by Joe Colosi
Bad wine is a very subjective term. To most, it simply implies that the drinker does not care for the taste. But there are specific ways in which a wine’s flavor can be unpleasantly altered. Hunter and I encountered such a bottle of Rioja, intending to complement the wine with cheese. Instead, we salvaged the wine.
Marques de Riscal 03 Rioja: This bottle may very well be delicious. It is a highly rated producer and a fine vintage for Rioja. Our first sips did not reveal much; the wine was tight and shy. As we drank more, a very distinct, bitter, and foul flavor crept into the equation. It tasted like burnt caramel and dirt-covered wood. And while the wine opened up and revealed more of its big, complex flavor, the burnt sensations were far too prevalent to ignore.
A number of things can contribute to a wine’s demise. A contaminated cork can impact the flavor profusely, as can oxidization within the bottle. The cork on the Rioja was surprisingly dry, leading us to believe that the wine stood upright on display for too long. Sometimes a wine can be so defected that only a drain can stand to drink it. We decided to take our chances on a remedy.
We found that going with some of our favorite cheeses made the wine passable. Ossau-Iraty opened the wine up even more, hiding the bad flavors to an extent. The sheep milk cheese is made in the Basque region of France and has a gritty, creamy texture. Moliterno can also subdue the bitter flavors of a poorly kept wine. Moliterno is made in Sardinia, one of the most famous sheep milk producing regions in the world. The cheese has a salty, smooth flavor and a round finish. Not surprisingly, Parmigiano Reggiano can add new flavors to any wine, even those with such obvious defects. The cheese’s beefy, hearty flavors adhere to many styles of wine and would pair well with any Rioja, kept properly or not.
No one wants to purchase an improperly stored wine, but it can happen. And when it does, you need to know how to rectify the situation with cheese. The three cheeses we chose are outstanding and will probably taste even better with most red wines. Whether you are drinking the finest Margaux, the cheapest Colli from your local State Store, or grape juice from a box, cheese can always contribute.