LAYA GARNACHA TINTORERA MONASTRELL (2010)—The wine I DIDN’T drink last night

Apparently my dad went over to the neighbors’ last night and finished off all their Johnnie Walker Black. The whole family went over actually, leaving me with an empty liquor-store bag. They must have bought wine to take with them before abandoning me to a house full of violent and possibly possessed animals, all without opposable thumbs.

I hope you’ll forgive me, my fellow inebriates—I was a bit angry. I didn’t realize the family was leaving until the last minute—not in time to stow away. I felt lonely and sad. So I decided to recruit Glen Bear to help me smash some bottles open and start our own party.

Polar bears being unpredictable, I wanted to make sure Glen was happy. So I told him about some foul-smelling canned salmon my dad had opened a while ago and forgotten in the fridge. But neither of us, lacking thumbs, could get the damn fridge open.

Photo credit: Miss V

So now my feelings of abandonment were compounded not just by the DTs but by an ornery polar bear romping around the kitchen. Just when I thought Glen might give up on the fridge and eat me instead, we heard a sound from the living room. OMG! Miss V’s scooter had fallen over all by itself.

Of course you know it didn’t fall over by itself. Fluffy had used his freaky evil mind on it. Things at LBHQ were going from bad to worse. Next I expected some officious Strata Council representatives to break into the house just to see if we got their warning letters.

But nothing else happened all evening. I was so freaking bored I started reading my parents’ receipts. And I saw they had indeed bought wine: LAYA GARNACHA TINTORERA MONASTRELL (2010)—a sensible go-to dinner wine from Spain and within the LBHQ price range. I felt partially mollified that they’d chosen a wine I’d had before rather than a new one that I would have wondered about forever. (We tried LAYA a couple of months ago while watching the season finale of Breaking Bad, which riveted all the bears including Glen, even though he didn’t understand it.)

Hailing from the Almansa region 700-1000 meters above sea level, LAYA is a luscious ruby-red combination of 70% Garnacha Tintorera (itself a red-skinned hybrid of Petit Bouschet and Grenache) and 30% Monastrell. Known as a blending grape, Garnacha Tintorera is increasingly appearing as a headliner varietal, although in the case of LAYA its intense fruity depth borrows some complexity and tannic action from the Monastrell grapes.

My favorite aspect of Monastrell grapes is their tendency to amp up the alcohol percentage in a wine. At 14.5%, LAYA doesn’t disappoint. But it goes well beyond being a vehicle for getting pissed.

Monastrell grapes

On the nose LAYA is ripe, expressive, and thankfully free of the barnyard notes that Monastrell can sometimes impart if not matured sufficiently. LAYA hits the tongue with plump, juicy notes, lingering across the back-palate with an elegant finish. While it doesn’t offer tremendous complexity, nor will it enthrall you, it is balanced and easily drinkable—and according to my parents when I interrogated them this morning, a good accompaniment to good food and conversation.

At $13.99 LAYA is a liquor-store gem with excellent value. My parents should bloody well have sprung for two bottles.

Okay, thanks for reading the rant. I know it was my fault I didn’t clue in and jump into my mum’s bag before they left. Then I could have helped my dad polish off the neighbors’ Johnnie Walker and had some LAYA. I am an idiot.

M. CHAPOUTIER BILA-HAUT SYRAH/GRENACHE, CARIGNAN (2009)—No, it didn’t have 9 lives; it’s gone

Miss V has no intention of peeing on demand for the doctor trying to confirm a bladder infection. Hence the package that came home today:

Needless to say, I don’t want anything to do with the project of coaxing urine out of a four-year-old into a cup. If, for example, my mum brought me into the bathroom to amuse Miss V, thinking the diversion might keep her on the seat until the pee was secured, I would be very afraid. It’s hard enough for an adult female to pee in a jar without spraying hands, seat, floor and counter. When a four-year-old attempts to do it, you don’t want to be a nearby absorbent bear who’s already under threat of the washing machine.

Because so many symptoms suggested a bladder infection, the doc prescribed an antibiotic anyway. If he doesn’t get Miss V’s pee, the exact microbes won’t be known, but they’ll get exterminated anyway. If he does get the pee, bonus. Within a week Miss V should be cured of her tummy aches and pungent excretions.

This latter symptom got me thinking about wines with a urine aroma. In particular I remembered our Easter dinner wine, suggested by a wine consultant other than our usual go-to. On learning of my parents’ preference for full-bodied, supple reds, he pointed to M. CHAPOUTIER BILA-HAUT (2009), a Syrah/Grenache/Carignan blend. His recommendation wasn’t exactly on the money. (He did disclaim that French wine wasn’t his area of expertise.)

True, BILA-HAUT poured rich and purple into the glass, exuding distinctive earthy fragrance and fruit-forward promise. Blended for ideal acid balance and drinkability, it seemed like a good dinner choice.

The first sips were curious—slightly more acidic than suggested by the aroma, and slightly lighter on the palate than suggested by the legs. The wine had a thinness to it that fruit bomb enthusiasts tend to avoid, but one has to have an open mind.

On to the next sips.

