You might say that wine saved our relationship. I was in law school, which makes one’s disposition truly evil. We lived in a tiny little rental house near campus. We shared a 10×10 room as a home office.
We hated each other’s music. He’d play something loud or punk or both: The Sex Pistols, New York Dolls, The Ramones, Ministry. And my response was usually, “That’s not very pretty.” I’d play something pop, usually Madonna. And he’d say “that’s not very good.” Joe is what I would call a music snob. I like anything I can sing to, he likes “musicians.” A woman on stage who can’t play or won’t an instrument, to him, is not a musician — she’s a diva. And he swears she simply ripped off Lords of Acid.
Weekends revolved around the kids. Northwest Ohio is horribly grey after football season until the flowers bloom in May. And in the winter, everyone was stuck in the tiny little house. Two adults, two kids, two dogs, one cat, one bathroom. It was a recipe for disaster.
A friend suggested that we start dating again. Not other people. But each other. Once a week. So we found this new bar in downtown Toledo called The Bronze Boar. The downstairs was more like a sports bar, but the upstairs had sofas, bistro tables, and jazz music — something we both liked. Back when everyone was drinking Shiraz. So we got a couple glasses of Shiraz, and we sat and talked. The rule was we couldn’t talk about the kids. (I can’t remember if that was a rule in my head, or we’d actually agreed.) And we sort of rediscovered each other. In a wine bar.
Last night we had one of those wine dates, but this one was at home. We tasted some wine, danced, listened to some great music and each other.
The Blind Tasting Process
In May, we missed a wine tasting when Joel Peterson came to Houston, because it was on the day of my surgery. But the good folks at Ravenswood, where Peterson is the King of Zinfandel, were nice enough to send samples of some of the wines we missed. For some reason, I haven’t been able to drink more than a couple glasses of wine since my surgery without ill effects. So, three bottles of Zinfandel have been waiting patiently, because we wanted to taste them together for comparison.
Taking a page from a post I’d read on Steve Heimoff’s blog I decided to do a blind tasting. I took the three bottles into a dark room, mixed them up on the table, and put them in three different colored leather wine bags. The only thing we knew was the vintage and name of each of three wines, but not which was which. So we took tasting notes on (1) Orange, (2) Red and (3) Brown.
First we tasted each wine without decanting. I wanted to do that because Joe has much more experience in distinguishing wines than I. And decanting would make the differences more subtle — and make it more difficult for me to correctly identify them. We took notes, and then used our spin wine to taste them decanted and took notes again. Decanting brought out additional aromas and toned down the tannins. Then we tried to identify the wines. I relied more on my notes from the un-decanted wines. Given that two were 2006 and one was 2007, determining the “oldest” of the three was a little more difficult. Then I revealed the wines. We each correctly identified one of the wines.
While I was photographing the bottled Joe ran upstairs to get some music to enjoy while we finished our favorite of the three.
Review: 2007 Vintners Blend Zinfandel
This was the first wine we sampled. Joe noted it was a translucent garnet with a spicy, toasty wooded nose with tart red fruit. We both found it at little thin on the front of the palate. He tasted red raspberry with a mocha finish. I tasted raspberries and blueberries, with some spicy chocolate, leather and tobacco. I tasted high alcohol before we decanted. After decanting if was much softer on the palate, and I got a big black cherry finish.
A blend of 84% Zinfandel, 8% Carignane, 6% Petite Sirah and 2% Mixed Blacks, the wine spent 12 months in 100% French oak, 25% new. Alcohol by Volume is listed at 13.5%. A great value at a Suggested Retail Price of only $9.99. Joe correctly identified this wine.
Review: 2006 Lodi Old Vine Zinfandel
Ruby in color, I noticed slight florals with much softer tannins and fruit on the nose. Joe found aromas of black cherry, bright red fruit and leather. Flavors of powdery chocolate, cinnamon and ripe raspberries were evident before we decanted. After decanting, the nose favored a Bordeaux blend, and I tasted additional flavors of vanilla and white pepper. Joe tasted baking spices and cherry.
