#4 – Castillo De Monséran Garnacha

Country: SPAIN
Region: ARAGON
Sub-Region: CARINENA
Grape Varietal: GARNACHA
Type: Still wine
Price: $8.99

Our fourth wine in the $100 Wine Challenge

Cynthia’s Review

I must admit that I do like a good Grenache- so possibly I was not the most objective with the Castillo De Monséran Garnacha. (I am also predisposed to like wines from Spain, to be completely honest !) We served this wine with a very casual dinner of turkey sausages topped with sautéed tomato, red pepper and onions, along with honey mustard, and accompanied by delicious sweet potato French fries. I really enjoyed this wine but I have to admit that I thought it had a peculiar odor. The flavor of the wine was just fine, as long as I didn’t get a nose full of the aroma, which was decidedly antiseptic. I wondered if the alcohol content was really high on this wine, which would account for the antiseptic smell, but the label on the bottle indicates an alcohol content of 12.5% by volume, which doesn’t seem really out of line with the other wines in our ”wine challenge”. The wine stood up well, both on its own, with an appetizer of cheese and crackers, and with the main meal. I think you could pair this wine with a huge variety of different cuisines and still have a wonderful experience. As I continue to learn about wines, this was another instance in which I could taste the fruit without confusing it with sweetness. (Still a hard lesson for me to grasp!) When drinking a wine on a “school night” I typically like to leave half a glass of wine to enjoy during my evening bubble bath, but this one was so delicious that I didn’t have the willpower to leave the requisite half glass- just drank it all. This wine receives a “yay” from me. Thanks Gerald !

Jay’s Review

I too must confess a weakness for the Spanish wines. This is probably because it is a reminder of our recent trips to visit. Although we didn’t consume as much wine on our first trip as we did on our second.

After uncorking the bottle I poured two full glasses and we each had a sip. I commented that it tasted pretty good and Cynthia said she liked the taste but didn’t care for the smell. I guess I wasn’t being a proper wine taster because I failed to have the customary swirl and sniff prior to taking the first taste. I brought the glass back to my nose and took a snort. Immediately I was stuck by how much the smell reminded me of being at the doctor. You know when they wipe you down with the alcohol swab before plunging the needle into your arm? It was that smell. Not overwhelming and not all together unpleasant, but it was a bit hard to shake once you noticed it.

The wine was quite delicious. I found it fruity and just the slightest bit of a sweet taste on the finish. And smooooooth! This wine paired extremely well with the sausage dish Cynthia had prepared and was equally pleasant with some after dinner crackers and cheese.

I give Gerald (our wine Sherpa) an enthusiastic “yay” on this one, even WITH the antiseptic smell.

#3 Reserve De L’aube Syrah-Merlot

Winery: Père Anselme
Country: France
Vintage: 2007
Price: $6.99

Wine # 3 in the $100 Wine Challenge.

Cynthia’s Review

I was really prepared to like this wine, especially after enjoying the Pére Anselme Rose ( wine # 1). Building upon our previous experiences, I actually read the label prior to drinking the wine.  The label contains the following recommendation: “Enjoy with barbecue, pizza, simple foods”. Perfect ! We were headed out to one of our favorite local restaurants, which charges a modest $1 corking fee, and I knew that I was going to order one of their specialties- spicy eggplant pizza- so this wine seemed like it would be a perfect fit ! When we first opened the wine, I had a few sips, and it seemed quite nice.  I was prepared to enjoy it with my meal, but sadly, the flavor kind of fell apart when paired with the spicy peppers and onions of the pizza.  I can’t imagine why this wine would be recommended with pizza- or anything spicy for that matter.  As a “stand alone” wine- just to have something to sip, or with something like a bland cheese and crackers, I guess this wine would be fine, but paired with anything strong, it just didn’t stand up.  Sadly, I think I’m going to have to vote “nay” on this wine.

Jay’s Review

I was intrigued by the blend. I like Syrahs well enough. I wasn’t all that certain about the Merlot aspect though. The first sip was nice. The wine was not overly aggressive. Quite smooth, in fact. But the story rapidly changed once I took a bite of my salad. Things got very agitated very quickly. I dismissed it as a likely consequence of the oil and vinegar dressing. I had a piece of bread and things settled down again. On to the main course, some chicken with pasta and spinach. Again the wine just didn’t want to cooperate. I think this is my first experience with a poor pairing of wine and food. It was just not meant to be. By itself, a pleasant wine but with food of any character whatsoever it’s not so enjoyable. I think if drank as a stand alone, or with some mild cheese and crackers it would be just fine. I give it a “yay” with a warning to steer clear of anything but the mildest of flavors in pairing with food.

#2 – Erik Banti Toscana Carato

Winery: Erik Banti
Varietal: Sangiovese Blend
Country: Italy
Region: Tuscany > Toscana Igt
Vintage: 2006
Price: $11.99

Cynthia’s Review:

I liked this wine. This wasn’t much of a surprise to me when I read the label and discovered that it contained 70% Sangiovese grapes. Although I am a beginner when it comes to wine- I love the Tuscan wines, and I recognized this name. (Although it seems to be spelled in a variety of ways, depending upon the native language of the label designer) The remaining recipe for this wine is 25% Merlot and 5% Sirah. (Sirah is also subject to imaginative spelling it seems !) We decanted this wine about 15 minutes before dinner.  I still don’t know exactly why letting the air get to the wine is a good thing, but maybe that’s because I worked for years in the grocery industry, where we spent all our time frantically trying to keep air out of practically everything utilizing skillfully designed packaging. We served this wine with a rather heavy meal- pork loin, augratin potatoes and creamed spinach- and the wine stood up to the challenge. Typically, I am a vegetarian, and don’t consume much of the meat portion of the meal, but I did eat a few bites of pork loin, just so that I could see how it paired with the wine. I actually did notice a difference- the wine seemed a bit heavy with just the vegetables, but that heaviness disappeared when I added the pork loin to my plate. The label also indicates that the wine has been aged for 12 months in American and Slovenian oak barrels.  Slovenian???  Maybe someone out there can tell me what the particular benefits of Slovenian oak are???  At any rate, I repeat, I liked this wine: I give it a “yay”.  Gerald is 2 for 2 thus far!

