Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Beauty of Burgundy, at Tria on February 24

Given that I've been maintaining strict radio silence here for well over a week, I figured it's about time to make a little noise... even if it is just to put in a somewhat self-promotional plug.

On Thursday, February 24, I'll be returning to the podium at Philly's Tria Fermentation School to lead an overview of the wines of Burgundy.  Here's the plug for the class (I wrote most of it, so I figured it'd be okay to lift it) taken directly from today's announcement of Tria's February schedule of classes.
Always wanted to explore Burgundy but never knew quite where to start? Here’s a great opportunity to dig in and have fun. In this class, we’ll cover the various regions that constitute Burgundy as a whole, from the Mâconnais in the south to Chablis in the north. We'll focus on the two primary grape varieties of the region—Chardonnay and Pinot Noir—but also taste wines made from lesser know Burgundian varieties such as Aligoté. Come see for yourself why so many Francophiles are in love with all of Burgundy! 
I've said it before but it bears repeating: these classes tend to sell out very quickly, so jump on board.  Even if you're an old hand when it comes to Burgundy, I promise I'll be pouring a lineup of wines compelling enough to keep everyone happy.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

A Slate of Decay

There's an oft expressed, somewhat romantic notion that wine, once in the bottle, takes on a life of its own, riding a curve not unlike that of most other life forms from infancy to youth, from young-adulthood through to maturity, old age, and eventual expiration.  I'm a romantic myself, in many senses of the term, and as such I'm not inclined to disagree with the idea that wine is, or at least should seem to be if it's any good, alive.  There's certainly a transformative process innate to wine—from grapes on the vine, through fermentation and aging, to a beverage, an end point more different from than similar to the starting point—that supports the notion of life in the bottle.

Just as strong an argument can be made, though, that grapes, once plucked from their vines, are dead, just like flowers, stems clipped for display in a vase.  Such an argument might continue that making those grapes into wine is a way of trying to preserve the life that once was, of slowing—to a certain extent even controlling—the decay that inevitably ensues.

Semi-relevant interlude (right down to the slate) courtesy of Good Grape.
Perhaps a more holistic way of looking at it would be to picture the evolution of wine on the classic (and admittedly over generalizing) bell curve.  In such an evolution, wine could be said to take its start as a rebirth of the fruit on the vine.  Once fermented, vinified and bottled, its life forces ride the surge toward the crest of the wave.  Decay eventually ensues, leading down the slippery slope toward the inescapable flat line.

The problem with that scenario is that it creates the idea of a perfect moment. How do you know when a wine is ready to drink, when it's at its peak?  Really, one never does.  But the expectation of capturing that moment, of patiently chasing it, holding one's breath in anticipation of it, can lead to a kind of fear or exaggerated expectancy that all too often makes wine exploration more an obsessive venture than an enjoyable one.

The trick to truly enjoying wine, getting the most out of it, is to drink it.  Stop obsessing over it.  You're in the mood to check out that lone bottle of '05 Grand Cru Burgundy you bought, even though you think it might not be "ready"?  Just do it.  A friend came over and you'd really like to pop the cork on your last bottle of  '89 Bordeaux from Château X, even though you've been saving it for a "special" occasion? Pop that cork.  Keep imagining the scenarios for not opening a bottle—from infanticide, to price vs. situation concerns, to the ideal day on the biodynamic calendar—and just open that bottle.

This is all a strong argument for buying multiple bottles of any given wine.  Drink some now, save some for later.  Use your memory or compare notes to learn about how the wine evolves over time.  Of course it helps if the wine in question is only $12.50 per/bottle (see below)....  There are some well-respected wine writers out there who counsel others not to buy wines that they can't afford to buy by the case, or at least in quantities of three or four.  I don't always follow that advice, as it would prevent me from experiencing too many wines that I really want to try.  But I still stand by that advice, particularly for those who are looking to build and sustain cellars that will actually reward their drinking patterns.  Here's a case in point:

Saar Kanzemer Sonnenberg Riesling Kabinett trocken, Johann Peter Reinert 2001
$12.50 on release.  10% alcohol.  Cork.  Importer: Petit Pois, Moorestown, NJ.
It could be argued that I drank more than my fair share of Johann Peter Reinert's '01 Kabinett trocken when it was first released.  Why not?  At $12.50 a bottle, it was a solid value and a clear reminder that Riesling is not only incredibly versatile at the table but also can indeed be bone, bone dry.  I drank another bottle or two midway through the gap between '02/'03 and now, then semi-intentionally left one alone for later investigation.

