April 2009

Do 2006 and 2007 sound too old for rosé wines, which are supposed to embody all that is fresh and immediate about a delightful, dry, light wine made from red grapes? Can rosés age even a year beyond their making?

Last July, I wrote about two rosés from Prieuré de Montèzargues, an innovative producer in Tavel, a traditional (and often over-produced) seed-bed of rosé wines in the southern Rhone Valley region. The winemaker for Prieuré de Montèzargues, Guillaume Dugas, believes that his rosés, made from fairly high-elevation vineyards, can stand the test of time, as least for two or three years. Recently, I tried the 2006 and ’07 from the producer again, and I thought it would be useful to compare how the wines fare now with how they performed last summer.

Here’s the previous review:

Prieuré de Montèzargues 2007 offers a lovely color of bright garnet flushed with salmon’s orangy-pink. Notes of strawberry, raspberry, peach and orange zest waft from the glass and segue seamlessly to the mouth in consistent flavors. The texture is soft and enticing but energized by crisp acid and a scintillating mineral element that expands to dominate the finish. Great balance and freshness. Very Good+.

And here’s my impression of the Prieuré de Montèzargues 2007 from last week: Pale salmon-peach color; lovely aromas of strawberry and raspberry, melon and mulberry, with a hint of roasted lemon. Quite earthy, almost tannic in the mouth, silky texture, deftly balanced between bright acidity and a substantial quality that would tend toward lushness if a sense of mineral-like discretion didn’t keep it delicate. Flavors of strawberry and dried current are accented by touches of dried herbs. Quite tasty and certainly a completely viable rosé for drinking through the end of 2009. We had this with salmon tacos, made at home. This gets an upgrade to Excellent.

How about the version from 2006? Here are my comments from last July:

The color is similar, perhaps with a shade of magenta, but the wine is robust, ripe and fleshy, delivering scents and flavors of strawberry and peach with touches of melon and dried herbs. A few minutes in the glass bring up hints of cherry/berry and Bazooka Bubble Gum, with orange zest, limestone and earthy notes and a lingering hint of cloves on the finish. This is an unusually complicated rosé for drinking through the end of 2008. Great detail and dimension. Excellent. If you can find the ‘07 and the ‘06, buy some of each.

I was not so impressed when we tried the Prieuré de Montèzargues 2006 last week. The color was a radiant pale copper-salmon; aromas of raspberry and cherry with a touch of roasted peach were seductive. In the mouth, this rosé was very earthy, almost smoky and sooty around the contours, and while flavors of red currants, roasted peach and rhubarb were tasty, the wine lacked middle, and the fairly fragile finish felt overwhelmed by acid. This gets a downgrade from Excellent to Very Good, perhaps to drink with fried chicken or roasted veal, but I greatly prefer the ’07 version.

These wines cost from $18 to $23. They are imported by Henriot, in New York.

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On Tuesday, Tom Wark posted, on his blog Fermentation, a fascinating meditation about authenticity. In this provocative essay, Wark wrestles with the questions of how wine, wine brands, wine marketing and the concept of authenticity fit into the brave new world of online social networking.

A long-time marketing person with a rigorously experiential and pragmatic view, Wark makes this point:

“Authentic” and “Authenticity” refer to the ability to define and position one’s product or service in personal and individualistic forms that stress the seller’s feelings and perceptions in a way a single other person taking part in a dialogue will appreciate—rather than positioning one’s products and service in the form of a monologue where the products or services are defined by what they provide to a group.

This is a terrifying analysis. In short, Wark is saying, or implying, that “authenticity” exists not as a test of the genuineness of an article (the original definition of the word) but as the ability to artificially (or artfully) attach a desirable aura to an object, in this case wine, in order to make it marketable. This development should not be a surprise. As the fields of marketing, publicity and advertising have, particularly since the 1960s and the widespread proliferation of television, attained monolithic proportions and requisitioned vast regions of first American and then world culture, authenticity has increasingly become a commodity useful for appealing to certain segments of the consumer classes. In magazines and newspapers, on televisions, in movies and of course on the Internet, the once definitive line between advertising and reality has become so blurred that we may truly say that reality is a nice place to visit but we wouldn’t want to live there because advertising is so much better. Basically, authenticity no longer exists.

There was a time, not so long ago, when people did not concern themselves about authenticity. If you lived in Europe, you didn’t worry whether the wine you were drinking was authentic because it came from the guy down the road who had been making wine for 50 years the way his father and grandfather had made wine. You didn’t worry about whether the food you were eating was authentic — and this was true for most parts of the world — because the ingredients were grown within a day’s walk of your house or village, or you grew the vegetables or tended the chickens yourself. As the world expanded, of course, and became more urbanized, whole populations became separated from the sources of the food they ate, the wine they drank and the objects they purchased for their use and consumption. Large-scale manufacturing, assembly-line production and agribusiness provided millions of people with the necessities of life at the same time as they standardized their products and reduced expectations to a lowest-common-denominator level. Hence were born nostalgia and a political-correctness of taste and acquisition.

