Two Wines, Three Mysteries

StefanoRight before the winter holidays, creative fellow wine blogger Jeff (AKA The Drunken Cyclist) launched a fun initiative: a wine-based Secret Santa that he aptly renamed Secret Alcoholic. Basically, Jeff’s wife kindly took care of pairing each participant with a buddy Secret Alcoholic to whom one or two surprise bottles of wine could be shipped.

So, I mentioned in the title that there would be three mysteries to be solved – these are:

1. Who was my Secret Santa?

2. Which wines was she kind enough to send my way?

3. What did they taste like?

These three gripping mysteries worthy of Huckle Cat were all solved by the beginning of the New Year…

Right before Christmas, I received my package which, much to my 7 year old daughter’s delight, was nicely decorated with festive stickers, which led her to claim that the package “had to be” for her… 😉 After redirecting her to more age-appropriate presents, I opened the box and found a holiday card that solved mystery number 1: my Secret Santa was witty and ever pleasant to read Kirsten, AKA The Armchair Sommelier!

In a matter of seconds was mystery number 2 also solved: thoughtful and generous Kirsten had sent me two wines: a Viognier from her own State, Virginia, and one of her favorite Californian Syrahs, which is also a hard-to-get, wine-club-only red that has received some very positive attention from wine critics.

I very much appreciated the thought she put into selecting those wines: not only for her generosity in parting from and sharing with me a bottle of that exclusive Syrah, but also because she chose that Viognier to introduce me to one of the best expressions of that variety in Kirsten’s own State. I am all for promoting quality wines made from locally grown grapes, especially if they come from wine regions that are not as well known to the general public as others that enjoy widespread repute. So, way to go, Kirsten – I bow to you!

With Kirsten’s bottles in hand, solving mystery number 3 was only a question of waiting a few days before opening them and tasting their contents – just to make sure that they would recover from any bottle shock.

As is always the case for me with any wine, this was the most exciting mystery to unveil. Because no matter how well you may know a wine’s grape variety, the region it comes from, its environmental conditions, the producer or even previous vintages of that same wine, no matter all that, you may sure make your own educated guess about what to expect from it, but in the end you will always have to taste that specific bottle to appreciate all its subtle nuances.

To put it in the succinctly eloquent prose of fellow wine blogger Julia Bailey, who has devoted her own entry to Monthly Wine Writing Challenge #6 (theme: Mystery) to this very topic: “It is simply impossible to know exactly what your wine will taste like until you pop that cork.” So true: if you want to learn more, I definitely suggest that you read Julia’s entry wherein she elaborates on several reasons why this is so.

As for me, time to wrap things up by sharing my tasting notes of the two wines. My tastings have been conducted in accordance with the ISA wine tasting protocol, but for brevity here I will not go through the entire step-by-step tasting process: I will only summarize the main characteristics of the wines and of course provide my own assessment.

Check out our Grape Variety Archive for cool facts about the Viognier and Syrah grape varieties, including their DNA analysis which suggests that they are relatives!

1. King Family Vineyards, Viognier Monticello 2012 (13% ABV – $22)

King Family Vineyards, Viognier Monticello 2012In the glass, it poured a nice straw yellow and was moderately viscous when swirled.

On the nose, it offered intense and pleasant aromas of yellow peach, apricot, pineapple, white flowers and hints of white pepper (a tertiary aroma suggesting some gentle oak aging).

In the mouth, the wine was smooth and exhibited only moderate acidity, which suggests that this wine should be enjoyed now. It was balanced and medium-bodied, with intense mouth flavors that matched the aromatic pattern perceived on the nose, and had a medium finish.

Overall, a good white with a nice bouquet and fruity mouth flavors, ending up in an intriguing, slight peppery finish. Not extraordinarily complex, but definitely pleasant.

Rating: Good Good – $$

(Explanation of our Rating and Pricing Systems)

2. Herman Story, Syrah “Nuts & Bolts” California 2009 (16% ABV – $45)

Herman Story, Syrah "Nuts & Bolts" California 2009In the glass, it poured ruby red and thick when swirled.

On the nose, it released an impressive array of intense and complex aromas of blackberry jam, wild berries, black cherry, tobacco, ground coffee, black pepper and licorice. A great bouquet that anticipated the “blackness” of this wine.

