I used to hate stemless wine glasses when Reidel introduced them. Now, for certain casual moments, they are my go-to wine glass. I also used to look sideways at screw-cap tops, but now I don’t think twice.
While I’m not a complete philistine, stickler or traditionalist when it comes to wine, I find some practices off-putting. I’m going to look at two of these that are going mainstream: Champagne, real Champagne, designed to be drunk on the rocks and red wine aged in used whiskey barrels.
Drinking wine on the rocks is a time-honored tradition in Northeast Pennsylvania. I’ve had to stop bartenders from filling my glass with ice after ordering a chardonnay during an open bar because, evidently, that is how most people drink it. For some over-the-top, over-oaked, tropical and buttery chardonnay, dilution may not be bad idea. But as a general rule, ice will dilute and suppress the flavor of wine.
Enter blue chip Champagne house Moet & Chandon Imperial Ice Rosé, a lovely white jacketed bottle covered in directions and assurances about serving on ice.
When poured, the wine foams beautifully. Full of flavors of mandarin orange and peach, the authentic Champagne and Moet quality show through the gimmickry. It didn’t last, though. Once any drink gets too cold, it smells and tastes like nothing. The effervesce dissipated quickly. On ice, this wine was high maintenance and had a short half-life, and I found myself working to pay attention. In Pennsylvania, you can get the white version in stores for $60. ★★★★.
It’s not as if the notion of drinking wine on the rocks came from nowhere. People of a certain age could not escape the jingle “Riunite on ice, Riunite’s so nice.” Just as overwrought chardonnay is possibly improved on ice, so is the juicy, rich, low-alcohol Riunite Lambrusco Emilia. No one will accuse this wine of being complex or profound, but it is juicy, full of plum and grape character with some sweetness and just enough acids to cut its way through straightforward food like pizza, or as I enjoyed it, with the Pennsylvania-specialty stromboli. $7. ★★★1/2.
When I think of aging wine in Bourbon barrels, I think of the early Eastern wine industry. Cash-strapped wineries in New York, Pennsylvania and similarly-situated states scoffed up used Bourbon barrels to age their wine in. Bourbon-making guidelines require new barrels, used only once, so there are many used Bourbon barrels looking for a home. The results of this shortcut were horrendous. A barrel can soak up about 10 pounds of whiskey, ready to be imparted to wine.
The practice is making a comeback. This time, wineries want to derive Bourbon character into the wine. You don’t have to go far to find these infusions. Renegade Winery, a downtown winery in Stroudsburg, puts wine into barrels from Dad’s Hat distillery. The results are different and flavorful. But I’m still left wondering why?
None other than Robert Mondavi Private Reserve is involved. If the cabernet sauvignon from Southern California doesn’t offer enough flavor on its own, try the mouthful that is Robert Mondavi Winery Bourbon Barrel-Aged Monterey Cabernet Sauvignon. With smells of cedar and jam, this boosey-tasting, dark chocolate, berry syrup bash in the palate will wipe out your taste buds for at least a few hours. In a happy accident, I used a glass that had contained the Mondavi Bourbon wine for another red wine. The remnants enhanced the other wine. $15. ★★★.
If these extensions of the use and enjoyment of wine appeal to you, dig in.
GRADE: Exceptional ★★★★★, Above average ★★★★, Good ★★★, Below Average ★★, Poor ★
DAVID FALCHEK, executive director of the American Wine Society, reviews wines each week.