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31 March 2006

Cabernet, Wallace Style

Wallace2I love wine. Wine tasting notes - not so much. The traditional tasting note is brief, descriptive and entirely unimaginative. Occasionally I daydream of ways in which my passion for wine might be more creatively communicated. I've experimented with wine love letters, fake wine news shows and avant-garde poetry. However, I always return to the David Foster Wallace-style tasting note. Why? A Wallace note maintains the traditional form, yet at the same time, it opens wine up to adjunct information, brief and extended asides, and random weirdness. And hey, who doesn’t enjoy a glass of wine, chased by a shot of random weirdness? If you’re a Wallace fan, sit back and enjoy. If Wallace gives you hives, prepare the tomatoes!


Montes(1) Alpha(2) Cabernet Sauvignon(3) 2003(4) (~$20)
Deep(5) indigo(6) in color, fading to an intense pink rim(7). Classic Cabernet nose(8) of cassis(9), leather(10), cigar
box(11), black plum(12) and vanilla(13). Dry, with balanced acidity(14) and soft mouth-filling(15) tannins(16). Medium-full bodied(17) with a fruit-dominated palate(18) and slightly abbreviated(19), vanilla-heavy finish(20). A reasonably priced Cabernet from the Colchaqua valley(21). This wine may be drunk now(22), but may develop more complexity(23) over the next 2-4 years(24).

(1) According to Babelfish, an on-line translation site, the Spanish word, “Montes,” translates as, “I Mount.” So, I’m hypothesizing that the brand name, “Montes Alpha,” was cooked up by a marketing wunderkind who wanted to convey the brand as mounting the top spot, or mounting the pinnacle of quality(a) - a first-place/top-tier wine if you will. I wonder if aforementioned miraclechild test-marketed the name, “Montes el pináculo de la montaña superior?”

(2) Were this wine from Australia, I imagine it being called, “Alpha Monty” with a photo of a rather large, shirtless man(b); letter ‘A’ painted on his chest, with hands positioned above belt buckle – ready to drop trow(c), a la the Full Monty. Those wacky Aussies and their audacious wine labels.

(3) Of course, you may know Cabernet Sauvignon, along with Merlot and Cabernet Franc, are the traditional grapes of Bordeaux. But did you know that two other grapes, Petit Verdot(d) and Malbec, are permitted in red wine from Bordeaux?

(4) Aside from the harvesting of these Cabernet grapes, other 2003 events of interest include: International Year of Freshwater, the great diamond heist in Antwerp, the world’s largest hailstone falls in Nebraska, Gigli(e) one of Hollywood’s biggest duds, is released to theaters, then, shortly thereafter, to video stores. 

(5) Deep, as in the color’s depth. Perhaps I should’ve simply gone with ‘dark’ as the adjective in this instance.

(6) The word, “indigo,” conjures up two, very different, images in my mind: Indigo Girls and indigo snakes(f). 

(7) A pink rim, either of the intense or laid back variety, indicates youth and/or the near absence of oxygenation in red wine. As red wine ages, and/or is exposed to oxygen(g), the pink rim fades to a less intense garnet/copper/rust color. Think of the rim as your wine’s freshness indicator.

(8) Much different than a classic Roman nose. The word, “nose,” in this case is used instead of ‘scent’ or ‘aroma.’ 

(9) French for blackcurrant(h)

(10) Welcome to the parlor game that is wine scent descriptors. 

(11) Now, who wouldn’t love the contents of a cigar box dumped into his/her wine? If this is unappetizing, thank your lucky starts that this isn’t a Pinotage(i) tasting note. An oft-used descriptor for Pinotage is, “ashtray.” Yum.

(12) Of the dark purple skinned, golden flesh variety; not purple skinned & red fleshed. An important distinction(j) 

(13) Courtesy, the innards of a charred French oak barrel

(14) Believe it or no, acidity is critical in red wine. Red wine from warmer spots ‘round the globe will more closely resemble grape drink(k) without the counterbalancing goodness of acidity.

(15) Perhaps better phrased as, “soft feeling in the mouth.” 

(16) Tannins, derived from grape skins, seeds and stems(l), are the secret sauce that make steak and wine lovely together(m) Moreover, through some poorly understood pathway, tannins act as a wine preservative and enable wine to age gracefully (I’m still waiting for Cabernet Face Cream from Oil of Olay).

