Friday, July 22, 2011

Big Woop Whoops Napa Valley ... And Offers A By-The-Glass Lesson

I played tourist today, visiting Calistoga which is a place that I have not spent much time in over the past 10 years or so. But in the process, I re-discovered a hard lesson for vintners in the "by the glass" process.

I lunched at a restaurant called Brannan's Grill which I had been to a number of years ago and had a nice experience...then.

This time, the food was forgettable and the wine memorable only for its mediocrity.

And there is no way to know whether the mediocrity is inherent in the wine or in its manner of opening and storage. And therein lies an important lesson for wineries.

I first ordered Brian Arden Syrah, Napa Valley 2008, Masked Man Vineyard, $13/glass. It was thin, flaccid, had no structure, no tannin and did a poor imitation of Syrah-flavored Kool-Aid. I thought the wine had been opened too long. I asked for another glass from a fresh bottle. And found the same thing. I don't know if this was crap wine to begin with, a stale bottle or both.

Not wanting to cause a fuss for a second time, I ordered another glass of wine, Allora Cabernet Sauvignon "Tresca" Napa Valley 2006, at $15/glass. Thin, faint fruit, shy, retiring tannins and little structure. Wimpy is the most charitable word I can think of.

But the Allora matched my lunch well: a "charcuterie plate" with three square inches of bland country pate, a small crock filled with pale, fatty meat chunks and some Redneck Charcuterie: fried pork rind. On, and burned baguette slices.

If I were a tourist from some distant place, I would take away some sour memories. But because I live in wine country, I know this is not the best food or wine that Napa Valley has to offer ... but a one-time visitor doesn't realize this.

First impressions can be the only impressions that get carried back home.

And that's a lesson that vintners should keep in mind especially if they're promoting their wine by the glass. Even if they are not actively promoting a by the glass program, they need to hammer it into sales reps heads that a proper method of preserving an unfinished bottle is vital to preserving the winery's reputation.

I've never had Allora or Brian Arden wines before this experience. So I can't say whether the transcendental plonkiness of the wines I sampled came from the wine or the way it was stored. Or both.

The counterpoint to it all came tonight when I paid $9.99 for a bottle of "Big Woop" which is a rough-and-ready, one-liter, screw-top Aussie red that seems mostly Syrah, but also has some Grenache and Mourvedre flavors running amuck. This was a boistrous,wine with a riot of flavor that elevated the pizza it was matched with ... all in all, a far better -- and less expensive -- gustatory experience than lunch.

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