In the chapter, My Date With Bob, Mr. Parker and I had one or two rough spots. Oddly enough, Spain was an issue in both of them. Parker voiced his emphatic belief that Spain was the hot bed of originality because it was reclaiming many of lost vines and turning them into wines. He maintained that indiginous grapes were being celebrated all around the country. To me, most of Spain had lost it's soul. Now, to me, if something like Mencia is being tarted up to look like Syrah, that isn't saving much. Yes, it is so much better than grafting over to Merlot, if the right savior comes around to kiss the wood and make it blossom into its true self. But, I'm more interested in vine savers who are trying to delve into the mysteries of the grape, not to make it sing out of its range. I met an astrologer once (don't ask) who charmed me when he talked about the planets as if they were his best friends, when Pluto was squishing a Mars he felt the pain. The man transmorgophied planets, and I have come to see that the wines that I love the best come from vignerons who have the same relationship with the vines, such as Clos Roche Blanche and the 'old ladies' of Cot. The day after the conference, I waited in a parking lot under the shadow of the dramatic Monserrat for Oriol to pick me up. Oriol, with Gloria and the impossibly precocious Berta, comprise the winery, Els Jelipins of the Penedès. I climbed in and in ten minutes we were at the very vineyard I had noticed for its oddity the day before. "Wow!" I said. "Fantastic! I was wondering what these were, and they're yours?" These vines looked like spindly sumac trees. Turns out they are Sumoll, a strangely configured bunch of grapes, that barely is given a sentence in the last Oxford Companion. These are eighty years old and even though it's a grape that is native to the area, it is blocked from the DO, so table wine is what they make, pretty expensive stuff in the hands of Gloria & Oriol. So first a visit with Oriol.
I didn't taste too many of the local wines when I was out for the lecture. The tone was set when Kevin and I met Robert Ames for dinner @ Brasserie Four. As promised Ames, a gentleman and a scholar, showed up with a Larmandier-Bernier 1996 Cramant. The depth and complexity, layers of litigation. Damn, it was so great that Allemand's 1998 Chaillot couldn't live up to it's patchouli nose. Under discussion was who was I going to visit? I wanted to revisit Caleb Foster of Buty. I met him when I was in Walla Walla in 2004 and had a good feeling about his future progression in winemaking. So that was in place. I asked Ames for some tips for my open slot. On the second morning of my visit, he picked me up and we raced along the road to visit some guy by the name of Matt Steiner. "Nice last name," he stated, with a wink. The name of the winery is Stella Fino. Turns out Matt is a thinker, a good wine maker and what's more he's got spunk as well as about 1200 cases and a day job. (sorry, bad and sloppy iphone) He left New York with his wife after 9/11 'cause he wanted to make wine and the wind basically blew him to Walla Walla. Well, actually someone at the enology school told him to come out. He did and didn't even last one semester. (Matt, if I got that wrong, correction please.) He had never been to Walla Walla. He just moved there. I'm still amazed. I am always in awe of people who pick up and move. Just do it. Action is so terribly sexy.
Steiner had a European influenced palate thanks to his dad and that's where he was headed, not to Europe but to refined. The results, so far from this self-professed Sangio man, is pretty. Think restrained Italian varietals with almost no new oak and no acid adjustment. 2005 Barbera seemed to be a great pizza wine. He's beginning to play around with stems and just experimenting with some native yeast. In fact, the 2009, native and stems has a little pickle but a nice cherry underneath (tastes better than it sounds) but with that lace of licorice is the kind of wine you want to discuss. $ is getting in the way of the lovely piece of land he wants to plant and tend. I say, this is a Steiner to watch. And after finally tasting the Harrington wines yesterday at the Bowler tasting, which I was greatly interested after the video, I have to say the Stella Fino are way more my kind of thing, enough so that I will be back to take a second look.