Saturday, November 12, 2011

Toasting the Redbirds, the Nuns, and the Club

The last Friday in October, I was headed down to Washington, D.C. to celebrate my niece’s fourth birthday. A St. Louis native, my brother-in-law was keenly focused on game seven of the World Series after witnessing the Cardinals’ miraculous comeback the evening before. I told him I would bring a wine worthy of the event. He suggested that some Anheuser-Busch might be a more appropriate beverage. I said I would take my chances with a 2006 Umbria Rosso San Valentino from Paolo Bea, a blend of Sagrantino, with Sangeovese and Montepulciano by one of the region’s great winemakers.  
The Italian regional wine authorities claimed that the wine was too light in color and slightly oxidized and refused to award it DOC (denomination de origine controllata) status, so the wine sold for about $30 in the States instead of the $60 it would otherwise have fetched. I loved the ounce I had at a tasting last September, bought a bottle, stuck it in my desk, and more than a year later nervously pulled it out, wrapped it in a tee-shirt and put it in my luggage before going to Penn Station to catch the train.
Not to worry. The Paolo Bea was delicious, earthy in a controlled way, very interesting to drink over the course of a three-hour baseball game despite my poor handling. (Six months in a dark desk drawer in a temperature-controlled office is probably fine; a year is not.) I probably killed some of the nose, but it remained intriguing to sniff and drink all the way to our bottle-ending toast to the Redbirds’ 6-2 win.
Fully convinced of Bea’s ability, I turned to another bottle that had lingered in my mind since July, one made by nuns in Lazio with the help of Bea’s son Giampiero that I ran across in a Berkeley, California wine store, Vintage Berkeley. The Coenobium Suore Cistercensi, a blend of 45% Trebbiano, 35% Malvasia, and 20% Verdicchio, has an appealing label that looks hand-written and features the logo of the Trappist monastery in Vitorchiano, which is in the province of Lazio about an hour north of Rome, and a relatively gentle $20 price tag.
Last week, 2B Sales asked me to pick up a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc for her. From the Loire? Yes, from the Loire. I got to the wine store, thought about the Coenobium, and for entirely selfish reasons went with a 2009 bottle of that instead. I started to worry about 2B’s reaction when I got back to the office, since the Coenobium gets extended contact with the grape skins, which is unusual and certainly not like a Sauvignon from the Loire. A nip of the Coenobium last weekend set me at ease, though: gingerbread, maybe a little yeast, rich taste but reasonably light mouthfeel.
2B Sales loved it. Could barely stop drinking it, she said. Wanted two more bottles. Just hearing her talk about it convinced one of her brethren on the sales team to take a bottle. The chief took one. Big-Time Spender, ever suggestible, signed up. I took the seven bottles the store had left, which left me short a bottle for someone who wanted to take a few home for Thanksgiving, so I got him a white from the Jura, a Montbourgeau. (Speaking of whites from the Jura, the ’07 Gahier Chardonnay was a terrific bottle as well, its nutty character evident but restrained, with enough acid to balance the richness that can often be excessive in wines from the region.)
The seven Coenobiums were only a third of the orders for the last MFWC run before Thanksgiving. Given the boss’s enthusiastic endorsement of Bernard Baudry’s Chinons, which are made from Cabernet Franc, I picked up three of his entry-level (i.e., under $20) wines as well as yet another Loire red for the Boss himself and a variety of bottles for the rest of the crew, which welcomes a new member, the Pinot Grigio drinker who wants to branch out—call her PG Branch.
I selected a 2009 Beaujolais from Edmunds St. John in California for PG Branch on the theory that it’s a light, easy-drinking wine that will go well with turkey. Steve Edmunds has a California hippie affect, but he’s a meticulous wine-maker who favors the Rhone style, and a sniff of one of his 1996 Syrahs sent me into conniptions at a wine dinner in May 2010. PG Branch, welcome to the club, and a happy Thanksgiving to everyone else.
The next blog posts will come from La Rioja, where I’m headed on Tuesday.

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