Posts Tagged ‘wine tasting

Time to Grow Up: The Problem with Tasting Notes

My almost two-year-old twin boys have entered the chatterbox phase. They are overflowing with words to describe their environment: two shoes, mommy’s cup, big shark book. Their vocabulary and their thinking are anchored in the concrete. It will be a little while before they understand abstract concepts completely, and acquire the words to express them.

Watching this process has me thinking differently about the language we use to describe wine. The current state of the tasting note is, well, not good. Eric Asimov cites a number of howlers in his recent book, How to Love Wine. (Check out my favorite chapter, Tyranny of the Tasting Note.) To my mind, the biggest problem with notes today is this: they are chock full of nouns. They’re a hodge-podge of names of things — roasted plums, dried thyme, Maduro tobacco — that remind me of how my toddlers see the world. Just like my little guys aren’t demonstrating a capacity for abstract thought yet, or an understanding of associations and comparisons, most tasting notes are stuck firmly in the world of things. As in, “here’s something that tastes like some other stuff, let me list them out. 92 points.” If, as writers and readers, we think of wine only in these concrete terms, we miss out on subtlety and sophistication. It’s infantilizing. Concepts like balance or terroir will elude us. Consciously or not, we give more weight to wines that taste like things, and less weight to wine that taste of a place. I’m not a terroir absolutist, and I understand that tasting notes are convenient and practical shorthand, but we do ourselves a disservice if we rely on these notes, and the wines they benefit most, to the exclusion of all else.

Back when I had time to teach wine classes (pre-chatterbox toddlers) I loved to pour cru Beaujolais for my students, if only to show them the world beyond Duboeuf. Once, after  asking a group to talk about the Morgon in front of us, a student said that “nothing about the wine stuck out.” She spoke reluctantly, certain she had said something stupid. I asked her to elaborate, and gradually I understood what she meant, and why she felt so sheepish about it. There was no “flavor” that jumped out at her, no raspberry jam or flambéed cherries or whatever it was she thought an ” expert” would identify. It just tasted like wine to her, wine that she liked. in fact, it was exactly the kind of wine she preferred. But she didn’t know how to ask for it, because she didn’t have the vocabulary she needed. “Nothing sticking out” was her way to explain that it was balanced. That it tasted of fruit, but wasn’t exactly fruity. that it had just as much alcohol as she wanted. That it was refreshing, even, not something she usually thought of in red wine. (And the more she drank, the more she wanted something delicious to eat with it.) How can we provide someone like her with a wine vocabulary that’s ample, descriptive and nuanced?

We spend a lot of ink and pixels criticizing winemakers who produce simplistic, overblown wines and the people who drink these wines. But if we want more people to appreciate different kinds of wine, we need to give them different language to understand and express their experience.

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One Good Bottle: The Pinot Project

If I had to draw up my list of wine buying rules, these would be at the top:

1. Avoid any Pinot Noir under $25.

2. Avoid California Pinot Noir, unless someone I like and trust has recommended it — and is paying.

3. Avoid drinking anything with the word “Project” in the name.

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And yet. One of the nicest bottles I’ve had this month was the inauspiciously named “The Pinot Project,” a wine made from Pinot grapes bought in across the state of California. It’s a well-made, well-balanced wine (no syrupy stuff here, although don’t expect Burgundian complexity) that would go with more or less anything you’d want to eat alongside a bottle of red wine. For $14 no less! The price-quality ratio goes down very easy — particularly if you overlook any long-held assumptions about cheap California Pinot.

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The Most Important Piece of Wine Advice EVER

Forgive the hyperbolic title here, people, but really, what I’m about to say merits it. If there is one fundamental piece of wine knowledge that eludes many wine drinkers, it is this: SWEET AND FRUITY ARE NOT THE SAME THING.

Did you hear that? SWEET DOES NOT EQUAL FRUITY.

Sweet means that there is a perceptible amount of residual sugar in the wine. Sweetness is something that you taste. Remember in elementary school when you learned how your taste buds register sweet, salty, sour and bitter? (And now, we’ve discovered, umami?) You register sweetness on your tongue.

Fruity means that the wine has strong aromas of fruit. Fruity is about how the wine smells. Remember also in elementary school when you held your nose so you could eat a particularly offending bite of brussel sprouts without gagging? Your nose is much, much more perceptive than your tongue, and most of our “tasting” actually happens with our nose.

