September 7, 2016 § Leave a comment
What I Write About
I keep this website active even though I haven’t been very active with it. Back when I wrote a weekly wine column for the Portland Press Herald, I used this blog space as a way to update subscribers when a new article had been published. The last column I wrote as regular columnist for the Portland Press Herald came out in September 2016. (More recently, in summer 2019 I wrote a one-off article for that paper about selling wine in a beer town.)
Nowadays I still write about wine — most recently in the New York Times Magazine, in a “Letter of Recommendation” for Terry Theise’s wine catalogs (and, as you might guess, lots of other topics).
What I Work at When I’m Not Writing
For many years I was the wine program director at the Rosemont Market stores in Portland and surrounding towns. I still love selling wine, but I’ve left that position to do something that excites me even more — make it. A friend and I have started a winery right here in Maine, to make sparkling and aromatized wines — all from Maine fruit, grown organically. As soon as we can, we’re going to plant grape vines and then, a few years from now, we’ll have wines from those grapes to show you. To begin, we’re making our wines from wild Maine blueberries. It’s an incredible fruit, and I’m so excited to see how we can move them toward wines of real character, expression of place, and enormous deliciousness.
I’ll update this space whenever there’s good, bad, or interesting news to share, so if you’d like to stay informed, become or remain a subscriber. I’m also findable on Twitter (@joeyappel) and Instagram (@joeyappel1). I very much appreciate your support and interest.
February 26, 2014 § Leave a comment
Anyone who has followed this blog recently knows I’ve been taking a break from it for a while. But I just want to stick this here post up top to make it semi-official. I love writing about wine, and continue to do so through my weekly column in the Portland Press Herald. This blog has served mostly as a portal to those columns, and that seems kind of redundant to me.
So I plan on revamping the Soul of Wine blog soon, to consistently create original and more graphically interesting content. It will be a counterpart to my weekly columns, rather than a restatement of them. There are a lot of great wine blogs out there (too many probably) and I hope y’all go to some of them and gain from their myriad insights.
Meanwhile, feel free to drop a line or comment if you have any thoughts or suggestions on what Soul of Wine could/should be. I’ll be back! And please do follow my current activity via the Portland Press Herald’s web site, or on Twitter (and, less reliably, Facebook and Instagram). Thanks, friends.
October 19, 2010 § Leave a comment
The New York Times calls this here thing “charmingly passionate”, and who’m I to disagree? Charm and passion in balance ain’t a bad way to go…
My name’s Joe Appel, and I started this blog as a way to continue the conversation that starts with my wine column in the Portland Press Herald. I intend this space to include not only reprints of those columns, but all kinds of additional stuff: mention of interesting wines I couldn’t fit into a column, more in-depth comment from the illustrious importers and other wine-world luminaries/visionaries I interview, and so on. In general, there’ll be a looser feel than the column, so I can express more of the feelings of the wine experiences I have.
Check out “Welcome to the Soul of Wine”, to your left, for a preview of where I’m heading with this. And: stay tuned. Thanks!
October 2, 2013 § 1 Comment
Kerfuffle alert. Coincidences are amazing. On the very day when the first of my two successive Portland Press Herald columns on German Riesling was published, the most interesting English-language players in the (yes, small) world of Riesling passion — Terry Theise, Lars Carlberg, Stuart Pigott, David Schildknecht — were duking it out over the very same issues I had taken up: Riesling’s unique talent for holding dryness and sweetness simultaneously, and the future of German Riesling in light of its domestic audience’s apparent preference for fully dry wines.
Another passionate explorer in the Riesling intelligentsia — The New York Times’ Eric Asimov — had a couple of weeks earlier written a necessary column investigating dry Riesling from Germany, and a quotation Theise gave Asimov (about dry Riesling being an “invasive species” in Germany) stirred up a bit of a firestorm with the Briton Pigott.
I subsequently wrote a second article on German Riesling, focusing on the compatibility of its form of sweetness with actual food that we actually eat.
If you’re at all interested in how our present is influenced by the future and influences the past (or, for you traditionalists, vice-versa), it’s a worthwhile, lively debate to follow, which would be easiest for you to do by entering here, on Lars Carlberg’s site , and there’s even more (mind-numbing) back-and-forth here! My own articles are at best a more introductory sort of fill-in.
