CASTILLO DE ALMANSA RESERVA (2008)—When you’re looking for a deal

My Fellow Inebriates,

When in doubt at the liquor store, buy one known and one unknown item. This gives you, if you happen to have a booze blog, something to review, as well as something reliable to get you ripped out of your head if the new item doesn’t work out.

LB at liquor store near and farOn Saturday we searched the liquor store for our favorite consultant, a dude who has literally NEVER BEEN WRONG about any recommendation and who, when asked about, for instance, the appropriateness of daily wine drinking, will snort derisively and say, “I grew up in Europe. We always had wine—dinner, noon, Wednesday, whatever.” Confronted with the notion of alcoholism, our guy would no doubt scoff again and point you toward an extraordinary find for under $15.

Which is one of the reasons we shop there. Our family tree may dangle one or two alcoholic berries, but at LBHQ we haven’t started worrying seriously yet (at least about the humans). Our main problem is guilt—every time we buy a bottle of wine, that’s a couple of kids’ swimming or gymnastics lessons, right? Seriously, we’ll bankrupt ourselves long before we the humans disappear clinically into the bottle.


And so, carrying this perpetual guilt about what we might be depriving the kids of by spending money on liquor, we nevertheless entered the hallowed store seeking two cheap bottles in the hope they would overdeliver quality-wise for Easter dinner. But our guy wasn’t there to help us choose them. Instead we got this oily clown whose habit is to wander the aisles pitching hard liquor while describing his own drunken exploits.

Don’t get me wrong; I enjoy this very much, but my mother isn’t a fan. She thinks this idiot is a major douche—an opportunist who uses his liquor-store gig to maintain a permanent buzz.

Again, this sounds fine to me. We could both tolerate it, in fact, if he wasn’t such a condescending git. Compounding it: My mother was wearing her low-rent rocker jeans and hoodie rather than the usual semi-presentable trenchcoat. She had a mangy well-loved bear in her purse. So this douchebag consultant’s immediate impulse was to divert her to the discount section. When she said, “Actually, I’d like a wine recommendation for Easter,” he proceeded to read verbatim from the shelf-talkers, mentioning after this epic customer-service effort that he’d just been to a wine show himself, “but of course all the wines I liked were very expensive.”

customer-service-smallHoly crap, we were both starting to feel hostile—maybe even marginalized. Never mind that, for complicated reasons, we were carrying a tube sock stuffed with large(ish) bills and we could have rocked our oenophilic world were it not for the persistent voice of conscience reminding us of P and V’s swimming and gymnastics fees. This dickhead had no right to point us toward the expired Budweiser in the corner. Okay, maybe we looked a little sketchy, but we had business there. Only one of us would have drunk our purchase out of a paper bag in the park—and lacks the thumbs to accomplish such antics. My mother had respectable plans for our wine purchase, otherwise she would have made a beeline for something offensive like GRAY FOX CHARDONNAY.

castillo de almansa

If you haven’t given up on this post yet, you may wonder what we bought.

We decided to stick with two cheap winners, FINCA LOS PRIMOS TORRONTES (2011) and a Spanish fave, CASTILLO DE ALMANSA RESERVA (2008). A blend of Tempranillo, Monastrell, and Garnacha varietals, this $12.99 red wine was aged for a year in oak barrels before bottling, then cellared. The result is a mature, inky wine with considerable weight and structure—loads of dark berry character and a boozy finish. While some might argue that CASTILLO DE ALMANSA goes best with food, those of us who eschew food think it’s awesome by itself.

This wine is well known to bargain hunters. It’s big and bold, moderately tannic, and offers decent complexity in the licorice-cherry-oak vein. If you have the patience, which I usually don’t, it benefits from decanting and breathing. Or you can just pound it.

FALERNIA CARMENERE RESERVA (2007)—Better than pain meds (I think)

My Fellow Inebriates,

The grandfather I never knew would have been 80 years old today, something I wouldn’t have learned without snooping in my mum’s e-mail box, where I found an attachment from his sister, my great aunt (who doesn’t know I call her that). The picture she sent dated back to 1943, when my grandfather was 11 in Blitz-torn London. In the event of an invasion by Hitler, the poster was to be distributed to the population.

Sorry, Fluffy, you need more than a vacant stare to keep a girlfriend like Dolly.

I’ve had grandparents on the brain lately, what with Fluffy Bear continuing to haunt our house, albeit with attenuated efforts. I had to admit, reluctantly, that Fluffy hadn’t clogged the toilets with his mind; our cheap toilets just object to the products of constipation. Not only is the ghost of Granny loosening her hold on Fluffy; my girlfriend Dolly has also lost interest in his catatonic personality, which of course makes him seem more benign now. And damn, is he ever cuddly.

In other grandparental news, my Nana (she doesn’t know I call her that) got a new knee today. What a fantastic age to be alive, when you can replace your worn-out knee with a mechanical one. It gives me hope that by the time my liver is fully pickled, I’ll be able to order a new one on e-bay.

Nana didn’t have much to say about the operation. She is probably processing the new reality of being part cyborg. She may even be worried about the knee gathering data, assembling a rudimentary intelligence, and coercing her to take up Nordic hiking.

Nana’s friend very sensibly urged her back into the arms of Morpheus, which meant I didn’t get the skinny on exactly what drugs are in her IV drip. I hope that they’re taking care of the pain and, of course, keeping her calm.

Feeling solidarity with Nana against the post-op pain blitz, I urged my parents to open a bottle of wine. The consultant at the liquor store had recommended a promising Chilean red: FALERNIA CARMENERE RESERVA (2007). But would it be as mind-altering as Nana’s post-op cocktail? I pushed the thought aside.

And what was my fourth grandparent Papa (he doesn’t know I call him that) doing, I wondered? Was he bedside at the hospital? Or had he invited dozens of friends over for a housewrecker of a party? Was our wine going to compete with the martinis I imagined him shaking? That thought, too, I pushed aside.

The FALERNIA winery in Elqui Valley, 300 miles north of Santiago, is Chile’s northernmost wine estate. Interestingly, FALERNIA partially vine-dries the carmenere grapes before harvesting to boost their intensity. Given the resulting 15% alcohol and mouth-filling concentration of the 2007 RESERVA, I have to evangelize this method. If you are a fan of big, juicy wines, this one will appeal to you. But let’s back up—the experience is worth detailing.

FALERNIA CARMENERE RESERVA is a dark, concentrated ruby hue with big legs and a heady aroma of cassis, ripe berries, and plum. The flavor is massive and enveloping—without erring on the side of fruity simplicity. On the contrary, it serves up an orchestra of nicely coordinated tastes. Oak aging rounds out the flavors, adding the suppleness and sophistication that is often lacking in so-called fruit bombs. This is not quite a fruit bomb, but it is a near-orgy. And the finish? Endless.

You might call FALERNIA CARMENERE RESERVA an oenophilic blitz. At $18 it’s rhapsody for the tastebuds, and a respectable 15% wallop for your brain cells. Just right for toasting my grandparents—whether they’re floating around incorporeally, floating in a morphine haze, or in Papa’s case, hosting a wild three-day party during Nana’s recovery.

It’s just as well Nana’s doctors probably wouldn’t allow me to enter the hospital with a paper bag containing this wine. It probably wouldn’t tango so well with Demerol. As for Papa, I’m sorry he can’t share it with me, but let’s face it, that means more for me. As for the ghosts—if they’re here—they’re welcome to it, as long as they keep calm.