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Wine Is Not Better in the Skies

By Michael Schiaparelli · July 15th, 2009 · Fermentations
On a recent family trip to England I tasted a number of wines that warrant some discussion.

On the Delta flight over (which was an absolute clusterfuck that arrived more than six hours late and included an unscheduled maintenance stop in Atlanta), they offered a choice of two red wines, each of which was virtually undrinkable. This was particularly surprising to me in that highly-respected wine pro Andrea Immer Robinson serves as their high-profile Sommelier, supposedly testing every wine in flight to ensure that they show well at every altitude.

The first wine offered was a 2002 Chateau Greysac from the Médoc, a wine-growing region on the left bank of Bordeaux’s Gironde River that produces many of France’s most famous (and sought after) wines. Greysac is well known as a producer of good-value Bordeaux (an ever-shrinking category these days), and a little bottle age often helps soften the tannins and add complexity. So I was cautiously hopeful.

However, the 2002 vintage was widely viewed as difficult (at best) for Bordeaux, though the long cool summer did give way to unexpected sunshine and warmth during harvest.

Patient growers who reduced yields were able to eke out good ripeness, though many others wound up with loads of under-ripe grapes that produced astringent wines with little ripe fruit flavor. From the taste of this offering, Greysac had a hard time with this vintage. The wine came across as light and diluted with mostly herbal, weedy flavors and unpleasant wood tannins. I suspect Delta probably got a great deal on this wine, which probably retailed for around $12 on release.

The other option was a 2005 Wakefield ‘Promised Land’ Shiraz-Cabernet South Australia ($12 retail). While the cheap Aussie red was a category killer for more than a decade, relative newcomers like Chilean Malbec and Spanish Garnacha have made serious inroads with consumers looking at inexpensive reds. I suspect this slightly oldervintage product had a hard time finding an audience and was picked up at bargain bulk pricing by Delta. I found it harsh and unpleasantly tannic with stewed fruit flavors and too much heat.

There was some good news, though. Once we arrived in London, we stayed in an area known for its many Middle Eastern restaurants and hooka bars. We ate several times at the Maroush Café on Edgeware Road, and enjoyed two wonderful Lebanese blends: Ksara Blanc de l‘Obesrvatoire (Sauvignon Blanc, Muscat and Clairette), which was light, fresh and appealing with great fruit intensity, pairing wonderfully with sweetbreads; and Ksara Prieuré, a red blend of Cinsault (a southern French grape that does well in high heat), Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon which was slightly gamey but a perfect, spicy match for lamb.

These experiences show that looking at less-familiar categories for great-tasting, value-priced wines often yields better results than relying on more recognizable producers and regions.

CONTACT MICHAEL SCHIAPARELLI: mschiaparelli@citybeat.com



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