Now you can’t buy a chocolate bar — 76% cacao — that doesn’t scream the “authenticity” of its having been produced by a tribal-owned (and non-slave) cooperative in Ecuador that uses “green” growing and harvesting methods, that half the profits are donated to local schools, that the paper the chocolate bar is wrapped in is compostable and that the employees of the American importer all wear recycled clothing. And this will cost you $7 for 1.5 ounces of chocolate. And you will feel good about yourself.

In the world is wine, or California wine, authenticity translates, first, into farming vineyards along the principles of bio-dynamism or at least organic or sustainable methods. The bottle will be heavy and with a deep punt, in a nod to the traditions of France, the authentic motherland of wine. The label will be printed with soy ink on recycled paper. The narrative on the back label will mention the generations of the family that have devoted themselves to their land and their vineyards, their passion, their vision, their authentic dedication, how they keep thing small because small is more personal, more hands-on, more, you know, authentic. The winery and tasting room will be solar- or wind-powered. Thus a nice $20 cabernet, in a triumph of marketing, ends up costing $40.

Now, it’s not my intention to imply that eco-greenness is nothing but a target for satire nor do I mean to denigrate the efforts of the hundreds of excellent, small, family-owned vineyards and wineries found in California and Oregon and Washington and other states (and countries) where wine is made. What I’m saying is that it doesn’t matter how naturally and blithely authentic these concepts and entities may be; they don’t stand a chance against the Shiva-like powers of marketing and advertising, which create their own ideas and tendencies and trends for authenticity. “Real authenticity”? Forget it. “Media-authenticity” rules.

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LL was traveling from point A to point B with a barbecue joint in between, so she stopped and picked up a couple of sandwiches and brought them home for lunch. We’re talking Memphis-style here: Pulled pork shoulder heaped on a bun with plenty of rich, dark, spicy sauce and piquant cole slaw.
I opened a bottle of the Napa Cellars Syrah 2006, Napa Valley, and I’ll confess that if I had realized it was a limited edition wine, I would have tried something else, but I didn’t, so here it is.

It’s inky and minerally in every sense, and I mean that in a good way. Scents of smoke and ash, leather and wet fur, ripe blackberry and black currant burst from the glass; in other words, this feels like classic Rhone Valley syrah. The wine is substantial but not overbearing in the mouth, where tannins are smooth and polished, and oak — the wine matures 17 months in American oak, or is it French, the press materials say both on the same page, I mean three inches away, it seems more like French to me, I mean, I could be wrong, but let’s freakin’ get it right, folks, whadda they pay you for? — that could be back-pedaled a tad lends spicy support and structure. Deep black fruit flavors open to a core of intensely delineated potpourri, lavender, licorice and bitter chocolate, while bright acidity provides liveliness, and the finish takes on a bit of tannic austerity. This was terrific with the barbecue. Drink now through 2011 or ’12. Production was 250 cases. Excellent. About $34.

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Hahn Estates has fingers in many pies. The labels include Hahn Estates, Smith & Hook Winery, Bin36, Huntington Wine Cellars and Cycles Gladiator Wines, as well as, at the high end (depending on how that term is defined), Hahn SLH and Lucienne.

A wine to look for is the Hahn SLH Pinot Gris 2007. SLH stands for Santa Lucia Highlands, in Monterey County. This is all stainless hahn-pinot-gris.jpg steel pinot gris offers notes of spiced pear and apple, a hint of apricot and a whiff of smoky roasted lemon. It’s very earthy in the mouth, feeling grounded in the vineyard, but it’s also notably clean and fresh, zinging with vivid acidity and a scintillating touch of grapefruit liveliness, all rounded with a strain of mango and crystallized ginger. While these elements make the wine sound unabashedly exuberant, there’s a taming factor of subtlety and suppleness about it, a cooling edge of mineral-like elegance. We drank this very happily night with seared tuna steaks 1,260 cases produced. Drink through the end of 2009. Excellent. About $20.

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I made pizza Saturday for the first time in a month, and I don’t mind saying that I was a little anxious. Had I lost the touch? Had the instincts abandoned me? Had I forgotten the mystical recipe for liverwort tea to spread among the vines at dawn at full moon time? Oh, wait, no, whew, that’s biodynamism, not pizza-making!

Anyway, Saturday’s pizza, as you can see in the close-up image, was about tomatoes, mozzarella and apple-wood smoked bacon, with accents of red onion, oil-cured black olives and roasted garlic. Scattered about were dried basil and oregano and some Parmegiano-Reggiano. The result? Well, let the critic speak: “It’s a triumph!” And she’s a critic who has partaken of 600 or so of my pizzas.