Jay’s Review:

The Toscana Carato is not a heavy red wine, though the color might make you think otherwise. It smells fantastic! To the tastbuds, it is mildly complex, but not overwhelming at all. Smooth and flavorful it pairs very well with a drier meat dish like the pork loin we had for dinner. I think this would not have been the case had Cynthia prepared the pork with any kind of rich sauce or gravy as it would have overwhelmed the more subtle aspects of this particular wine.

I really do like the blended wines, ESPECIALLY the Super Tuscans and this one seemed to me to be a very nice mix of the well tempered Sangiovese grape and \just the right touch of the bolder Merlot and the spicy Sirah.

I give the Toscan Carato a “yay” and have even saved a few glasses for later consumption. It definitely goes on the list for restocking the wine rack when the challenge is over.

#1 – Père Anselme, Cótes De Provence 2007 Rosé

Country: France
Region: Vin de Pays d’Oc
Vintage: 2007
Price: $8.93

Please keep in mind, we are reviewing these wines in no particular order and we are NOT ranking them. This wine is the first we have tasted in the challenge and therefore #1

Cynthia’s review:

Let me begin by saying that I know absolutely nothing about wine. In addition, I also admit that I have never even read anything about wine. (a telling admission for a raving bibliophile) I guess this makes me the perfect wine critic- I have no preconceptions of any kind.

The first wine in our “Ten Wines for One Hundred Dollars” challenge was a Pere Anselme, Cótes De Provence 2007 Rosé. The label on this bottle indicates that it is mostly Grenache with the addition of Syrah, Mourvédre, Cinsault and “other regional wines”. (????)

Although I am not typically a big fan of Rosés, (they sometimes remind me of Koolaid) I actually liked this wine. It was fruity, but not sweet. Initially, we had chilled the wine a bit too much, which gave it a nasty bite and aftertaste which wasn’t pleasant. When it warmed just a bit- still cool- it smoothed out a lot and was actually quite nice. Reading the label on the bottle after the fact- I see that it recommends serving the wine chilled at 48 degrees. (OK- learning moment for me- I guess I should actually read the label before consuming the wine !) We had this wine with a dinner of roast chicken ( with rosemary from my garden) risotto and a zucchini/green bean/carrot mix and it was really very good. Again, I plead ignorance about which wine should be served with which food, but I thought that this combination was very nice indeed. The label on the bottle indicates that this wine “goes well with starters, tomato and lettuce salads, salade nicoise, taboulé, Mediterranean fish dishes… spicy cuisine, exotic Mexican and Asian food, white meat, turkey brochette.” OK- I agree with most of that, but really can’t see this wine going very well with spicy Mexican and Asian food- I think the flavor would completely disappear.

We’ve decided that our reviews in this challenge will result in either a “yay” or “nay” vote. Despite the fact that I am predisposed to dislike anything French, my vote on this wine is a firm “yay”.

Jay’s Review:

Much like Cynthia, I am not a big fan of Rosés (and I *like* Koolaide!). They strike me as too fruity, if not in taste at least in appearance. I don’t mind swishing my wine a bit, I just don’t want to look like a swish drinking wine if you know what I mean.

That being said, the wine was very tasty. As Cynthia mentioned, it was not so great when it was chilled too much. But when it was allowed to warm up a bit it the flavor and the finish evened out quite nicely and by the time we finished the bottle I was lamenting the fact that we had run dry of this fine wine.

Add me to the “yay” column for the Père Anselme, Cótes De Provence 2007 Rosé

The $100 Wine Challenge

Cynthia and I have been educating ourselves about wine over the last few years. We’ve enjoyed the occasional trip to our local Italian restaurant which offers a modest corking fee when you bring your own bottle to enjoy with dinner and we’ve especially enjoyed exploring local wines when traveling to Spain.

As part of our ongoing education we have been visiting Spec’s and have the services of a knowledgeable young man by the name of Gerald. He has been giving us good advice and has come to know what we like and don’t like in regards to wine and has been very helpful to us. We’ve taken to calling Gerald our “Wine Sherpa” …

Gerald has been very good about making recommendations about wine that fits our budget, which is in the $15-$20 per bottle range. We’ve occasionally bought more expensive bottles for special occasions or to have on hand and we’ve also had some very tasty $10 bottles.

Since we know it’s quite easy to spend $100 plus on a single bottle of good wine we came up with the idea of finding $100 worth of good wine in the form of 10 bottle for $10 or less. The concept has a lot of appeal to me as 10 bottles of $10 wine will stretch quite a bit further than one bottle of $100 wine. This would also serve as a gauge of our Wine Sherpa’s skill in suggesting wine for us. We told Gerald of our plan and we gave him one week to think about it before returning to his store to let him pick out the wine.

When we arrived at the store yesterday Gerald walked us around and presented us with 10 bottles he thought we would enjoy.

In the spirit of absolute honesty, there is one bottle in this batch that was closer to $11 but the rest were under $10 and the whole purchase came out to $100.74

Over the next few weeks we will be sampling the choices made for us and writing our thoughts about each one and posting them here.