The Nevada City Wine Diaries
Domaine Bousquet Ameri, Jardin des Charmes Rosé, Domaine Thierry Laffay Petit Chablis
I bought this wine on Monday as a gift to myself for finishing a thankless task that ended in only the most minor humiliation. It is a 65% Malbec, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Syrah, 5% Merlot blend from an organic winery called Domaine Bousquet near Mendoza, Argentina. Malbec is not native to Argentina; it comes from a region in France called Cahors, and has merely been revitalized in (and is therefore associated with) Argentina. If you see a red wine that says Cahors, it is a French wine made from Malbec, likely with a little Merlot added in. (I see there is also a blues festival in Cahors — I can’t imagine anything worse!)
The Ameri is a huge steamship of a wine, with a blaring air horn. It is purple and smells like you spilled a glass of expensive wine on the floor of an oak sauna. It would be nice to drink this wine from an enormous goblet in front of a rain-streaked stained glass window in a library at Oxford while an elderly Don banged on about the Iliad.
People like big wines. Americans especially like them because we like sugar and oak, and a lot of fruit gives wines a sweet taste we really just can’t help crave any more than we can help having begged our parents to buy Fruit Loops. I say sweet taste because you’re not really allowed to explicitly call wines sweet unless they’re classified as such — I will talk more about this later — at any rate, there is something pleasing in big wines, and indeed in this wine, that is about sweetness. But this winery is also at 4000 feet, so it has a lot of other things going on in it like acid and tannins because, very simply, where there is cold air grapes are permitted to develop flavors more complicated than sugary ones.
Big wines are generally not much in fashion right now with fashionable wine critics, and I have mixed feelings about this. Robert Parker, founder and editor of The Wine Advocate, has really championed these dark, deep, velvety explosive wines and really pushed winemakers, dependent on his rating system for sales, to pick their grapes late and let them languish in oak and to generally favor unsubtlety over subtlety. This is not good and anyone who thinks so is an ass, that said, the Ameri is dense, concentrated stuff and I liked it a lot.
I drank it over the course of three nights and shared some of it with Tor alongside a fat steak which was the other part of my “thanks for doing that thing no one will thank you for but you” and some of it with a woman at my office who asked “Wow, why is this so good?” I said, “Because it was expensive,” and she said, “You know you can get a really good Malbec at Grocery Outlet,” and I said, “I seriously fucking doubt that.”
Thursday night we were going to a party. The party was for a person who is obsessed with Phish and plants, so her party, I knew, would be populated by similar people. That afternoon, I stood in front of a mirror and practiced saying “I know nothing about plants” in as non-confrontational a way as possible. Then I went to Grocery Outlet to get wine.
I tried to find a Malbec but they only had one and it looked terrifying. I bought a rosé for $4.99, from the Languedoc in France. I have been to the Languedoc, I call it the Long Duk Dong. Does everyone do that? I tried to stop but I can’t.
I have bought probably six bottles of Languedoc rosé at Grocery Outlet this summer. They have all been fine, which is to say that they were dry and they tasted good cold. In my extremely limited opinion the difference between an undrinkable rosé and an acceptable one is that the former is too sweet and the latter is tasty if unremarkable. The difference between an acceptable rosé and a good one is that the latter is just tastier. It’s like the difference between sitting on some park bench and sitting on a bench in some beautiful hidden garden. And when you can get pretty good rosé for $5, it’s harder to get greedy about wanting something better. For me this is only true of rosé. To buy other wines, I would mortgage things.
My rosé was a very big hit with the plant people and I ended up Learning Things. The most important thing I learned was that the English Ivy growing everywhere here is invasive and very triggering to people who know about plants. “I see it everywhere, I can’t not see it,” one woman told me. “People are always talking about how pretty it is and I can’t not lecture them on how it just chokes and kills everything, because I just feel like they have to know.” I told her that was exactly the way I felt about supermarket Pinot Noir and we poured ourselves another glass of Grocery Outlet rosé.
I am no expert on Chablis or any other wine but I am an expert in loving Chablis. Chablis is made out of Chardonnay, but it is not called Chardonnay because in France they name wines after where they’re from, not after the type of grape they’re made out of. I bought this wine from this dude Cal who owns the wine store here in Nevada City and wears shorts all year round. “This wine is very well made,” he said when he handed it to me, staring dispassionately out the window as he does when he talks about wine.
American Chardonnay — famous brands are Meridian and Kendall Jackson on the supermarket end, Kistler and Rombauer on the fancy end — tends to be fruity and oaky. It often tastes of butter. I will speak very, very generally here: the reason it tastes of butter is it often undergoes intense malolactic fermentation. So malic acid in the wine turns to lactic acid (milk acid) so that it quite literally develops creamy flavors. It is also aged in a lot of oak which makes it taste very toasty and kind of exacerbates the butter flavor.
Now, Chablis may also see malolactic fermentation and oak. But traditionally, it has not, and when it does, it is still (as it comes from a much colder climate) much drier and more restrained that American Chardonnay. American Chardonnay is like a tourist in a stretchy maxi dress taking pictures of the Eiffel Tower. Chablis is like a straight-backed school teacher in a well-cut suit with her blonde hair arranged in a neat chignon, forcing children to decline verbs. By the way, Petit Chablis is the crappiest form of Chablis, from the most unsung of its vineyards, but it’s still really good.
I drank this Petit Chablis over the course of four days. One night I drank a glass by myself, ate a piece of boneless organic chicken, and sobbed over season three of “Last Tango in Halifax.” The next night I shared some with Tor while we ate steak and I made his friend drink a bottle of shitty Merlot I’d gotten for free, because I knew he’d prefer it. The next night I came home and drank one glass in bed as I giggled over Thank You, Jeeves. And then, Saturday afternoon I had the last bit, sitting at a picnic table with my feet resting on Merle, gazing out over the natural world. I saw something suspicious on a tree and investigated. It was English Ivy. It will be destroyed.