Sunday, April 26, 2009

Of Siegerrebe, Cribbage, and Norsemen

Frank and I often talk about how sometimes a wine just tastes better because of where you are and who you’re with. It’s one of those marvelous, magical qualities of wine that continue to defy description. You won’t see it in a tasting note, because it’s even more ephemeral than the illusive terroir – but we’re both true believers in its reality.

Case in point was a recent bottle of 2007 Gray Monk Siegerrebe. The occasion was a cribbage contest with one of my favourite opponents. Phil’s wit is totally off-the-wall and endlessly entertaining, so these contests are always laughter filled. Plus we have a long-standing tradition of opening a bottle of wine – usually one that’s a bit out of the ordinary – and then simply playing till it’s empty. Although he claims to know virtually nothing about wine, Phil’s palate is actually quite good. Unfortunately for me, so is his luck with cards.

We pour the first two glasses and cut the deck. I lose – horribly. “That’s got a rather peachy nose doesn’t it?” Phil says. Since he’s not of the demographic who use the word peachy as an expression of enjoyment or approval, I take him literally and decide I’d better investigate the contents of my glass more closely as the content of my hand could in no way be described as peachy.

Yup, peach and apricot with some pear – I’m thinking it might work well with the apple-pear, blue cheese, and balsamic vinegar reduction salad I have in mind for dinner. We swirl, sip, and agree there’s lots of fruit going on. It also feels thick and I can taste it all the way from front to back of my tongue. “I’m not sure why, but I keep thinking grass,” Phil says as he pegs a couple more points.

After several more hands, I still don’t get the grass, but I do get just a hint of lavender. And somewhere in my mind is an echo of floral “stuff.” Okay, maybe – just maybe, you understand – I’m actually concentrating more on the 16-point hand I’ve just been dealt than on the experience of the wine.

“Hmmm. This really has a lingering finish,” Phil says turning up the Jack of Spades for two more points. “Guess that would be a deadbeat Norseman, right?”

Somehow I manage not to spit out my mouthful of wine.

“And I’ve got that damned, lazy Viking right in my sights,” Phil continues, not missing a beat as he lays down a seven giving him “31 for two” and moves confidently to within four points of the “Finish” line.

Sure, I’ve only had a couple of decent hands for the entire round. But I’m only 15 behind and… I count first. Since the wine is really starting to open pleasantly, I pause to inhale – the apricot notes are really coming out now. No, honest, I’m not taunting my opponent – well not much. Phil pegs three more points and is starting to look pretty chuff. Until I put down my last card – the one that gives away the fact I have a double run for eight points plus a 15-8 count in fifteens – and the realization dawns that with his single point for last card, Phil may be poised right next to the Norseman but I’m going to get to snuggle up to him first.

On this occasion, we play another two rounds ending up with two losses for me before we upend the bottle.

Was the wine outstanding? Not really. It was pleasant enough – a great patio sipper or something to take on a summer picnic. For $17 it was pretty good value and would go well with Thai or other spicy foods thanks to its 10.8% alcohol and fruity sweetness.

Was it a memorable wine? Definitely. But it was made so because it was blended liberally with good company, abundant laughter, and friendly competition. I tried another bottle, alone, several days later and although still pleasing enough, it wasn’t nearly as much to write home about.

Jancis Robinson doesn’t seem to be much of a Siegerrebe fan. “A modern German vine crossing grown, like certain giant vegetables, purely by exhibitionists… so rich and oppressively flavoured it’s usually a chore to drink,” she says in The Oxford Companion to Wine. Oz Clarke doesn’t even mention the grape in his Encyclopedia of Grapes or Grapes and Wines.

Still, Siegerrebe is one wine I will always think of fondly because it recalls a time and place. But next time, revenge will be mine. I’m going to get to the Norseman first every time!

No comments: