranked that low… ever.
It’s not a surprise this comes from Peru, mind you. Peru just doesn’t seem to get it; they have a few limited areas with promising terroir, but the people here seem to be utterly clueless on winemaking, and the citizenry are just not wine-aware enough to care. The level of average wine knowledge in Peru goes like this: “sweet wines are for women, dry wines are for men.” And then the men drink all the sweet wine anyway. And, by the way, Boone’s Farm is sold as a “dry import” here in Peru.
Peru isn’t all horrible, though, and shows some promise. A chenin blanc from Ica won five stars last year, and remains in my wine cooler as the standby white to serve for friends and family who may not be too fussy. I love the stuff, even though I do suspect it’s being bottled for Peru, and not necessarily grown here.
I’m not sure what it will take to bring Peru up to speed with even 2nd tier wine producing nations, and it’s frustrating since we have Chile, Argentina and Uruguay so close as neighbors. But for now, Peru is a producer of largely junk wines. The pisco’s good, at least.
Runners up for Worst Wine included the horrid Canyon Road Cabernet Sauvignon 2015, which I said was like “mule urine”; a Château Baulac Dodijos Sauternes 2012, which I said tasted like your dad’s old photochemicals; Bodegas Santa Ana Caracter Shiraz-Malbec 2016, which tasted like “acid mixed with carcass”; and Apothic White, which I said tasted like “artificial banana cream cakes they sell in all night gas stations, but liquefied and then poured directly into your mouth.” That last one was ironic since Apothic Red won 2015’s Winepisser Best Wine Award; it was a short year. Those runners-up all netted a full star, at least, whereas the Cavas de Caral couldn’t even muster that.
If you want to pull the worst prank ever on someone, especially your wine snob pals, serve them Cavas de Caral. They may hate you — hell, they may murder you in your sleep! — but it would be worth it. It’s that terrible.
We’re heading into the final weeks of 2017, which means an announcement is quickly forthcoming for this years Winepisser Best Wine award. The contenders so far are a wild, rambling mix of whites and reds, dry and sweet, including — for the first time — an actual dessert wine. Here’s the list so far:
- Pahlmeyer Proprietary Red – Napa – 2014
- Pittacum La Prohibición – Spain – 2012
- Joh. Jos. Prüm Graacher Hehimmelreich Spätlese – Germany – 2012
- Walla Walla Vintners Cuvée Red Blend – Washington – 2013
- Protos Ribera del Duero Roble – Spain – 2015
- Navarro Correas Structura Ultra – Argentina – 2010
- Hugel Gentil – France – 2015
- Alvear’s Pedro Pedro Ximénez de Añada – Spain – 2014
- Dr. Loosen Riesling Beerenauslese – Germany – 2013
- Hestia Cellars Riesling Yakima Valley – Washington – 2013
- Hugel Alsace Cuvée les Amours Pinot Blanc – France – 2014
There’s still time for a last-minute entry, but the only wines in the tasting pipeline between now and decision time are a few low-end whites and the same Narbona Tannat that won last year. At least one event is coming up in the final days of December, which may see us getting a chance to buy some more exotic bottles, but that may get pushed into 2018.
What’s unusual, to me at least, is that not a single Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc made the top list, despite a tremendous showing. 29 of the 150 wines reviewed for 2017 were Sauvignon Blanc, with 18 of those from New Zealand. The average score of the essbies, however, ran only at about 3.25, which is surprising since it’s a wine I enjoy so much, that overall average was reduced by the non-NZ offerings, though, as the average for the NZ SBs was almost 4.0. I was sure that at least one would hit the 5-star mark this year, and none did. I’m enjoying the wines, for sure, but they just couldn’t outshine the whites that did make it to the top.
Following on from SB, Riesling was the 2nd most-rated wine of 2017, comprising 15 wines. That’s not a surprise, since I am a reesfan with no shame, even if I think it takes a back seat to its far more colorful cousin, Gewurztraminer. Of that grape, two made the 5-star list: a Dr. Loosen from Germany, and a fantastic reez from Hestia Cellars in Washington State.
The red blends took third most-rated wine, and a number of those won the coveted cincoestrellas, as shown in the list above. Meanwhile, Chardonnay, a grape I find typically resting somewhere between dull and loathsome, is climbing the list, and I suspect may get more play in 2018 as I explore less of the over-oaked California offerings and go back to the Old World to check its roots. I’m also expecting great things from Chenin Blanc, which may well surpass my Sauvignon Blanc obsession.