In the mouth, it immediately struck as a big, chewy, fruit-forward wine: its very high ABV (which nears the limits of alcoholic fermentation and pushes this wine to the highest step in the ISA scale of ABV perception: alcoholic) was tough for the wine’s good acidity and solid but unobtrusive tannins to counterbalance, also due to the wine’s not particularly high smoothness (I wonder whether it did full malolactic fermentation). This high ABV perception, that is clearly evident on the top of the palate, throws the wine a bit out of balance: given its good acidity, I would let it rest for two or three more years and then re-taste it.

The wine was full-bodied, exhibiting intense mouth flavors of blackberry, black cherry, plum, coffee, tobacco, dark chocolate, licorice and black pepper, which closely trailed the wine’s aromatic palette, and it had a medium to long finish.

Overall, I found the Nuts & Bolt somewhat of a “double-faced” wine: on the one hand, it had great, complex and intense bouquet and (if a little over the top) mouth flavors, but on the other hand, its very high alcohol (which its other qualities did not seem to effectively counter, at least at this stage of its life) made the wine feel a bit imbalanced. A few more years of aging may help make this wine more graceful.

Rating: Good (especially in perspective) Good – $$$

(Explanation of our Rating and Pricing Systems)

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18 thoughts on “Two Wines, Three Mysteries

  1. armchairsommelier

    Thank you for all of your kind words, Stefano! I have to admit, when I drew your name in the Secret Santa, my first thought was, “well, I know what I’m NOT sending Stefano . . . anything Italian!”. 😉🍷 I’m so glad you enjoyed the VA Viognier and the Herman Story Syrah. Sometimes, I feel like I should be an ambassador for VA Viognier – I think it’s what VA does best! And Herman Story definitely isn’t a delicate wine . . . the winemaker himself calls his wines, “Big Boy Wines!”. They need time and food! Your reviews are thoughtful and precise, as always. And I love that Viognier and Syrah are related . . . I wish I could say I planned that tie-in. Salud!!

    Reply
    1. Stefano Post author

      No, seriously: thank you, Kirsten: like I said, I really appreciate the thought that you put into your choice and of course your generosity. You made my Christmas even more special. 🙂
      I absolutely enjoyed tasting both wines and yeah, you should be the ambassador for VA Viognier! The Herman Story Syrah is a wine that is not for sissies, that’s for certain! But what a bouquet! I loved it!
      And as to the two grapes being related, I think that deep inside you knew it all along! 😉
      Have a great weekend!

      Reply
    1. Stefano Post author

      Spot on, Heather! The game was fun and added some extra anticipation to the Christmas atmosphere.
      And yes, the feeling of a wine’s alcohol in a tasting is referred to as “heat” because of the actual feeling of “warmth” that you get on the top of your palate when you taste a wine which is high or fairly high in alcohol. 🙂

      Reply
  2. Mary

    Stefano, what an exciting way to celebrate a secret santa exchange – could feel the anticipation in your writing. Great reviews and like how developed your taste is for pinpointing the wine flavors – enjoyed this post!

    Reply
    1. Stefano Post author

      Thank you, Mary!
      I am glad you enjoyed the read. You are right: it has been a fun game that added some extra excitement to the Christmas holidays.
      Have a great weekend! 🙂

      Reply
  3. Just Add Attitude

    What an interesting idea Stefano, and how nice to receive a mystery set of bottles of wine just before Christmas. It is, I think, always good to get to taste wines that in the ordinary course of events we might not come across. Hope you had a great weekend.

    Reply
    1. Stefano Post author

      It really was an interesting idea, dear B, and one that added some extra excitement to the Christmas holidays. And you are absolutely right: the presents were even more appreciated because they were wines that I would otherwise have been unlikely to come across.
      Thank you, B 🙂

      Reply
  4. Dina

    This turned out to be most entertaining reading, Stefano! What a great idea! 🙂
    Wow, I visited all your links and lost all sense of time going through so many great posts, now I have to speed it up a bit to get ready for the guests tonight. I especially enjoyed visiting Kirsten, The Armchair Sommelier, thank you so much for introducing all these interesting people! 🙂
    Bg hug from all four of us in Norfolk,
    Dina

    Reply

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