Wine Blogging Wednesday

Deep Roots

eiffel hippie I arrived in Strasbourg with great excitement as it was my first visit to France. After months in Austria and Germany drinking the best beer I’d ever tasted, for my first meal in France I thought I should try the beverage that France was famous for and ordered a pitcher of Edelzwicker in an inexpensive Weinstube. That was it for me. For the next month I drank carafe after carafe of, what I discovered later, was the most ordinary wine the French could make. It mattered not, I loved it.

That was 1973 and I was just a student “studying” in Europe. Lenn Thompson of Lenndevours has asked us to go back to our vinous roots for this fourth anniversary of his creation, Wine Blogging Wednesday, a monthly project focusing the wine blogging community on one topic. The roots of my love of wine run deeply back over thirty years ago to my first adventure outside the United States. After Strasbourg I spent a month traveling around France drinking wine, none of it of any pedigree, but that mattered not to my virgin palate, which, having been nurtured in the puritanical Mid-West had never been exposed to the tawdry culinary temptations indulged in daily by Europeans. The trip concluded with a week in Paris, where being essentially penniless, I subsisted by going to the store and buying the cheapest wine I could buy, which I took to the park surrounding the Eiffel Tower. That park was filled with hippies and for the price of a bottle of wine you could join in luscious communal meals of fresh bread, sausages and whatever people would bring. These simple repasts were the most exciting meals I had ever tasted. In some ways they still are.

Feeling quite sophisticated on my return to America I sauntered into a store to buy a bottle of wine and suddenly realized I didn’t know a thing. These wbwlogo wines had actual names! So I purchased The New Signet Book of Wine by Alexis Bespaloff and there was no going back. Soon I was blind tasting jugs of Almaden Claret and Burgundy and rating them: points and all.

Lenn’s topic taking us back to our roots caused me a dilemma. True to the saying, “you can’t step in the same river twice” I realized that the wines that were the roots of my lifelong love of wine don’t exist anymore. From the simplest to the most complex wines no one is making wines that taste like they did thirty years ago. The dramatic advancements in winegrowing and winemaking has transformed wines in the last decades. I’m not just referring to “spoofulated” wines here, but also to natural wines made with minimalist interventions. Even considering that many producers have taken this new knowledge to extremes and are producing exaggerated wines with no individual personality you cannot deny that overall today’s wines are superior to the wines of the past. Faults like Brettanomyces that were accepted in the good-old-days are now rejected by even casual wine drinkers. We are truly in a golden age of wine quality. Wines have never been better, but then every generation since the first wine was enjoyed can make that claim.

While wines may be better than ever, I confess I miss the naivety and openness with which we were able to learn to love wine. These were the days before wine became a big business, before distributor consolidation and before there was a 100 point scale to define not only what wines to drink if you’re in-the-know, but to precisely rank them. In those days a fledgling wine publication called The Connoisseurs Guide to California Wine rated its top wines with one, two or three “puffs”. It was a softer time indeed.

As I enter my fourth decade of paying attention to the wines I drink, I seem to find myself more-and-more drawn to wines that take me back to my roots and the style of the wines I learned to love in the 1970’s. I’m not talking about those simple country wines of my first visit to Europe, although they still have a soft spot in my heart, but to the wines I started to buy after reading Alexis Bespaloff’s wonderful introduction to the wines of the world. Elegant Cru Bourgeois Bordeaux, Côtes du Rhône, Chianti Classico and Dolcetto d’Alba are more likely to grace my dinner table than wines normally found higher on the point scale. I just can’t separate wine from the food I’m having and am more interested in bottles that enhance and elevate my dinner than those that can win blind tastings.

The greatest thing about the wines from my youth is that they aged beautifully, which is something that today’s cleaner, more fruit-driven wines still have to prove. I’m lucky to have a small collection and still have bottles from those days. Recent wines I’ve had from my cellar include a 1981 Girard Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, 1980 Fisher Sonoma Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, 1978 Monsecco Gattinara, 1978 Prunotto Barolo and 1981 Domaine de la Pousse d’Or Volnay 1er Cru Caillerets, which were all wonderful wines. For better or worse, not one of these producers makes wine today in the way they did when they made these wines.

The only way I can go back to my roots is to try to remember how these wines tasted when I first bought them. Yet, I don’t think my memory, filtered through all the wines I’ve tasted since then, is unbiased enough to remember them as they really were. That’s fine with me. I’d rather remember them through the rose colored glasses of nostalgia, just as I do those “wonderful” wines I drank under the Eiffel Tower thirty-five years ago. Those wines were certainly the most important wines I’ve ever tasted as they gave me the gift of every wine I have tasted since then.

