Saturday, July 12, 2008

Vinifera Conquestedores

I've been meaning to post about a discussion on enobytes that's being moderated by Craig Camp. Actually, I mostly want to discuss the post he included on his Wine Camp blog about Old World VS. New World. As usual I think Craig makes some great points, especially when it comes to the idea of a food/wine connection in Europe that is often absent in the American market. But I think he left a few things out or maybe didn't have the time/space to discuss them, so I'll be posting a more in depth look and discussion of this in the next few days. The enobytes discussion is kinda interesting but it's also a bit like fark for wine geeks so I'm probably not checking in there. Again, I meant to do this sooner but I got a little distracted with some other issues and then the weekend came and blah blah blah. So look forward to it, I know I do.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Back to the future of green

I just read Craig Camp's post about the natural wine controversy and found it to be very balanced and interesting. He talks about spoofulation and gives a link to a really funny, sardonic post on Dressner's blog. But the point is that there are still good, honest wines out there that for whatever reason don't really fit the definition of "natural". Also, what is the definition of "natural"?

Apologies and Clarification

It's come to my attention that some of my remarks in earlier posts were a bit over-the-line and unnecessary. In particular I regret and apologize for the comment that compared Lyle Fass to Ralph Nader in a disparaging way. I don't know Lyle personally and even if I did that sort of personal attack is not what I intend to do on this blog and should not have happened. In the future I'll do everything possible to avoid making comments that could be construed as personal attacks in any way. If someone feels slighted please let me know and I'll rectify the situation as quickly as possible.

Part of the goal or idea for this blog is to act as the voice of an inside outsider within the online wine community and larger world of the wine trade in general. I won't spend too much time discussing particular wines or making tasting note lists because I think that many of the people who write the wine blogs on my blog roll already do this and can do a much better job of it than I (Lyle is included in this). If I encounter something really unusual or if I disaggree with someone elses notes than I may mention and discuss a particular wine. I also think that there are now plenty of wine writers and bloggers who have taken up the mantle of anti-point scale, anti-parkerization, anti-mass produced supermarket wine and again are more knowledgable about this than I. I don't wish to simply be another voice in the choir but it should be assumed that I agree with those principles and am obviously a big fan and advocate of natural, no gimmicks wine. What I think may be useful is someone who can read and disseminate the information out there and discuss larger issues of how we talk about wine and food and what the social, economic and environmental implications are. I think this conversation could include other blips of both pop and high culture but for me the framing reference will be wine. Why? Well I like wine. I like it's connection to geography and history and culture. I also like drinking it and so I'm lucky to be able to work in a field that I truly care about. But does this mean I believe that wine and the wine community are above criticism and/or some fun-making? No way, I don't think anything is so serious that you can't criticize it or laugh about it. But again, this should not and will not enter the realm of personal attacks. I hope people will read this and enjoy it and feel free to criticize me and all my ideas since they are probably deserving of it. That's all for now, I need a drink.

Blog blogging for blog blogs

In a most recent post on Tom Wark's blog Fermentation he mentions that to gain a wider readership you should talk about his blog and maybe he'll add yours to his, and you should do this with other blogs. Since this is one of my stated purposes for this blog I don't think it's entirely uncouth of me to do so in a somewhat shameless matter. Also I went to Wark's blog from a new blog that I really like called Rational Denial, and I don't think it any more shameless to mention him here. Especially since I just figured out how to hypertext and besides I'm pretty sure my only reader right now is my wife (thanks honey). Now I'm gonna go and scratch at a bug bite 'til it bleeds.

