A good friend of mine, a doctor/photographer (who admitedly, is a bit mad) absolutely loves peppery wine. In fact, he takes it literarlly. This summer, in a tableside video he gamely showed off his technique of doctoring a wine to get it to his liking.
This is not a joke.
He does this all the time.
Is it a manipulation? Sure it is. Do I care? No. I choose the wines I give him carefully. A Côtes du Rhône or a wine from the Languedoc? For those he stays away from the mill. He's often a great receptacle for the wines I might normally recycle to neighbors. And then I don't flinch when he takes matters into his own hands. (Will all due respect to the wine in this video, he was just using it for demo.)
Hey, so I decided I had to find some delicious wines under $18 (to hell with under $20 which is the new $15). I mean, we have to drink every day and the days of $12 and under are long gone. So in this issue of The Feiring Line I tasted and tasted and selected 30 fab wines, I love and you'll love and if you want more, subscribe! Plenty of selections of Thanksgiving, the day that throws many into wine klutz. Let me save you from disaster.
This month there's a little vegan wine guide thing I wrote up for Vegetarian Times. It's a little heavilly edited, but there is information in there you might not have known.
The PDF is living on the Querciabella site, so take a peek.
A few years ago my friend Becky said to me, "You'll have to find a new battle to fight."
The wine world had changed so much since I wrote The Battle for Wine and Love, she was indicating that winemakers had started to question their paradigms; make wine for Parker's palate or for themselves. The work was done.
I mean, have you looked to see what's going on in the Beaujolais? Just look at the names of the annual tasting La Beaujolise .
This season I'm aware of three significant debuts from the area, and I'm sure there's more.
Yohan Lardy, makes solid and enjoyable Moulin a Vent and Fleurie, in whole cluster, in old vats. The wines have backbone and are worthy of aging.
Anne Sophie Dubois went for a stint in Volnay and she's working Fleurie in no-carbo for her two cuvées, l’Achemiste and Clepsydre. Raised in cement of old wood, these are also wines built to last.
And then there's Domaine Robert-Denogent who works in the Macon but is leasing the old Jules Chauvet vines and recenly made a "Jules Chauvet cuvée." The man accredited with being the Grand Poobah of the natural wine world, and heralded as a great maker of (sometimes) no sulfur wines left shoes that I fear are impossible to fill. The wine had something to say, and I'll be watching all three.
There's a lot of land with a lot of beautiful old vines. It's still cheapish. So, it makes sense that I heard that some Americans were looking to buy land there. Not in fancy Burgundy, but in the Beaujo.
Even the locals are joining in and every vintage there are more people are joining the likes of those crazy Beaujoloises; Paul-Henri Thillardon, Rémi Dufaitre, Karim Vionnet, Julie Balagny, Julien Sunier, Dutraive, Ducroux,Bruno Debize (I featured his Beaujo in the wine society this last month). Lest we forget there are always the glorious outsiders, like Christian Ducroux and Roland Pignard.
Not all will be working in the vin naturel style, but all who start working now, if the wine is good, will be able to sell their wines because of the natural folk's work. Okay, I'm not sure a newcomer can sell their wines at $40, it would be wise to start at $18. But the world isn't sane. Anyway, I digress. Just to let you know, itwasn't that big, fat 2009 vintage that created the interest in the area. The reason for the renaissance is the delicious wines the gang of 5 showed the world that good work on gamay and granite demands.
Beaujolais vrais arrivée!
So, I was about to figure out what else I could do. I can't do a thing about ebola. I can't make a dent in Isis. I know I'm basically worthless that the only impact could be in wine, but what to turn my pen to next, I wondered. That's when I got a note from a winemaker from the New World who just read t the Battle, in Spanish. I live for such notes. I makes me think in the little way of writing, difference can be made. I guess I and my fellow writers still have 'work' to be done. Can't pull out the watercolors yet.
