You never know when a terrific underdog wine will arise. Say you’re playing tennis with your buddies. After a year or so of weekly matches, you know each other pretty well. Everyone happens to love wine and possesses a competitive streak, along with more than one expensive bottle squirreled away in his basement. (I say his, because these are my husband’s tennis friends. I do yoga.)
Let’s get together for a bottle of wine! the buddies say, after one game. By the next week, this simple idea has morphed into, well, a wine competition. Calendars are consulted; a date is chosen. Each player arrives at our house with his favorite red wine. Each bottle is carefully wrapped in aluminum foil. Each guest has an array of empty glasses before him or her. (I say her because the spouses have joined for this game.) It’s time for some serious serving.
Serious serving, in this case, calls for a blind tasting. That’s fair play in wine competitions. Because I don’t know about you, but if I were to spy, say, Pétrus on the label (and trust me, at over $2,000 a bottle, I’m still waiting!) I might favor it over another wine I’m judging, despite my very best effort to remain calm and objective. Thus the aluminum foil bottle wrapping.
After much swirling, sniffing and sipping, here’s how the game played out:
Player #1: Château Magdelaine, St. Emilion Grand Cru, 1999, ~ $80. One of my favorite Bordeaux “mostly Merlots” in the world: elegant red fruit, silky on the tongue, soft tannins. Dreamy.
Player #2: Dominus Estate, Napa Valley, 2010, ~ $200. In a fortuitous coincidence, this “mostly Cabernet” wine happens to have the same owner as Château Magdelaine (above). So we were able to taste the California expression of this famous French vineyard owner’s respectful approach to bringing out a grape’s personality. With a cherry-cedar scent, sweet-full flavor and smooth finish, this delicious wine is, well, power in velvet.
Player #3: Château Pesquié Quintessence, Southern Rhone Valley, Côtes du Ventoux, France, 2010, ~ $22. This “mostly Syrah” looked like rubies, smelled like raspberries and cherries, had a light faintly spicy touch on the tongue followed by rugged warmth that lingered in the mouth. According to one player: this smells like California but tastes like France!
After the final serve we unwrapped bottles, compared notes. The players agreed: each anonymous wine was the best competitor in its class. But what a surprise when we learned the winner’s price.
Game, set, match: Château Pesquié Quintessence 2010. At around $23 a bottle, I’d call that an upset, just in time for the French Open this weekend.
Château Pesquié Quintessence 2011
I’ll throw it down right away: the beautiful, well-balanced 2010 vintage (see above) is sold out. But many Syrah lovers will like the 2011 vintage, although it’s too strong for my taste. Dark purple-red. Ripe berry nose with heavy flowers, like lily-of-the-valley. Spice and sweet fruit jam in the mouth. Dry, green tannins with a long floral finish. At 15.5% alcohol content, you may need a nap after this one. Made in France but tastes like California. Sunshine in a bottle.