On the Wine Trail

  • A Question of Imagination

    A Question of Imagination

    I posited a question to the Milkman the other day: "Do you even use your imagination anymore?". I hadn't received an answer as all questions to the Milkman are generally rhetorical. But as I contemplated the increasingly routinized life of our tech-savvy, efficiency-minded populace, the question just nagged at my gut. And then this morning, I read a recent post by the Wine Economist (Mike Veseth) entitled 'The "Demolition Man" Syndrome' which touched on the ever increasing consolidation of producers and flavor profiles of wine in the world. What will wine taste like in the future? What gives wine distinction now? What's the difference between great wine and unique wine.....

    It's no question that California has been in need of a wine revolution. The wine world is changing--quickly--with new and exciting regions emerging every year. Yet there remains California...plodding along. Adding a new AVA from time to time, some with more and most with less relatable purpose. In the annals of the history of wine it offers little beyond the founding fathers and phylloxera--hard to stand up to the hundreds of years worth of history in Europe and even the far reaches of South Africa. Something needed to be done. 

    And that something was aided by small groups of purists such as the Gang of Four. Dedicated to the natural production of great Beaujolais from Morgon, these ultra purists helped spur producers to pursue a less is more type of attitude: less wood, less filtering, less sulphur, less shenanigans in the winery. And I'm all for that. I travel and study to see and smell the terroir of a wine so I'm in favor of anything that puts that directly into the glass. To me, what these wines have in common across varietals is energy. It's a nervy tension that says "it's only grapes that are keeping me together here". At times, I feel like I'm drinking that bottle at just the perfect moment...right before it all falls apart. But then I open another bottle --the Occhipinto SP68 Rosso comes to mind-- and it's all right there again. But for me, their ageability is untested. I haven't had this bottle in my cellar for even a year yet. I'll see how far that tension stretches over time. But this wine, like the Breton Morgon (one of the Gang of Four), tastes as it should taste with greater delicacy and energy than many counterparts. What I don't understand are the many "natural" wines made by "purists" from scrappy, untended vineyards "discovered" vineyards (oftentimes behind a neighbors garage) that don't remind me at all of the grape on the bottle. Where is the line? Should I be okay with a bottle of bubbles that is the sour beer man's sparkling wine? Should a wine be so funky that it's the funk that drives the experience rather than the fruit? I've tried my fare share now and my answer is No. I get that these expressions are interesting and I welcome the fact that they are helping California create a new niche of creative expression. It is sorely needed. There are new grapes being bottled by trail blazing producers who can still get it together in the glass. Chris Brockway (Broc Cellars) and Steve Matthiasson (Matthiasson) come immediately to mind. 

    So I continue to be excited about the great wines of this natural wine movement and reserve the unique wines for hipster somms and their clientele forever chasing down the cult wine of the moment. I'll quietly spend my dollars where this philosophy is backed by thoughtful and careful winemaking for this girl who prefers her sour in a lemon head or in the occasional bottle of beer. 

  • Onward Summer!

    Recent weeks have been dedicated to the vast amounts of study that went into preparing for the last exam in my pursuit of the WSET Diploma. And while I may have end up having to retake this fun exam, it's at least out of the way for now, permitting me to begin enjoying SUMMER. So that means wine drinking for pleasure can now begin. That, and the planning of the epic Rhone Roadtrip of 2016. I'm planning to assemble and test out a whole new way of wine learning during that time which will also include a Priorat intensive in Spain. So YAY let the journey begin!

  • Sommeliers.....sommeliers.


    With at least Master of Wine candidate and many other wine professionals in the audience, the tasting was running late--thirty minutes late! A heavily confirmed event with organizers ending out multiple emails asking people to give up their seats because there was a waiting list, our expectations had been high. My WSET Diploma TA (the MW candidate who has already passed her theory) and I were both using this as a source of study (me for my theory exam in June) so we waited patiently as the clock ticked by. She had to return to work and I had another seminar across town to get to. Finally, the seminar began with a good number of empty chairs in the room (so much for the "waiting list"). There was no wine in the glasses and technically only 25 minutes remaining in the planned hour. I guess they assumed we had nowhere to go and that we'd just run late. Fair enough. Not true, but fair enough. 

    The lecture began. The French trade ministry had engaged a relatively well-known local sommelier to run the show. I suppose they thought we wouldn't understand their French accents? All I can say is that I would expect that someone at the certified level would be articulate. That I wouldn't hear "you guys" and that facts wouldn't be passed over with language along the lines of ignoring "all that history stuff" in favor of what restaurants in the city are doing with these sweet wines. Which he didn't quite address either. It was so awkward that three of us looked at each other and each of us, on our own but at the same moment, decided to leave. It was embarrassing. For him. As the Wine Director for a fairly large local restaurant group, we all expected more. We expected an articulate, well considered discussion of these wines put forth with a voice filled with knowledge, command and presence. This is why I believe the world is now getting too populated with "sommeliers" who feel pretty fancy about themselves which made me lose interest in that certification a while ago. 

    A disappointing start to the day. It made me feel pretty good about my own verbal skills though. So there's that.

  • Getting fancy with the French today!

    Getting fancy with the French today!

    When a trade delegation from France calls, you answer! So today I'll be doing a sweet wine of France intensive. Perfect timing for exams in June and to see how the region feels after defeating plans for running a new train line right through their historic region.

