Where the Wine Trail Leads…

Where the Wine Trail Leads…

On a grey, drizzly morning I stare out the window, saddened at having just read the rather harsh remarks of a prominent wine critic about Sangiovese in Montalcino, Brunello and its Consorzio.

Is that what it comes to? A search for monochrome perfection? The unbearable boredom of greatness?

wine-trailStill staring outside:

I’ve known the richness of life’s blessings expressed only in a collection of days good and not so good; understood the depth of personal relationships through disappointment and happiness.

Did I boo my favorite tenor from the stage because I think his last year’s performance was better sung?

In a cosmos where everything runs in its own cycle of good and not so good, that we, as wine lovers, would criticize as wine follows the ups and downs of nature’s plan – even when produced year after year in the same place by the same people – seems absurd, contrary to wine appreciation and certainly to what should live in the heart of a wine lover.

Perhaps, when considering wine, we might take a lesson from a popular song artist who sings of loving the “perfect imperfections”*. If, as many have said, Sangiovese is a great communicator of terroir, then it stands to reason that Sangiovese will too be a great communicator of terroir even when conditions are not quite right, a talker of terroir’s perfections and, sometimes, imperfections.

I am not at all suggesting we tolerate badly made wine. Only that we recognize that, just as love demands forgiveness, wine requires tolerance for an acceptable range of quality variation.

You know. The good outweighs the bad.

I’ve often wondered where the wine trail leads. I still don’t know. But … if it leads to a place where days pass with predictably excellent sameness, full of well-behaved lovers and tenors who sing each song as well as the last, well, count me out.

*John Legend, All of Me
Photo borrowed from www.maremma-tuscany.com

Coming to Wine

Coming to Wine

Water, a little wine added.
Water and wine in equal parts.
Wine, a little water added.

That was how you came to wine. What happened along the way was your wine education.

The old timers had their ways of doing things.

grandfatherIt was my grandfather who brought me to wine, taught me how to cook pasta fagioli, and explained why it made sense to travel two towns away for bread if it was there that the best bread was to be found.


When finally you would strike out on your own, your diploma from the University of Old School read:

“Don’t forget where you come from”.

No, sir. Won’t do that.

Highlights from Burlington, VT Wine & Food Festival 2013

Highlights from Burlington, VT Wine & Food Festival 2013

bonny-doon-vineyards-randallOn the road to producing expressive wines, producers sometimes miss the exit entirely, driving all the way past to some small and awful town in the county of Lacking Originality. Fear not, dear wine lover, a course correction is easily within your reach. You need only set your GPS to arrive in the land of @RandallGrahm (Twitter) of Bonny Doon Vineyards where you will find wines of utter originality.

I loved Grahm’s funky-in-a-good-way Albarinho 2012: lemongrass, lime, stone fruit on the nose, hint of Thai basil, edgy
and crisp on the palate. By hindsight, I am to wish for this wine with the pile of mussels I ate after the festival; in foresight, I lust for it alongside my mother-in-law’s spicy noodle dish with topped with crushed peanuts, briny fish sauce and lime spritz.

If Bonny Doon’s Contra Old Vine Carignane Blend 2010 … were … tobacco, I would smoke it, a big hand-rolled spliff of sublime, exuberant impressions of dark fruit, anise, meat, and eualyptus.

Playing counterpoint to Contra’s somewhat brooding personality is the brighter, red fruit character of Clos de Gilroy Grenache 2010 which is absolutely killer, lip-smacking tart, demonstrating the kind of spot-on balance you wish our national budget could show.

Le Cigare: captivating, a wine of spiritual positivity and complexity, neither of which I am able to completely understand in the few minutes I have at the tasting table. Cherries, dried leaves, savory herb, jam, mint, and a magical earthiness like one might expect to find in a handful of soil from the land of Oz.

Love the tannic structures of these wines, soft, supple, silky with real backbone.

My son, Jesse Mack, who has spent some time in the wine biz and certainly tasted his share of good vino, astutely notes that Grahm’s wines may reference Rhone as a touchpoint, yet one would never mistake them for Rhone.

Yes. O-R-I-G-I-N-A-L-I-T-Y 🙂

cantine-barbera-menfi-marilenaShould ever you have the pleasure to chat one-on-one with vintner @MarilenaBarbera (Twitter), if you listen, and listen deeply, you will hear it. It rolls into the conversation one wave at a time. Swells breaking onto shore. Sucking, pulling, pebble and sand backwash from beneath your feet. Wind. You are on her wavelength now. Connected to the sea. There is no other way to understand the wines, no separating one from the other.

Marilena’s Cantine Barbera Menfi Inzolia 2012 is deliciously mineral with an appealing saline carnality. If you have ever kissed your lover after a sea swim you know what I mean.