I am excited a dessert wine made the list, a Pedro Ximénez from Spain. This was a shockingly sweet wine, too, which usually turns me off, even for dessert wines, but wow! — this was a knockout. How they managed to get that much sugar in the wine without destroying it utterly is just amazing.
In previous years, it was clear the reds were likely to win the Best Wine Award, but this year I’d have to say it’s 50-50 between the reds and whites.
Meet Hugel Gentil 2015, a Gewurztraminer blend from France’s Alsace region. My very first Winepisser post praised Hugel, a winery I have been familiar with for nearly 15 years, and which will likely be my favorite winery of all time when I shuffle this mortal coil. I’ve also had many bottles of Gentil and nearly every other offering from Hugel et Fils, so I’m no stranger, but it’s consistently fantastic quality always surprises me, in the best ways possible.
The is a blend of Gewurztraminer, Muscat Blanc, Pinot Gris, Riesling and (according to Vivino, anyway) Pinot Blanc and Sylvaner. Most of Hugel’s offerings are pure varietal, but this blend shows just what a good winery can do when they put their best grapes together. Essentially, it comes off as a gwertz/pinot gris blend, and all the others are hidden behind these two dominant flavors, but it’s — as I said — consistently fantastic.
Hugel et Fils is now the first wine producer to land two 5-star reviews in one year, but that’s hardly surprising, given the amount of the stuff I drink. Ultimately, however, it’s unlikely Hugel will win a Best Wine award from my site, because I am so familiar with their product. Winepisser is, at its heart, a wine exploration site, and it doesn’t do anyone much good to simply keep heaping praise on a single favorite winery from years past. It should just go without saying that I love Hugel, and their wines must be experienced whenever you get the chance.
See also my review for Hugel Alsace Cuvée les Amours Pinot Blanc 2014 here.
I get it. Cork rots. It leaks air. It’s unreliable. It makes no sense from a simple manufacturing standpoint.
I mean, I really get it. In my day job, I’m an aerospace quality consultant, having worked with companies such as Lufthansa, Northrup Grumman, NASA and more. Reliability is a must in such industries; failure is not an option. Any manufacturer in this field that tolerates a 10% failure rate is insane. Even if the latest numbers, putting TCA taint at less than 4%, are accurate, that wouldn’t be allowed in any other industry.
But when it comes to wine, I want to put aside my experience in quality management. I don’t want to be burdened by concepts like “mean time between failures” or “first pass yield.” For me, wine is magical, it’s a near religious experience, it’s a cultural art that — in my fantasy, anyway — ascends beyond mere manufacturing process controls.
Of course that’s insane. Wine is a product like any other, made for consumption by consumers who pay for the product, and put profits into the accounts of the manufacturers. It’s a business. I know this, because it’s my profession. But dammit, allow me my escape! Just for a few hours!
Screwcaps ruin the experience for me. There, I said it. I’m a cork snob, I suppose. But for me, the act of opening the bottle is as much of an enjoyment as tasting what’s inside (well, close, at least.) It’s a ritual, and humans love rituals. I try to use my favorite openers (one of two, a bulky metal one I throw in my luggage when I’m traveling, and an ornate wood handle two-stepper that I use at home.) I enjoy the steps involved: scribe the foil, peel it away, position the screw just so, screw down, find that right lip contact and then pull. For me it’s as if I’m a priest in an ages-old temple ritual, communicating with my gods in the only way I know how: physical motions committed to memory, and performed with respect and slow certainty. There’s anticipation, too: you can’t know if that cork has a flaw that will make the entire thing a challenge, or if the bottle will just yield without a fuss.
And there’s an audience, of course. People like to watch the act of someone opening a wine bottle. They don’t like watching someone screw off a metal soda top; it’s boring. Cork invites the exotic. I love that.
I’m going to say something that’s true, something that many will understand, but which probably nonetheless reveals me as an amateur: I take cork into account when buying. If I have the choice between two wines of equal possibility and price, I would likely choose the cork wine over the screwtop. I know that in addition to the wine, I’ll have the experience of opening it. It’s like asking a fine cigar aficionado if he wants to buy a wrapped Montecristo, or if he’d prefer a pre-lit one. I’m not a cigar smoker, but I know they appreciate the ritual of cutting and lighting. It’s near sacrilege to suggest otherwise.
