This Wine Kills Fascists

August 21, 2013 § 1 Comment

ImageThe 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.

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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.

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.

Pink Bubbles. Get over yourself, St. Valentine, it’s the best wine there is.

February 13, 2013 § Leave a comment

I mean, really. The potential from conscientiously made sparkling rosé is endless. On Earth as in heaven…the ethereal reaching into the corporeal. Spirit made flesh. All that and it might get you laid. Interested? Read on.

Ascending Mount Eden, in the footsteps of Martin Ray, to reach the grail: balanced Pinot Noir & Chardonnay

October 3, 2012 § Leave a comment

Often Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in California suffer a viniferous “foie-gras effect”: grapes force-fed a diet of heat, hang-time and high yields until their organs are so engorged you’ve got to spread the wine they pretend to be onto toast in order to get them past your exhausted palate. Not this time around, as my column this week explores.  Jeffrey Patterson, chief winemaker at Mount Eden Vineyards in the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA, is making good on Martin Ray’s 1940 promise to make great wine in California.

Great wine, as in balanced, delicate, respectful of varietal and useful of land. At 2,000 feet above sea level with cool breezes blowing from Monterey Bay, Mount Eden is a thin skein of soil covering what is mostly shale. Not a lot of nutrients, and therefore not a lot of yield. More flavor goes into fewer grapes.

The wines are achingly elegant. Polished yet with jump in their bones. Their promo material says “Burgundian” (of course), but that’s not quite right. The wines are richer and more compacted than Burgundian Pinot and Chardonnay (more Meursault than Montrachet for the whites, but that’s only ballpark) , as is their birthright, but they still dance. And they make you kind of proud to be American.

Inman Family Wines, where eco-ethics and exceptional wine come together

July 11, 2012 § Leave a comment

Kathleen Inman makes singular Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and Chardonnay in Sonoma, California’s Russian River Valley. It’s singular because it’s balanced and actually expresses all the natural acidity and pure, unadorned flavors of the grapes and the land they grow in. This is the exception in Russian River, where more often than not the wines are high in alcohol with overripe fruit looking for a fight — lipstick-smeared pigs, all made up with nowhere to go.

As I write in my Portland Press Herald wine column this week, Inman is a respectful, humble woman, and she makes respectful wines. She’s also a committed environmentalist, and her entire winemaking process walks a deep eco-friendly path: no -cides (pesti-, fungi-, herbi-, etc.), no funny stuff; the winery is solar-powered and composts and recycles graywater and does 1,000 other things that are good and right to do. And Inman is convinced, rightly, that these practices make for better wine, by sustaining the health, vitality and distinctiveness of the land she loves.

Robert Sinskey, shedding light in the darkness of Cali insanity

December 21, 2011 § Leave a comment

My column this week celebrates the wines of Robert Sinskey Vineyards in Los Carneros, Napa. If you know me at all you know my prejudice toward Old World flavors and terroir-honoring wines. My column’s ratio of European to American wines has got to be 17:1 at least.

And yet. Here’s Sinskey, in the belly of the score-garnering, my-wine’s-bigger-than-yours beast, producing elegant, balanced wines with pure flavors, low alcohol, food-focused acidity and a respect for EARTH. Organically grown grapes, farmed biodynamically. The Carneros microclimates are capable of ushering forth aromatic, Alsatian-style whites as well as bold Bordeaux and Burgundy avatars. Yet still speak the native tongue(s) of Carneros. Is there anywhere else on Earth as capable of that diversity? Only where there are winemakers of such humility and competence.

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