Drugstore Wine, Screwcap Corkscrew, Chinese Merlot

What a week it’s been!  A bunch of real life hit, seemingly all at once:  Aunt Joyce had foot surgery and couldn’t walk, Zach came down with Shingles, Mom is complaining about the food at the care center where she’s still recovering (“How can a dietician who’s as big as a house know anything about good food or nutrition?!?”), and as the only relatively healthy one standing – oh did I mention the mega-project at the day job? – I was running around like a crazy person.  I came home, poured a glass of something red, and collapsed into bed each evening.

Thankfully, everybody’s healing nicely and my chauffeuring/nursing/concierging (is that a word?) duties weren’t required any more. So I spent two evenings sleeping soundly, and while there’s a break in the pandemonium, I thought I’d get some writing in.

Let me explain the title of today’s entry.  The Drugstore Wine was a bottle of 2011 Chateau St. Michelle Riesling which I found when I stopped at CVS to pick up Joycie’s meds.  The wine was on sale for $6.99 and we were having Thai food. Was that a no-brainer or what?  Unfortunately, however, Joycie couldn’t have any wine, and neither could Cuz Byron.  Medication clash.  So I drank a very small glass and after visiting a while, left for home.

While I was at the drugstore and found the Riesling, I realized that I didn’t {{gasp}} have a corkscrew with me.  I really didn’t want to buy another corkscrew, and they had nothing decent under screwcap – there were a few jugs with vintages of approximately last month – but I knew that in order to open the bottle, I’d need one. So I found this quirky little 3-in-1 corkscrew that was quite interesting.  First of all, it was only $3.99 – yay – so it was easily affordable within my Saving-for-My-Vacation-in-Paso budget.  It had a regular worm (that’s what you call the screw thingie), could act as a bottle closure, and the adjustable top could be used to either cut foil or give traction to open a screwtop.  What a good idea.  It’s now found a place in my purse because it’s bright blue and kinda cute.

And now, the Chinese Merlot.  There was a story going around on Monday that China was going to ban the sales of all French wines within its borders.  There was apparent shock and surprise along with preparations for a thriving – and expensive – black market.  According to the article, the Chinese government was taking that step because the French wines were outselling the homegrown stuff, so they were doing it to protect their own wineries. But, as it turned out, it was just an April Fool’s joke. I was not laughing, because I believed it.  Let me tell you why.

Having weekend lunch with friends is more or less a ritual.  After a tasting, we’ll sit and have a nice light lunch and blind taste a bottle or two of wine.  Well, with five of us tasting a couple of relatively light wines, we felt that we could handle another challenge.  So I went Chinese Merlot2to pick the wine. What could I find within our budget that would be sure to stump these educated palates?

Ah. There it is.  They’ll never guess this one! What was it? A 2008 Dragon’s Hollow Merlot from China.

I was correct.  First the swirl.  Garnet in color, relatively light body.  It looked more like an aged Burgundy than a five-year-old Merlot. Then the sniff. There were no smiles, just puzzled, furrowed brows.  Except for mine, of course.  I had a barely-contained evil grin.

Then the taste. Then the call to Alan, the Somm who does the pourings on Saturday, to come and check the wine to see if it’s faulty.  I whispered in his ear what it was, and he shook his head.

“It’s the nature of the beast,” he said.  “It’s not corked. Just strange.”

Old World? New World? A blend? A strange varietal?  Once I eliminated all of the known New and Old World regions, they were genuinely confused and finally just gave up.

“It’s a Chinese Merlot,” I said, and took off the napkin that had been hiding the label.

The consensus?  In spite of the self-promotion that they give themselves on their website, they have a long, long, long way to go to make a wine that they call Merlot to actually taste like Merlot.  If Miles had been ranting about this grade of Merlot in Sideways, who would have blamed him?

So sorry folks, but while it could be seated firmly in the categories of “interesting” and “unusual,” it couldn’t sit in the category of “good wine.”  There’s nothing about it that resembled anything that I know of Merlot – where were the plums? the cocoa? the berries? the fragrant nose? (Insert loud “you missed the buzzer” noise from Jeopardy). Not one single person at that table would have known that it was a Merlot; that’s how uncharacteristic it was.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m glad that the Chinese are attempting to make Western-style wines. More for us!  But they have to work hard in order to get it to taste the way it’s supposed to taste. Even allowing for terroir variation.

So there you have it. I hope this has explained the weirdness of the last few days.

Back to work.  Stay tuned…

 

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