Updated: Oct 29, 2020
Yes Google, I see the grammatical error but it’s a classic quote from Road to El Dorado. Miguel and Tulio are offered either a reverent ceremony or a glorious feast to which they reply “Both. Both is good.” Disclaimer: like 90% of what comes out of my mouth, this post will be very controversial. Now, on to the wine. Before we became beer geeks, Pat and I were into wine. When I say “into wine” I mean in our 20s we went to NoVa vineyards on the weekend with our friends and knew we preferred reds to whites. We also thoroughly enjoyed the free tastings in the wine cellar at Wegmans in lieu of happy hour. I think that’s probably as into wine as you can be when you’re young, dumb, and have very little cash to spend. You go around saying things like you can buy a great bottle for $15, there’s really no need to spend more. For what it’s worth there are some great $15 bottles of wine, really there are, but saying “there’s no need to spend more” is a willful ignorance of what makes expensive wine expensive. To be clear, I’m not saying you can’t love wine if you can only spend $15 a bottle or that you don’t have a decent pallet. But rather that flavor and quality are more complex than price. If you stick with me, I’ll make recommendations of great red wines at all price points (those links are in red).
One of the great things about beer is you can try a lot of different kinds reasonably inexpensively at places like The Ale House Columbia, our local watering hole, who have dozens of beer on rotating taps from around the country. They offer 5 oz sample sizes, of which you can drink as many or as few as your wallet and stomach can afford. Here in Baltimore, you can also step up your game with international beers at Max’s Taphouse, which has over a hundred taps. Festivals and events regularly showcase new and exotic beers at discounted prices. It’s really no surprise we moved from wine to beer in our late 20s, especially since Maryland has an amazing beer scene. We will talk more about beer another day because this post is how we fell into the rabbit hole that is good reds.
A few years ago we were regularly cooking Hello Fresh meals for dinner, and by we I mean Pat. We also had discounted wine subscriptions we got off of Groupon. We attempted pairing the two based on the Hello Fresh recommendations if we could. If we couldn’t we’d Google “best white wine for pork chops” and the like. Those wine subscription services became a major pain because in Maryland someone has to be home to sign for wine when it’s delivered. I replaced our wine stock by going to Total Wine and buying cases of wine recommended by their sales persons that pair well with red meat or white meat, at a price point we could afford. This is a great option if you’re people who just want wine to drink at dinner. Cloud Break Red Blend is still a favorite of friend’s of ours who came to dinner during this phase and is under $10. Another still popular red I’ll still serve at parties is the Radius Red Blend which is under $13. Despite the fact that Americans are obsessed with loving Cabs or Pinots, blends are not a bad thing. In fact, only Americans buy wine by the grape and not the region. I know you’re thinking “Mandie, this post has the label Napa Cab in it.” Bear with me, if you will please.
This generalized wine and food pairing method is terrible if what you want is to really highlight the characteristics of either the wine or the food. Hello Fresh knows this, which is why they make really specific recommendations. There is absolutely nothing wrong in wanting wine with your meal and not caring if it pairs perfectly. There is also nothing wrong with opening random bottles to drink on the porch with your friends. I do both, regularly. However, it’s not how Pat and I taste or appreciate wine anymore. Unsurprisingly, it was the French who ruined this for us. If you have ever been to a wine pairing meal you’ll figure this out immediately that food can change wine and wine can change food. I’ve talked before about Clement on our Secret Food Tours in Montmartre, Paris, who got me to drink sweet wine and eat Roquefort cheese. Alone, I loathe and despise them, together it's a party in my mouth. Another disclaimer, in case it’s not clear, I’m not an expert and I don’t know how to do this. I do know I can’t just Google “best white wine for pork chops” any more. That’s simply not enough information for Google to give you the best advice.
So how do we enjoy wine and why do I want both Bordeaux and Napa Cabs? For us personally, we don’t attempt meal pairings. If Pat and I want to taste a wine, we open it along with a charcuterie board similar to the one pictured above. We will pick a variety of cheeses, dried fruits, dried meats, water crackers or french bread and light desserts to taste the wine against. We try the wine with both sweets and salts, until we find combinations that bring out our favorite flavors of both the wine and the food. We’ve gotten really into virtual tastings. Wine.com has a lot of fun ones and under normal circumstances you wouldn’t get to hear from wine makers around the world in a single tasting. We enjoyed the Granahces from around the world, which is unfortunately sold out, but you can get the Los Rocas Grancahes for $12 that we discovered during this tasting that is really great for the price. You don’t have to watch the tasings live and they have them at may price points. I don’t recommend the wine tastings that don’t have a live or recorded session. They just come with an information card that will not help you understand the wine any better. Here’s my referral link to Wine.com, with it you’ll get $30 off. If you join their stewardship club, it covers the cost of shipping for an entire year. You can see why we signed up at the beginning of quarantine. Thanks Aunt Di and Uncle Doug for that recommendation!