Share this post :

Spoofulated: Wine Blogging Wednesday

wbwlogo It’s Wine Blogging Wednesday and hosts Erin and Michelle of The Grape Juice Blog have chosen the letter “S”, with a tip of the hat to Sesame Street, as the topic of the day. Immediately I thought of one of today’s hottest wine topics: Spoofulation.

Alice Feiring rages against the machine. Natural wines are the only wines. The problem is, of course, is that no one agrees on what natural wines are. There are natural, organic, biodynamic and sustainable growers and winemakers, but not one definition of what is natural wine exits. Except, of course, for Alice’s and she is sure she is right. The term that has arisen to describe over-manipulated wines is spoofulation, but is spoofulation the opposite of Alice’s version of natural wines? I don’t think so. There are many wines that would not meet Alice’s requirements that are clearly not spoofulated.

spoof in spoof out What is spoofulation? That now ingrained term, to me, more than anything else, refers to wines of excess: excessive concentration, excessive oak, excessive alcohol and minimal terroir and varietal character. Spoofulated wines are wines that could come from anywhere and any variety. By my definition that does not mean that un-spoofulated wines have to be “natural” or “organic” or “biodynamic”, but without a doubt it appears to help. The reason I say they don’t have to be any of those things is because I have tasted many wines over the decades that not only did not employ these disciplines. but never heard of them. There are many wines from the 60’s that are pretty damn good and I assure you they never thought of such things. They worked with what they had and what they knew and used things in their vineyards that would cause outrage today.

Spoofulation, much like the Supreme Court’s definition of pornography, is something I know when I taste it. Spoofulated wines throw balance over the side in a headlong pursuit of points. It is an approach I can understand as wine producers have to make a living like any other farmer. Points from the Pontiffs sell wines to hoards of consumers who drink wine more often without food than with it. The point of spoofulated wines is to grab enough attention in a ten second taste to get a good review and to prevent the consumer from having any more thoughts about the wine, so they can return to their conversation. Spoofulation cannot be defined as “big wines” or “high alcohol wines” or anything other than wines that erase any individual character in pursuit of the lowest common denominator. Spoofulation is to wine what religion was to Karl Marx.

Spoofulation is so much a part of today’s wine vocabulary that a debate has begun on the etymology of the term. Joe Dressner, the importer, whose portfolio is spoofulated wine-free, recently reported on the birth of the term spoofulation on his blog, The Wine Importer, where he recounts the debate over how the word was coined by Harmon Skurnik of the extraordinary importer and distributor Michael Skurnik Wines in New York and Michael Wheeler, formerly of Michael Skurnik Wines and now of that extraordinary importer and distributor in New York, Polaner Selections. Please be prepared to keep your tongue firmly in your cheek as you read this post.

In the last few years we have welcomed a new word beginning with the letter “S” into our wine vocabulary. Now we have to work on defining it.

Share this post :

Image above from Appellation America

WBW #24 Loire Whites: Domaines Louis/Dressner

wbwlogo_6_small.jpgI was thrilled when Alder Yarrow of Vinography, this month’s Wine Blogging Wednesday host, selected white Loire wines as the topic for WBW #24. After all, these are some of my very favorite wines. For example there are the stunning wines from producers like Domaine de la Pépière and Luneau-Papin in Muscadet or the Coteaux-du-Layon & Quarts-de-Chaume from Château Pierre-Bise and the Anjou from Mark Angéli of Domaine de la Sansonnière or the Savennières from Domaine du Closel and the Sancerre la Garenne from Fernand Girard.

As gorgeous as these wines are they are relatively obscure to most wine consumers, which is a sad fact as Muscadet is easily the best value white wine available. The Loire makes wines from a long list of grape varietals thought of as second class by the average wine buyer. Chenin blanc, caberent franc, sauvignon blanc, melon (muscadet), gamay, côt (malbec) just don’t seem as regal as chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon, merlot and pinot noir to most wine drinkers and, for that matter, most wine writers. On top of that, names like Coteaux-du-Layon and Savennières don’t make good sound bites for marketers. This means not many Americans are pulling corks from bottles of Loire wines and this is truly a shame.

louisdressner.jpgAll the producers listed above make extraordinary wines, but they also have one other thing in common - they are all imported by Louis/Dressner. If you want to drink an exceptional white (or red or rosé for that matter) Loire wine you don’t have to remember any unfamiliar place names, you only have to look for the Louis/Dressner label on the bottle and you are guaranteed to find an outstanding wine that perfectly reflects the character of the place it was grown.

