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My former father-in-law, Ed Harrison — whom we saw last weekend at one of my daughter’s dance performances — at some point wisely bought a case of the Simi Reserve Vintage Cabernet Sauvignon 1974, Alexander Valley, a wine of which he was particularly fond, and with good reason: This is one of the great Simi cabernets. At the time, in Memphis, it sold for $16 a bottle. Winemaker in the early 1970s at Simi was Mary Ann Graf, with the legendary Andre Tchelistcheff serving as consultant. After passing through many ownership phases, Simi is now part of the Icon Estates portfolio of Constellation Wines.

I think it was the last bottle of the case that Ed opened for Christmas dinner in 1984, and what a superb wine it was, rich, mellow and flavorful at 10 years old. Here are my notes from that day:

“Wonderful wine, aged to perfection. Fading brick-reddish color; fragrant nose, lots of depth of fruit & currant undertones; soft tannin, bell-tone roundenss, elegant fruit, levels of berry undertones, dry yet with a hint of ripe sweetness. Long finish.”

Wow, I can almost smell and taste that wine now! Next time I see Ed Harrison, I’ll have to thank for for that experience.

The pizza had a medley of marinated and sauteed mushrooms — oyster mushrooms, shiitakes, chanterelles, criminis — with applewood smoked bacon as primary toppings, with some sliced Roma tomatoes, green onions, thyme, rosemary and oregano and then mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses. Clearly a boldly flavored wine was required.

Filling that criteria with no problem whatever was the Two Hands Gnarly Dudes Shiraz 2008, from Australia’s Barossa Valley.

This is a rich, ripe, deeply saturated wine that bursts with black currant and blueberry scents and flavors imbued with a wealth of exotic spice, fruitcake notes, briers and brambles and granite-like minerals. Dauntingly dry but luscious and juicy, this shiraz comes close to being jammy, but its exuberance is just held in check by singeing (or singing) acidity and dense tannins that seem fathomless. Hints of brandied plum pudding and bitter chocolate draw in touches of lavender and licorice, all of which are etched on that circumference of pure earthy minerality. Oak is carefully done; the wine aged 12 months in hogsheads, that is to say large barrels, only 12 percent of which were new, so the effect is of tone and suppleness and resonance. There’s no denying the influence of 15.2 percent alcohol; innate ripeness and sweetness gather from entry to mid-palate, where they are subdued by immense tannins through the long, smooth, fruit-and-shale drenched finish. This is, in three words, quite a ride. Closed with a screw-cap for easy opening. Drink through 2012 to ’14. Excellent. About $25.

Imported by Terlato Wines International, Lake Bluff, Illinois, which supplied this bottle as a sample for review.


Looking at this illustration, fellow wine-writers and bloggers will understand what came in the mail to me yesterday. That’s right, the funky little VW bus, observed here by a pair of astonished, ghostly salt-and-pepper shakers, accompanied bottles of the Beaujolais Nouveau 2009 and Beaujolais-Villages Nouveau 2009 from the ever-busy producer, the so-called “King of Beaujolais,” Georges Duboeuf. Ah, the perks of the job!

It’s astonishing indeed how Duboeuf, whose title should be “King of Marketers,” elevated what was once, in long ago simpler times, a simple, innocent harvest ritual, into a worldwide phenomenon in which hundreds of thousands of people stay up all night in restaurants from Japan to New Jersey waiting to taste the first Beaujolais Nouveau shipped by overnight shipping companies. Actually, the product is already on the ground in most countries, just waiting for the traditional third Thursday in November, the 19th this year, for release. This year’s vintage is reported to be excellent but smaller in quantity due to a warm, dry summer. In Japan, for example, according to JapanToday.com, bottles of Beaujolais Nouveau shipped totaled 4.8 million, or 400,000 cases, a reduction of 30 percent from last year. Perhaps that steep of a reduction also reflects lack of interest.

This is all silly and rather harmless stuff. The sad part is that people who so eagerly participate in this annual folderol will probably never try a bottle of the great Beaujolais wines produced at the cru level from the 10 named communes of the region or even a bottle of respectable Beaujolais-Villages, typically a quaffable bistro wine.

Normally, I would rather be strapped onto the hood of a speeding Escalade and have “The Moon and New York City” mainlined into my brain 24/7 than actually review any Beaujolais Nouveau, but this year I will go along with the game and hold off until next Thursday and make a few comments on the fresh, grapey stuff, thereby, of course, just adding to the visibility of the silliness.

This year’s red and gold label for the Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais Nouveau and Beaujolais Villages Nouveau is one of the most garish in the annually changing series, resembling wallpaper in a Chinese restaurant. The wines will be priced at $10 and $11, respectively.


I am no great fan of the products of Folonari, a company that annually pumps out thousands of bottles of wine that rarely rise above the level of decent — not that decent is bad — so you could have knocked me over with a plastic pipette when I tried the Folonari Pinot Grigio delle Venezie 2008 and found it to be not only more than decent but downright delightful.