My story on new natural wine power in an old Georgian city, Sighnaghi is up now on Punch. While wine tourism has reached that hilltop town, do not expect Napa, do not expect Rioja. Humility is part of the DNA in this town and in the Georgian wine world. May it always stay that way.
So, go have a look, then come back here for the details, of places to visit and the faces behind the wines.
John Wurdeman, the man who many point to as fueling the Sighnaghi wine and spirits think tank. Here is is, above the fog. Photo by Vjera Babić.
Where to Eat & Drink
Not only can one drink the best of Georgia at the PT wine bar (and eat some of the best food in the country, but get a load of the line up of non-Georgian.)
City Wineries to Visit
Paul and Alexander Rodzianko
41 Baratashvili Street
tel: +995 355 23 19 29
7 Chavchavadze str, Sighnaghi, Georgia
tel: +995 551 622 228
That's Archil in the vines and this is him opening the q.
tel: +995 599 408 414
And that new protégé, Nathan? Watch for his crazy cider. I have high hopes.
So it goes. Just will leave you with a couple of back labels. This is what's going on there, in Georgia for some reason they're not afraid of the term, natural wine. Afterall, they're Georgians, they started this whole thing. No?
Where to eat? Drink?
18 Baratashvili Street
Walking down the street I was shocked to find a new wine bar, of course started by an alum of PT, as well as a great chacha maker (chacha? that's the direct path to heaven, John's wife Ketevan says of the Georgian grappa).
VinoFactura wine bar and shop
Nikoloz Nadirashvili's the owner.
5 Kostava street
Hotel Crown Restaurant
Tel.: (+995 355) 23 13 93;
Nettle or mushroom kinkali for about .35 each, or a plate of brains. Food is yummy.
Last week three requests rolled in, "Alice, what is your position on wine ingredient labels?"Three requests meant that even though I have expressed my opinions in Naked Wine and in interviews, perhaps I best spell it out.
For a long time I've been in favor of less government in wine instead of more, but in this instance I have to fess up that with so many additives allowed in wine, an ingredient label is best. If there's an ingredient list for soda, there needs to be one for wine. If you are warned about an orange juice from concentrate, the same should be true for wine that has been reverse osmosed/concentrated.
Perhaps the TTB's willful ignorance in this matter, and yes, I do believe that it is, comes down to the influence of a wine lobby afraid to lose market share if required to disclose all. Even though, if I take the TTB's definition of natural wine, I could be convinced that the TTB, what I can imagine a non-wine drinking organization, believes what the wine lobby tells them, that wine is made in the vineyard, or that it is not possible to make wine with grapes.
Either way, the innocent is not so innocent, and a child of the 70s, in this case as in so many, the money lobby speaks.
With the allowed additions for example, of; water, sugar, concentrated fruit juice from the same kind of fruit, malolactic bacteria, yeast, sterilizing agents, precipitating agents, PVPP and other approved fermentation adjuncts, what will it take for the TTB to understand that most wines should be labeled as a wine beverage like my neighborhood convenience store's Chateau Diana? Because real wine, it is not.
I have not been successful in getting the TTB’s spokesperson Thomas Hogue, to take my inquiry about a real ingredient list seriously enough to get a satisfactory reply. Instead he sounding quite straight-faced wrote to me that on the table is an ingredient list, but the joke here is that it is only for nutritional value, carbohydrates, and calories.
How many of us are drinking for our five fruits and vegetables?
As more drinkers want their wines as natural as the food they seek, more wineries are going to present themselves as natural. Of course you can rely on your palate to be your guide, but the customer who is buying on philosophy and not taste will have a harder time.
Unless wine ingredients and processes make it on to a label, nothing can safeguard the product for the consumer who believes no label means nothing added. Right now some wineries like Ridge and Bonny Doon openly and extensively list their ingredient optionally. But as others follow suit, my fear is that the TTB will outlaw them instead of insist it be required.
