Benevolent Wine Dictator Strikes Again

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.

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Oh, you mean Vinho Verde is actually good?

July 17, 2013 § Leave a comment

razaYes! 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 folksBruce 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!

Muscadet, for now and forever.

July 17, 2013 § 1 Comment

ImageWhy 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.

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…