O' vile temptress; O' ruby-colored siren of the vine, how your delectable, succulent promise does call to me from the gla--GAH! What is that smell? This is the scene that played out in my kitchen the other day, and while I tried my best to ignore it, I knew that my Rex Goliath Pinot Noir had fallen prey to 2,4,6-trichloroanisole, the dreaded cork taint.

If you've never encountered it, consider yourself lucky. A corked wine has a musty, woody smell that I liken most to dry-rot on a log. I've read descriptions ranging from wet cardboard to damp basement, but those all fall short. To anyone who has tromped through Florida woods and happened upon a felled log slowly crumbling to wood dust, you know the smell. Organic, musty, and slightly acrid, it completely destroys the wine's natural aromas and eliminates fruit from the palate. Even a slight taint can be disastrous, as this was. The wine was undrinkable.

Corked wine has decreased tremendously over the years; according to industry sources the number of corked bottles is down from one in 12 to as little as one to two percent. From personal experience, I would say that's fairly accurate as this was only the second bottle I've had that could be said to have been tainted. The other was a bottle Spanish wine that had a particularly dry cork that crumbled when I pulled it from the bottle--a huge disappointment.

So what to do? I once heard that tainted wine can sometimes be resurrected if given enough time to breathe. Whoever told me that is a damn dirty liar. Left alone in the glass, the wine didn't change; it didn't mellow or bloom. It remained a musty, dank mockery of my planned Saturday evening. Undaunted, I reached for a new bottle, a Domaine La Garrigue 2004 Cotes du Rhone Cuvee Romaine.

O, temptress. O succulent, ruby-colored siren... Well, you get the picture. Simply put, this wine is brilliant.

The Domaine La Garrigue 2004 Cotes du Rhone Cuvee Romaine, a blend of 60% Grenache and 40% syrah, is deep, dark-ruby in color with hints of purple lightening slightly towards the edges. It had a powerful nose, blending dark fruits such as black plum and a hint of blueberry with licorice and spice. The palate was fruit-forward with hints of cranberry in the tannins and a medium-bodied and supple mouth feel. The finish was fine, long and clean.

This wine would pair marvelously with a number of dishes, being supple enough for seared salmon, yet sturdy enough to stand up to hard cheeses or beef. I paired it with an altered pasta puttanesca (sans anchovies) and it did marvelously, enhancing the flavors and coupling well with the salty, savory dish. An absolutely stunning value, I recommend this wine without hesitation.


A problem with wine

Despite its recent surge in popularity, wine remains out of reach for many people. As much as experts have tried to get wine out there, to make it available, many people still think wine is a subject that requires specialized knowledge and a big fat wallet. And popular wine culture carries much of the blame.

The other day I caught an episode of "Pairings with Andrea." For the uninitiated, "Pairings" is a cooking show in which Andrea Robinson, née Immer, cooks up recipes that pair well with the day's wine selection. And she gushes about her husband. On the episode "First Date," she paired two Pinot Noirs (one old-world, one decidedly new) with recipes she and her husband cooked on their (surprise!) first date:

  • Green Beans with Shallots and Thyme
  • John’s First Date Salmon
  • John’s Mashed Potatoes

All fine and good until the neophyte oenophile happens to catch the French Red Burgundy Chambolle Musigny Amoureuses label in Wine Spectator's Collectibles section--$125 for a wine Robinson is pairing and tasting as casually as someone else might a glass of sparkling mineral water. The Belle Glos Pinot Noir is no slouch, either, at $40 a bottle, but that's at least in the realm of possibility for most of my friends. And $125 for first-date wine? That makes you beholden to something. Not necessarily spend-the-night beholden, but still. And what about the reciprocal? What if you shell out $125 and the object of your intent turns into a raving lunatic? Doesn't bathe? Won't come out of the crawl space? Way too risky. The wine Robinson used is an anniversary wine at best. Maybe a honeymoon wine, if you're both into that sort of thing.

Yes, the Chambolle Musigny Amoureuses stole (then) Immer's heart. Yes, it's probably a fantastic wine. But should we live under the assumption that wine must be expensive to be enjoyed? Must we live in a constant state of Oeno-envy?

Simply put, no.

Just as you don't have to spend $10,000 on some magnetic, skip-proof turntable to enjoy music, you don't have to spend a great deal of money to enjoy good wines. And to prove it, here's a couple wines I stumbled upon this weekend, and the deal of all deals that put them into my hands:

Enter the Albertson's liquor annex, placed next to each Albertson's grocery store, and ever a den of iniquity if there was one. However, they often have a surprising selection of wine, and it's one of the only places in town where I'm assured one of my favorite values, the HRM Rex Goliath Pinot Noir, non-vintage.

The non-vintage means they can assure consistent quality across all batches. Granted, those snooty enough to adhere to the subtleties of vintage an specific appellation will miss those finer points, but at around $11 a bottle, this juicy, silky pinot noir could stand in for bottles twice its price.

So, armed with one bottle I headed for the store's imports section in search of Four Emus.

In the back of the same issue of Wine Spectator that made me realize Fine Living's Pairings might be playing out of my league, I'd spotted a review of Four Emus' Cabernet/Merlot mix. I wasn't lucky enough to find the same varietal, but I did pick up the Four Emus 2004 Shiraz. I had bought it once for a wine-fan friend as part of a continuing campaign of "$10 wines with interesting labels." He enjoyed it then, and he's blessed with a much more sophisticated palate than I, so I figured it was a safe bet.

Armed with two bottles, it was time to leave. At the cash register, the $1.50 off necker was a nice surprise, but when the guy behind the counter asked if I had an Albertson's Preferred Customer Card, I thought my savings were ended.


He swung his bar-code reader like some kind of ray gun, the tiny machine bleeping and blooping as it scanned bar codes printed and pasted across the counter in front of him. "Now you do!" he said, and he handed me several bar-coded tchothkes.

My purchase price plummeted to $14.

Both wines are excellent values, retail, and with the help of--I'll call him Niles--Niles, I was able to pick up two fine wines for the price of one. Plus, I got to meet Bruce: The leader of the gang. Deranged and thoughtful (for the 2 seconds any Emu can hold onto one thought). Bruce is the kind of Emu you would hang out with...if you were an Emu.

Tell you what. Not being an Emu, I still enjoyed hanging out with Bruce, and his slightly spicy, wonderfully balanced shiraz did a fine job enlivening spaghetti drenched with hearty, home-made tomato sauce and served with warm, crunchy garlic bread. And at $7, he was a cheap date, too.