Made completely in stainless steel and distinctly a wine of the moment — I mean, drink it before next spring — the Folonari Pinot Grigio 2008 is a pale straw color with faint green highlights. The bouquet is quite grassy and meadowy, not a meadow of flowers but of a multitude of grasses and herbs, and then with an intriguing bottom note that’s damp, foresty and piney. A wafting of citrus turns out to be more like lemon-grass than lemon; in fact, the effect is of that startling earthy grassiness that we used to get when we were kids chewing on grass blades, the ones that made a little whistle or squeak when we pulled them from the earth. Ah, those days of innocence! In other words, this wine is all about freshness and immediate appeal and vibrant acidity, and when I say that it goes down easily, I don’t mean that (in this case) as a criticism. Drink and enjoy, as an aperitif or with light appetizers and seafood dishes. Very Good. About $8.50.

Imported by Frederick Wildman & Sons, New York

(This is the 500th post to BTYH since December 2006.)

BTW, Readers, I just looked at the counter program that comes with Blue Host, the hosting entity for BTYH, and I want to thank you for making August the best month this blog has experienced since its inception in December 2006. Typically the summer months, especially July and August, reveal lower attendance, as people go on vacation, I suppose, and don’t have the time or inclination to check in. Thanks to you, however, August saw 34,058 visits to this blog, as well as 107,427 page views and 357,089 hits, though as I have admitted before, I’m pretty sketchy on what constitutes the difference between a “visit” and a “hit.” Nevertheless, while 34,058 doesn’t measure up to the Big Name Wine Blogs — and you know who you are — I’m pleased as punch about that figure. My only caveat? Let’s keep it growing! And when you do visit BTYH, click on what may seem to be those annoying Google ads; those constitute the only revenue this blog generates, and believe me, it ain’t much.

Anyway, all mercenary thoughts aside, thanks again for helping to made BTYH a success.

Remember: Drink well, drink carefully, say a kind word or two.

The email message usually begins like this: “Dear Fred” — does nobody comprehend that I hate to be called “Fred”? –”This is Heather from glamzinewine.com in London. We’ve been following your blog and really love it! We think you have one of the coolest wine blogs around! How would you like to contribute to our website? We would really be happy to have your words of wisdom about wine on our pages because we’re getting lots of readers that want to learn about wine! We’ll make sure to provide a link and add you to our blog roll. Looking forward to our partnership! Thanks and cheers!”

I get proposals like this, heavily overdrawn from the Bank of Exclamation Points, about once a week. Recently I even got one from China. Here is my reply to all of you out there that want to utilize my hard-earned words of wisdom in exchange for a link and a hallowed place on your sacred blog roll:

“No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money.”

Actually, Dr. Johnson said that, and I would acknowledge my debt to him with a link except that he’s dead.

I realize that we live in a brave new webworld of media, where creativity, marketing, advertising, self-promotion, readership and personality exist in a so-far uneasy (and rather queasy) relationship to the old-fashioned notion of having a job and making a living. Social media are changing everything in terms of communication and interrelationships and the conveyance of knowledge and ideas, as ephemeral as they may be. Even I — yes, even I — who for so long adamantly refused to get involved in social networking am about to hop on the wagon of Facebook and (OMG!) Twitter, because I have come to acknowledge their value as marketing tools.

But, you know, call me a Gin-Soaked Capitalist Drenched in the Misery of the Working Class, but there’s just something about getting paid for what I do that makes me happy. I labored for 17 years in the Halls of Academe, and guess what? I got paid every month for teaching Beowulf and grading all those thousands of awful research papers. For 22.5 years I toiled as an ink-stain’d wretch in the sordid mines of journalism, and, know what? Yes, I received a check every two weeks. When Mr. Mason comes to cut our grass every other Thursday, I hand him money for his effort; I don’t promise him a link and a slot on a blog roll. That’s the way the world of work works.

I devote a great deal of time to this blog because I have a lot to say, there are many wines to review and many issues to comment about and I believe that what I have to express is valuable. My remuneration is in the form of wine samples, which while delightful, do not, as LL points out pointedly, pay the bills. Friends, I was laid-off from my newspaper job back in March. I have to spend every moment when I’m not working on BTYH scrabbling for free-lance writing jobs that pay, you know, money. I mean, the Internet might be wonderful to the extent of miraculousness, but it still runs on electricity, and the utility statement comes without fail.

But more than that, it’s the principle of the thing. For 25 years I have paid my dues in the world of wine, first with a weekly newspaper column that was distributed nationwide, then with a website and, since December 2006, on this blog. Experience, knowledge, maturity, humor, insight, a way with words, an ability to turn a phrase, a fund of poetry quotations in the back of my mind: All of these attributess count for something. So, youngster, you want content for your “collaborative web wine magazine”? Show me the money and I’m your man. You won’t be sorry.

Image by Guerruntz from indypendent.org.