Since this marked a special event, in a way, I decided to open something more distinguished than some pleasant, little $12 quaffer, so I scanned the old wine rack and pulled out a bottle of the Wilson Winery Ellie’s Vineyard Petite Sirah 2005, Dry Creek Valley, wilsonlogo.jpg Sonoma County. The result? Well, let the critic speak: I almost liked it. The wine began in auspicious fashion, with penetrating scents of earth and minerals and intense and concentrated black currants and plums highlighted by black pepper, leather and violets. I was impressed, and I continued to be impressed, for a few minutes at least, as flavors of ripe blackberries, black currents and plums etched with dried spices and minerals filled the mouth. Something else, however, also filled the mouth, and that was the unmistakable flavor of French oak, toasty and woody. The materials that accompanied the wine reveal that it ages in French oak “approximately 30 months,” which translates, for the diurnally-challenged, into two-and-a-half years. That’s a lot of time in oak, brother, I mean, even Brunello di Montalcino doesn’t have to be aged in wood that long anymore, and I have to say that in this case “approximately 30 months” in French oak robbed this potentially great wine of personality and pizazz. After a few minutes, all I could smell and all I could taste was oak. So here’s the question: Why pick grapes from a single vineyard and designate that vineyard on the label if in the winemaking process the individual characteristics of that vineyard and those grapes are eradicated? That notion seems pretty freakin’ counter-intuitive to me. 544 cases. Very Good (if you like wood). About $35.

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Easy Dinner!
On the plate: a couple of pork sausages from the certified organic, free-range Westwind Farms in East Tennessee (we keep these in the freezer for just such nights) and potato salad and green beans from Whole Foods. A few sliced cherry tomatoes. Some whole-grain mustard. It was Wednesday, that day when the week already feels 18 days long, and LL said, “No cooking, no recipes, no magic tonight.” It was simply a matter of frying the sausages and spooning up the potato salad and green beans. Yay, that was easy! And delicious, too. We especially liked the potato salad, which had dried cranberries in it.

Now I could have opened some big California petite sirah or an Australian shiraz, but the best of those wines are getting costlier by the day, so I thought, No, let’s stay in the spirit of a simple meal, and I opened a bottle of the Petraio Nero d’Avola 2007, from petraio.jpg Sicily. If you’ve ever had a wine made from the nero d’avola grape, you know that subtlety and finesse should not be high on your list of expectations. True to form, this deep purple-black wine was hearty, boisterous and rustic, yet filled with delicious flavor. The bouquet alone is almost worth the price, offering delirious scents of lilacs and violets, dried spice and potpourri, macerated black and red currents and a profound element of dusty minerals. In the mouth, well, in the mouth the wine flaunts its chewy, gritty tannins and its earthy, minerally nature with the aplomb of a wrestler flinging a chair at his opponent’s head, yet that dense character does not mask ravishing flavors of spicy black currants, blackberries and plums edged with tar and leather. Whoa! Lots of personality, for drinking through 2011 or ’12. Very Good+. The price? About $9.50, a Freakin’ Bargain, if you live in the right state. Otherwise, mark this wicked wine Worth a Search.
Scoperta Importing Co., Cleveland Heights, Ohio.

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President Brack Obama acquitted himself well in London, performing for the first time in his presidency on the world stage, manifesting the dignity and good sense that befit a true leader and even personally smoothing over a tiff between French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Chinese Premier Hu Jintao.
Glass of Brandy
During a meeting with the international press, Obama said, “If there’s just Roosevelt and Churchill sitting in a room with brandy, that’s an easy negotiation. But that’s not the world we live in, and it shouldn’t be the world we live in.”

Obama is partially right here. The age is long past when larger-than-life statesmen could sit in wood-paneled rooms in the English countryside or at luxurious resorts on the Black Sea and make decisions that affected the economics, politics and geography of nations rich and poor for generations.

On the other hand, what the hell is wrong with a glass of brandy?

Look at the news photos of these world leaders. Lord have mercy, do they look up-tight and stressed out! Especially German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Of course the German fear of inflation runs so deep that it amounts to cultural paranoia — those memories of the late 1920s, when it took a wheelbarrow filled with marks to buy a loaf of bread don’t die easily — though as many economists point out, inflation isn’t exactly the problem that Europe faces now. Angela, have a glass of brandy! Loosen up, girl!
Barack Obama ansd British Prime Minister Gordon Brown in 2008: Where’s the Brandy?
Now, I’m not talking about world leaders getting knee-walkin’ drunk; that would be an unwholesome spectacle (especially with the teetotaler Sarkozy frowning in all his puritanical dudgeon). The warm, mellow lubricatory powers of an inch of brandy, however, might go a long way toward helping presidents and premiers negotiate in more amenable moods and circumstances. In vino veritas, and all that.

No, we don’t want to return to the days of Grand Old White Men privately parsing the fate of the world, but perhaps Roosevelt and Churchill had the right idea about the brandy.

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Image of brandy snifter (modified) from ecoupons.com.

Image of Barack Obama and Gordon Brown from bleedingheartshow.wordpress.com.

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