Last evening I immensely enjoyed a Louis/Dressner selection, 2005 Domaine de la Pépière Muscadet, Clos des Briords, a single vineyard wine produced from old vines. This wine was nothing short of exceptional with an almost electric minerality and precision. While certainly drinkable now, those who can wait a few years will be well rewarded. By the way, this exciting wine put me back a whopping $10.99.

Joe Dressner, famed internet personality and partner in Louis/Dressner, is as intense and focused as this Muscadet and has assembled the finest portfolio of Loire wines available in the USA. Anyone seeking to experience these wines at their best should seek out his selections. Incidentally, his wines from other French regions are equally compelling. 

On my last trip to New York I ordered a bottle of  2002 Savennières from Domaine du Closel. After a confused look from my waiter, it took them about a half hour to find the bottle at the back of the cooler. Apparently it had been a while since anyone ordered a bottle. It was delicous and a relative bargain, but it looks like Joe has a lot more missionary work to do before Savennières becomes a household name.

Grilled Fresh Anchovies and Sardines - WBW #23

wbwlogo_6.jpgThe years I spent living in Italy changed my concept of Barbecue forever and so my take on this Wine Blogging Wednesday topic takes a decidedly un-American twist. My version of Barbecue now brings up the vision of my friend Massimo sweating over a very smoky fire of real wood instead of charcoal, sipping on a big bottle of Becks and rapidly turning the fresh fish on the grill. While every smoky bit of seafood he tossed on the big platters was delicious, for me nothing could beat the rich, oily taste of the fresh anchovies and sardines.

Massimo marinates them briefly in extra virgin olive oil, onions, lemon and rosemary before tossing them over the hot, smoky fire for just a few moments per side. The results quickly made me forget ribs and burgers. Fortunately for me, in the USA Oriental fish shops are a good source of fresh anchovies and sardines - at least if you ask for them.

While crisp Oregon pinot gris is certainly a great choice for these little beauties, I usually find myself going back to the zesty Italian whites I would have shared with Massimo on such an occasion. While you want plenty of acidity to balance their richness, you also need a bit of body to match their full flavor. This year  a bottle of 2004 Cesani Vernaccia di San Gimignano (imported by the ever reliable Montecastelli) was the perfect foil. With a firm backbone of acidity expanding into  round, mineral, almond and fresh pear aromas and flavors,  this is no simple tourist San Gimignano white, but a wine that will grab your attention - at least until you pop the next anchovy into your mouth.

Wine Blogging Wednesday #22 Wrap-up

Wine Blogging Wednesday #22 host Tim Elliot of Wine Cast, the excellent wine podcast site, has posted his wrap-up of this month’s event. The topic of WBW #22 was red wines under 12.5% alcohol. While to some that may appear to be a challenging quest, by the results it was easy to find nice wines if you drink French wine.

You can find Tim’s synopisis of WBW #22 at his website from the link below: 

 You can read my contribution to WBW #22 from the link below: 



Tiny Dancer - WBW #22

It was haunting. Mysteriously darting here and there while all my senses reached hungrily out for each nuance,wbwlogo_6.jpg chasing them like glints of light radiating from a gem. A cloud of delicate sensations ran through my brain then lofted away. Nothing overwhelmed me, but its teasing, tempting and almost impish personality became addicting. I found myself coming back to it night after night as there was something so compelling about its vulnerable, yet soaring complexity. Like a seemingly weightless ballet dancer, every move floated through my senses.

There’s a pretty good chance you’ll hate it, or won’t get it, but I find myself pulling the cork from a bottle of this wine several times a week because I have found few wines so satisfying at the dinner table.

terresdorees_small1.jpgThe wine: 2004 Beaujolais, L’Ancien, Vielles Vignes, Terres Dorees from Jean-Paul Brun. Just writing about this wine makes me salivate.

It’s not big. It’s not powerful. It’s not pointy. It is simply delicious. No juicy-fruity Duboeuf here, but a wine with a strangely powerful delicacy. The bouquet entices not attacks and on the palate it dances, challenging your palate to follow its lead - if you have the time and inclination. Considering the under $15 price tag, a wine that can lead your senses in so many directions is a staggering bargain.

Never passing 12% alcohol and produced without manipulation, the delicacy of such a wine is sure to disappoint palates trained on the hyper-extracted and manipulated wines of today, but if you are getting a little bored with indistinguishable wines from unidentifiable places, maybe, just maybe, you can open your palate and mind to something new. Actually, it’s not new; it’s very, very old. We all just forgot.

Beaujolais , L’Ancien, Vielles Vignes, Terres Dorees is imported by Louis/Dressner