  • A Room with a View

    A Room with a View

    This will be my home for the next eight days as I learn about what goes into putting on the world's largest blind tasting awards competition with Decanter Magazine. I will do this by working as one member of a 14-person logistics team charged with processing and organizing the 16,000 individual entries and the 64,000 bottles required to make it all work. It's going to me a long week!

  • London Calling

    London Calling

    Wheels down in London and it's been a long day of walking. Yes, yes to cram in a bit of sight seeing but really more about keeping me away from a bed to snuggle into. Key to my transatlantic time adjustment is to muscle through Day 1 without even a nap. As a reward it's time for a meat board and a glass of the elusive (in my part of the woods anyway) Philippe Pacalet Cornas produced by the nephew of legendary natural winemaker Marcel Lapierre. A visit to the London location of Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels in Neal's Yard gets me both at once. The visit seemed on point as well since CVS Sommelier Julia Oudill will do a turn as a judge during this year's Decanter Awards. It's going to be a long week so I'm going to enjoy this last treat. 

  • True love. It just ain't easy

    True love. It just ain't easy

    We all enjoy basking in the warmth of generous, sweet love. And the easier that love comes to us the better, right? But is that right? Too often, we just follow along from one step to the next letting "love" entice us into a comfortable yet blind stroll down a path rather than compelling us forward on a exciting & unknowing journey. It's safe, I suppose, and easy to nurture the relationship that looks right on paper and feels acceptable to everyone watching. But where is the passion? The stirring feeling? The hook.

    Juicy, ripe and familiar are, too often, the hallmarks of both the modern winemaker and consumer. More and more regional producers are working hard to make everything riper and softer as quickly as possible. And Beaujolais is right in there, stomping along. Quality producers from Beaujoalis themselves will tell you that they are struggling to separate themelves from the connotation of theire regional name, bastardized by the Beaujoalis Nouveau fanatacism. Like all fanatics, that craze died a wicked and abrupt death. But now the producers of quality wines from the region are left holding the bag....working hard to rebuild their reputation. Among these are a group of the most dedicated purists--the Gang of Four. I had long been searching for a bottle produced by one of the four and just never seemed to find one along my trail. I came across the bottle above and snagged it. My anticipation was set.

    Beaujoalis is the easy relationship. Fruity, juicy and easily pleasing. The crus of Beaujoalis offer more than the regional expressions but can still feel textbook.  For the person looking for that passionate, stirring relationship, it's hard to get off the easy path with the blindless walk. It's safe. You know the one, where one day you wake up and you're getting married and you don't even understand why. Because it was the next step? Because its what everyone expects? Because it's easy? And with wine who wants to waste hard-earned dollars when an old trusted favorite will at least be a safe drink? True love isn't supposed to be easy. And it certainly isn't supposed to look like what everyone expects.

    And so I uncorked the bottle and poured a glass. It was completely unexpected and downright funky. The prominent aromas were quite...animal. It was a bretty nose that was off-putting. Without patience it would normally make me push my glass away. But I was determined to know if this could be true love. So I dedicated some time mixing the wine with air in the bowl of my glass and kept an open mind that patience might reward my palate. So I enjoyed the color of the wine while I waited.

    Really beautiful ruby but not as brilliant as you'd want in the wine with great street appeal--the easy love. The wine is bottled unfined and unfiltered and you can see that. It's where the soul comes from. It's not vacant and empty and pretty in a simple way. It doesn't spend its time watching reality TV shoes or following celebrities on instagram. There's thoughtful soul here that needs consideration. It's being quite difficult already. But with time (honestly it was still amazing three full days after first opened, despite the lack of added sulphur) the wine revealed a mesmerizing floral quailty overlaying a crystallized strawberry quality and sense of soil that was way more complex than "juicy, fruity" can ever compete with (sic). In fact, it took the complete three days for all the wines nuances to reveal themselves. And yet, if I were to describe it, it would sound like "strawberry, black cherry, herb, floral"...the usual words. But as with a great and true love, it's all about the feeling. The complex depth and subtleties that move you forward. Some of us don't need that in love or wine. We are happy with the juicy fruity wine that doesn't challenge us to think and stay on our toes. Many don't want to be romanced, they want their thirst to be satisfied without the need of thought. But some of us need more. Some of us know that every bottle is an opportunity to discover the depths of a winemakers soul and the nuances of each valley and rock in a  particular place and time. And for us, true love is worth the risk and definitely warrants the reward.

    Drink this.

  • On a Wine Adventure close to home

    On a Wine Adventure close to home

    Sometime the Wine Trail doesn't get me very far from home. Be that as it may, there can be a great adventure found anywhere....just around the corner. Often, when you least expect it. And so I'm traveling to what may be another industry tasting expecting more of the same crowds filled with people who have less than polite tasting etiquette (please don't hog the space in front of the tasting table--grab your sample and step aside!) and more than enough ego. But I'm hopeful that something delicious will surprise me--sustain me--until the next open road journey arrives.

  • Under the Moon

    Under the Moon

    Jonas, The Blizzard of 2016 arrived on Friday as an epic event on the east coast. But for me, the epic event was the arrival of the second full moon since the December solstice. Set to reach the crest of its full phase on Saturday evening, January 23 at 8:46 p.m. EST, this full moon, often called the Snow Moon,  gave new context to the arrival of white flakes ushered into the sky on a pushy, tormented wind.

    aromas of white peach, litchi and acacia flowers. On the palate ripe and pulpy fruit with good concentration and hints of herbs & grass with richness of Semillon that gave it noticeable weight on the mid palate--letting it rest there before plunging toward its fresh acidity of Sauvignon Blanc on the finish.