All’s Fair in Love and Wine

In which the Elegant Bastard learns to say “Yessss” Again

Yes, I eavesdrop.

It’s not an admirable habit, I know. In effect, I am stealing other people’s words.  In my defence, I don’t do it everywhere and I don’t do it all the time. I mean, think about it. How much of what you hear daily on the street is really worth the effort?

But I always do it in wine stores when something unusual is happening.

“Unusual” includes any moment when an anonymous unshaven baseball-capped guy wearing a “Militant Meat Eater” t-shirt asks the sales clerk for a case – yes, a case – of something called Ringbolt. The two of them immediately set off, the attendant ambling and t-shirt guy moving as if he were approaching Nirvana. I follow discretely.

A few seconds later I am watching 12 fairly non-descript bottles of the cutely spelled ring . bolt (in elegant lower case letters) being reverently loaded into a cart. T-shirt guy seems almost furtive, as if expecting interference, and hating to see him disappointed, I interrupt with a casual, “So? Is it that good?”

He looks at me as if I’ve questioned the greatness of God.

“Yes!” he moans, and the “yes” extends in sibilant excess, like something whispered in the aftermath of orgasm.

After he leaves, I buy two. I haven’t said “yes” like that in far too long.

When I get them home and observe more closely, I discover I’ve purchased a 2009 Australian cabernet sauvignon so I smile. The red cabernet sauvignon grape is generally my favorite. What they do with it in California is enough for me to forgive the U.S. for both Walmart and American Idol (though not for Donald Trump or Paris Hilton).

This wine, however, comes from Margaret River, a wine region in Western Australia and a little research reveals that many critics consider it to be Western Australia’s premiere region, famous (fortunately) for its elegant cabsavs, a bit of good news that makes up for the corny “Hold Them Fast Work Them Hard” motto circling the bottle’s neck.  The 2009 vintage is apparently highly regarded, as is the great glistening hunk of leg of lamb I scored at “The Meat Department”, my little heaven on Toronto’s Danforth.  The dinner menu is instantly decided.

About an hour before the meal, I open the wine and sniff. “First sniff” is both a favorite and a nervous ritual moment for me. Taking in a pleasant aroma from an under $20.00 bottle is a chancy bet at best and I’ve had a few “first sniffs” that made smelling anything afterwards difficult. But I remain heroic and so goes forth my nose.

The aroma is very pleasant: soft, supple and not at all astringent. I get hints of blackcurrant, butterscotch and smoke. A few minutes later, I sniff again and now there are whiffs of red cherry and vanilla cream. My nose declares itself to be in love and it leads me back for periodic fixes while the lamb roasts.

When we finally taste the wine, it does not disappoint. It doesn’t have the overwhelming “mouthfeel” that big California cabsavs sometimes do, but it’s definitely robust and really quite elegant. The tannins are soft.  There’s a rich red fruit tang on the tongue along with a hint of strawberry and even a taste of what I can only call red licorice. Later in the meal, hints of chocolate and of almond join the mix. The menu includes a goat cheese and avocado appetizer; the wine responds to that in friendly fashion.  What it then goes on to do with the lamb is best described in words that children should not read.

In short, it’s an easy wine to drink and an even easier wine to talk about. Again, I’ve had bigger and better cabs but few were priced at $19.95.

Will I buy more?


(In Ontario, Ringbolt is easily available: VINTAGES 606624)



Of Red Wines and Dancing Partners

In which the Elegant Bastard encounters two very different ladies: Signargues Cotes Du Rhone Village 2009 and Chateau du Trignon 2006

Let me begin with a digression.

I was sitting on a bus. I often am. Across from me sat (or squirmed or bounced or ricocheted) a young woman, perhaps 19, with pink and purple hair, four visible piercings, the body of a tattooed snake emerging from the thigh of her cut-offs (and yes, everyone on that bus was wondering what the head of the snake was up to) and what had to be twenty different colours of nail polish. Her gyrations seemed planned, responses no doubt to whatever kind of music assaulted her brain and controlled her limbs. She was garish, loud, and yes, absolutely delightful. I smiled and for a moment, envied youth.