Why is this important? Because often when people say they want a “dry” wine, they actually mean they want a wine that is not too fruity. There they are, telling the sommelier or store clerk that they prefer “dry” wine, thinking they’re being helpful, while in fact they’re being the opposite of helpful (to paraphrase Shrek.) There are plenty of wines that are dry, but quite fruity — some Beaujolais and New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc — and are likely to disappoint the “I’m saying dry but what I really mean is fruity” crowd. Sweet vs. fruity has got to be the leading cause of wine disillusionment and confusion for the casual drinker. (And not-so-casual. I’ve been to more than one tasting where serious wine peeps have gotten tripped up on this.)

Consumers and wine professionals alike need to take action. Here’s what I recommend:

If you are a consumer, the next time you get a glass of wine that seems “sweet” to you, take a deep whiff. Are you smelling lots of stuff you associate with “sweet” — tropical fruit, peaches, raspberries, honeysuckle, etc? Is that what’s bumming you out? Then plug your nose and take a sip. Does the wine still seem sweet to you? And if so, is that the problem? If it’s the aromas that are bothering you, then, well, you may not like intensely fruity wine. And if the sweetness bothers you, then OK, perhaps you’re sensitive to sugar and really do need for your wines to be bone dry. But keep in mind that even if this is the case, the vast majority of bottles in any store or on any wine list are dry. (With some obvious exceptions: dessert and fortified wines, most notably.)*

And if you are a wine professional, (nicely) interrogate your customer. Ask for examples of dry/sweet wines they have and haven’t liked. Last week I saw a fresh-out-of-college wine clerk at my local liquor store do this very well, helping a woman transition from cheap Moscato to a nice Sauvignon Blanc. Turns out she loved the fruitiness of Moscato but hated the sweetness of it. This is not brain surgery, and it’s not particularly sexy — but it’s the most important piece of wine guidance you’ll ever give.

*(Sidebar: if a wine is sweet, that doesn’t mean it’s bad. There are many great, sweet wines in the world. Liking sweet wine doesn’t mean you’re a moron. Check out this recent glowing review that Jancis Robinson gave a Gallo Moscato!)

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Accepting Amarone

We all have our prejudices. For whatever reason, I’ve always had a “thing” against Amarone. Too big. Too overwhelming. Too difficult to match with food. I appreciated that it’s a bit of an oddball wine, made in an oddball fashion — the grapes are dried before they’re fermented, concentrating the flavors in the wine — but that was the extent of my admiration.

I had the chance to challenge my opinions a few weeks ago, when I was invited to a tasting of 2001 Amarones made by some top, family-owned producers. These are wines that need a lot of time to develop, so even the 2001s were a bit rough around the edges. As a whole these wines are big, tannic, and dry. They also feature some unusual, striking flavors(the phrase “chocolate covered craisins” made more than one appearance in my tasting notes). I loved the chance to taste these wines. I loved hearing about them from the people who made them — or, at the very least, the sons and daughters of the people who made them. The 25-year old son of one producer said his father only just started letting him pick the grapes for their Amarone, because it requires so much expertise and care.

I admire these wines more than ever…but I just don’t like them. They don’t move me. Nor do I see how they would really fit into my life — I don’t think I’d enjoy them much on their own, and there are plenty of other big, intense wines I’d turn to for food matching first. So basically, Amarone is the vinous equivalent of this:

 

I mean, amazing shoes, right? I just can’t see myself wearing them.

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Is Alcohol Level Really That Important?

A favorite topic these days among wine folk is alcohol level — that is, are wines getting too alcoholic? Blame climate change (remember, warmer weather=riper grapes=more sugar=more alcohol), blame Robert Parker, blame the American palate, blame Fox News, but many think that the end result is too many wines with elevated alcohol levels. (Check out this post on alcohol levels and balance in Pinot Noir for an informative, if inside-baseball-ish, take on the matter.)

It’s true that overly alcoholic wines are no fun to drink: they’re not great with food, they lack subtlety — and they can make for an unpleasant morning after. But I wonder if people are making too much of the matter, with a slightly obsessive focus on the alcohol percentage number. That number can be helpful, but fixating on it can be misleading. Context, as they say, is all. Last week, I opened up a 14.5% Rhône blend from California that hit you like a blunt instrument: it was dull, massive, and sure to cause a headache. It was an expensive wine, a gift, and I weirdly felt obligated to finish it. Drinking it (over the course of a few days, of course) felt like a chore. Tonight, however, I cracked open a 14.5% Rhône blend from Australia that had me wanting one more sip, then another, and yet another. Sure, it’s a big wine, but it wears its size well, and with elegance. It’s the difference between:

and

I’m all for less of the former and more of the latter, but it’s the artistry and the effort, not the number, that makes the difference.

