Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Wine: 2003 Mountain River Pinotage/Shiraz

2003 Mountain River Pinotage/Shiraz from South Africa ($7.99 at Trader Joe's)

I first had this wine back at our Cross-Atlantic Holiday Festivus and liked it so much that I wanted to try it again when I had a chance to really pay attention to what I was drinking. At the time of the party, the wine steward at Trader Joe's had recommended it because he felt it would pair well with the highly-spiced Portuguese and Brazilian dishes we were serving. In my vague recollections of the evening, I remember being surprised at the strength of the wine--it wasn't a bad pairing with my food, just unexpected. This time around, I'm trying the wine by itself, unpaired with any food.

In the glass: Dark and completely opaque. Ruby-lit highlights when you hold the glass up to the light

Scent: This wine smells strongly of fermentation and slightly musty--like walking through forest with a thick ground covering right before it rains. There is a definite perfume of dark berries (blackberry, cherry, and maybe currant?). The scent is powerful and forceful--even with my glass sitting next to my computer about a foot away from my nose, I can still catch a whiff of berry and pleasant mold.

Taste: Heavy and rich, almost "thick" tasting. More of that mustiness in the taste as well--I think immediately of rich cheeses like blue cheese, gorgonzola, and roquefort.
It's not an unpleasant taste, but not always one I'd want in a sipping wine. The individual berry flavors aren't as prevalent in the taste as in the smell, but the effect is still fruity. Very smooth, not a lot of tannins (that puckery flavor present in a lot of younger wines). The overall taste is quite bold. It really coats the entire tongue uniformally. There's no spiciness--it really "sits" on the tongue and lingers a long time after you swallow a mouthful.

Pairings and Culinary Uses: This would likely be a great wine to use in cooking--a nice tomato sauce, beef stew, glazes for steak and lamb. Might also be pleasant as mulled wine or sangria. I've also been reading a lot lately about making your own red wine vinegar, and it would be interesting to see this wine become vinegar and then to use it in a dressing for a salad with gorgonzola and walnuts.

I don't think I would often drink this on its own--it seems like a wine that's meant to be paired with food. However, it might be too heavy to go with the main course itself and would tend overshadow a meat-centered dish (like steak) rather than enhance it. If you want to pair it with dinner, go for highly spiced foods like Mexican or even Indian. I think this wine would be best drunk as an after-dinner wine. It would be fantastic with a cheese course or a dairy-based dessert like cheesecake, creme brulee, or custard where the flavors between the food and the wine would have a chance to play off each other and mingle.

Overall, I really like this wine. It's bold flavor is unexpected and incredibly balanced for an under-$10 bottle of wine! Because its flavor pairings aren't as versatile, it really inspires me to think of dishes it really would pair well with. It also makes me crave cheese, and cheese is always a good thing in my book.

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