I've been meaning to get back to Stew Leonard's for some time now to pick up a few more bottles of wine, having gone through a handful since mid July. I did pick up a pair of Spanish and Portuguese wines (one I've had before, one I haven't), but was interested in taking advantage of one of the numerous specials they have every week. Despite the reasonable prices, I'm often torn by which new one to try. Though I've seen it in my previous visits, I haven't tried out the wines on sale that were available for tasting at the samples bar. Today I decided to give the "try before you buy" approach a shot. Two wines were available for tasting--one was a $26.99 wine from France, the other a $10 from Italy, which I think I've had before (not recalling the exact name). I decided to try the French wine. It was a 2007 Cuvee Speciale Noble Sire Chateauneuf du pape--a blend of Grenache Noir, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Picpoul Noir, Terret Noir, Counoise, Muscardin, Vaccarèse and Cinsaut (Wikipedia.org, 2008). I was told by the server the wine had been opened but not decanted for approximately 5 hours. It had an incredible nose of sweet ripened red berries, and was complemented by a deep red color with medium legs. The taste mirrored the aroma of red sweet berries, along with spicy (mint?) aspects to it (almost making it slightly resemble Black Cherry Soda with a bit more body and zing) . Otherwise I found it was extremely complex (after some initial acidity), had medium tannins, and had a nice long, consistent length--a length I hadn't seen in a red since I broke open my Vigneto Gallina a few months ago. The tremendous length ended with some heat, but hardly enough to discount this very, very goood wine. The notes from the winemaker stated that this wine could be usable immediately or put away for 5-7 years. Either way, trying it out removed the concern over spending the extra money, and I purchased this tasty wine--whether it can hang in there until at least 2013 or get consumed before the end of the summer remains to be seen, but it's nice to know whenever it is opened and given some time to breathe, it will exceed expectations! I rate this wine a solid 4.0 on our traditional 1-5 Scale (5 being the highest), and I would not be surprised that when sipping this after a few cuts of good fresh cheese (White Cheddar, Gouda, Irish, or even Manchego), this could teter on 4.5.
I would like to stress that with its strategy of allowing shoppers to taste various wines before purchasing, Stew Leonards is using a brilliant approach in pushing wines out the door that may otherwise sit as idle inventory. Granted this 'try before you buy' concept is hardly an original idea, retailers like this who take the sale of wine seriously in my opinion will develop a more faithful customer base, and should expect to thrive more so than competitors who follow a more "liquor/packaged goods store"model.