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An Evening with Ruinart (Or, Thoughts on Texture and the Competitiveness of Wine Bloggers)

As you may have noticed, I’ve been on a pregnancy-induced blogging sabbatical. It’s been harder to keep up with STBNY during pregnancy than I would have hoped. (In fact, it’s been harder to do everything during pregnancy than I would have hoped, but that’s another matter.) I have made a few exceptions. Late last year I went to a tasting of Tom Seaver’s wines, where I got to meet the great man himself. (Yes, that Tom Seaver. More on him soon, I promise.) And last week I went to a dinner/”sensory experience” for Ruinart champagne. Given that most of my sensory experiences lately have involved discomfort, heart palpitations, back pain, and nausea, a night of champagne tasting seemed like an excellent alternative.

The experience went something like this: following a very pleasant half-hour of chatting with fellow invitees/bloggers and the supremely charming Jean-Marc Gallot, president of Ruinart, we took our places, which were set thusly:

Each of the 8 vials in the box contained a different scent, which, according to the brain trust (nose trust?) over at International Flavors + Fragrances, was present in Ruinart’s Blanc de Blanc champagne. It was our job to identify each of the smells and match them to the correct answer on a pre-printed list of 16 different aromas. Of course, we each had a glass of the Blanc de Blanc to help us along.

With Gallot teasing/encouraging us, we sniffed and scribbled away. Was #2 lemon…or grapefruit? The table arrangements held clues — like this little pot of pink peppercorns:

You’ve heard of blind tastings? This was more of a “blind smelling,” which put our collective olfactory skills to the test.

1. The folks over at LVMH are some damn fine marketers. Ruinart is the oldest continuous champagne house, and one with a slightly below-the-radar profile here in the U.S. This event was the perfect way to position Ruinart as a “boutique” brand, less mainstream than Moët or Veuve-Clicquot, but more accessible than Dom Pérignon or Krug. Gallot is the perfect guy to lead the charge. He has that all-too-rare combination (at least in the wine business) of American openness and French, well, Frenchiness. When I asked him what he liked to drink when he wasn’t drinking champagne he said he loved Bordeaux but…was beginning to really enjoy Burgundy. In New York, where obscurity is often touted as a virtue, and it’s nearly impossible to keep up with whatever the wine hipsters are drinking (“What you mean you’ve never had Grolleau? That was so 2010!”) it’s refreshing to remember that one can very happily stick to the classics. (If one has the budget for it, that is.)

2. Delicacy and simplicity are not the same thing. The chief virtue of Ruinart’s Blanc de Blanc is its finesse. Made from 100% Chardonnay — that’s what “Blanc de Blanc” means — this champagne is definitely on the lighter, crisper, end of the spectrum, which is the style I prefer. I think of champagnes like this as “lacy,” although I’m not sure how helpful that comparison is for anyone else. Nonetheless, it’s fair to argue that most of the smells they gave us were somehow present in the wine itself. I might take issue with the white peach, and I definitely wasn’t buying the pineapple (not coincidentally, the only one I got wrong), but ginger, jasmine, cardamom? Why not? Just because a wine is delicate or subtle, that doesn’t mean it can’t have a lot going on. I think it’s particularly difficult to detect this complexity in champagne, where texture (i.e., those bubbles) rather than aroma/flavor, makes the strongest first impression. Hence my classification of this wine as “lacy.” If that word doesn’t make intuitive sense to you, so be it: but I’d encourage you to pay as much attention to a wine’s texture as to its flavor. This is easiest to do with the extremes — say, sparkling at one end of the continuum and port at the other — but it’s not too hard to detect the silkiness of a good Pinot Noir or the roughness of a too-young Barolo or Bordeaux.

3. Wine bloggers are a competitive bunch. I’ve been to some fancy schools over the years and live in a city filled with Type A personalities, but nothing compares to a roomful of wine writers trying to out-smell and out-taste each other. I’m not sure why that is. Perhaps the subjectivity of wine-tasting makes it all the more important that we state our opinions with authority? Or because an evening of sipping champagne in each other’s pleasant company doesn’t feel enough like work, so we have to be extra-serious in our wine analysis? Whatever the reason, I’ll cop to it as much as the next wine blogger. God knows, I’m still annoyed I only got 7 out of 8 right. Do you think I can turn in an extra-credit assignment?