Without the residual sugar of a fruity-style Kabinett or the intensity of physical extract of a Spatlese or Auslese trocken, a Riesling Kabinett trocken, particularly from a marginal viticultural area like the Saar, relies primarily on its acidity, along with its harmony and balance (without which the equation crumbles) for preservation. Reinert, who specializes more in feinherb and fruchtig style Rieslings, generally produces lower-pradikat trocken Rieslings only in vintages when he feels the balance is right.

Even with that fine original balance, I suspected that nine years from the vintage might be pushing things a bit—again, I'd saved this one half intentionally, to learn from its progress, and half accidentally, passing over it many a time in favor of something else that seemed right in the moment—and I was right, in a way at least.  The wine has clearly entered a state of decay.  Gone was its pale color of youth, replaced by a lightly burnished gold in the glass.  Gone too was the nerve of youth, its acidity now completely relaxed, almost slack. What trace of fruitiness remained was, coincidentally, most clearly reminiscent of another, much quicker path to decay, that of a clementine left a little too long on the counter, still edible but not as bright and juicy as when at its peak of ripeness.

While the pleasure in drinking may have changed, it hadn't disappeared.  Perhaps that's partially me, as I like to experiment and am very open to seeing what happens to a wine as it takes on air over the course of days in an open bottle, or develops over the course of years in the cellar.  It's also certainly part of the magic of good German Riesling.  There are few other wines so capable of clearly expressing their origins.  If you've drunk young Rieslings and doubted that conclusion, try leaving a few good ones longer than you'd normally think sensible.  In this case, in spite of the decay in the fruit and structural departments, there was a clear sense of the wine's origins, of slate, of oily, diesel-like characteristics (some call it truffle-y).  It was as if the wine was fighting the bell curve and instead going full circle, returning to the earth from which it was first born—like it or not, a beautiful thing.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Groovin' in Friuli Soon

As you may have read in other quarters by now, a small band of misfit, miscreant and otherwise misbehaving wine bloggers, myself included, will be headed to NE Italy soon, in early February to be exact, for a week long tour of the Colli Orientali di Friuli.

While I've been to the Veneto and Trentino in the past, I've never before ventured to Friuli, the easternmost portion of northeastern Italy, where the culture is a melange of Italian, Germanic and Eastern European influences, from a viticultural perspective, a culinary perspective and a plain old cultural perspective.  I'm dying to check it out and very much looking forward to the trip.

If there's a caveat that must be raised, it's that the trip is sponsored by somewhat mercantile concerns, in part by the Conzorzio dei Colli Orientali del Friuli and in other part by those concerned with heading up the Italian branch of the Bastianich empire.  I'm always a tad trepidatious when agreeing to accept such offers and attend such ventures (all airfare, accommodations and meals are paid for by the trip sponsors), as I don't have full control over the trip.  In other words, I'm not sure we'll be seeing the same slate of producers I'd arrange to visit if the trip were self-sponsored and completely under my control.  But I'm quite willing to participate, to hope that we'll see some of the top talent—whether emerging or long-established—in the region, to treat it as a learning experience, and to write about it as I see fit and appropriate from my perspective and for you, my fair and much appreciated readers.

You can read a little more about the trip and my fellow band of merry travelers at the official COF 2011 blog, which is being managed by my erstwhile partner in crime, Mr. DoBi himself, Dr. Jeremy Parzen.

I'm as psyched to be groovin' in Friuli (which I will be) as I would have been to have counted myself among the audience at the show below (which I can't).

Can't wait, y'all. Look out for the official reports from the road, starting round about a month from now.

PS: For those not tuned into the Zappa way, the tune above inspired the title of this here post. And yes, just in case you weren't sure, that's George Duke on the keys, Jean-Luc Ponty on the fiddle, Ruth Underwood on the vibes....

Monday, January 3, 2011

This is Not a Top Ten List

This is not a top ten list.  This is a list of ten wines, selected with great difficulty and largely at random, that inspired me in 2010.  This was meant to be a New Year's Eve post... but I opted to unplug.  This is to say, drink wine... and don't forget to enjoy it.  This is to say, have a Happy New Year, dammit! 

