From Round to Square (and back)

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Monday, March 17, 2014

Wonder Wines (1)—Taking Haut Médoc to School

Click here for the "Wonder Wines" Resource Center—(all posts available)
Click here for the introduction to the Round and Square series "Wonder Wines"
One year ago on Round and Square (25 March 2013)—China's Lunar Calendar 2013 03-25
One year ago on Round and Square (25 March 2013)—Calendars and Almanacs: Introduction (b)
Two years ago on Round and Square (25 March 2012)—Hurtin' Country: Kentucky Bluebird
Three years ago on Round and Square (25 March 2011)—Beginnings: Rosebud
[a] Haut-Médoc RF
We'll start this series with the Haut-Médoc appelation of Bordeaux, and the first installment of the New York Times "Wine School." Eric Asimov has picked three wines from the 2009 vintage of Haut Médoc. This is a somewhat surprising place to start, not the least because the wines of Bordeaux are usually quite a bit steeper in price than others from just about any region of the world (except Burgundy). Still, he has a point. Bordeaux has had (as he says) such an influence on wine writing and "culture" that it pays to get a good sense of it right off the bat. 
[b] Smokin' RF

It is useful that Asimov has added the reminder that it is fine to choose other Haut-Médoc wines (preferably from the 2009 vintage), and to discuss them with the others in the virtual classroom on the site. If you read the comments, you will see that a large number of readers sampled other (and often less expensive) wines from Haut-Médoc. This has caused a bit of confusion in the discussion (readers are writing about wines as diverse as a $10 bottle and others in the (for Bordeaux) modest price region of $60. Reading at least the "select" posts is a mini-education (with several "negative examples") in its own right.

This is (at least so far) what Pat and I have had to do. We have been busy, and have not had time (yet) to go look carefully for the bottles Asimov listed. We have had several nice, clean Haut-Médoc wines from the 2010 vintage. All fall easily into Asimov's second (very basic) category in the "fruity/smoky" binary. Yup, you aren't going to find well-made wines from Bordeaux that would lead the notes with "fruity." 

I have more challenges with Asimov's word "smoky," but I know what he means. If you read his New York Times introduction, you'll know that he addresses tannins quite directly, as well. And even the young and inexpensive (about 10€ or $13) wines from Haut-Médoc (bottled on the property), pack a tannic punch on the ol' mouth swirl.

Asimov's point (and I echo it) is to think about these matters while sipping (and, he says, eating). I would—in the spirit of the "wine school"—second his plea for quite basic thinking about the wines. What makes them complex (if they are)? How long do they "last" on the palate? And, when it comes to individual taste, how important is "fruity" and "sweet" to your own taste?
[c] Haut RF

I'll tell of one of the first exercises I ever did in wine recognition in a future post. Suffice it to say, though, that it maintained this basic, no-nonsense (and no "cherry blossom mixed with road tar" imagery) approach that will be our guiding light through this series. In a nutshell, we compared Gallo Hearty Burgundy and Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon ("Woodbridge" table wine version). Whoa! No matter what you "like" best, you'll know more about wine right from the get-go than you would from reading two years of tasting notes. You could add ranges of taste and subtlety to this basic format (from Boon's Farm to Chateau Margaux), but the "teaching" is right there in your interaction with the wine.

As Asimov states, none of this needs to be pretentious.

So, the irony is that we start with Haut-Médoc. It's expensive and a little pretentious. Still, it's a mini-version of the ol' Gallo-Mondavi test that I did many years ago. Read the piece in the New York Times and try a Haut-Médoc or two. Then write about it on the New York Times "Wine School" page and (I hope) here in the comments on Round and Square.

Let's see where it takes us. 

Tuesday, 1 April 2014
More Haut-Médoc
We'll spend a little time looking at the region, some of its most famous wines, and discuss the wines themselves in a little more detail. 
[d] Bordeaux RF

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