I adore Marilena’s unique Nero D’Avola rose La Bambina 2012 which charmed me to pieces with its dry spritz of sea spray, impressions of berry-scented marine air, superb focus and supple body.

The wonderfully old-school Cantine Barbera Nero D’Avola 2011 intoxicates with an arousing, light perfume like raspberry-scented rain if rain actually fell smelling of raspberries. Communicates good power derived in part from its clay origins, yet remains chewy and light on the palate.

Magnificent, distinctive, born of the rare Perricone – aka Pignatello – and blended with 10% Nerello Mascalese, Microcosmo 2010 takes my breath away with gorgeous red fruit, earth, herb, sea pine and an energetic mineral finish. Not to be missed.

Massively appealing is the clean, absolutely vibrant freshness running through each of the Cantine Barbera wines I tasted.

I would be remiss not to get on your radar the wine importer known as MATCH. I have rarely tasted so many genuine, good bottles on a single trade show table: Vigne Surrau Juannisolu, Vermentino 2012 and Cannonau 2010; Cantina Bolzano, Muller Thurgau 2011 and Santa Magdelena Classico 2011; Pierpaolo Pecorari, Friulano 2011 and Refosco 2011. Every one of these wines showed real quality at a very fair pricepoint.(MATCH is also the distributor for Cantine Barbera Menfi.)

Of note is Loosen Bros. Blue Slate Riesling 2011, stone fruit, flinty minerality, great acidity makes me feel big time love for this wine. Applause for J. Christopher Willamette Valley Pinot Noir and that label’s “Lumieres” Pinot Noir, too, both apparently part of the Loosen catologue, two massively harmonious wines with a memorable silky texture in the mouth.

Tasting Douro reds Contos da Terra and Quinta dos Pocos Colheita solidly convinces me that we are not looking closely enough at the quality and great value Portugal has to offer.

From Spain, Montebuena Rioja 2010 is an insane value at ~ $13.00 and drinks better than many at double that price tag!

A shout out to my Twitter Pal @GianPadano (left, in the photo above) for getting Burlington, VT Wine & Food Festival on my radar!!!

A Visit to Munich Wine Company

There are few things one needs to feel happy on a sunny Munich morning beyond a good Butterbretzel and heiße Schokolade. But, today I am excited and extra happy to be heading out to Deisenhofen to attend a live wine auction at Munich Wine Company.

I have written ahead to Sommelier & Auctioneer Stefan Sedlmeyr asking if I might attend the auction (especially since I am not planning to bid), who pleasantly agrees to have me in house.

munich-wine-company-2aI am absolutely charmed by the shop’s intimate, cordial, professional atmosphere. Shop staff is immediately welcoming and arriving attendees are friendly and open to conversation.

During the pre-auction tasting several stunning wines catch my attention: ’76 Knyphausen Erbacher Michelmark Riesling TBA, ripe and powerful with impressions of caramel, still shows plenty of life, while that producer’s ’83 Erbacher Steinmorgen Riesling Eiswein seems generally lighter in comparison and displays less density, as might be expected. The ’99 vintage of that same wine reveals lively notes of citrus. A wonderfully evolved Chateau Pichon Comtesse, Pauillac 2eme Cru Classe ’84 blows me away with its magnificent, intoxicating nose and sublime tannins.

munich-wine-company-5aDuring the afternoon tasting break, of the white Burgundies I taste, it is the complex and enigmatic ’79 Laurent, Dominique Meursault 1er Cru Les Charmes, full of petrol, honey, butterscotch and gorgeous bitter almond which wins my heart. I appreciate, too, the ’00 Alzania Crianza that feels to me in style to be suspended somewhere between Bordeaux and California. But, it is again a Baron Knyphausen wine, the ’92 Kiedricher Sandgrub Riesling BA, which leaves me starry-eyed and happy.

Since the auction goes on for the better part of this still sunny Saturday, Munich Wine Company thoughtfully prepares a very tasty lunch opportunity, serving attendees during the afternoon tasting break some exceedingly delicious ravioli and antipasti.

I find Munich Wine Company staff to be exceptionally knowledgeable about the wines and vintages, and notice the great care taken to store onsite wines properly in EuroCave, Gaggenau and Leibherb. I would not hesitate to entrust my wines or personal purchase/sale activities to this fine house of wine.

Sincere thanks to Stefan and the Munich Wine Company for their generous, gracious, hospitality. It feels good to be around people who care so deeply about wine. If you happen to be in the Munich area, I recommend a trip out to Deisenhofen – easy via S-Bahn – to visit Munich Wine Company and say “hi” to Stefan and his excellent crew.