Oh, expensive wine IS good

There's a lot of distrust between casual wine drinkers and wine critics and those who make a living in the wine trade over quality to price ratios. Most people don't buy it when you tell them that $50 wine is twice as good as a $25 one or a $100 is 4 times better. And their skepticism is probably appropriate. I've not had nearly as many high-end wines as most people in this business but I've had enough to know that the laws of diminishing returns are usually pretty valid. There's plenty of $100 bottles that are only slightly better than the $50 or $25 ones (and some are worse). This is a complex subject which I plan on revisiting but my point here is that sometimes the expensive wine is also the best one hands down. At a farewell party for a coworker the other night we opened several bottles of wine and the favorite and clearly the wine with the highest quality factor was a 1987 Forey Eschezeaux. At about $80 or $90 a bottle it's certainly not in the category of super-premium wine or something, but it was more expensive than the other bottles which were all good and all in the $20-$40 range. Now, someone else may have preferred one of the other bottles opened but you'll just have to trust me and the judgement of six people who all work at wine shop together when I say the Burgundy was the best. Of course a Grand Cru Burgundy should be the best right? Well the '87 vintage is pretty spotty and Eschezeaux is also pretty spotty (as far as Grand Cru appellations go) so we could have had a very disappointing bottle and like I said it wasn't up against a bunch of average, everyday wine either. But it was really, very good. Was it worth what it would have cost? Well that would depend on what you make, but I don't think it would ever have been a total rip-off. I guess there is always a better use for that money . . . yes, there's always a better use. But I didn't pay for it I just drank it and I would drink it again.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Good wine is for smarties

Asimov's latest post is about Sherry. I like Sherry. Sherry is good. In the post he states I don’t mean to come off as a snob, but sherry and most great wines require a commitment to understand them. Like Coltrane or Mahler, Dickens or Dostoevsky, or even baseball, understanding great wine is not something that you enter lightly. You must make a commitment of time and of thought in a way not required by a simple fruity wine or a popular romance or mystery. Hmmmm . . . so basically being a wine aficionado or whatever simply requires commitment to study just like scholars of Jazz, Literature or Baseball. First I think all these things require interest, you have to like it enough. A whole lot of people in this world enjoy drinking alcoholic beverages, but I think most don't give a damn what the background or context of what they're drinking is and would find it boring and wastefull to spend any time doing so. And they're probably right. So you like wine, so you get into it, fine. But I think there are many more factors involved than simply commitment. Number one is money, and time is a related number two. Labor theories and cultural capital and social context are all huge factors and too much for me with my puny brain and lack of time and money to get into. And while I think there may be connections between people who make commitments to Literature or Music or Wine it's a bit overboard and self inflating to lump them all in the same sentence. Wine is closest to food in that it is an almost base requirement (at least before safe drinking water was widely available) that is tied inherently to culture and geography on both macro and micro levels. The confluence of simple necessity and the almost spontaneous eruption of art is of a never-ending interest to me, and here is where food and wine and other beverages can rightly be elevated beyond subsistence. But the existence of music, story telling and visual art is (so far as I know) uniquely Human. It's the closest I come to some sort of god or religion. The same tendency to art allows us to elevate our subsistence (food and wine) to levels of faux godliness and more importantly communicate with each other in ways that are simultaneously primal and divine. But even apes have been known to put aside fruit for fermentation in order to party. And not to hammer on the socialist theory but food and wine as "art" is almost exclusively in the domain of the wealthy. Not so, clearly, with music, stories and art.

And another thing

In the post about "green" wine I forget to cycle my thoughts completely and come back to my title so . . . the final point is that the natural wine movement isn't new, it's been building since at least the mid '90's and maybe earlier. In fact I wonder if it started shortly after that whole Austrian wine/antifreeze fiasco (1984?). Not sure; I was a five year old Mormon living in Chandler, AZ at the time so my connection w/ the wine world was minimal. Furthermore it's really a retro movement that comes in reaction to the mass production/marketing/pesticide mania that gripped agriculture (including wine) after WWII. So if you're writing about the "green" wine movement as if it's a brand new thing then you're a lame-ass square. But if you've been writing about it and/or promoting it for a decade than you're definitely a bonified wine hipster and either a complete dork or independently wealthy or both. I've been all about it for less than two years and much more than one. So I'm perfect.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

I'm sick and tired

of waiting for my son (1 year old) to learn patience. Seriously, I can't wait any longer.