So, where do I stand? I give up. There should be. Yes. Get the ink rolling. I want one.
In February of 2014, I traveled to Australia for the natural wine fair, Rootstock (next one is August 2015). Then I went off to see what I could drink. Never did I think I would find some gamay from the older generation that sung and a whole lot of chirping was going on from the newer. Here's an snippet.
The morning wine writer and ukulele-meister Max Allen and I tanked up on flat whites and headed out of Melbourne, the bush fires kept the Victoria air smelling like barbeque. Our first visit was Bindi (conventional but snappy and sexy pinot and chardonnay). Then we hit the biodynamic and dry farming advocates, Jasper Hill and Castagna (“I make syrah not shiraz.”).
Finally in the late day, as the light started to turn blue, we drove the twenty minutes or so from Castagna to Barry Morey’s backyard to discover the wines he makes under the Sorrenberg label.
His sleepy neighborhood was all about bleached picket fences and scrubby rolling hills. I slammed the car door, the cool white cocktatoos, strung white lanterns in the trees, barely reacted. Barry came towards us. A friendly man with a bent posture, he reminded me of a character out of the Wind in the Willows. The man was humble, or was that merely from years of bending over the vines? We piled into his truck to head just up the road a bit to his vines. “I don’t do much to make wine,” he said in a way that registered with authenticity. In that moment I understood that Barry was incapable of producing any kind of wine other than an honest one.
There is rapid wine change coming on in Australia. And to read the rest of the article and the rest of the rest...please subscribe!
In the introduction for The Battle for Wine and Love I talked about a screenplay I wanted to pen: girl journalist finds out about a global plot to kill of the authentic wines of the world, she springs into action.
The plot to kill off authentic wine is not such fiction.
Let's take the plight of tw wonderful wineries in different lands, in similar situations, penalized for not lack of quality, tastiness or stability, but solely on their lack of typicity.
Canada's Vintners Quality Alliance (VQA) could almost be rebranded as the Anti-Quality Alliance.
All wines of Canada's Ontario must to go through a tasting panel. Even if a wine is good, solid, tasty, might even be delicious, if it isn't typical, the wine is penalized. It is eligble for export, but loses a financial advantage, putting a small winery through tremendous financial hardship. I offer you Pearl Morrisette.
Pearl M. is one of the few Canadian wine amassadors to the United States, it is one of the few wines here getting people excited about what is happening up to our north. Minimalist, it feels right at home on the wine shelves of those who drink naturally. Even though the winery has extremely high standards, even though it's well-regarded, the wines continually have problems have passing through the Alliance.
From a spokesperson within Morrisette, we have this reality, "Non-VQA wines within the province of Ontario are not eligible for LCBO tax rebate. E.g. on a $25 bottle of wine, with VQA - the winery keeps $20, without VQA, the winery keeps $12.56. For a small winery, the loss is getting unbearable and is threatens its existence."
This year their 2012 Black Ball riesling has been refused four times for things like, "wispy sediment,"oxidative aromas and flavours," "unbalanced characteristics." Yet, they at the same time the wine was considered stable. It was just that it was a different expression of riesling.
But, I loved that wine. I shared with my friend, Jeff Connell when in Toronto for the Terroir Symposium in May. Yes, I drank it and loved it. A gorgeous expression of riesling, so enjoyable, I just drank and forgot to take notes. Sorry, I was off duty. (Tasting notes are coming in The Feiring Line Newsletter when I can procure the bottle.) Perhaps the VQA couldn't recognize the varietal, but to me the expression of a riesling with skin contact was familiar and identifiable. ( By the way, I am seriously proposing the possibility that the panel couldn't recognize native ferments either, so are we saying that only yeasted wines are allowed to pass? I'll take up this varietal maddness at another date.)
So, I ask; how can a tasting panel with a lack of tasting ability is able to comment on typicity? In other words, what do they know and how can they threaten the financial stability of one of their finest wines?