(17) I can’t commit to this wine 

(18) True story: For well over a year into my wine writing career, I mistakenly used the term, “palette” instead of, “palate.” (n).

(19) Still can’t commit.

(20) I can’t abide(o) overtly fruity wines that have taken extended dips in the oak tub. 

(21) República de Chile

(22) The joys of awkward sentence construction. Of course, I’m not implying that this wine is currently inebriated. I mean, were you to walk (p) to the wine shop and purchase this wine, it would be perfectly acceptable to open it up straightaway (q). 

(23) i.e. rather than ‘cigar box’ it may evolve scents of humidor or stubby stogie(r)

(24) As with many ageing recommendations, this is basically a semi-educated, wildass(s) guess. 


(a) Sounds painful.

(b) Things that keep me up at night: #7. Why do large-bellied men often go shirtless?

(c) abbrev. “Drop Trousers”

(d) A semi-great wine philosopher postulates that this grape, known for its exceptionally high acidity, may some day serve as the ‘savior grape’ of warm climate red wine.

(e) Having not seen this film, I can’t join the choir of critics, calling it one of the worst films ever. Speaking of allegedly awful movies, I have seen Ishtar. It’s really not that bad.

(f) This may be related to the recent hullabaloo about the upcoming movie, Snakes on a Plane!

(g) With the increasing use of screw caps, I’m curious to see how red wine ages. Will wine stay youthful longer? Is this a good thing? We shall see.

(h) British for black currant

(i) Hybrid of Cinsault x Pinot Noir

(j) Or not.

(k) I appropriated the term 'grape drink' after taking in a hilarious standup routine by Mr. Dave Chappelle

(l) I’m sure you already knew this.

(m) Tannins actually alter the size and shape of protein molecules, which in the case of beef, make it seem more succulent in the ol’ piehole.

(n) The most disturbing aspect of this gaffe is that I wasn’t corrected sooner. Either no one was reading my written bits, or there is a significant population of palate/palette flubbers within the wine drinking community. I prefer to think the latter reason was the cause for my delayed palate-correction.

(o) Which isn’t to say that others might not enjoy this style.

(p) I, for one, need more aerobic exercise in my life.

(q) Consult your municipality’s open container restrictions.

(r) Ageing wine can be a crapshoot.

(s) Apparently there are quite literally wild asses in Chile.

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Very got the DFW footnoting down perfectly...however, the body of the essay should, to most perfectly mimic the Great One, be composed of 1000 word sentences that read as if they were written in a great rush....the footnotes, of course, are there to expand upon and clarify ideas and concepts which, if addressed in the body of the essay, would make it much too long and convoluted...


It continues to amaze me that you can think up this stuff while holding down a real day job :)


Will the creativity ever stop? I'm still a fan of your wine mosiac.


I think Babelfish go that one wrong. "montes" would be the 2nd person familiar imperative form, not the first person present tense, of the verb "montar", which means to climb or mount.

It is also a fairly common Spanish last name. :)

I had the '03 Montes Alpha at an AWS cab tasting a few months ago. It went up against several cab-based wines that were far more expensive, including one 1st growth 2nd label but, according to my tasting notes, I liked it better than any of them.


Wait a have a day job...? Truly amazing!


Certainly a creative way to construct a tasting note. Not sure if it is any 'better' or easier to digest than a more traditional approach though; would not the points be simpler as links to the same information? Maybe the layout needs some work.

I must agree though that Tasting notes, even mine, get a touch boring to read. Maybe that's why I am moving to a more food-match approach and others go the winery background route. I am toying with the idea of just giving scores - doesn't EVERYONE know what a New Zealand Sauvignon blanc tastes like?


Stephen - good point. Perhaps I should pull out all the punctuation and make the tasting note more authentically Wallace-ian!

WG -- caffeine baby, caffeine.

Jathan - Thanks for the props. I actually forgot about the wine mosaic. Time for another'n

Justin - Ineed. I always get grammatical wackyness from Babelfish. I think the MA Cab's appeal is it's youthful approachability. After five or so years, I'm guessing the Bordeaux would shine brighter.

Andrew - The point isn't that this is any better, but it sure allows one to belch out more creativity (again, that may or may not be a good thing...depending on your perspective).

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