Castle Rock Carneros Pinot Noir 2004

Vincent's Market, 2400 South 12th Street; 314-772-4710.

Sometimes the best wine deals are right beneath your nose. They get lost in the muddle of bottles that line shelves in no discernible order at Schnucks, or appear at nearly every grocer with such ubiquity that the label itself vanishes. You pass over them on the way to more exotic eighteen-dollar Chilean wines, or perhaps snub them on your way to the New Zealanders.

Castle Rock. Such a nothing name. A castle on a rock? A rock made of castle? Look at the label and move on to the funnier monikers -- the Woop Woops, the Panting Ponies, the Red Balloons -- convinced of Castle Rock's mediocrity. How can a wine be good if it doesn't have a clever name?

Drink of the Week understands. We've never professed to be oeno-geniuses, but we are oeno-thrifty and oeno-generous. We prefer buying wine at specialty shops, but in a pinch we visit Schnucks, stare dumbfounded for a few minutes, examine rudimentary signifiers -- usually grape variety and price -- and take the plunge. Sometimes a pretty label seals the deal. When we strike gold, as we did a few years ago with a Tuscany-bred Ruffino Chianti, we return again and again, and spread the word.

A few weeks back, Whole Foods was selling the 2004 Castle Rock pinot noir, the one from the Carneros region of northern California (they also have varieties from Monterey, Mendocino and Sonoma counties), for a decent price of $12.We grabbed a bottle on the way to the pasta aisle. We've never been wholly disappointed with a Castle Rock red, and that night, we lapped it up like winded horses. Sitting on the couch watching Being Bonaduce, we rejoiced in well-spent bucks and made a mental note to purchase another bottle once we mustered the strength to endure Brentwood again.

Then, lo, the next day at Vincent's Market in Soulard, we spotted the same wine for $9.69! We brought it home, drank it up and, when returning for more, discovered it was sold out. Now, Vincent's seldom sells out of anything, so somebody must have bought the lot. But who can blame them, for we'd have done the same. A few days later, it reappeared, and we stocked up for the winter.

Castle Rock's Carneros pinot is seductive that way. Not overly subtle, it wears sequins and mascara, dangles ripe blackberry and cherry like pasties on a stripper, rockets across the palate like a long-restrained orgasm. It's a mid-weight, purply wine with more heft than most pinot noirs, but not nearly as much as a merlot. It possesses a smooth, velvety finish, rests in the mouth like a string of pearls on soft skin, with jam overtones and a hint of mint. When you finish a bottle you might crave a butt. We suggest you hold off, because if there's any case for living a long, healthy life, it's a good wine cheap, which presents itself to you like a lover in a bathrobe, primed, ready for lovin' and easily accessible.

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