Saturday, December 16, 2006

Kitchen Sink Included: the 2004 Big House Red

I love red blends. I really do.

Especially when there is some rhyme or reason to them. Like the great value Australian GSM wines (blends of Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvedre), where the wines are combined to soften the dustiness of the Grenache, tame the sweetness of the Syrah, and add the depth of the Mourvedre to the mix. A strange alchemy takes place in a carefully blended wine, one in which the varietal characteristics can still be discerned, but the whole is somehow greater than the sum of its parts.

Then there is the 2004 Big House Red ($8.99, Trader Joe's). This wine has everything in it--including the proverbial kitchen sink thanks to the inclusion of Montepulciano grapes--and it didn't make sense to me at all. I felt that earlier vintages of this wine did have a rhyme and a reason to the varietal blend. But this one has (no joke) 8 varietals in it: Carignane, Petite Sirah, Sangiovese, Zinfandel, Barbera, Syrah, Grenache, and Montepulciano. Heh? You drink it and think, hey, that's red. That's not to say that its not a quaffable red. It is. But it lacks that interesting varietal complexity that makes a wine worth drinking. Even though it's quaffable, there are such great red blends out there even in this price bracket I couldn't help but consider it poor QPR.

Readers who were fans of the widely available Bonny Doon Ca' del Sol Big House wines of the past will be interested to know that Bonny Doon sold the line to Big House Wines in late July 2006. My 2004 Big House Red, though apparently made before the line was sold, lacks the Ca' del Sol designation, and there is no mention of Bonny Doon (one of the great value wine companies in my opinion) anywhere on the label.

With the Big House Red we had fabulous roasted pork with savory fennel bread pudding from Cooking Light, brined for a few hours in a mixture of sugar, salt, and water. Rolled in crushed fennel seeds and minced garlic, then browned in a skillet before finishing it off it the oven, it was the best, juiciest roast pork we've ever had. The star of the meal was the bread pudding, which came out of the oven like a very soft stuffing after filling the whole house with aromas of bread, fennel, carmelized onions, and fontina cheese. This is a great meal for this hectic time of year since much of the prep can be done ahead, then it all goes in the oven for an hour, giving you lots of time to spend with guests or unwinding. And there was enough interesting flavors in the food to make a wine that tasted red a fair pairing.

This experience hasn't turned me off Bonny Doon, or even the new Big House label, but I think I will do some more reading of the back labels before I purchase another one. Hopefully this line of affordable blended wines will return to its roots and the winemaker will soon concoct a blend that is enticing and engaging, rather than just over the top.


Unknown said...

Thanks for the link to the pork and bread pudding. I'm always on the lookout for something new to do with a loin.

I'm sad to hear Bonny Doon sold the Big House line. I've been a big fan in the past.

Dr. Debs said...

That recipe is great. We've had the bread pudding since then with chicken.

The head of Bonny Doon got into biodynamics and wants to drastically reduce his committments and focus on the small production wines. Kind of admirable, really. Other mixed news, though, is that the Pacific Rim wines have been moved to Washington. They haven't been sold though. Here's hoping he'll keep his hand in.