Yet I had to wonder what the grand dame sitting beside her, a sombre suited matron all in black, thought of the do-it-to-the-music-hormone-hostel sitting beside her. This lady, at least sixty but possessing that ageless quality that makes such guessing futile, exuded a calm elegance that stretched from the perfect silver hair to the tips of shoes that probably cost about the same as the bus. No one had to be told that the tip of the cane in her hand was gold. This lady could have taught the Queen to wave.

I think all who watched waited for Her Solemnity to turn slowly sideways and deliver a withering glare at the chaos in the seat beside her, the kind of stare that would turn pink and purple instantly to black. But this did not happen. Instead, as we neared a stop, the older woman reached out a hand and gently tapped iPhonia on the knee. Immediately the younger woman calmed, gathered all the parcels scattered around both of them, and when the bus stopped, she dutifully followed what was by now clearly an affectionate grandmother off via the front (of course) door.

This brings me to two new wines. (Stay with me – you’ll see!)

A friend had phoned in a state of semi-hysteria to tell me that for all our wine travels of the recent past we had ignored the Cotes du Rhone. He made it sound as if we had learned long division and somehow never mastered multiplication. Clearly something remedial needed to occur.

Conversations with the more knowledgeable quickly revealed that the name Cotes du Rhone applied to a vast sea of wine, ranging from the so-so to the So-this-is-what-heaven-is-all-about in quality. There is a northern Rhone wine region and a southern, each with fiercely passionate partisans. Above the basic pool in the southern Rhone stood Cotes du Rhone Villages, sixteen communes allowed to attach village names to their labels and by so doing (supposedly) guaranteeing higher quality. Ranked still higher are the “appellations”, names that eliminate the designation “Cotes du Rhone” entirely. In the southern Cotes, easily the best known of these is Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Not far away, however, are the well-regarded and less extravagantly priced vineyards of Gigondas! After a quick trip to our Mecca – the Queen’s Quay all-brands LCBO – we ended up with a Cotes du Rhone Villages Signargues 2009 (Signargues is the commune) at $15.95 and a Chateau du Trignon Gigondas (2006) at $29.95. School was now in session!

The Signargues came first, paired with a ham-goat cheese-fig comfit appetizer. None of us were sure what to expect with “first sniff” and so we were taken aback with the “in your face” exuberance. Immediately my mind flashed back to iPhonia. There were brash hints of plum, cherry, chocolate and, according to one taster, grilled ham and cheese. (Keep in mind said taster watches the Oscars religiously and is therefore given to moments of irrationality.) In the mouth, this medium bodied wine was reasonably soft, quite fruity, and yet very lively, dancing all over the tongue and lingering long after it was swallowed. It played with the ham, made love to the goat cheese and kicked the fig comfit’s butt. iPhonia’s snake would have writhed in ecstasy.

The Chateau du Trignon did not just come to the table. It “arrived” and sat there quietly and elegantly. From the “first sniff” we knew this was something different. This grand dame did not climb into our nostrils and dance for us. We had to work, swirling and sniffing and waiting and swirling and sniffing again. Slowly the nuanced nose revealed itself. Ultimately this wine was far more subtle. It was silky and paradoxically robust, intense but not heavy. There were plum, raspberry, cocoa, coffee, and even hints of the candied peel normally found  in fruitcake. Dinner was a complex lamb stew, a dish with many heavy flavours, and this wine had no difficulty making friends with that. However, it chose to keep its clothes on.

Both wines were worth their prices, especially the Signargues. It is potentially a wonderful house “plonk” and would go well with interesting but not overwhelming dishes. The Chateau du Trignon would flatten lighter flavours. I would keep it for robust stews, roasts or strong cheeses. And quite frankly, those of you who love the “big” raisin-laden excess of a California Cab, an Australian Shiraz or an Italian Amarone might not be impressed.

Ah, young kaleidophonic  lady on my bus, I will remember your colours and your bling, and on light occasions when the world is in a frivolous mood, I will wonder who you are dancing with … or for. Perhaps I might reach for you.  But on those greater occasions when weighty matters are under consideration and wise minds are moved to converge, I hope you will forgive me if I call upon your grandmother and inquire if she is free.

(Note to others in Ontario: Both wines discussed here were Vintages selections and are available only sporadically.)