That’s Sancerre?! Yes, that’s Sancerre. Le Vrai Sancerre.

July 17, 2013 § Leave a comment

ImageEveryone knows what Sancerre tastes like. It’s fresh and elegant. It’s good with white fish. It’s usually pretty good, and every once in a while very good.

And then there are the wines of Sébastien Riffault, a young winemaker in the Loire Valley who makes Sancerre unlike any you’ve ever had. His single-vineyard Sancerres are rich and fibrous, knotty and earthen. Riffault farms biodynamically by hand, with horses to pull his tractors. He harvests his grapes a full month later than most of his Sancerre compatriots.

The single-vineyard wines — Auksinis and Skeveldra are available in Maine — receive no sulfur whatsoever, while his cuvée, Les Quarterons, gets a tiny treatment at bottling. They all undergo full malolactic fermentation, which along with the late harvest endows them with a startlingly rich intensity.

In my Portland Press Herald column a few weeks ago, I wrote

The mineral landscape of the wine is inhabited by all sorts of life forms: meringue, clafoutis, sun-baked straw, bees, strange flowers. Little in the wines is citric, nothing is green; all is amber and almandine, copper, soft yellows.

Wines this special are not to be missed. They’re why I drink wine at all.

Sweet and Savory, and Fresh

July 16, 2013 § Leave a comment

ImageA few weeks ago, I riffed off an old Asimov column in the New York Times on two metacategories for wine: sweet and savory. I’d been feeling that there’s a third aspect that’s just as important: freshness.

It’s real, but hard to pin down. In a wine that expresses freshness, fruit jumps out of the glass, only faintly distracted or veiled by tannins. There’s a kind of potential-energy tension, brought on by acidity so tuned it suggests (and sometimes delivers) effervescence.

You just feel big life, in the wine itself. Summer is the right time to look for freshness, and it was in drinking the J. Hofstätter Pinot Nero 2010, from the Alto Adige, that I felt the urge to write on it.  I’ve never met anyone who didn’t love this wine.

City Wine

July 10, 2013 § Leave a comment

cobenzlGemischter Satz is not just yet another consonant-heavy term you can use to show people how much you know about wine. It is one of the most thrilling white wine categories there out there, and the cultural history behind it is fascinating. Gemischter Satz means “mixed set” in German, and it refers to the unique field-blend whites of Austria. The ones from Vienna, designated “Wiener Gemischter Satz”, are the best.

I’ve been excited about gemischter satz for a long time now, ever since I tasted my first (you always remember your first) in 2010. It was the Cobenzl Wiener Gemischter Satz Classic (pictured at left). I got so excited about this wine and others from Vienna that I flew there, and wrote about gemischter satz for Saveur Magazine

Now (well, a few weeks back, but I’m only blogging about it now) I’ve written about it again, in my Portland Press Herald wine column. Neither of those spaces offered enough room for me to tell the full story, alas. But The World of Fine Wine does and did offer enough space: to Alder Yarrow, a terrific writer and full-bore devotée of gemischter satz (there are more of us out there than you’d think!). His article — not readable at the magazine’s website, but  here’s a teaser link — is terrific. Mine are fine. Read them all, and make these wines a big part of your life.

La Spinetta, a profound time- and space-warping conversation

June 5, 2013 § 2 Comments

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Several of the glorious rhinoceros-decorated bottles of La Spinetta, surrounding my custom-rigged Riedel Oregon Pinot Noir glass. I know bottles look better in photos when there’s still some wine left, but…well, y’know…

This week in the Portland Press Herald, I write about La Spinetta, a winery that began in Piemonte but has expanded into Tuscany. Their wines from both regions are extraordinary, and somehow the spirit of the Rivetti family who make these wines possible suffuses both regions, and all their terroirs. Wine is about place, but not just place.

A line I originally wrote for the article got cut in the editing process: “The wines of La Spinetta open profound conversations about time.” I stand by that. These wines clue us into how clueless we are about true time.

Here’s something else I wrote for the article, but I cut it out myself due to space considerations:

In fact, you were supposed to have read this article last week, but I flat-out missed my deadline. I’d given the wines the usual few days it takes me to drink, observe, and compose my reactions, but then there was both too much to say and not enough. I had to send a sheepish email to my editor at the last minute confessing a sort of existential collapse, an anguished sense of my own limits. I thought I’d have been done with the wines as usual, but I wasn’t. And the wines certainly weren’t done with me.

True story. I mean, I really did miss my deadline for the column, because I was too taken with the wines to say anything about them. With La Spinetta, everything takes longer than usual. Please, drink these wines, and do the time warp again…

Piemonte, Profound

June 3, 2013 § Leave a comment

This isn’t about an article I’ve written. It’s about an event I’m proud to be a part of that will take place this Saturday, put on via my day job at Rosemont Market. We’ve recently started a new venture at Rosemont, which we call Rosemont Market Productions. It’s our event-planning wing: We put on private wine tastings and dinners, wine and food education events, pop-ups and other fun stuff.. All is farm-based, local and Good. It’s been fun, will get even more so. Email me at joe@rosemontmarket.com if you’re interested in working with us.

Anyway, this Saturday, June 8, we’re hosting a very special event: Profound Pleasures of Piemonte: A Family-Style Wine and Food Tasting and Seminar. There are only a few tickets left, so I thought I’d post the news here just to make sure our guest list is exceptional!

We’ll host Orlando Pecchenino, winemaker at his namesake winery in Dogliani, Piemonte. The Pecchenino wine estate dates back to the 1700s, and Orlando Pecchenino is a passionate, articulate ambassador for his family’s wines and the long traditions he is proud to sustain.

