Thursday, October 1, 2009

Burgundy's Greatest Grape Sells Out

It's been staring me in the face for months now. Innocent? Perhaps on the surface. But, oh so disturbing. Like the two twins (is that redundant?) in The Shining ..."come play with us, Joey, forever and ever and ever..." That "Kirkland Signature" logo emblazoned on the wine label, as if to say, "the product contained within this vessel may only be consumed after you've signed over your soul, your palate, your integrity. Sell your small-production friends down the river, and join us in an eternity of consistency, predictability, and economically-friendly bliss...MWAAAA HAAA HAA HAA!!!!*"

*denotes the sounds of sinister laughing. The "MWAAAA" at the beginning is a pretty good indication that the laugh is evil, as opposed to jocular and cheeky.

I admit. I shop at Costco once in a while. Let's face it: you can't find a value like that on 10 pounds of nutmeg (obscure Simpsons reference!). But one of the things that always has me taken aback is when I get to the wine section. Costco is the world's largest buyer of wine, and they tend to have a pretty darn good selection there. I try not to buy too much wine there, because I'm sure they're beating the hell out of producers to drive the price down. And I expect that logo on paper towels, topical ointments, and pretzels, but on wine? Alas, the "Kirkland Signature" (Costco's generic brand) wine just got too intriguing for me to resist. Sure, I wouldn't be surprised if there was "Kirkland Signature California Merlot" and "Kirkland Signature White Zinfandel", but I've seen some crazy stuff: Champagne (I mean, AOC Champagne!), Chateauneuf-du-Pape, even Kirkland Bolgheri! Yeah, Costco's making super-Tuscans now!

What finally broke me down was "Kirkland Signature 2008 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir". Yeah, true AVA Pinot for about $15 smackaroos. We're not exactly raking in the dough these days, so whenever I can fast-talk the wife into letting me feed my wine fetish, it's gotta be something value-priced. RRV Pinot at that price isn't that common.

Baby Steps (new thing I'm doing...little education for interested novices. Wine pros can skip this part if they want): Pinot Noir is a red wine grape (vitis vinifera) native to the region of Burgundy, France. The grape is notorious for being thin-skinned, and it's really vulnerable to harsh weather patterns, so it only grows well in certain little pockets of the world. Russian River Valley is an American Viticultural Area (or AVA) in Sonoma County, CA, about an hour north of San Francisco. The cool currents and fog of the nearby Pacific Ocean flow up the river valley and keep this area's temperatures cooler than most of Sonoma County. This allows finicky grapes to ripen slowly and evenly, and the cooling effects also allow the grapes to maintain acidity, making the final wine more balanced (as grapes ripen, acid levels and sugar levels are teetering in opposite directions...heat generally causes quicker ripening, so too much heat can cause grapes to be too sweet and low in acid, creating wines that are too fruity and alcoholic without acidic'd hear a wine nerd describe this as "flabby"). Pinot, also being known for it's "brightness" (read: good acidity), benefits further from the cool climate.

So, soul freshly minted and handed over to corporate America, I tucked tail and left the mega-mart, wine credentials hidden and cyanide pill in my mouth- at-the-ready, in case another local wine aficionado recognized me with my contraband.

I've cracked it open tonight, deciding not to delay my damnation any longer. Feeling as if I'm browsing internet porn at the workplace, I pull the (sure to be plastic) cork out. Hmmm...composite. Didn't expect that. I pour it into the glass (obviously, it's going to have been cut with Syrah, or Petite Sirah to give it more color, extraction, and fool the rubes into thinking it's higher-quality, because market research shows that darker color is perceived by XX% of Costco's target demographic as better). Well, it's pretty light in color. Almost like an Oregon or- dare I say it- Burgundian Pinot. And on the nose, I get tons of red fruit- strawberries, raspberries, cherries. Rose petals, and also a tiny bit of "cheesiness"...kind of like a touch of what I tend to smell in Cru Beaujolais. Maybe a bit of Syrah or PS in there, but it's clearly Pinot. There isn't much earthiness to the nose; it's definitely very fruit-forward, probably because that's what the average consumer likes. That being said, the nose is quite pretty, and I'm pleasantly surprised.

In the mouth, I get more of that fruit-forwardness, herbs, decent acidity, and a good bit of peppery-ness (further bolstering my Syrah-spiking suspicions. Say that 5 times fast!). Nice fruity mid-palate, and a medium finish. Furthermore, it holds up Pinot's promise of a nice, silky mouthfeel. Overall, this wine is not too bad, especially at the price point...

...of course, that may just be the demons talking. If my next post is pontificating on the musical brilliance of Limp Bizkit or crowning Michael Bay the next Stanley Kubrick, you'll know that my soul-less form is too far gone, and you may quit constantly telling your friends to visit my site all the time.

What do you think? Have I sold out, or am I just a little buy-curious? To your thoughts! Cheers, Sláinte, L'Chaim, Salud, Prost, Skål, Konbe, and Kampai!

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