Then there’s the idea of material keepsakes: you can keep a cork. Often they have their own artistic qualities and markings. You can display them. You can roll a cork around in your hand, and recall fond memories of the wine itself, when it was tasted, the experiences you had. It’s like an old photograph. You can’t do that with a screwtop; it’s simply not the same. A collection of screwcaps looks like you’re a trash horder.
I’m given hope that cork may make a comeback, as the industry adopts aerospace-level quality controls — heck, I’ll offer up a discount on my consulting services to any cork manufacturer to prove my position! — so that we can return fully to cork without the spoilage or taint problems. I know in my heart that this can be achieved, and I refuse to apologize for my kneejerk rejection of screwcaps. I know the logic… I get it. But my ritualistic love of wine won’t accept anything else.
Generally, 2017 started off pretty terribly, with not a single wine winning 5 stars until March, when Joh. Jos. Prüm’s 2012 Graacher Hehimmelreich Spätlese earned a cinco, and even that was easy, since I’m a fan of the German reezies. And then it wasn’t until another three months passed before the Pittacum La Prohibición 2012 and Hugel Alsace Cuvée les Amours Pinot Blanc 2014 landed 5 stars each. Another few months passed and finally in September, things started to take off, with a sudden rush of 5-star winners getting recognition. For a while there I thought 2017 was going to be a bad year, but now it’s turning into a real joyful experience.
But there have been some absolute dogs, and we should take a break to celebrate those wines who don’t ever, ever deserve to be celebrated. Each of these received two stars or (gag) less.
First up is Unparalleled – Sauvignon Blanc – New Zealand – 2016, which I said lacked “minerals like a diamond mine made of marshmallows. Worst NZ SB I’ve tasted… ever.” Unparalled indeed, as in perpendicular? It earned two stars.
Next was the horrid Layer Cake Malbec from Argentina, which seems ubiquitous on restaurant menus of even higher-end joints. I said this one was “like the 50-Foot Woman bent down and squirted an unripe vineyard in your mouth.” Ouch. Two stars.
Lindeman’s Bin 99 Pinot Noir 2015 won two stars as “a glass of wine-flavored meh,” and the 2014 Frescobaldi Rèmole Toscana Cabernet Sauvignon / Sangiovese got the same rating, called “dull and disappointing [like] M. Night Shyamalan in wine form.”
Another 2-star winner (?) was the 2014 Terrazas de los Andes Altos del Plata Malbec from Argentina, which had “zero finish, like a bad date that ends early with someone who couldn’t care less what you think.”
Coming in at only 1 1/2 stars was the 2014 Campanile Pinot Grigio Friuli Grave from Italy: “bland and vacuous like a speech on education policy by a bored septuagenarian senator.” Joining it in the just-under-two-star rating was the Loveblock Sauvignon Blanc from NZ (2016), which I said tasted like a cheap pinot grigio.
At the 1-star and under crowd — and yes, one of them won less than a full star — we have the bottom of the barrel, assuming these were actually put in barrels and not just stored in the bladders of sick goats. The 2012 sauternes from Château Baulac Dodijos Sauternes was so bad, I compared it to Polaroid chemicals, granting it a single full star.
Apothic White (2016) got a single star and, back in June, it looked like it might be the “worst wine of 2017.” I wrote that it tasted like those “artificial banana cream cakes they sell in all night gas stations, but liquefied and then poured directly into your mouth.”
Alas, another contender for worst wine has since crept up, and naturally it’s from Peru, which — like the national futbol team — just can’t seem to catch a break (although that 2015 Chenin Blanc from Ica did win five stars last year.) The horrid 2015 Franclin Delgado Castilla Cavas de Caral got only a half star after it was served at a wedding, and the entire table — in fact, every table, was seen avoiding the stuff. Imagine a wedding where the wine was so bad, people opted to stay sober… that’s how bad it was. I wrote, “literally smells like a gasoline tank flooded a horse stable.” There was — and I mean quite literally — a reek of horse shit coming from the wine. I mean, how do you get your wine to smell like horse shit? Seriously, I’m asking.
I can’t imagine a wine being more horrible than the Delgado, but who knows? There are still a few more months left to 2017, and I might yet encounter something deserving zero stars, a rating I’ve never once had to use.