The Brits have a word for everything. Just watch Ramsey’s kitchen nightmare to learn one of their favorites. For me one their greatest words – and I guess by default one of the greatest words of the English language – is Plonk.
Plonk is slang for cheap wine, bad wine, undrinkable wine, wine only fit for mulling or clearing the drain.
I pulled the cork on some plonk recently. There were two saving graces to this event. One, I didn’t purchase the wine – it was a homemade gift. Secondly, I had another wine downstairs that I could open. So after a large glass of Pellegrino – my tastebud detox – I had some real wine to drink.
Left with an undesirable bottle of plonk the question in front of us was obvious. Drain or mull? Despite my efforts, my wife won out and got to mull the plonk - I dislike mulled wine almost as much as I dislike plonk and our drains still run a tad slow. It’s sad to think that somebody put some time and optimism into bottling, fermenting, and gifting this “wine”. You know when you say to somebody “you really shouldn’t have”? In this case they really shouldn’t have. I don’t want to seem ungrateful but I’m not even sure that it’s the thought that counts.
Now what is self perplexing (that means I am in conundrum – I think?) is that I am still willing and excited to accept homemade wine from anybody.
At the end of one of my favorite Simpsons episodes Marge asks Homer, “I hope you learned your lesson Homer”, to which he replies, “Marge my dear, I haven’t learned a thing”. I get that.
aka How I fell in love with the Red Brick Café
This is really a wine tasting note but there’s a great story in it so just bear with me and read on.
Just after the Red Brick Café opened in Guelph I walked in to find that they also served wine! Excellent. I was very surprised to find that their house red was a Gran Reserva. Who serves a Gran Reserva for a house wine when you can make a killing on Citra or some other $6 bottle of non-offensive red? I had to meet this owner – who turned out to be Shelley - who turned out to love both her café and wine – who turned into a friend – who now let’s me select the wines for her café. So really this wine found me a café, a friend, and a wine gig. Pretty cool.
LOS MOLINOS GRAN RESERVA
LCBO 620971 | Price: $ 14.70 VALDEPENAS – selected because it was Red Brick Cafes first Spanish house wine
A Gran Reserva ages 5 years – 2 in American oak barrels and 3 in the bottle before release. This aromatic wine from a tiny area in La Mancha tastes of moderate smooth tannins and vanilla. It is medium bodied with flavours of red fruit.
Unlike Rioja wines, here the tempranillo grape is smoother and takes on quite a bit of oak. It’s a great price for a Gran Reserva and tasty too (and people can say “oooh a Gran Reserva”, and you can be all “its just a little something I picked up”, and they can exclaim “that’s so totally thoughtful” … etc. etc.)
The Italians are brilliant people. They have given the world so much culturally. Sure there’s Dante (Inferno – the feel good book of 1308) and Da Vinci (that Mona Lisa girl is just plain cute), but I am talking about their real gift to the world, their real expression of genius - Espresso and Biscotti (the cookie so nice they bake it twice). The Italians have made it perfectly acceptable to have cookies for breakfast! If that’s not enough – and that should be enough- they drink adorable superstrong tiny coffees all day long. That is an act of pure genius. Surely man can live on cookies and coffee alone.
I admit that when I visited Italy in the summer of 2008 I took far too many photos of my espresso – but the crema was so breathtaking I couldn’t help it. Oh the crema of Italian espresso.
Italian crema 2008
I did also discover the world of Barolo. A quick side trip from Genoa found us in the town of Alba, situated between Barbaresco and Barolo. A fantastic conversation with winemaker Sergio Rivetto left me with four great wines and considerably less room for credit on my Visa.
While I wait for my Barolo to age I am perfectly happy with my bright Barbera d’Alba wines that cost a fraction of the price and remind me of Phil’s balcony in Genoa overlooking the Mediterranean.
And don’t get me started about my precious Parmegianno Reggiano …
In a letter Ernest Hemingway, the original “Most Interesting Man in the World”, once called Spain “the last good country left”. While that may be debatable, (I can see my Italian friends in a fit of rage now) what is not debatable is that Spanish wines are certainly earthy and true to their roots – the Tempranillo grape.
