Wine Test

Thursday Night Flight

Ten wines, one roll of paper towels, two really bored people

By Heather Irwin

It’s Thursday night, and we’re eagerly staring down 10 paper towel-wrapped bottles of modestly priced Sonoma County red wine. We’ve hidden the labels and any identifying information to keep us from being unduly influenced by cool label art, price or recognizable brands. Our mission: to find the one that sucks the least.

We’ve purchased 10 wines ranging from a very meager $5.99 to the meagerly extravagant $13.99, though most are between $6 and $8. In the spirit of adventure and a helping hand when you’re scratching your head at the Bottle Barn, here are the results of our totally unofficial Thursday night winetasting. Santé!

The ratings:

*****: Girls love you. Men worship you. You are the wine superstar of the evening.
****: A solid choice. You’ll be invited back.
***: Acceptable, especially when inebriated.
**: Bring this, and you’ll need to leave early. Out the back door.
*: This is what evil must taste like. Give to people you hate.

Grove Street 2001 Sonoma Cabernet, $7.29 **

We say: Fruitier than Carson Kressley. Lots and lots of heavy, dark cherry and berry with lots and lots of vanilla. We mean lots of vanilla. Like a Madagascar shipping dock.

Cheat sheet (what the experts say): Wine Spectator: “Heavy tannins and vanilla-scented oak overpower the fruit flavors within.” They rate it 79 out of a possible 100.

Pair with: Tame the tannins by pairing with bitter foods like kalamata olives, char-grilled meat or bitter salad greens.

Party cred: The classy label and winery’s red-wine cred will impress most people–like your mom and your Uncle Gus.

Forest Glen 2001 Shiraz, $5.99 ***

We say: Bright and tart with an easy mouth feel. Christina Aguilera in velvet underwear.

Cheat sheet (what the experts say): The 2000 Shiraz won kudos for its bright flavors. The current vintage has yet to win much acclaim, but Forest Glen (despite its ubiquitousness) is almost always a solid choice for reds.

Pair with: Grill up something bloody and raw.

Party cred: So, you stopped at Safeway on the way over, right?

Seacliff 2000 Cabernet, $6.99 *

We say: Hints of urine cake and barnyard matched by cloying fruit.

Cheat sheet (what the experts say): Anyone? Anyone at all? There’s not much ink on Seacliff.

Pair with: You’re slumming it, so crack out the pork rinds and Cheetos. It actually works.

Party cred: Leave it in the brown bag and hide it in the back. Maybe no one will notice.

Murphy-Goode 2002 Tin Roof Syrah, $6.89 ***

We say: Screw tops are cool. Lots of dried fruit and spice with a nice long finish despite a little off-flavor. Our choice for dinner at the Love Shack. Tin Roof, rusted, baby.

Cheat sheet (what the experts say): Houston Chronicle: “Lots of blackberry fruit and few tannins. Chill it slightly and twist that cap!”

Pair with: Mix it up by serving this blue-collar wine with some stinky, runny French cheese.

Party cred: You’re so cutting-edge with your screw-top Murphy-Goode. Old-school winos will snicker. You’ll just sip smugly.

Dynamite 2001 Cabernet Sauvignon, $11.79 *****

We say: Inky-smooth and just a little bit mysterious. The coffee and toffee flavors are luscious and decadent. This is James Earl Jones in a bottle. Hands off, Jedi, or you’ll lose ’em to my light saber!

Cheat sheet (what the experts say): Liquorama: “Firm, with a core of blackberry, chocolate and Bing cherry flavors. Cedar and smoky vanilla from toasty oak linger with solid structure.” See, we told you. The wine is aptly named for the method of creating the vineyard–namely blowing up rocky Sonoma Valley slopes.

Pair with: Lamb. Beef. Tofu hot dogs.

Party cred: You’re such an insider. This is a cultish wine without the cultish price.

Forestville 2000 Alexander Valley Reserve Merlot, $7.29 ***

We say: Like a romp through the forest with Halle Berry.

Cheat sheet (what the experts say): Wine News: “Big bouquet of blackberry, ripe plum, black coffee, cedar and the warmth of alcohol. Spicy red cherry resonates in the finish.”

Pair with: Pizza, chicken taquitos or M&M’s. They all work beautifully.

Party cred: You’re so over Two Buck Chuck–you thought. Yep, another great wine brought to you by the folks from Bronco Winery (creators of the $1.99 Charles Shaw).

Rosenblum 2001 Merlot, $7.99 **

We say: So much exotic spice, it’s like a Hong Kong strip show.

Cheat sheet (what the experts say): Experts don’t have much to say–they’re too busy fawning over Rosenblum’s Zinfandels.

Pair with: Pork-fried anything.

Party cred: You just bought the McVeggie sandwich of wines.

Rodney Strong 2001 Cabernet, $9.99 **

We say: Smells like feet.

Cheat sheet (what the experts say): “The nose captures your attention with an essence of a dark Lincoln rose, white chocolate and a hint of cumin.” Oh, maybe that’s what we smelled.

Pair with: Grilled steak, Odor-Eaters.

Party cred: Strong is a solid party selection. Just explain the smell as “rosy”–then again, you know what Andre 3000 says about roses.

Clos du Bois 2001 Sonoma Merlot, $13.99 ***

We say: Luscious and fine like crème brûlée or those airbrushed kitty panties at the fair.

Cheat sheet (what the experts say): We couldn’t find much about this wine–even on Clos du Bois’ own website.

Pair with: A naked lover.

Party cred: Hey, Long’s Drugs has some nice wines!

Cline 2002 Zinfandel, $7.59 **

We say: There’s some funk in the trunk on this one. Could it be eau de engine room?

Cheat sheet (what the experts say): “An intensity marked by dusty wild berry flavors and peppery tannins.”

Pair with: Pepperoni pizza, grilled meat, a dustpan.

Party cred: Solid party choice. Hey, Zins are supposed to be a little funky, right?

From the August 4-10, 2004 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.

© Metro Publishing Inc.

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