Green wine isn't young anymore

There's a little ado about something in the wine(cyber)world over the issue of natural wines. It started with this article on Food and Wine's website by Lettie Teague. The article is prefaced by saying "Skeptical about the “greenwashing” of the wine industry" so you know where she's headed. But that's no excuse for the misinformation, poor execution and general lack of knowledge that is displayed by Lettie. So Alice Feiring was the first to call out some obvious problems, but by her own admission she went a little easy on Lettie and left it to others. Like Lyle Fass who does the usual personal attack and rants and raves incoherently for a paragraph on the superiority of natural wines. He's basically right but it's sort of like agreeing with Ralph Nader 95% of the time; you know he's right and very knowledgable but still feel gross agreeing with such a pompous asshole. So back to the article: it would've been nice if Lettie had compared apples to apples--say a Brun Beaujolais to a Dubeouf Beaujolais (Dressner would love that)--but instead she picks a Mosse Chardonnay poured by the glass at some dismal hippie wine bar. The wine shows no typicity and who knows how it was treated at that place. I've always enjoyed Mosse's wines, most recently the Boire Rouge, but would probably not gravitate to his chardonnay. Anywho, she never mentions the big guns out there who are organic or biodynamic--maybe she's not aware or she didn't want to kill her predetermined ideas by bringing up things like Domaine Leroy, Domaine Montille and Domaine de la Romanee Conti. This is a good argument for the mastery of natural winemaking as is Lapierre or any number of great German and Austrian producers; no need to assert that she's been drinking wine made by pedophiles.

Natural wines are superior in many catagories but you can and should harbor some skepticism. Obviously marketing is suspect and it's true that some natural wines are a bit more volatile or picky about their treatment. And of course sometimes you can't always get what you want, or you may opt for a Budweiser and not recycle the can. Hey I eat local if I can afford it and don't drive but I like the convenience of zip-lock freezer bags and sometimes buy more groceries than will fit in my reusable tote so? I think my carbon footprint is smaller than yours now please, go and fuck thyself. Peace.

Monday, July 7, 2008

No more lists, probably

That last post where I listed a bunch of stuff I'd recently tasted or consumed was such a boring, tedious task that I know it's even more boring to read. Whenever I encounter those lists on blogs and websites or even magazines my eyes tend to gloss over and I scan quickly for something weird but mostly I want to see how much of an idiot or genius the writer is and that is probably the whole point so from now on I'm skipping that whole game out of a sense of superiority or maybe I'll just occasionally post pictures of me holding that kick-ass bottle I just drank in one hand and a suitable flag in the other while perched atop a great steed or elephant.

First (and maybe last) wine tasting list

So, here’s a list of wines I’ve had in the past week or so. A quick thought on tasting notes first . . . There is a lot of debate about the terms wine writers’ use when describing wine; most people are dumbfounded by the never-ending lists of adjectives for aromas and tastes, and for good reason. But simply sticking to dry or tannic or soft or heavy or light or sweet or fruity is restrictive and not really accurate either. So I think if it’s a familiar smell or taste than say so—I eat grapefruit so I know what that tastes like, same with pepper or cherries or lime or smoked meat or salt etc. etc.—but when you say something like “dark mashed violets emerged with time” (from Lyle Fass’s blog Rockss and Fruit) it just alienates most everyone and I don’t think it’s true. Has Lyle encountered the aroma of mashed violets often? And dark is a description of color not smell, unless he’s also smelled light mashed violets enough to distinguish from the smell of darker ones. Bullshit. Here’s my list and notes which are probably bullshit too. (Oh ya, the prices I list are retail; since I work in wine retail my actual cost is somewhat less).

