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 an expert will recommend a good-value wine priced under $15. We'll drink some and tell you whether 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 Wine Buy the Bottle attended the wine tasting at the Scottish Arms (6-10 South Sarah Street; 314-535-0551 or www.thescottisharms.com) on Tuesday, June 14, celebrating the launch of the restaurant's new wine menu. Glass -- the first of many -- in hand, we then broke several of our own rules.
First, we did not meet one-on-one with the expert(s). Instead, we eavesdropped on our fellow tasters as three distributor representatives: Frank Fox of Ionia Imports, Marco Angeli from A. Bommarito Wines and Amy Simpson from Pinnacle served up nuggets of wisdom on fifteen different wines. Our favorite description came from Fox, who helped design the menu here as well as at Salt: when we requested the 2005 Sossocritto Rosso Toscana, he asked, "Ooh, ready for the big one?" before describing the wine as gamey with hints of smoked meat. Sure enough, we were picking the wine out of our teeth on first sip.
Second, most of the bottles we tasted were priced at $15 or under -- well, they were on sale. Blowout sale, for a restaurant. Co-owner Ally Nesbit says that the bottles were priced just above cost for the night, but if you order one of these babies with your haggis, expect to pay about double. For example, one of the crowd favorites, the Cellar Can Blau Monstant from Spain, cost $16 on Tuesday, but on the restaurant menu is priced at $28.
Third, we didn't drink just one. What can we say? Once you pop, you can't stop. The new wine menu will feature 50 wines by the bottle and fifteen by the glass. According to Nesbit, who says he has always been passionate about wine, the previous wine list was a hole in the restaurant's repertoire. "More people come in and want a nice bottle of wine with their meal, and we didn't have enough to offer," Nesbit says, adding that the restaurant needs a stellar wine menu to match what's going on in the kitchen.
Fifteen of those wines were offered, and we partook. All in the name of research, folks! We enjoyed all of the wines we tasted -- seriously, we really did -- and thought the menu as a whole boasts high quality and variety while keeping it simple.
In the end, we chose one bottle to spotlight: the Bodega Monteviejo Festivo Malbec, an outstanding example of the Scottish Arms' emphasis on bridging the gaps between Old World and New World wines. The Malbec is a traditionally French grape, and this wine was created by French winemakers in Valle de Uco, Mendoza, Argentina. This 2009 vintage was aged in all stainless steel, and in passing, we heard Fox describe it as easy, tasting of fig.
What do the other experts say?
Stephen Tanzer's International Wine Cellar rated this vintage 90 points and lavishes the bottle with this review: "Bright medium ruby. Sexy, inviting aromas of cassis, black raspberry, licorice pastille and bitter chocolate. Dense, lush and supple but not at all overdone. This classic malbec offers juicy dark fruit flavors enlivened by peppery, spicy energy and framed by integrated acidity. Broad but not heavy. Finishes seriously long and spicy, with fine, mouthcoating tannins."
Dang. Who else is fawning over this wine? According to Wine Spectator, it's "light, showing cherry and plum hints, followed by a dash of blueberry on the open-knit finish. Drink now."
(On a related note, Tom Cannavan of www.wine-pages.com got high on metaphors with the 2006 Festivo Malbec, declaring it a "Christmas cake flavor...with raisins and spice notes.")
This was our favorite bottle of the evening, and our enthusiasm was echoed by several other tasters. The wine is a purple jewel tone with conflicting aromas of fruit, flora and spice happening in the nose. At first, the Festivo Malbec is soft and easy, full of fruit-like plums. Then it dissolves quickly on the tongue into tannins -- but even then, it doesn't leave you parched. We can't believe we're saying this, but the tannins are actually "creamy." The finish on this flavorful and balanced wine is lasting but light. The Wine Spectator was right about "drink now" -- at least, after you open the bottle. The next day, the already-easygoing Malbec had lightened tremendously in flavor.
Gut Check's final take? We love a wine that moves, and the 2009 Monteviejo Festivo Malbec is so soft-yet-engaging -- it can work a room.