Barbera d'Alba, Giuseppe Rinaldi 2008
Absolutely delicious, in an all one could possibly ask for from Barbera kind of way.  I have an ongoing love/hate relationship with Barbera but this was all love.  If only it were available in the US.... (My original write-up.)

Paso Robles Estate Rosé, L'Aventure 2009
One of the most memorable wines from my March trip to Paso Robles, CA, consumed during one of the most memorable events of the trip—dinner high up the Templeton Gap at the home of L'Aventure owner Stephane Asseo.  A dead ringer for the best side of Coteaux d'Aix rosé, with a dash more body courtesy of Cali-ripeness.

Barolo, Bartolo Mascarello 2005
Of the scores of Baroli from the 2005 vintage I've had the chance to taste this year, both at home and while in Piemonte in May for Nebbiolo Prima, Maria-Teresa Mascarello's stands out as the most graceful.

This is not a walrus.

Saar Ayler Kupp Riesling "Unterstenbersch" Faß 12, Weingut Peter Lauer 2008
The most inspiring Riesling I drank in 2010.  The combination of reserved character and intense depth in Florian Lauer's "Unterstenbersch" reminded me that I need to make it a serious mission to drink even more Riesling and to explore the M-S-R more thoroughly in 2011.  (My original write-up.)

Ribeira Sacra Summum, Guímaro (Pedro M. Rodríguez Pérez) 2008
The '08 Ribeira Sacra tinto from Pedro Rodriguez at Guimaro already received a nod in my 2010 in review post a few days back but what can I say....  It was one of the finest $15ish reds I drank all year and a bell-clear harbinger that, just as with Riesling (above), I'm in need of deeper exploration when it comes to the wines of Northern Spain.  (Original write-up.)

Muscadet Sèvre et Maine Sur Lie "Vieilles Vignes," Château les Fromenteaux (Famille Luneau) 2005
I opened this just a couple of weeks ago, after the remnants of a bottle of Meursault proved inadequate for the evening meal.  The Meursault had improved over the course of five days but the Muscadet (which is farmed, vinified and bottled by Pierre Luneau-Papin, btw) still blew it right out of the water. Wonderful aromatics, brilliant minerality, fine balance, aging gracefully... it was one of those wines that made me pause and utter a little "Oh, shit!" under my breath after every few sips.  $12.50 seriously well spent—and proof that there is cellar-worthy wine out there in the sub-$15 price range.

Els Jelipins 2005
What was I just saying about Northern Spain...?  My friend Joe Manekin, whose own Top Ten of 2010 post was at least partially responsible for inspiring this one, included Els Jelipins on his list.  Here it is again.  Sometimes besotted minds think alike.  It's not often that I encounter a bottle that retails for $80 and feel compelled to run right out to buy some.  Heck, it's not often that I buy $80 bottles of wine, period.  It's even rarer that I call a wine "sexy," especially without my tongue firmly planted in cheek.  But that's exactly what I did, on both counts.  Not having been to Penedès, I can't really comment on the wine's terroir expression.  It would be equally feeble to declare it a great expression of Sumoll.  It's simply a great wine.  (Original write-up.)

This is crossing over....

Champagne Brut Blanc de Noirs "Inflorescence," Cédric Bouchard (2006)
In a year in which I had the opportunity to drink many excellent Champagnes, this was a tough choice.  But from its incredible up-front fruit richness and textural density, to its closing minerality and long, long finish, Cédric Bouchard's "Inflorescence" left a definite and lasting impression.

Sierra Foothills White Wine, La Clarine Farm 2009
Two American wines in my not-a-top-ten list?  I wouldn't have believed it if you'd told me but here it is....  It boils down to this: if more American wines tasted as good to me as does this Rhône-inspired white from Hank Beckmeyer's La Clarine Farm, as in "friggin' delicious" (cribbed straight from my raw tasting notes), I'd drink more American wine.  (Original write-up.)

Fleurie "Clos de la Roilette," Coudert Père et Fils 2009
As with the Champagne above, in a year in which I drank many excellent wines from the Beaujolais, this was a touch choice.  But not quite so tough.... Why?  Because the '09 Fleurie from Coudert is simply spot-on.  Whether to drink now or later, it's delicious wine—balanced, bright, expressive and incredibly enjoyable.  I'd be hard pressed to think of a wine I'd rather have a big stack of, sitting right next to me at all times, than this.  What better way to round out my "list"?  (Original write-up.)
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