I took a rare day off yesterday, using up the last of my vacation time during this slow holiday week. I used the opportunity to spend some time with Nancy, dining out for lunch and dinner with a movie sandwiched in between.
I also used the opportunity to try some new wines, namely, Rhône varieties from other regions. Though my official focus is on the Rhône, it’s always important for me to see what others are doing with grapes like Syrah, Grenache, Roussanne and so on. As I've discussed here previously, when I taste wines (either formally or informally) I look for the commonality of the grape's flavor profile, as well as the different expression of the wine's respective origins.
Lunch was at Zoë, the SoHo institution owned and run by Stephen and Thalia Loffredo, where the all-American wine list is always on the cutting edge. Nancy and I hadn’t been in a few years, but Stephen greeted us as if we were regulars.
We started with a half-bottle of the Tablas Creek Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc Paso Robles 2005, a blend of Roussanne, Grenache Blanc and Picpoul. This project, owned by the Perrin family of Château de Beaucastel fame, seems to have missed some of the limelight despite making some very good wines. The ’05 Esprit Blanc showed the rich, almost oily texture I’d expect of the blend, along with the typical peach, almond and melon notes. The wine also had the extra oomph I’d expect from a California wine, emphasizing its fruit more than its minerality, though it wasn’t top heavy or dull at all, showing plenty of purity and length.
That was followed by a bottle of the McPrice Meyers Grenache Santa Barbara County 2004, a new winery that’s gotten some good ink from my colleague James Laube. As with the white, the Grenache showed some classic characteristics of the grape, with some zesty mixed berry fruit and a nice peppery note. But at the same time it also showed its California origins, offering some slightly heady alcohol and a raisined hint on the finish. We asked to have the bottle cooled off a bit (it was served at a proper cellar temperature to begin with), which helped settle the wine down into a smoother, more harmonious drink, though I found it a touch on the overripe side nonetheless.
For dinner, we checked in at Cesca Enoteca & Trattoria, another restaurant in which we hadn’t dined in a while. The Italian-themed restaurant was packed, the room full of conversation and the open kitchen space throwing off a fare share of heat thanks to the wood-burning oven.
I quizzed the sommelier on the grapes in the Rapitalà Sicilia Solinero—Sangiovese and something he said, though I knew it was a Syrah. He corrected himself on the grapes when he brought the bottle over, but while the 2004 vintage was listed, he presented the 2002. No worries though, since I was in it for the fun of it. The wine showed some wild pepper, herb and olive aromas that were classic Northern Rhône in their profile. On the palate though, it quickly settled into a rich, tarry wine that finished with the hints of ash and charcoal I often get on top Sicilian reds.
It was an interesting trio of wines over the course of the day. All three wines showed intriguing combinations of typical varietal character augmented by their own sense of place. When all was said and done, I could chalk up another win in the "wine diversity" column.