After a bit of Twitter-based back-and-forth that included me, Lars wrote me to say, in part, “As for traditional Mosel Riesling, you’ll be surprised at the analysis that I found in many 19th-century books. The wines were more often bone dry. The traditional ‘fruity sweet’ style rose up in the post-war years….Mosel wines pre-1950s tended to be more dryish than sweetish. If we go back to the Mosel’s heyday of the late 19th century, the wines were dry, except for the rare Auslesen, which then had discreet sweetness.” I trust him, because I have for a long time read and admired Carlberg’s reports and insights on German wine, and his account last year on what is happening to Kabinett Riesling is comprehensive and undeniable.
Still, as I replied to Carlberg, “I’ll just say that my interest is only secondarily in history/tradition (not not in history/tradition, just secondarily), and primarily in what my own experience tells me is the fullest expression of the grapes. I don’t mean to dismiss the longer view of Mosel wine culture! Just to assert that for me personally the indigenous, unique traits of the Mosel have been most emotionally moving and satisfying in the wines not vinified to utter dryness.”
(I added, “I do get on my high horse in my own writing, sometimes, just because I sense that my audience needs a prod or two to accept [balanced] sweetness as an acceptable aspect of wine.”)
In the end, I think where all of us who love German Riesling converge is in agreeing that the true beauty of this grape from this general place is that it is possible to make exquisite wines across the dryness spectrum. It is not limited! This, more than anything else, is what we ought to say when trying to communicate what is important here. (And I acknowledge my own small failure to say as much, sufficiently clearly, in the articles I wrote.)
September 4, 2013 § Leave a comment
Call today’s column “Notes Toward a Collectivist Theory of Wine”. Wherein I consider some of the social effects of being involved with wine. What does wine have to say about the growing disparity between rich and poor? Well, it says nothing. But we need to talk about how we behave in light of said disparity.
I mean, I wrote the column a while ago, and then along came the New York Times with an article on the famed Cantina Antinori’s new architecturally stunning winery/entertainment-megaplex. I’m not opposed to beautiful architecture! But what does it mean that this can happen?
I really don’t have any ideas. But until one or two come along, I do have some suggestions for a sort of collaborative subterfuge, as we participate in the marketplace of wine. These suggestions involve attention, love, empathy…in other words, they’re not for the weak!
August 21, 2013 § 1 Comment
The question: Can California be a home for normal wines, at normal prices? We know it can be a home for ridiculous wines, and extraordinary wines, at prices befitting the adjectives we use to describe them.
But what about the sorts of table wines that Europe made us fall in love with all those years ago? Bistro wine, trattoria wine. Beaujolais, Dolcetto. You get the idea.
Kenny Likitprakong gets the idea, too. He’s the everything behind Hobo Wine Co. Aptly named. Kenny doesn’t own vineyards. He’s a hobo. He loves Woody Guthrie. He’s got a super loose attitude, but super tight principles and action. He represents the best of this country.
And his wines are just what I’m looking for: hand-picked grapes, wild yeasts (he, scientifically, calls them “uninoculated”), low alcohol (even the Zin has 13.6% alc!), no crap-addition or funny stuff in the cellar. The wines are limpid, supple, nuanced, and real. They don’t cost tons of money. The only unfortunate thing is that wines like this, from a place like that, are still in the minority.
August 17, 2013 § Leave a comment
My latest column in the Portland Press Herald sprung from a New Yorker article on Bill Buford and Daniel Boulud, where they construct this impossible old-school dish, the chartreuse, and you think it can’t be worth it — or any good — until the usually taciturn Boulud exclaims that the dish is “le vrai goût de la France”.
That’s what I think of the wines of André Brunel. His “ordinary” Côtes du Rhône, a scant $13 retail, is the “true taste of France”. It has that inimitable French quality that makes you feel as you’re drinking it that you never want to drink anything else.
It’s bottled unfiltered, from old-vines Grenache, Cinsault and Syrah fermented in concrete tanks. The wine is a conversation among every element of the plant cycle: soil, roots, branches, leaves, fruit. It’s the whole picture, with tannins integrated, both toothsome and silken.
Brunel’s Chàteauneuf-du-Pâpe takes that conversation deeper, deeper, deeper. Yes, it costs a whole helluva lot more. It should. But the CdR is where you start. And I love the white, too, the Domaine de la Becassonne. It’s not flabby and stupid, like most southern Rhône whites. It tastes more like an Alsatian Pinot Blanc to me, and that’s a very good thing.