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Is There Such a Thing as a “Wine Genius”?

The other day I got an email from the folks at something called the Everyday Genius Institute. Would I, they wanted to know, be interested in reviewing a video called “Think Like a Genius Wine Master”? Would I ever. And not just because I love getting free stuff (although I kinda do). I wanted to see the video because I was curious to see how they defined a “Genius Wine Master”–and wanted to know if it was possible to think like one. I’ve met a lot of people who are very, very smart about wine. They usually fall into one of the following categories:

The tasting prodigies. These are people who are absolutely brilliant tasters. They can detect faults with a single sniff, excel at blind tastings, and have astounding recall of every wine they’ve ever tasted. The rarest of all breeds, but definitely the showiest.

The walking encyclopedias. No grape variety is too obscure, no corner of the wine-producing world is too hidden for these wine scholars. Impossible to stump, they are rarely shy about sharing their vast knowledge.

Uber-specialists. In the tradition of Isaiah Berlin’s hedgehog, these folks know one big thing. Often, the one big thing they know is Italy, which seems to inspire more specialists than any other nation. (And who could blame them?)

Varsity bullshitters. Alas, the most common of all wine smarties. Bluster and confidence can carry you very far in some wine circles. This is what happened to that guy in your AP English class who never seemed to read anything but still managed to get a 5 on the exam.

The master senseis. Next to the tasting prodigies, these peeps are the toughest to find. They’re incredibly gifted at sharing what they know in a way that excites, educates–and doesn’t intimidate–the beginner. This is the kind of wine intelligence that I’m trying very hard  to cultivate–and that I’d like to see more of in the wine world.

The “Genius Wine Master” at work in this video — Master Sommelier Tim Gaiser — is probably a combination of the tasting prodigy and the master sensei. There’s some truly helpful stuff here, with a comprehensive breakdown of see/smell/sip, as well as a useful disclaimer that context (where you’re tasting, and who you’re tasting with) has a big impact. The advice to make a mental collage of what you’re tasting, picturing fruits and spices and the like in your mind’s eye, makes a lot of sense for visual learners. At $50, it seems a bit steep for information you could find for $20 in a book (or for $0 online) but if you like video learning and don’t mind throwing money at this problem, you could do worse.

My only real objection to the video is the name. I don’t know what a “wine genius” is. As I tried to show above, I think there are different kinds of “wine intelligence,” but the idea of genius when it comes to wine seems facile,  somehow too lofty and too limiting all at once. (The other topics of genius study? Getting straight As, sales, and copywrighting.) When I think of a “genius,” I think of either someone who famously deserves the label–say, Einstein–or else someone who has an extremely specific, limited skill, as in “that guy’s a genius at fixing up old Vespas.” (No offense to Vespa mechanics. Or Einstein.)

What I don’t think of is someone who has devoted countless hours to the endlessly rewarding–and occasionally frustrating–pursuit of understanding what happens when grapes become something else entirely. What do you call that? Passionate amateur? Wine-crazed fool? I’ll take those over “genius” any day.

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If You Like Giorgio, You’ll Love Riesling

Remember those old Designer Imposters “perfume” ads from the 80s? If you like Giorgio, you’ll love…

I always think of those whenever I’m chatting with someone who’s new to wine. I mean, really new to wine, as in “I’ve had wine a few times and think I like it…but am not sure what to try next. How do I know what I like?” If you haven’t tried a lot of wines, it’s tough to get your bearings. To tell a newbie that something takes a little like a Carneros Chardonnay means nothing if you’ve never had a Carneros Chardonnay. Instead, I quiz them about what other beverages they prefer. That way, if they tell me they like Tang, I know they’ll love…well, actually, I don’t know anyone who likes Tang. And frankly I have no idea what the wine equivalent would be. But here are some other ones that are much easier to translate:

Lemonade: Easy–German Riesling, which has that same perfect tension between tart and sweet.

Black tea: Tannic, bitter, and a little earthy, it’s the ideal gateway beverage to Barolo, Barbaresco, or pretty much anything else made from Nebbiolo

Black coffee: Syrah, especially from the Northern Rhône. In my favorite Syrahs I always get lots of coffee notes.

Coke: Rioja. Aging in American oak creates all kind of vanilla and spice notes, hallmarks of the taste of Coca-Cola.

