Gut Check loves us some wine. We want a bottle with bang and a bang for our buck, so every week we will visit a local wine shop, where the experts will recommend a good-value wine priced under $15. We'll drink some and tell you wether we want to continue -- because the only time Gut Check has our nose in the air is while we're draining our glass.
This week Gut Check visits the Wine & Cheese Place in Rock Hill (9755 Manchester Road; 314-962-8150) and ask wine buyer Chris Spina how we might develop our palate to the point where we taste what the wine critics say they taste: the buttery leather! The flabby fruit! The pencil shavings!
Although Spina insists the store has a wine in stock with a distinct secondary aroma of graphite, he comes right out with what we had long suspected: "A lot of [tasting] is the power of suggestion." (We knew it!) "But," Spina continues, "the fun is figuring out for yourself what you taste."
Sure, what the hell. Spina seems like a straight-shooting swiller. He says he "hated wine at first" but started learning about the booze of the gods when he made the move from the kitchen at Provisions Gourmet Market in Creve Coeur to a stocking position. He's quick to volunteer that a lot of wine criticism may be "bunk." So we'll trust him.
He says the Villa des Anges Cabernet Sauvignon, priced at $9.99, is the Wine & Cheese Place's best-selling cabernet since the store began carrying it last fall. It's made from 100 percent cabernet grapes from the Languedoc region of southern France -- the oldest and largest wine-making region in nation. Spina describes the winery as a "small mom and pop" operation in a traditional farming area, a local gem that made the jump to international distribution thanksto an importer with a "knack for finding great values."
That importer is Dan Kravitz of Handpicked Selections (HPS), who sells directly to the store, which cuts out one middleman, the distributor. According to HPS, the Villa des Anges winery is "situated on the ruins of an ancient Roman villa" and is run by a couple who both come from prominent Languedocienne winemaking clans.So far, so good. Before we weigh in, let's have a group snicker at what the so-called experts say...
Wine Advocate Robert Parker got all hot and bothered over the 2008 vintage, bestowing upon it 89 points, deeming it "lip-smacking" and calling it "as remarkable and improbable a wine value as I have tasted in years." Want some adjectives with that? How do "[j]uniper, huckleberry, mint, rosemary, black walnut, dark chocolate, and green olive" strike you? As for texture, Parker says "subtly oily-textured" and "palpably dense." Is this wine or 10W-40?
The bottle's so-called Shelf Talker asserts we have "a wine of great freshness, intensity and concentration. Well-structured, offering aromas of black cherries, with hints of red pepper and light, spicy cumin/coriander notes." Sounds like Barack Obama at the cologne counter.
Spina mentions "Asian spices," too, drawing a cocked eyebrow from Gut Check. He makes up for that by noting that only one-third of the wine is fermented in oak barrels; the remainder is "raised in tank," i.e., stainless steel. The result: "This is not a big, oaky California[-style] red, where you sometimes feel like you're chewing on wood. There is very little tannin, or oakiness. It's clean on the palate."
And you know what? He's right: You taste the fruit, but not sweet, and there's no tannic aftertaste that sucks the enamel off your molars.
Sums up Spina: "It's a good medium- to full-bodied red that's nice and fresh and not super-heavy, so I would recommend it to the novice and up. It's an every-night, barbecue kind of wine that can also impress a wine geek."
He also suggests we pick up a copy of The Wine Bible, and urges us not to avoid wine writers entirely. "Find one critic you really like, the one who best suits your palate," and go from there. His choice? Stephen Tanzer's International Wine Cellar.
Gut Check's take: The Villa des Anges is a Goldilocks: not too sweet, not too dry, just right. In other words: This baby's a gulper.