So on to my wines of choice. We've always preferred reds, but now we can narrow it down to really specific reds. Let’s start with Bordeaux, which is on the southwest coast of France, near the Bay of Biscay and not far from the Spanish border. There are sevenish Bordeaux regions that produce red varieties including Cab Sav, Cab Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot. I’m generalizing here but red wines from Bordeaux are medium to full bodied, they taste of not so sweet fruit like currents and plums, and are earthy. Because the wines are blended and the grapes come from the different Bordeaux regions with different soils and water, there is still quite a variety. In general we like a bolder wine with more moderate tannins. Now there is some good news and some bad news about the price of Bordeaux wines. In France they are extremely affordable but in the US those affordable wines are very difficult to get. Also, I don’t know if you’ve heard but there’s a global pandemic happening and international wine is rapidly becoming in short supply. These are the three that I can usually get and enjoy on Wine.com for under $30. You can read about each of them on their website and see the professional ratings, what’s listed below are my personal ratings of each. Note my enjoyment of Bordeaux wines is not correlated to price, at least not what I am drinking stateside.
Chateau Mayne Vieil 2016 $11 4/5 stars
Chateau Larose-Trintaudon 2015 $25 3.5/5
Chateau Charmail 2016 $26 3/5
When we returned from France and discovered we now turn our nose up at most wine, our local liquor store owner, Carlos at Vintage Cellar, did two things. One started ordering me Moet by the case and two got very familiar with what wines I was buying and liking and which ones I said were gross. He didn't let his feelings get hurt and recognized that I like Napa Cabs over any other red he had in the store. In order to be labeled a Napa Cabernet Sauvignon, 75% of the grapes must be cab sav, grown 100% in the Napa Valley. It doesn’t mean it’s 100% Cab Sav and if they’re not 100% Napa grown, it doesn’t matter where the wine was made it’s not a Napa Cab. I hate Sonoma cabs. Hate, which is unfortunate because they’re a little cheaper. Sonoma is much larger than Napa, but unlike Napa where Cab is king, they grow a larger variety of grapes. They plant their cab sav basically on the border of the Napa Valley and have similar soil and the same varying day/night temperature. But Sonoma Cab has that red fruit flavor verses the black fruit that I like so much in Bordeauxs. Napa Cabs are also medium bodied and earthy, with forward tannis. I’ve got two Napa Cabs I love. One is available on Wine.com, Raymond Reserve Selection Cabernet Sauvignon 2017 $40, I give it a 4/5. The other…
Let me introduce you to Freemark Abbey. Freemark Abbey is over 130 years old and in that time they’ve only had 8 winemakers. Their Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, is blended with grapes from a variety of Napa vineyards and retails for $60. So naturally we joined the wine club mid-pandemic in order to buy it for $48. It’s utterly delightful. Rich and dark. This is our go to, glass with dinner, drink on the porch wine. When we joined, we got a wine club box that had some of their more expensive wines but we were still drinking good wine on special occasions with a meal, rather than properly appreciating it. We have learned the error of our ways. A few nights ago was the unboxing of this quarter’s wine club. The picture on this post is from that tasting. There are only two of us and we’re not millionaires so we only chose to open the one bottle, not all four. I asked Pat which one he wanted to open and he said I have decision fatigue, so I just opened the first one on the list. Oops that was the $150 Sycamore Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. It’s one of their most elite wines and one of the greatest things I have ever put in my mouth.
We walked away from this night with a few insights. First, this was a brilliant mistake and actually the perfect way to taste this wine. We had been told which cheeses and meats to pair it with, it was just the two of us so no sharing required, and we were being informed exactly how it was made and what flavors we should be tasting in real time. Side note, my new favorite wine taste description is “forest floor.” Only to be rivaled by the beer flavor description “horse blanket.” Second, we’re still really young, dumb, and have relatively little cash to spend on wine. We we’re in this tasting with a woman comparing the Rutherford Valley cab grapes from the mid 2010s to the mid 1980s and a guy from Tokyo who had an almost complete vertical he was tasting all at once. Pat repeatedly told me to keep my texting off screen because I looked like a millennial. Third, I agree with every winemaker I met in France who said “don’t age wine, drink it when I say it is ready.” This wine was ready and it was absolutely the perfect date night. If you want to start a wine tasting journal I really like this one from Amazon for $7.
To summarize: both, both is good. I certainly would prefer to be able to hop over to my local Parisian cafe where a $5 glass of a rich near perfect red Bordeaux wine can be purchased at all hours of the day over having to ship a $48 Napa Cab across the country to enjoy over a virtual internet tasting. I’d also prefer to be in Paris rather than social distancing from practically everyone in Maryland. However, I think we’re all starting to see the beauty of many things in a different light these days so I’m going to stick with both.