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.

Natural Wine Foot Soldier, ready to die in battle!

March 25, 2013 § Leave a comment

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Jean Pierre Robinot’s “Fêtembulles”, one of a growing number of spectacular “natural” wines available in Maine.

I’m undergoing a touch of the ol’ identity crisis, friends. Comes from wearing a hat or two too many. I work in retail, helping to sell wine in a group of stores that focus on local produce, meat, dairy and other products. We work on a small scale, nurturing relationships with many local producers.

In a store in New England, you can’t really do that for wine, but you can try to sell wine whose producers reflect similar values: small-scale, relationship-based, earth-respecting. The thing is,  I also write about wine, hoping to discover more fascinating and true wines, explore what they say about the real world, and try to share these experiences in a spirit of ardent love.

Anyway, the crisis: In retail, any good merchant is out to help the customer, and to do that well you need to be catholic in your tastes, empathic, selfless, non-judgmental. Some wine writers might try to do this as well, but I think it’s a con. I’d rather clearly state my biases up front: less Willy Loman, more the opinionated Jack Black character from “High Fidelity”.

I’ve recently gotten consciously turned on to “natural wines”, and I can’t turn off, or back. I don’t right now know the way to go on selling (or writing about) conventionally made wines, even if they “taste good”, because I’m a foot soldier in some sort of revolution, and I’ve crossed the Rubicon.

(Whether something “tastes good” is actually a lot more complicated than whether it tastes good, if you get me…)

The debates continue about what even constitutes a “natural wine”, but my most recent column in the Portland Press Herald is a continuation of my attempt to discuss it. Call it Part Un of my interview with prominent natural-wine importer Zev Rovine. No matter where you draw your lines, we’re talking about wines that are grown organically (and usually biodynamically), ferment exclusively with their own indigenous (or “wild”) yeasts, and receive either no sulfur at all or a very small amount just before the wine is put in the bottle.

Part Deux is coming soon. As to what the hell I write about after that, since the number of natural wines available in Maine, where most of my readership resides, is on the slim side, I have no idea.

Oh, “natur-el”. Wine debate heats up.

March 12, 2013 § Leave a comment

My most recent column in the Portland Press Herald tries to untangle some of what’s at stake in the ongoing debates over…I hesitate even to use the phrase…”natural wine”. I really don’t think this is tempest-in-a-decanter stuff, despite the rolled eyes of many wine pros, sighing “here we go again” as if conversations about oak chips, sulfur, tartaric acid, and biodynamics aren’t actually what they (we) live for.

Anyway, there are all kinds of call-outs in the recent press, especially at Gambero Rosso and Intravino. Regardless of where you stand, I think it’s an exciting set of discussions, and most importantly, many wines that are in one way or another allied with the “natural wine movement” are undeniably delicious. They can be strange (or not), they can get funky or play it straight. They are usually exciting. If you care about wine, and if you care about culture and where we’re all heading at this moment in world time, you owe it to yourself to participate in the conversation.

Which, by the way, I’ll pick up again soon in future posts and articles…talk to you then…

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