Here are the Winemaker’s Notes:
Mature wines lend this sumptuous Zinfandel its character. Bursting with concentrated sweet plum, blueberry, and spicy character, it’s the culmination of old vines growing in Lodi’s well-drained sandy soils. These special vineyards produce low yields – only two and a half tons per acre – and the intense characteristics that are the signature qualities of Ravenswood Old Vine Zinfandel. The 2006 vintage was particularly cool in the normally hot Lodi area. Long hang time developed the fresh fruit intensity of the grapes that translates directly to the wines. 2006 is the best of any recent vintage for fruit character and quality. Add to that 18 months spent aging in new and used French oak barrels, and the result is a round, zaftig wines filled with notes of vanilla and toasted spices that linger on the finish and in memory. The 2006 Lodi has a complex intensity with a soft, ripe and round headiness and well-balanced acidity that should make this wine a pleasure to consume by itself or with a great meal.
A blend of 78% Zinfandel, 21% Petite Sirah, 1% Carignane, this wine is 14.8% Alcohol by Volume. Another great value at a Suggested Retail Price of $15.00. I identified this one correctly and it was both Joe and my favorite of the three.
Review: 2006 Teldeschi Zinfandel – Dry Creek Valley
This single vineyard wine is a big fruit bomb with chewy tannins that benefit from decanting. Joe noticed aromas of fall leaves and baked black berries on the nose. Earthy, spicy with ripe fruit on the palate prior to decanting, I found much softer tannins, with raspberry, chocolate and leather after the wine opened up a bit. Black cherries with black pepper notes on the finish, this would be awesome with a steak.
A smaller production of less than 4800 cases, this wine was released in September 2008, after spending 20 months in 100% French Oak, 31% new. 76% Zinfandel, 20% Petit Sirah and 4% Carignane blended from mostly old vines with 15.5% Alcohol by vloume. Suggested retail price is $35.00. Drink now or age for 10 years.
Carpenters, Cowboys, The Eighties and The Boss
We’d been listening to jazz during dinner (I’d made sure to fortify myself with plenty of food prior to the tasting). I can’t remember what we were listening to at the time. But Joe said something to effect, “as long as we’re going to listen to music, I’ve got something you need to hear.” He came back with several CDs, the first being “If I Were a Carpenter,” a tribute to Karen & Richard Carpenter by a variety of alternative bands. It came out in 1994, so I’m not sure how I missed it. Perhaps because Joe had suggested it back in the day when I didn’t like most of what he played. That, and even though I knew all the words to most of the Carpenters’ songs, I certainly didn’t think it was cool to admit it.
My loss then was a find now. There’s a reason that Rolling Stone gave the album four stars. The producer matched band to song brilliantly. The Paul Williams’ penned tunes that sounded schmaltzy back in the 1970s were redone with the requisite depth of feeling the lyrics deserve. Even down to Shonen Knife‘s cover of Top of the World, which brought back memories of study abroad to Chiba where I listened to countless Japanese college kids sing heavily-accented American rock covers. Johnette Napolitano & Marc Moreland’s Hurting Each Other rocked in a way Karen & Richard never could have. And Grant Lee Buffalo had Karen’s phrasing down perfectly on We’ve Only Just Begun. (See, I know way too much about The Carpenters’ music.)
Next came an Eighties CD that took me back to “the good old days” of college, fraternity parties and Molly Ringwald movies (Spandau Ballet), and dancing to Blondie’s Rapture — which I did in the kitchen while Joe was searching for more music. Then a little Bruce Springsteen, who can still rock the house at nearly 60 years old, followed by The Trinity Session by Cowboy Junkies. Back in our early days together it always annoyed me when Joe played the album. There’s an Appalachian feel to it with mandolin, harmonica and dobro, and the first song is Mining for Gold. I thought perhaps he was making fun of my West Virginia roots.
He wasn’t. He was simply trying to help me appreciate good music. Much like we’ve learned to appreciate good wine. Isn’t is amazing that things we don’t value when we’re younger seem to improve as we age. When I was younger I didn’t really enjoy complicated music, complex wines or thoughtful conversation.
Now it’s something I treasure, and am lucky to be able to enjoy it with someone so willing to share.
* The beach is Surfside, Texas. I took the picture as Hurricane Katrina was moving into the Gulf of Mexico. I added the wine glasses later.