Over in South Africa and New Zealand, the problem is even worse. If the wine doesn't pass the board, they can't export. Done. Just recently, the excellent winery Sato submitted their chardonnay and was told it was not typical of a New Zealand wine. If they don't pass, they can't export. This is all supposed to be to protect the image, (which needs a serious lifting). Same deal in South African; it seems there's no trouble letting the crap be exported. The bulk, cheap and nasty supermarket side of SA wine is alive and well. Like, when is the last time you went out of your way to drink a South African wine? Enough said.
We rarely see Lammershoek in this country. Which is a damned shame as Craig Hawkins is one of South Africa's finest wine producers (at least as far as readers of this page and the TFL is concerned). But, there you go, his wines have once again been denied by the tasting panel. His latest battle, is yet agin for Sink the Pink--denied for inappropriate color.
Give me a break. I had a rosé in the Loire this year that was completely white and delicious (Patrick Corbineau's). Because of color? Since when does a rosé have to have a typical color unless it's aimed for the supermarket, or for demise, as is Provencal rosé?
This is from the winery to me. The Sink the Pink is a nouveau-style Pinotage. It is actually a small portion of our LAM Pinotage which we bottle early. This year we only bottled 560 bottles as it has a limited shelf life and needs to be consumed within 6 months or so. So very bright, fruity, relatively simple and just nice and juicy to drink young. But it doesn’t taste like any other Pinotage produced in this country and so it fails for things like being un-cultivar typical, being too light in colour.
The official language for rejection was. Turbid, hazy. Insufficient colour.
At one point perhaps this seemed like a good idea, to protect the image of South African wine, but when you think that it was just in 2004 that South Africans were putting artificial flavoring in their sauvignon blanc, and those had no trouble passing the Wine Board. But with wines that aren't pink enough?
Lammershoek has been continually going through this ordeal, and not only with Pink. Right now it's possible that they will pass the next tests, they have a few more shots at the board, but he's feeling a little beat down and not terribly optimistic.
Craig tells me there are plenty of more people in the same boat in SA, which is encouraging because then there's life there, but one wonders why they are not speaking up or working as much to help change the system. He is working for the change with the Board, the problem is that the change is not coming quickly enough. It is encouraging that as a concept of what a wine is changing and it follows that if a country isn't going to ruin their reputation, the rules must shift. And they will.
The slow pace could extinguish a winery. Craig sells near to 90% of his wines out of the country. If they don't pass the final exams, those wines will not be able to be legally shipped, causing tremendous financial hardship to one of the countries leading winemakers, ( in the natural world, at least) and the most celebrated that country has. So, what is the Wine Board really accomplishing by muzzeling the winery?
Taking it to it's illogical extreme, what if tomatoes were not allowed in stores because they were purple, or all French women who were not skinny were not allowed passports? It is time for countries, including France (and that accursed Vin de France) to realize putting a supermarket mentality on wine will bring them only disgrace.
It's time to sink, but please not the Pink.
Thus spake Bruce Palling.
Or, rather, so he wrote in his 2012 essay.
Palling's recent Newsweek piece was entitled much more astutely, Why Natural Wine Tastes Worse than Putrid Cider.
His title seemed inspired by the sensational Robert M. Parker Jr. and Michel Rolland. Yet the text seemed more in step with restaurant critic Steve Cuozzo.
It turns out that like Cuozzo, Palling (also a restaurant critic who loves his tipple) thinks he's the rare food writer who actually knows wine---as they say, a unicorn of the species.
Now, Palling still drinks 'claret' and 'vintages, ' and even though he knows as much about natural wine as I know about butchering, he writes about them as if he is an authority.
But there are signs he might not be the most reliable narrator.
+ The caption on the photograph accompanying the article refers to chasselat
While not in any grape book I can find, on Wiki it is one obscure synonym for the grape chasselas, too obscure to use in a caption. If I were the writer? I'd get on my editor's ass to fix it as soon as possible.