Domaine de L’Ameillaud, Vin de Pays de Vaucluse 2005, $10. This is such a good deal on well-made wine I’ve had a few over the last year. Vaucluse is in the Southern Rhone and so this VDP (country wine in France—the second lowest legal category) is in the same family as Cote du Rhones—usually a blend of Grenache and Syrah with some other grapes here and there. This particular wine has a great balance of fruit and acidity along with a little pepper and some earthiness. It’s refreshing and versatile with food.
Domaine de la Roche Saint-Martin, Brouilly 2006, $18. Cru Beaujolais is sometimes all I want to drink in the summer. Tired of white wine, don’t like most rosè so Beaujolais is the answer. Brouilly is light and fruit driven and crisp and goes great with most food.
Cascina La Ghersa, Piage 2006, $8. A white from Piedmont that is a blend of chardonnay and cortese and is unoaked and has nice fruit and its acidity isn’t too out of whack and we got it at a great deal so I can’t afford not to drink it.
Parés Balta, Calcari 2006, $20. I’m guessing a bit on the price since I got it for free at a tasting I was working that focused on wines from Catalan. This a 100% Xarello wine (maybe pronounced “shuh rello”) which is an indigenous Catalonian grape mostly used for cava. It was a decent wine, a bit too much fruit and alcohol but overall pleasant, though I wouldn’t buy it but I liked it for free.
Domaine Jean-Luc Dubois, Savigny-les-Beaune “Les Picotins”2006, $30. A little pricey but I drank it and split it with people at work. Young Burgundy is a toss up but this was pleasant though a bit tight and tannic at first. Apparently ‘06’s are better for current drinking then the fabulous but massive ‘05 vintage blah blah blah.
Ponte de Lima, Vinho Verde 2007, $7. I often crave dryish, lightly effervescent things served quite cold in the afternoon. Txacoli is usually 3 times as much though and other substitutes like things from Gaillac or Penedés are less reliable. Portugal comes through in many ways but especially Vinho Verde like this which I drank straight out of the bottle.
Bera Vittoria e Figli, Arcese 2006, $13. Another wine with a bit of natural effervescence, but this stuff is complex and simultaneously enjoyable. A blend of indigenous grapes in Piedmont—this is an awesome deal on something totally unique and soooo fucking good.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

So? What About Wine?

A quick perusal of the wine blogs will usually reveal lists of tasting notes (the exceptions are the more offbeat blogs like Joe Dressner's and the non-independent ones like Asimov's): wine dinners the bloggers attended or meetings with winemakers or gatherings of other wine geeks where everyone brings something crazy or hard-to-find or themed gatherings (Rieslings your parents could have had on your conception night, premier cru burgundy's that are missing their import labels, etc.). But you rarely see lists of everything they drank that past week or weekend. Or maybe you do and I'm the only one whose job as an asst. manager at a wine shop coupled with my wifes administative salary is just enough to cover bills and student loans and the habits of our 1 year old son and living in NY and so you still drink wine most everyday but not usually the good or interesting stuff. Lyle Fass does do a bit on his blog Rockss and Fruit about terrible, weird wines that he opens. But most of this stuff is old, rare wine that was never meant to age so much or was just gross and overpriced from the get go (maybe they're old samples he finds buried in the basement of Chambers Street). It doesn't include the everyday wines that might be ok or flawed but drinkable or boring. I'm not implying that these wine people only drink expensive wine, they just rarely drink average stuff and almost never drink supermarket stuff. I understand and am against mass-produced, supermarket brand wines like all the rest but I'd be interested to see a list of everything they drank, if there weren't a few Journeys or Eagles or Arcade Fires among all the jazz masterpieces and underground, indie-rock classics. So my next post will be a tasting list of all I had over the past few days. I'll probably forget a few things that I just tasted briefly with an importer rep. at the shop, but I'll try to include as much as I remember.


How do you blog when you know no one is reading? It's really a diary than, but you have to write assuming that at any moment someone could stumble through cyberspace onto your blog and then you have an audience. My hope is that eventually lots of people read it, but even if that happens these early posts will be buried so far back that it's doubtful anyone will see them. And if they do? What is their reward for going all the way back to the beginning? Nothing but that pervasive, mild sort of schizophrenia that exists throughout the ends of the internet; boring.