TORRES CORONAS TEMPRANILLO
LCBO 29728 | Price: $ 13.25
Description - Catalunya is nestled between Barcelona and France - a great wine region. The first sniff is dry but swirl it in the glass to get the aromas of fruit. This wine is spicy with strong tannins, dark berries, and a longish finish. My brother in Spain tells me that a good Spanish wine should taste like a hot, dry summer – this one does. If you don’t think so then take it up with my brother. It is great with caper-stuffed olives as tapas.
I had a great childhood - my Dad taught me how to start a chainsaw, shoot a puck, and fillet a pike. That’s a good Canadian education – experiential learning that you don’t get in regular school. I am slowly learning how one gets an experiential education in wine – and it’s not about drinking. It’s about embarrassing me again.
I went to wine school a couple of times in the summer of 2008. My earlier post Wine Lesson Number One recalls how I embarrassed myself trying to “parlez vin” with a Frenchman – the story of Wine Lesson Number Two is a little easier on my ego.
Wine lesson number two also happened in Antibes, this time in a small wine store. My teacher was an aspiring négociant named Alexandre. I insisted that he speak to me only in French until I didn’t understand anymore (which happened often – a reminder that knowing 15 words doesn’t make me bilingual). It was exciting to be in France and try its great wines. I was even ready to spend too much money. After a lengthy conversation (he seemed to enjoy practicing his English when I “let” him) I left with a local $10 red wine. This would suffice until I thought about my serious purchases overnight. I would buy some great wines tomorrow. Alexandre would be impressed by my purchase tomorrow – none of this “local wine for the tourist from Canada” stuff.
Of course the wine was fantastic and the next day I purchased more wines from Provence. What did impress Alexandre was my appreciation for the local wine. I had learned wine lesson number 2 – that the local wines from Provence were way too good to pass up. They weren’t expensive and they were fantastic. Each day after that we talked about Provençal wines.
When I came home I started looking for wines from Provence on the LCBO and Vintages list – there really aren’t any. After my initial disappointment I realized that I hadn’t really learned the lesson that Alexandre taught me at all. What he was trying to teach me was that the local wines are what I want to drink. I only live 140 kms from Niagara and some great wine! Alexandre taught me that being a locavore (I need to come up with a cool word like that) is wine lesson number two.
I hope Alexandre comes to Canada some day – I have some learning to share with him.
LA ROMAINE COTES DU RHONE VILLAGES VENUS, Southern Rhone
LCBO 28779 |Price: $ 12.95
“When we read we begin with A-B-C, when we drink we begin with Cotes-Du-Rhone” - paraphrasing Julie Andrews. My favorite wine writer, Billy Munnelly, starts his Wine Boot Camp with a Cotes du Rhone (but not this one). He says that if you understand Cotes du Rhone then you understand most of the world’s red wines. I believe him (mostly because he has authored a book and I haven’t).
Syrah and Grenache : Spice and Fruit. Each grape in this wine adds its character that has made them favorites in Spain, Australia, and in North America. Produced right in the same region as Gigondas, Vacqueyras, and Chateauneuf du Pape at a fraction of the price. Pretend that you are drinking a $50 bottle and act a little snobby if you like. The French would love it if you did.
First of all, everybody is a snob. In fact my whole family is a bunch of snobs. My wife is a bathroom snob. She is also turning into a cheese snob. This is the girl that in college kept a can of spray cheese under her car seat. When we told our daughters this they exclaimed, “You can get cheese in a spray can?” They are not cheese snobs. They are stuffed animal snobs – all Webkinz, all the time.
Secondly, a snob is not a jerk. A snob is simply somebody who will not accept sub-standard. In fact they are intentional about their standards. Couldn’t we use more of that in our world? People who put forth that kind of effort are worth more of my time.
Personal wine standards have to start and stop somewhere. I, for one, won’t drink a wine that includes a pun in its name (see A Wine by any other name) or that comes in an aluminium haggis.
Some people just happen to be wine snobs and I’m not sure why people don’t appreciate that more.
I know a wine snob. In fact one of the things that I love about her is that she is a wine snob. She is the only person who attends my Beaujolais party and doesn’t like ANY of the wines. This year I gave her Mill Street beer. It’s a level of snobbery a little higher than I am comfortable embracing, but I can appreciate the effort. I’m going to thank her for it tomorrow.