Exactly one year ago, I changed a fundamental wine-purchasing behaviour in me. It could've had something to do with Lent ending and the Easter holidays arriving. Or it could've had to do with lent money and Easter wine sales arriving: I decided that I could (and should) start appreciating wines in the $30 to $40 range.
WITH MY SAY-SO
I happened upon a 25% off sticker on a bottle of Sicilian wine: Ceuso Custera 1998 (which I like to think is pronounced "Say-so!"). I figured that I enjoy everyday Sicilian wines -- wouldn't forking out an additional $20 make the experience with these southern Italian reds THAT much better? Besides, I was getting a deal: Spending less than $30 on a $40 bottle of wine. Surely this would be three times as good as Corvo, that lovely $13 standby from Duca di Salaparuta.
Mistake? The math might be right, but is the theory sound? These days, I have the wisdom to realize that wine prices are not set to scale with level of pleasure. In my experience, any semblance of a reliable scale will evitably crap out, usually somewhere around $21.85. After that you never know if you are paying for a name, prestige or a piece of history, all things that tend not to fare very well in a blind tasting.
THAT MAGIC MOMENT
But there I was at the cash, ready to take advantage of this sale. On the store's bookshelf, I had found a fairly positive sentence or two by way of review, and that was enough to guide me to my purchase. I expected anything else that was to follow to be measured by intangibles. After all, this was a wine worth more than any other I had ever bought home.
Actually, I had paid $40 for a single bottle in the past. But that was Champagne. $40 is strictly entry-level when it comes to a Black Label Lanson. A $40 Sicilian, on the other hand, is the total opposite -- it's pretty much through the stratosphere when it comes to this relatively rustic wine-producing region. There was going to be a genie jumping out of this bottle. I just knew there would be.
But later on with in-depth research on the Internet I heard the voices of many wine critics and industry authorities. While lauding the efforts of the winemakers that tended Ceuso's exclusive Custera vineyard, they cried out their alarm at such immodesty form this producer: a big and showy Bordeaux-like label, the brash trumpeting of stylish international grapes, and an indulgently-set price tag. This wine was good, they said, but with an elevated price. Never mind my Visa balance, would my modest discernment and young palate really be able to get around this Sicilian avant-garde?
What had I gotten myself into?
Another person might've holed away the bottle in guilt and then try to forget the extravagance. Me, I pretty much opened it on the spot, all by myself, for a look-see. There was still a few other bottles of the stuff remaining and I wanted to find out if I should scoop up more of this mark-down.
Well, short answer is yes, and I did buy another bottle which I kept until now. Regardless of pricing and all the reviews, this wine is for me. It's my style, and at one bottle per year, it's also a squeaker for my budget. As I await the 1999 vintage for my third purchase, here are the ravishing tasting notes from my second Ceuso.
WHAT I PAID FOR
The majority of the Ceuso Custera is made up of Nero d'Avola grapes, but Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are blended in to make this bottle part international, part regional. To the eye, this wine is muted garnet with brick edges. Clearly it is showing some of its age.
Ceuso is redolent with intriguing cedar flavours, an attribute that I often sense verging toward corkiness but not in this case. It's a warm and welcoming embrace. The aroma features blackberries and candied cherries with dusty tobacco on the palate.
On the second night, I was quite amazed at its evolution, so you may want to donate to this wine a portion of time in a decanter, despite its eight years. Drinkers may miss how, given time, Ceuso's gripping dryness melds with lingering fruit and vanilla notes for a fantastic finish. Now I know why I bought more of this wine: it was after I tasted it on the second night that the decision was made.
Alcamo, Sicilia, Italia. 13.5%.