While Grenache typically has a soft, static character and doesn’t develop much as the wine opens, a Grenache blend is a different animal. The Syrah component in BILA-HAUT kicked up the spice and contributed an earthy wildness; the Carignan added tartness and zing. But during that critical first 15 minutes while the wine breathed and I had to be held back physically from it, the fragrance changed. The shift wasn’t subtle. First the scent was a maddeningly unplaceable brambly fruitiness, and then it was…wet cat. From wet cat it morphed to cat pee, at which point my dad abandoned his glass on the counter.

Mum and I persevered with BILA-HAUT, although for most of dinner she left her glass untouched, then returned to it while she loaded the dishwasher. I kept at it the whole time, so I can document for you, my fellow inebriates, the delicacy of its arc from fruit to sodden alleycat to litter-box offering to…fruit again.

Yes, peeps, the wine did become drinkable. It just had to go through a nasty olfactory phase. We all go through phases, some of which are olfactory too. Ever decide you were no longer going to shower? Or that deodorant was for losers? Okay, maybe you didn’t do those things. But remember the hair you had in the 1980s? Phases! Some phases are just ugly. And BILA-HAUT certainly went through one of these while the family was stuffing itself full of ham. For a while it smelled rank. But I swear to you that after an hour it was okay. And it was even better the next day.

So what the hell makes a wine smell like feline number one? Interesting, the chemical compound responsible for that unique cat-piss odor is often present in wine, particularly Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon. The offending compound, p-mentha-8-thiol-3-one, smells like kitty tinkle only in a specific concentration range, below which it smells herbal and above which it smells like blackcurrants. Wow!

So that explains how our Easter wine began dinner delightfully redolent of berries, survived being consumed at dinner by assaulting us with puss ‘n’ piss, then redeemed itself as dry, tannic and slightly herbal.

Which is pretty cool and scientific, but it won’t help us get Miss V to pee in a cup.


My Fellow Inebriates,

If I hear another parental exclamation about how expensive this season is and how booze is a “luxury,” I’m going to lose my furry mind. The budgeting conversation was so boring today that I rested my head in the curve of a bunch of bananas for most of the day, drowning out the banality.

Okay, maybe that doesn’t sound too understanding. As a bear without a social insurance number, I’ve never felt any obligation to bring home any bacon (barf—that’s for you, Hanukkah Harry—bacon is blech). So I don’t know how to budget, shop, do taxes, save, open an RRSP or any of that financial stuff. Why would I? It’s totally boring.

Except. Except that all this budgeting curtails my wine consumption.

I like exploring wines a lot, especially nuanced vintages and off-the-beaten-track varietals. I love detecting the layered scents before taking that first, tentative sip and disappearing into a wondrous, sensory ravishment by an exceptional wine.

But let’s face it, I’m a raging alcoholic, and the important thing is to keep wine in the house. If that wine is in a box, so be it.

My parents do not agree. They draw the line at boxed wine and will not stoop below the $10 mark. No matter how engagingly a liquor store’s $9 shelf talker ogles them, they will not purchase wine they can actually afford. Instead they keep a dry house for days on end and then spring for an occasional “decent” bottle.

Of course this is total BS. It means long periods of dreadful shakes and shivers, not to mention desperate cravings and urges to taste Windex and Clorox. The other day I drank half the vanilla in the baking cupboard, only to discover it was artificial and devoid of alcohol. If only my parents would invest in a friendly box of cheap plonk, I could park my mouth under the spout during these dark times and stop being the nuisance they say I am.

Still, I have to applaud my parents when they find something cheap enough to buy and drink without feeling guilty. The latest find, CASTILLO DE MONSERAN CARINENA OLD VINES GARNACHA (2007), was recommended by their local liquor store consultant, who pointed out that Spanish wines at the store often boast slightly older vintages, presumably because they tend to trickle more slowly to the North American market. Thus you can find, with a good consultant, some spectacular buys on mature wines that can certainly hold their own against the pricier Australian, US and Canadian bottles.

I’m wondering how we can get to know this wine consultant of ours a little better. My parents say he’s young and very friendly (which puts him out of their league as a potential buddy). If I wish to meet him, I may need to stow out of the house inside a purse or jacket pocket. The only problem: the liquor store is currently overrun by bears for its annual Share A Bear program, and I’m not sure what species they are. If they’re grizzlies like my friend Scarybear, then they will make things very difficult for a handbag-riding interloper, and I might end up getting the crap kicked out of me.

The reason I want to get to know this wine consultant (whose name my parents can’t even remember) is that I suspect he goes to tastings, and he might not object to taking along an alcoholic bear. Of course he might not have a man-purse that I could ride in, but maybe he has a backpack or some pockets. It would depend which pockets and where they were on his anatomy, because I wouldn’t want things to get weird.

That dude would be good to go to a tasting with because he certainly has good judgment. CASTILLO DE MONSERAN OLD VINES GARNACHA ($13.99) was a phenomenal surprise; even before it opened up, one inhalation revealed its promise. Ripe and full, this traditional old-vine Grenache bursts with plum and dense cherry, balanced oak and hints of olive. Remarkably complex for a Grenache, CASTILLO DE MONSERAN is lush yet structured, with a deliberateness about it that tells you these particular Spanish dudes know their craft.

I felt such sorrow when the last drop was drained, I had to curl up with the bananas on the counter. A spectacular value, CASTILLO DE MONSERAN OLD VINE GARNACHA is worth buying by the case.