Any Starbucks variation on a theme of coffee and chocolate: Ripe, rich California Merlot with a ton of mocha notes.

Cranberry juice: Pinot Noir (outside of Burgundy), Dornfelder, Gamay. Anything with bright, tart, red fruit.

Water: Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.)


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In Defense of the 100-Point Scoring System. Kind Of.

Want to get a serious wine lover’s knickers in a twist? Just ask him what he thinks of the 100-point scoring system. Nothing is quite so controversial — and ubiquitous — as the 100-point scale. Popularized by Robert Parker, the World’s Foremost Wine Critic or the Scourge of the Wine Industry, depending on whom you talk to, Parker had the clever idea to rate wines according to the 100-point system. This grading tool, familiar to anyone who’s ever passed through the American school system, has guided many a wine shopper — and pissed off more wine professionals that you can imagine.

Look, I don’t pay any attention to Parker points. I find the people who follow him slavishly a little off-putting. But my occasional annoyance at Parker and his acolytes is dwarfed by my chagrin at people who love nothing more than to complain about him. Why so much rage, you guys? It makes me make feel like I need to defend the 100-point system. So here’s my attempt to refute the most popular anti-Parker arguments:

1. Wine is beautiful, magical, transcendent, something so special that it can not be reduced to a mere number. I love wine. I have had my share of magical experiences around great bottles that count among the happiest moments of my life.  But for most of us, wine is an enjoyable beverage. The vast majority of consumers who don’t know a ton about wine are looking for a good bottle that won’t break the bank, and, every so often, a splurge that lives up to its price tag. If the 100-point scale system is helpful in those pursuits, who am I to judge? The world of wine is vast and diverse, and there’s enough room for those of us who take it very seriously, and those of us who just want to have a good time. Imagine if the movie industry operated the same way. It would be like going around to people waiting in line to buy tickets to Eat, Pray, Love, telling them they are boors for seeing the movie just because their local critic gave it three-and-a-half stars, all while waving the latest issue of Cahiers du Cinéma in their face.

2. Robert Parker is evil. Therefore, the 100-point scoring system is evil. If I remember correctly from my 10th grade ethics class, this is what’s called an ad hominem argument. Attacking the man instead of the issue at hand. If we only read books, watched movies, or embraced innovation and technology created by likeable people, the structure of our DNA would be undiscovered, the iPhone wouldn’t exist, and our only entertainment would be an endless loop of Sandra Bullock movies on TBS. (Although don’t get me wrong, I love Sandra Bullock.) This argument is illogical, annoying, and childish. Next.

3. I’m OK with assigning numerical scores to wine, but the 100-point scale is arbitrary. This is the most reasonable of all the arguments out there, even though I don’t quite buy it. Yes, the 100-point scale is imperfect, and damned if I know the difference between a 91 point one and a 92 point one. There’s a certain Scholastic “how many angels can dance on the head of a pin?” nature to a 100-point scale, but that arbitrariness is inherent in any grading or evaluation system. Does the fact that it’s numerical annoy people? Or does 100 seem like too large a range, in which case does that make Jancis Robinson’s 20-point system only 1/5th as stupid?

4. The 100-point-scoring system is the Worst Thing to Ever Happen to Wine in the United States, if not the WORLD. This is my favorite. We should be so lucky! I can think of plenty of things that are much worse for the wine industry. Insane wine mark ups at restaurants. The U.S.’s anti-consumer three-tier distribution system. French wine subsidies. Anti-alcohol crusaders. Confusing labeling laws. Shall I go on?

5. The 100-point system is the reflection of one man’s tastes. This one is pretty accurate. It’s no secret what kind of wines Robert Parker likes (big, bigger, and biggest), and that he’s not one for subtlety. But I don’t think that’s a huge problem, and here’s why. First, he’s representative of the American palate overall. Yes, we eat too much artificially flavored, oversweetened crap that has wreaked havoc on our taste buds and makes us crave more flavor, more sweetness, more stimulation, more, more, more. But as Americans, we have access to a greater variety of good, intensely flavored food from around the world than pretty much anyone else in the universe. Inhabitants of even a moderately sized U.S. city can probably find some good Chinese, Mexican, Thai, Indian and BBQ within half an hour of their homes–not something you can say about the average European. (But if anyone can tell me about some great Vietnamese and soul food  joints in Rennes, Turin, or Stuttgart, I’m all ears.)  I’d argue that all of these cuisines can work well with bold flavors, so we’re not morons for gravitating towards these big wines.

