Monday, 2 March 2009

'Merca, February 2009

Not a very rewarding expedition. Slotovino was destined for the Coachella Valley (Palm Desert/Palm Springs) so did some research into any wine that may be grown locally. The nearest vineyards are in Temecula near Marietta and the Cucamonga Valley near the towns of Ontario and Riverside. The latter is on the way from LA to Palm Desert: 76 miles. Temecula is 44 miles from Palm Desert but the road is poor and the complicated trip takes about 90 minutes by car. In the end we didn't visit either area but emailed about a dozen wineries asking where we could buy their wines in Palm Desert/Palm Springs. Most replies said their wines were only available at the Cellar Door and the only one which could identify retailers anywhere nearby sent us to La Quinta. There we drew a blank at 'Desert Discount Wines' but at 'Bev Mo' which appears to be the largest chain of Liquor Stores in California, we found 4 examples of Temecula 'wines'.

These included an "Almond Champagne" and an unspecified sweet white with lots of golden retriever puppies on the label and some copy linking the same to the wine, a "chocolate port" and a Chenin Blanc from Maurice Car'rie (they seem to have problems not only with their prose but also their apostrophies in Temecula).

Amazed at how the terms "Champagne" and "Port" could still be bandied about in 'Merca, we bought the Chenin Blanc which turned out to be no more than competent. They say that a visit to Temecula makes a very pleasant day's outing and it is fabled that some good wine is made there. Amazing reverse Campanalismo that hardly any of this wine is available locally.

We combed the usual wine outlets in Palm Desert and were depressed as ever with the rows of Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. Does the 'Merican public never tire of making choices between versions of the same varieties? Alcohol content has crept up since last year (the only thing to point that way is the economic situation, it seems) and now reaches 16%. We read a survey by a physician who pointed out the bleeding obvious about the difference the effects a wine of this alcohol would be from one of 12% except to say that he reckoned the declarations were exaggerated downwards and not upwards which was our experience chez Berry Bros and Rudd.

Dr. Max Slotover drew our attention to a recent film called "Bottle Shock" which told the story of Stephen Spurrier and the Judgement of Paris in 1976 and we searched out one of the winners on that occasion, a Chateau Montelena Chardonnay (in this case, 2006) from Jensen's in Palm Desert (who have quite a decent selection for a supermarket) and later consumed this with great pleasure.

Surprisingly Montelena is not yet available everywhere but will surely be ubiquitous if the example of what the film "Sideways" did for Pinot Noir is anything to go by. There are now acres of Pinot Noir to accompany those of Ch. and Cab Sauv in every 'Merican store.

Over in Florida, more visits to wine outlets and more disappointment. At 'Total Wine and More' of Biscayne Boulevard however, we stumbled on something we had been looking for all over Italy since it had been recommended in 'Decanter': an Alicante Bouschet from the Maremma by Mantellassi "Querciolaia". Watch this space.

We also tried a Rioja Alta Reserva 1995 and a Cusumano Nero d'Avola but both made a rather muted impression perhaps as a result of a recent cold.

Finally to New York and our beloved Bathazar Restaurant on Spring Street. There three Jura whites were standouts on the French only winelist. The first was a Savignin which Mrs Slotovino does not appreciate. The second was an Arbois Pupillin Melon "La rouge-queue" Bornard 2004 at $66 rather expensive for the likes of us so we asked the nice Sommeilliere which grape went into the third, a Domaine de Montbourgeau "L'Etoile" (appellation L'Etoile controllee) 2006. The answer was Chardonnay.

We have always wanted to try a Jura Chardonnay: hope of something different springs eternal and the Jura is the place for individuality. The wine sure as hell tasted like a Savignin and we had to order a Chignin by Berlioz for Madame S to save the evening.

We didn't want to create a scene concerning the Domaine de Montbourgeau because it was also possible that the grape was Chardonnay made in a Rancio style, oxydised to the extent where sherry/Savignin-like flavours predominate. We managed to drink the wine with a pleasure of a kind resolving to check on the internet as to the actual variety in this wine. Strangly enough it appears that the wine is sometimes made with Chardonnay and sometimes with Savignin. There are no indications as to the content of the 2006. Curiouser and Curiouser.

An internet trawl produced this tasting note for a similar wine: wild aromas ranging from oily walnuts and pounded beef jerky to chalky limestone, dried sea salt, mineral spirits and latex.

The confusion over grape varieties extended also to the "Rouge-Queue" mentioned above. One internet source claimes Melon and Malbec (vinified white) as the components and another 100% Chardonnay. Clearly, Slotovino will have to solve these weighty matters with telephone calls to the vignerons.

And now an acknowledgement to our dear friend Gerard McBurney currently working out of Chicago who coined the affectionate diminutive 'Merca which for us encapsulates a G.W. Bush like innocence pervading the liquor store canyons of comfortably and reassuringly familiar grape varieties; Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Other White, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, Syrah and Other Red...

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