This area of Italy is beef country, and the wines will be matched with a series of matchless Piemontese beef dishes, prepared by Rosemont Chef Brad Messier from grass-fed Woodbourne Farm Red Devon.

Rosemont’s Chief Butcher, Jarrod Spangler, has lived near Dogliani, where he learned the craft of Italian butchery that has informed so much of Rosemont’s peerless meat department. Jarrod will be on hand to discuss his own approach to butchering, and the importance of using locally raised, all-natural meats.

We will feature extraordinary wines, of course, including two singular Dolcettos from the famed Dogliani region and a cru Barolo. The wine seminar and food will be presented family-style, just as you’d experience were you to visit Orlando Pecchenino’s home.

This will be a uniquely thrilling and informative evening of food, wine and expertise. We are pleased to be able to offer it for just $75 per ticket. To preserve the intimacy and communal feel of the event, tickets are extremely limited, so make your reservations right now!

Wine Fraud: critics, crowd-sourcing, comparison

May 29, 2013 § 1 Comment

Last week in the Portland Press Herald, I went polemical. Halfway through my column, I wrote:

Do not make comparisons. Do not grade anything. Do not assess movies. Do not compare children. Do not evaluate romantic conversations. Do not appraise sunsets. Do not organize your thoughts. Do not classify wines. Do not spend time with people who do any of those things.

The only salient criterion for wine is whether it’s true or false.

Like anything else, wine is either real or representation. That it’s so hard for us to discern the difference speaks only to our cultural confusion, our substitution of advertising for communication.

The signposts of our cultural decline (decried by name in the column, and I’m pretty sure on every other non-porn page on the Internet) are everywhere, and they’re so permeating and nigh-intractable that ya gotta start small. I’m going to start (and stay?) with wine. Maybe that will give me the armor to prepare for the larger war…

Pfister: Alsace, wound up

May 28, 2013 § Leave a comment

I’ve been so excited by so many wines lately that I’ve fallen a bit behind in committing them to 0s and 1s, pixels and screens. That’s a slippery way of excusing myself for failing to post to this-here blog in as timely a fashion as I’d like.

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Super long finish, oily and full-bodied in classic style, but also quivering and agile. Amazing wine!

A couple of weeks ago now, in the Portland Press Herald, I wrote about a winemaker in Alsace who has exploded my notions of Alsace. That’s because Mélanie Pfister is carrying on her family’s wine tradition in the Bas-Rhin, the more northerly outpost of vineyards in this most distinct of France’s wine regions. As Mélanie herself explained to me, the Bas-Rhin compared to the Haut-Rhin is akin to Côte de Nuits as compared to Côte de Beaune, or Cornas as compared to Châteauneuf-du-Pâpe. More mineral, more precision, more finesse and focus. Haut-Rhin has the better known wineries, and I love ’em, those rich, ripe Weinbachs and Zind-Humbrechts. But try Pfister’s wines from the Bas-Rhin if every once in a while you like your wine a little bit more scalpel-like.

Dry Creek Vineyard, the Tom Hanks of Sonoma County?

May 8, 2013 § Leave a comment

Dependable. Kind. Interesting, with a subtle edgy streak mostly kept under wraps. I usually want adventuresome wines that set me off kilter. Sometimes I don’t. That’s what Dry Creek Vineyard wines are for: when you want something very good but very consistent.

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The ever elegant DCV Sauvignon Blanc

Ruffle feathers tomorrow. Today, settle in and settle down. Here’s my take on a benchmark-y, stable, classic line-up of wines from California that will break few-to-no balls, bones, habits,  relationships or banks.

May Day! Drinkers of the World Unite! Lose commodity-wine fetishism!

May 1, 2013 § 1 Comment

The other possible quotation to have put in that headline is “Ask not what your wine can do for you, but what you can do for your wine.” Kennedy’s birthday is coming up later this month, but today is International Workers Day, so Marx trumps JFK.

Both lines are relevant to my column in today’s Portland Press Herald, wherein I try to loosen the grip of what’s-in-the-glass fetish, and open up the conversation about the true juiciness of wine residing in process. That’s it: Wine is a process, not a product. A living thing, not a lump of money or sense-satisfaction in a convenient tasty-liquid format.

The column is kind of long-winded (big surprise) with perhaps too little payoff, but I felt I needed to write it to set up how I’m going to shift the perspective of future columns somewhat.

Most of it came out of my recent trip to Slovenia and Italy, and several moments of revelation therein. Visiting different winemakers in Vipava, Karst, Trentino, Friuli, and the Veneto, I heard different perspectives and arguments on viticulture and vinification each time: simultaneously, everyone was disagreeing with each other and everyone was right. I wanted them to get together and discuss. I wanted the truth!

But they won’t all get together. So it’s up to me, you, and other interested drinkers to connect the strands. To approach each taste of wine (and/or of life) as if the only important matter is the story, the entire sequence of events and methodologies that led to the wine’s birth, and its ongoing development in bottle, in glass, in mouth, in soul.

Sagrantino, the better Cabernet from Napa

April 24, 2013 § 1 Comment

That’s a pretty snotty headline. But there’s something to it, as I hope my most recent column in the Portland Press Herald makes clear: the testy dance of tannin, mineral and plump fruit; the not-entirely-settled question of whether brains or brawn or beauty is to emerge triumphant. Sagrantino, the indigenous grape of Umbria in central Italy, offers so much hard-n-old along with amazingly yummy fruit.

Any good Sagrantino di Montefalco is rare, expensive, and requires many years in bottle before its two sides come together. But Montefalco Rosso is the (cheaper) first step: Umbria’s famous grape, blended with Sangiovese and some other stuff. Easier to love, but still emotionally intoxicating. Read all about it…