Second, the problem with Parker’s palate isn’t its existence, but its primacy. Since the 1980s, his palate has been the only one that’s mattered, and the 100-point scale has been the dominant wine rating point of reference. His stamina and talent for self-promotion, among other characteristics, have kept him on top and made it tough for other voices, palates, and evaluation systems to emerge.

But this is America, gosh darn it. We don’t wring our hands about the other guy’s success. We tip our cap, come  up with something better, and work our butts off to steal market share away from him. This is actually happening, albeit incrementally. Wine bloggers are gaining a little traction, although probably not as much as we’d like to think. Some folks are doing interesting stuff with wine badges. Wine retailers are working harder to educate their customers, writing their own shelf talkers instead of relying on Parker points, offering more tastings, and organizing their selections around what foods to match them with or their taste profiles. Olive Garden, the restaurant chain that sells more wine than any other in the U.S., lets patrons try wine for free and organizes its wines by flavor profile, with nary a Parker score in sight. Granted, I don’t eat at the Olive Garden and this is a boring list, but it’s well priced, with accessible wines that probably complement the food they serve.

These may be baby steps, but they’re definitely steps. The quality and variety of wine available right now on the U.S. market in unparalleled. Is the 100-point scale the ideal way to get consumers to drink the best, and most varied, selection of wine out there? Of course not. But let’s move on.  Give the guy his due and come up with something better.

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Italian Wine Week III: 2009 Torre dei Beati Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Cerasuolo

One of my biggest wine writing pet peeves is comparing a wine to a woman. And not just any woman. It’s never “this Pinot Grigio reminds me of my middle school lunch lady” or “that Merlot is a dead ringer for my dad’s third wife, the one who collected Lladró and bred Bassett hounds.” No, it’s always some woman who is mysterious and elegant, naïve…yet precocious, docile and tempestuous all at once. Do you know any women like this? I sure as hell don’t. These comparisons offer much more insight into the psyche and relationship history of the wine writer than they do into the wine itself. Seriously guy, I have no way of knowing what your personal fantasies and anxieties are about the fairer sex, so incorporating them into your tasting notes is totally unhelpful to me–and to anyone else who’s not you.

That’s why I am going to  compare this 2009 Torre dei Beati Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Cerasuolo ($16.99) to a well-known woman, one who should be familiar to even the most casual student of early 21st century American film: Elle Woods, heroine of Legally Blonde.

First, there’s the color. I’d call this something between dark Barbie-pink and light cherry. “Cerasuolo” refers to a category of deeply colored, often fairly intense Italian wines that are somewhere between rosé and red.

Here’s a picture. Apologies that the lighting and glass don’t quite do it justice. We brought this over to a friend’s place, and I didn’t want to make a whole production about photography.

Just as Elle’s wardrobe choices made it impossible for anyone to take her seriously–who could forget when she shows up to her first law school party wearing a Playboy bunny costume?–the color of this wine practically screams frivolity.

Then there’s the aroma, which I can only describe as perfumed. Sticking my nose in the glass was like smelling a bouquet of flowers, with roses front and center. I was reminded of the scene where Elle passes her pink and perfumed resume along to her law school professor and soon-to-be swain Luke Wilson. “I think it gives it that extra something!” she says of the scent and really, who are we to disagree.

Based on first impressions, we’re expecting something inconsequential, dumbed-down and even cloying. But anyone who’s well-versed in Hollywood conventions (or the winemaking of Torre dei Beati, a small, organic estate, as well as the high-quality potential of the Montepulciano grape) knows what will happen next.

It turns out–suprirse!–that this wine is far from lightweight. There’s some real tannic structure here, as well as good acidity. Yes, there’s a touch of sweetness too, but nothing overwhelming. Ripe red fruits–strawberries in particular–are matched with a little earth and minerality. Just as Elle ultimately shows her smarts and prevails, with highlights and manicure intact, this wine manages to be charming and serious at once. And just as our heroine must hold her ground against any number of challenges, from a lecherous professor to catty classmates to lying witnesses, this wine can stand up to a lot. Tomato and mozzarella? Sure. Grilled chicken? Absolutely. Barbecue? A platter of cured meat and cheese? Why not.

So I invite you to pick up a bottle, pair it with pretty much anything that goes down easy on a hot late summer day, and raise your glass to toast the twin delights of Cerasuolo and Reese Witherspoon.

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