Spectator Sport

A "gotcha" moment reminds us to do our homework.

The big news in the wine world last month was the grand hoax perpetrated upon the Wine Spectator by one Robin Goldstein, author of The Wine Trials. Goldstein wanted to investigate the selection process behind the Spectator‘s annual Awards of Excellence, earned by restaurants with “well-chosen” wine lists. He created a fake restaurant supposedly based in Milan, complete with a web site, menu, wine list, and even a bit of buzz on Chowhound.com. Those “credentials,” complete with the $250 entry fee, earned Osteria L’Intrepido an Award of Excellence. Needless to say, it has since been revoked.

While the Spectator‘s plight was greeted with an unseemly amount of gleeful schadenfreude in the blogosphere, I’m sure more than a few editors and critics laughed nervously at the news perhaps thinking back on which oaf their own research shortcuts might not fare too well under similar scrutiny.

In the spirit of more innocent shortcuts — and of fully disclosing them before someone else does — I’ll admit that I did not blind-taste one of the three wines I reviewed this week. Instead, I decided to more closely replicate the experience of the average Wineau, simply opening a bottle on a Tuesday because she’s thirsty. My intention was to take a sniff and a sip or two, write down my impressions, and share a glass with our Token Winemaker to elicit his judgments as well. Instead, I was so taken by the wine that I kept forgetting I was supposed to be reviewing it. Does this happen to Robert Parker? Does he ever get so lost in a Bordeaux that he forgets to make notes about it? Probably not.

The wine in question was the 2006 Il Rosso Di Annibale Sangiovese ($9.99), and when I finally got around to taking those notes, I described it as unassumingly great, with a mild aroma of raison and plum, a medium body, and smooth, well-balanced tannins. A simple wine, it’s the perfect Tuesday nighter, especially given its relatively low alcohol content of 12.5 percent. Our Token Winemaker couldn’t believe its vintage, noting an aged quality to the taste and its inky purple color.

Leaving Tuscany and unorthodox tasting methods behind, we move on to a blind tasting of two Spanish reds: the 2001 Navarro López Old Vines Crianza Tempranillo ($8.99), and the 2006 Castaño Monastrell ($9.99). Two tasters found the Navarro López a bit thin, while our third identified a sour flavor that she thought might cut the spice in a hot dish. This one definitely needs food — we tried it with a spicy sun-dried tomato dip and found it much improved.

Three thumbs up for the Castaño Monastrell; I loved the aroma on this one: jammy and big, with something pleasantly rotten (yes, it’s possible) thrown in for good measure. Two of us tasted blackberry, and to me the fruit was especially noticeable in the Castaño’s long finish. A great companion to steak, and its elegant label offers another reason to bring it your next dinner party.


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