When I moved from my house to my husband’s place, I brought with me not only a Granny Smith-colored Kitchen Aid mixer and a cat, but also three or four cases of wine I’d stashed away periodically over my brief tenure in the wine shop. They were usually single bottles of things I liked at a given moment and would save up to purchase periodically, so the cases are pretty full of strange things. I’ve picked off a few of them here and there, but haven’t looked in them in quite a while. So this week, I went snooping and came across a few odd balls and old friends and decided to re-taste them, a pure study in curiosity.
Wine #1: Orin Swift Cellars “Mannequin” White, California
I can’t remember why I have this wine. Therefore, I open it now.
Mannequin is made by Orin Swift, a producer that’s not quite cult status but certainly has some loyal followers and are known for limited release wine with intriguing names and genius labels. Their design is typically sleek and evocative, some with brooding photos, others with eerie drawings, Mercury Head actually has a Mercury head dime in the glass. The bottles are skull crackers, really hefty, and the wines vary from Bordeaux grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot to Rhone varieties like Syrah and Grenache, some Zinfandel, and this weird, weird white wine, Mannequin. It’s a blend of Chardonnay, Viognier, Semillon, Muscat, and Marsanne, aged in a combination of new oak, neutral oak, and stainless steel and the label is a long line of creepily arranged and deteriorating department store mannequins.
First, let me admit that I enter this tasting with a bias against many California white blends like this, usually find them too massive and lacking in any kind of grace or subtlety. So again, I don’t exactly remember why I have this wine to begin with. But I’m interested to see what it’s all about.
The Nose: This guy is going to be boozy. You can tell from the first sniff, kind of gives the impression that it will sear your nose hairs off if you inhale too deeply. After that, it’s hugely fruity with ripe peaches and Clementine or tangerine zest, not sharp or overtly acidic like a lemon, but softer and a little more tropical. An oily, sweet floral aroma from the Viognier and baking spices like nutmeg from the use of new oak make it pretty clear we’re not dealing with a subtle or dainty wine.
A note about the descriptor “baking spice”: often this sort of a group scent that could include cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, the kinds of spices you bake with. In this circumstance, the spicy note I get on the nose is not distinctly nutmeg-y, but is kind of like the smell of a doughnut, and doughnuts will often taste differently than other sweets because of the presence of nutmeg.
The Palate: True to form, there is nothing subtle about this wine. It doesn’t have a “hint” of anything, just massive amounts of whatever it offers. The rich, dense, oily texture offers little lift or relief, not a lot of balance, and reminds me distinctly of pineapple gummy bears. Sweetness from both the Viognier and Muscat also adds musky perfume and something like hazelnut oil to finish.
Bottom line: In conclusion, I’m still not sure why I bought this wine. I get that it’s a limited release sort of situation, I see its visual appeal, but there are so few things I could have this with that it wouldn’t bowl over with its massiveness that I’d never pick it to grace the table. Granted, it was far from my style to begin with, but it honestly feels like too much of too many good things.
Wine #2: Finca el Puig 2004, Priorat, Spain
I first tasted Finca el Puig when we were having a Staff Picks tasting and I was asked to diversify our selection by picking something Spanish. Not too versed in our selection at that point, somebody else made the selection of this wine from the Priorat, which I often describe as the New Jersey of Spain not because of its casinos, reality television shows, or political traffic jams, but because of its general northeastern location. I tasted “my” pick as I poured it that night and was supremely pleased.
The Priorat is ancient ground, farmed by Carthusian monks as far back as the 12th century and has volcanic soil called llicorella with slate and mica. Finca el Puig is Garnacha, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Syrah and was aged for fourteen months in French oak. Old, old vines have to dig deep through that dense soil for water, which means tiny but supremely intense yields cut by pure, slatey minerality. So unlike the Mannequin, I intentionally collected eight or nine of these bottles and am purely curious to see if I still love it.
Nose: Upon first whiff, there are three things that made me question if the bottle wasn’t flawed: 1) the first one I opened was corked. 2) Ripe, ripe fruit and big alcohol can initially read as acetone. 3) The dark slate minerality can at first remind one of the cool damp of a basement, which is often the first hint of a corked bottle. But, hooray, it in fact is just perfect.
A boozy, boozy nose reminds me that this is a 15.5% alcohol wine, massive, but there’s a lot of material to support it. Dried cherries, chewy, sweet but tart like good old balsamic vinegar and that cool minerality that really does remind me of a slate roof mixed with preserved plum makes a complex first impression. Or re-impression, in this case.
Palate: The nose carries right into the palate with big, black, boozy fruit punctuated by a steel string of sleek dark mineral running through it from the soil. The texture is chewy, tannins sticking to the roof of the mouth and tongue like atomized flour. For all its depth and breadth, it’s not heavy and definitely still has freshness.
Bottom Line: Still love it, though I wouldn’t pop it open and sit with a glass on the couch, I don’t think. I want something to give that tannin to work with, even if it’s a dark chocolate cake. Especially if it’s a dark chocolate cake.
Going back to bottles I used to love is always a good snapshot of where I was as a taster at certain points of time. In this case, the lure of the label got me with the Mannequin, no surprise to my visual self, and the tension of raisiny dark fruit and minerality got me with the Finca el Puig. Now if you’d excuse me, I have a half bottle of Priorat and some cake baking to do.
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