My goal is to train my brain to recognize various types of wine from around the world when tasted blind. In order to do that the wines I sample must be accurate representations of the region and vintage. Otherwise my perception of that wine region and grape will become distorted. A wine that is poorly made because it is over oaked, over extracted, too weak or in some other fashion is out of balance or has some sort of wine flaw (has TCA “cork taint”, was stored improperly and has become baked or maderized, has too much brettanomyces “brett” etc.) will not help me learn about that region. It is easy to find inexpensive wines that are poorly made or weren’t made with quality fruit, but they don’t typify the region. The Pinot Noir that is overly extracted or overly oaked can seem like a weak Syrah. Conversely, a very light Syrah that only saw neutral oak or came from a cool region or vintage can seem like a Pinot Noir. A Cabernet Sauvignon that is from too cool of a region can have subtle green notes and can consequently be perceived as a Cab Franc.
In a blind taste test these poorly made or flawed wines can fool you into thinking they are something that they are not. But the goal of the WSET or Court of Sommeliers isn’t to trick you, but to test your knowledge of wine. Therefore, they are only going to pour you wines that are fair and accurate representation of the various wine regions. The ONLY time you should be intentionally poured a poor quality or flawed wine is in a Sensory Analysis class in which the intent is to learn how to detect and identify flawed wines, which is a necessary course when studying enology.
Therefore, in order to train my brain properly I need to limit myself to quality international wines (from France, Italy, Spain, Germany etc.) which can become rather expensive. Since I am obviously not going to be traveling around the world tasting wines like I do with my California and Oregon blogs, the next best thing is to find wine bars that regularly and conveniently serve by-the-glass a variety of quality imported wines. The other solution is to form a Wine Study Group in which you share costs with others who are also going through the same educational process, which I hope to do once the SOMM class begins. In the mean time, I have found a few wine bars with excellent menus which I will be visiting on my way home after work or on weekends.
My first wine bar featured in this blog is The Vine at Bridges in Danville, California. It is located in the East Bay near Walnut Creek (where I grew up) and it is about 15 minutes from where I live. There is another wine bar, Vin Vino Wine, near where I work on the other side of the bay in Palo Alto that I will probably visit during the week after work on days that I don’t have class. But they close at 7 PM whereas The Vine at Bridges stays open as late at 10 PM or even midnight on some days. So, this will be an excellent place to not only taste wine but spend my time studying.
So, with text book in hand, I sat down at the wine bar and met Vine Manager David Gibson and Assistant Manager JJ Foster and sampled a flight of wines, one southern Rhône and 3 Italian wines. In this post, I’ll review the first wine and talk about the others in subsequent posts.
2011 Domaine des Escaravailles Côtes du Rhône Les Sablières - Côtes du Rhône, France
My first pour was the 2011 Domaine des Escaravailles Côtes du Rhône Les Sablières - Côtes du Rhône, France. Since I wasn’t tasting this wine blind there were certain characteristics and attributes that I was expecting.
Generally speaking, there are three red wines that I find tend to have a distinctive earthy-poopiness.
The first is a Pinot Noir from Burgundy but they tend to be lighter in color, light to medium- in body, low to medium in tannin and medium+ to high in acidity in addition to typical fruit characteristics of red fruits, cherries, and spice. But the earthiness of Burgundy tend to be more towards mushrooms or forest floor.
The second wine that can have a distinctive earthiness are some Bordeauxs, but they are easily distinguishable from Burgundy and the Rhône as they tend to be higher in tannin and in their fruit profile lean towards black fruits such as currants and blackberries.
The third wine that tends to have a very distinctive earthy-poopiness are Grenache/Syrah blends (and possibly the addition Carignan or Cinsaut) from the Southern Rhône. But whereas Burgundy is a cool Continental climate the Rhône is a warm Mediterranean climate, which means higher alcohol, heavier body and potentially lower acidity. But Southern Rhônes can also have a distinctive meaty character that reminds me of beef jerky or new leather. While new world Grenache/Syrah blends can have similar fruit and meaty characteristics California Rhône blends typically don’t have the earthiness of a Southern Rhône and they tend to be higher in alcohol with heavier body. If it is from Australia, it tends to have bolder pepper notes and be more fruit forward. Of course these are just generalities, on rare occasion I do come across a New World Rhône blend that could be mistaken for a Southern Rhône.
So, if in a blind tasting I pick on the nose earthy-poopiness but it is darker in color than a Pinot Noir with lower acidity, but lighter in tannin than a Cabernet/Merlot blend and it has meaty characteristics but not the in-your-face fruit and pepper of New World wines my brain tells me, “This is probably a Southern Rhône.”
The 2011 Domaine des Escaravailles Côtes du Rhône Les Sablières is an excellent example of a Southern Rhône.
In 1953, Jean-Louis Ferran bought several well-situated hillside parcels above the southern Rhône villages of Rasteau, Roaix and Cairanne and named it Domaine des Escaravailles. The 160 acres property is made up of moisture-retaining soil mix of clay, sand and limestone chalk. The Sablieres is typically a blend of 70% Grenache and 30% Syrah predominantly from sandier parcels within Rasteau AC.
The name “Escaravailles” on this Southern Rhône comes from the local dialect for beetles... hence the beautiful black beetle label. It is sort like the origin of the word “Merlot” being a reference to black birds, whether it was because the grape was black like the bird or because the grape was a favorite dessert of the local fowl. In a similar fashion, the name isn’t derived from bugs that infest the vineyards, rather the black-cape-wearing monks that used to work these vineyards looked like escaravailles, when they were hunched over while tending the vines.
The lighting in The Vine at Bridges isn’t very bright so I would have to step outside to get a better visual inspection of the wine, but I did notice that the tears of wine clung to the glass and slowly returned to the base which is often an indicator of higher alcohol. On the nose this wine is smoky, earthy, and poopy with notes of beef jerky, dried herbs up front. After much swirling the fruit comes through with aromas of black cherries, plums and a hint of black pepper. On the palate it is bone dry with medium to medium+ chewy tannins, medium acidity, it is medium to full bodied with medium to medium+ alcohol with dried red fruits and black pepper dominating a medium length finish. The retail price for this wine is $14, a fair price for an excellent example of a Southern Rhône.
To visit or for more information:
The Vine at Bridges
480 Hartz Ave
Danville, CA 94526
Wine Bar Hours
Sunday: 12 (noon) - 7pm
Monday: 5 - 9pm
Tuesday - Wednesday: 4 - 10pm
Thursday - Saturday: 4 pm - 12:00 am