The article is worth reading, in my opinion, because in an interview with me Brunel talked fascinatingly about what is happening in this historic region because of global climate change. How do you maintain the “traditions of the ancients”, in Brunel’s words, in a world whose very chemistry is changing? Who’s got a more compelling question than that?
July 25, 2013 § Leave a comment
Don’t follow the grape. Don’t even follow the region. Follow the actual spirit of the thing. I love acidity-laced wines with huge mouthfeel. That’s my spirit-center: wines that are both ringing with juicy snap and grounded with luxe-y heft. Spätlese as a way of life. Rare.
Prayers answered: Huet Vouvray and Kiràlyudvar Tokaji. Spiritual cousins. White wine for grown-ups. Read on.
July 22, 2013 § Leave a comment
You know how when there’s something you know something about, and you talk with someone who’s interested in that something but has her or his facts a bit screwy, but thinks she or he knows quite a bit, and you want to correct the misinformation but don’t want to come off like a jerk, so you’re caught between fake-smiling and letting it go, or bringing the knowledge hammer down, and in the aftermath you resent yourself for either the fake abiding or the heavy-handed pedantry?
That was how I started my Portland Press Herald wine column last week. The rest of what I wrote was my way of exploring the best way to be of true help when you know something someone doesn’t.
Along the way, I mention some particular wines I like a lot — Chablis, Pinot Noir, Riesling — which betray many calcified notions we have of grape variety, region and style.
The big lesson is: Kill your idols, smash your categories. Every moment is a new one, and the primary purpose of your knowledge is to help you see how little you know. Knowledge to make you more curious, less rigid, more open and accepting.
July 17, 2013 § Leave a comment
Yes! The third in a recent (unplanned) blog series of mildly misunderstood zippy/dry-white-wine categories that most people take for granted, my Portland Press Herald column a couple of weeks ago expressed pleasant shock at how interesting Vinho Verde could be. I’d had no idea.
But as always, it’s gottabedoneright. A lot of Vinho Verde is mass-produced by co-ops, from bought grapes that are held at low temperature from one year to the next. Hence, the absence of a vintage listing on that $5 bottle you plucked from the wine-shop cooler.
The good stuff rarely comes to the U.S., though that might be changing. Michael Hutchinson of MatadorVino, whose Portuguese portfolio includes several estate-bottled Vinho Verde wines (white, red and rosé!), told me all sorts of fascinating things about the region. (He also sent me a bunch of wines that I can’t wait to try and then write about, especially the organic and no-sulfur [!] ones).
Speaking of that $5 bottle, I got little-to-no beef with it. But I was a bit surprised that Eric Asimov, whose New York Times wine column is usually a well-considered and insightful overview of a given wine category, chose in his recent Vinho Verde column to speak only of the cheap-n-barely interesting stuff.
I gently called him out on this on the ol’ Twitter, and once the gracious Asimov retweeted that post, it led to a moderately lively exchange amongst a few folks. Bruce Schoenfeld, for instance, Travel + Leisure’s wine editor, tweeted: “The problem is, those small-batch VVs (and I’ve had plenty) run the flavor gamut from A to about D. Scant complexity.” I like the comment, but disagree. Which small-batch VVs has he had? I’d say the gamut is more like A to J, which is pretty damn good for $10 wine!
July 17, 2013 § 1 Comment
Why forever? Because you can age it, dummy! Muscadet is briny, light and great with oysters. Yes. Sure. I get you. But there’s a lot more to the story. My column in the Portland Press Herald last week tells a small sliver of that story.
Gist: Great Muscadet is not to be trifled with. Set aside your oysters, and bring on the main course, even if the main course includes hearty fish, cockles and clams, sausage. And one of the greats of the greats is Guy Bossard. Bossard is a legend in the Loire for his low-tech, all-natural approach. Now that he’s in his 60s and looking to the future, has hired a protégé, Fred Niger, and the winery is now called Domaine de L’Écu.
Whatever you call ’em, the wines are extraordinary now, but will gain tremendous complexity over the next 3-10 years at least. It’s a bargain investment: $19 for a bottle of wine that already offers much of what good Chablis does, and over time will offer even more.