+ Natural wine isn't on the shelves of supermarkets.
Well....the Whole Foods in London --unlike most other Whole Foods--stocks plenty. At Marks & Spencer or Tesco? Most likely just industrial plonk there. But he takes it further to say they're not at wine merchants?
+ "The feeling goes that if the food served in a restaurant is best when it has no pesticides and herbicides, then the same must be true for wine."
Amen! Like this is bad? Especially if some are delicious?
+Real natural doesn't exist because all wine needs human intervention.
Such a tiresome straw man argument. There are brains out there. One of you guys, please jump to an original argument. Look, bread doesn't happen without intervention either. But there is Wonderbread and real stuff. Done.
+At least 30ppm of SO2 is needed to keep a wine without sulfur alive for a few days.
My experience? The more sulfur the shorter the lifespan of the open bottle. The little secret of drinkers and sommeliers is that the low or unsulfured wine lives dramatically over days and sometimes even months. Many natural wines love oxygen.
+ The natural wine movement kicked off with Noma in Copenhagen.
Now, where in heck did he get that one? The NWM kicked off in the Beaujolais in the late 70's. It came into its own first in Paris when in 2000 the natural wine bar of the city boomed. Thanks to the internet from 2006 to 2014 the category mushroomed. By now, the world's interesting winelists has exploded. Sure, Denmark is high on the natural hog, but they're relatively late to the game. Hello Japan?
+ Hibiscus has seen the light and gas "reintroduced top vintages."
According to the list's creator, Isabelle Legeron, she's always had some classic wines on the list.
+ Noma has seen the light and has "reintroduced top vintages."
That would be news to their wine maestro, Mads Kleppe.
Last month in Vienna I talked at length with Mads. The night was approaching the wee hours, there was some Overnoy involved. He confided to me that he is still trying to get rid of some of the earlier inventory which pre-dated him. The wines, he said, were an embarassment. Perhaps those are the very ones Palling thinks are new kids the list. I'm sure Palling would be appalled at Mads' wine pairings because he told me that those with preconceived notions have a hard time. Some were indignant, furious even. It was mostly the coffee pairing (very barely roasted coffee) that got them pissed off. "If you fuck with peoples conception what good wine and coffee looks and taste like they get really upset," Mads said to me.
Mad's pairings aim to challenge, inspire, break the fourth wall. He wants to provide an experience. To offer wines that were chemically farmed, yeasted, bacteriaed, tannined, acidified, deacidified, overly sulfured, megapurpled, RO-ed, micro-oxed etcetec, would be cynical. Devastating really.
Some of Mads' offerings would be gorgeous, easy to love. Others would be challenging, provocative, engaging. The purpose is journey, sensual, explorative. And at times, delicious. Or at least that's what I got from my conversation with him as I've yet to visit and dine.
I have no problem that Palling doesn't care, (nor can he taste) that his Cote Rotie has added tannin and the flint in his Chablis is actually too much SO2. What I have a problem with that he spoiled a perfectly good piece. He had a beautiful whine in the making of I can't go to eat the greatest restaurants of the world anymore (no, Palling, not the trendy ones, the greatest ones) of the world anymore because they've been invaded by the dreaded natural wines.
Ach, yet another case of a writer burying his lead, swapping for a piece for a flawed article a magazine like Newsweek should have never honored with publishing.
However, I will grant the critic three things:
1- Like in all wine worlds, some are sub-par.
But am I going to get in the way of someone who loves mousiness? No. But I won't be able to recommend them.
2- Dagueneau made some good wines, sometimes great ones.
But, if he wanted to drink them, he should have dug into his own pocket for his wallet and not wait for what was being offered to him.
3- I believe the critic that natural wines are just not his thing.
And while I have no doubt I could show him a completely no So2 added wine he would love.
I don't want to convert him. Let him drink claret! But believing him as a reliable narrator? Not so sure.