As with many customs and institutions in Europe, the cultivation of vines and the making of wine in what is now Germany owe everything to the Romans and, later, to Christian monks. Ausonius of Bordeaux — for whom Chateau Ausone in St. Emilion is named — writing in about 370 AD, mentions the steep vineyards found in the Rhine valley. Five hundred years later, the Carolingian kings encouraged the spread of vineyards throughout the region by granting lands to monasteries that sent out missions, taking vine cuttings to propagate more vineyards. Little is known about the kinds of grapes that were grown or the sort of wine that was made then. Some of Germany’s best-known vineyards survive under the same name from as long ago as the 11th Century, and they still produce grapes.

During the Middle Ages, Germany established wine trade relationships with the Netherlands, the Scandinavia countries and England, using the mighty Rhine in its flowing to the North Sea, through the Netherlands, to advantage. The major wine trading cities were Frankfurt and Cologne. When Shakespeare writes about “Rhenish,” he refers to German wines popular in England during the Renaissance. (And don’t forget Byron’s “hock and soda water!” “Hock,” from Hockheimer, became a synonym for German wine in Great Britain.) The success of these trading efforts, however, was diminished by the expansion of the vineyards, leading to overproduction and falling prices, and by the devastation of the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648), which extensively damaged vineyard regions and reduced the pool of farm workers and craftsmen. (They were, you know, dead.)

The situation just briefly cited offers a microscopic view of a macro-historical problem. All ferocious economies of war aside, before the Industrial Revolution and the widespread availability of manufactured goods, the materials most severely affected by the inevitable forces of the market were agricultural products. Every aspect of the grape-growing, wine-making and wine-selling economy is slapped out of kilter by such elements as over-expansion of vineyards, the resulting decline in quality (as vines are planted in more and more unsuitable soils and climats), prices drop and surplus wine that cannot be sold builds up. Sounds like Soave and Valpolicella in the 1980s and ’90s or Vin de Pays d’Oc in the 1990s and 2000s. Greed never takes a holiday. Before the Thirty Years War, according to The Oxford Companion to Wine (Third Edition), vineyard lands in Germany amounted to — get this — 865,000 acres. That’s four times the cultivation of grapes in Germany today. Those must have been some yummy wines.

It took 150 years for the wine industry in Germany to recover from these crises, but more changes came with the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars, which altered Germany politically and geographically and shifted much vineyard ownership from the church to private producers, a process that also occurred in Burgundy. (The German and Burgundian systems resemble each other in that small distinctive vineyards are often owned piecemeal by many individuals.) The fact that “Germany” was actually a collection of kingdoms and principalities imposed burdens of taxes and duties that restricted the trade in wine, but that problem was eliminated in 1871 with the formation of the German empire.

The 20th Century struck the German wine industry with new catastrophes. World War I, the economic travails of the Weimar Republic, the rise of National Socialism and the Depression of the 1930s, followed by World War II provided four decades of deprivation, while the introduction of branded wines in the 1930s — Liebfraumilch! — hurt the image of German wines abroad. National Wine Laws in 1892, 1909 and 1930 attempted to set standards, especially in the controversial area of adding sugar during fermentation to raise the alcohol level, but primarily these regulation left farmers and producers confused and dissatisfied.

War after war, famine, poverty, charging markets, the radical shifting political map of Europe, the clashes of dynasties: Then came the Wine Law of 1971, and what producer after producer described to my group touring organic estates in Rheingau, Rheinhessen and Pfalz last week as “the death of wine in Germany.” That topic deserves more thorough examination in its own post, coming up in a few days.

I may be smart, but I didn’t hold all this information in my head. My thanks to the aforementioned Oxford Companion of Wine (third edition of 2006), still under the leadership of the estimable Jancis Robinson; the fifth edition of The World Atlas of Wine, by Robinson and Hugh Johnson (Mitchell Beazley, 2001); and The Wines of Germany, by Stephen Brook (Mitchell Beazly Classic Wine Library, 2003). The excellent map of the German wine regions is from vinum-x-tellus.ie.

I would rather stand in a vineyard talking with and listening to a winemaker than in a winery surrounded by anonymous steel tanks and ranks of wooden barrels. Being in a vineyard seems to bring out the expression and eloquence — like a fine wine — in a winemaker, and I always learn a lot under these salubrious circumstances. It doesn’t hurt that vineyards often occupy stunning landscapes and offer magnificent vistas of surrounding countryside. Certainly, I learned a great deal from Rainer Eymann, as mentioned two entries ago, while we walked through one of his vineyards last Friday in Germany’s Pfalz region.

Back at the Eymann facility, however, the story seemed different. Frankly, his wines were not the favorites of the three days of visiting wineries or sitting in restaurants with winemakers tasting wine. Remember, Eymann told us that because of using biodynamic farming practices, he thought that his wines were “more authentic,” that “the taste and smell of the vineyard is more intense,” and that the wines are “more sophisticated.” I’m not sure what he meant by “more sophisticated,” though there’s obviously the sense in which one could say that, for example, Solaia is more sophisticated than a $10 Chianti.

“More authentic” is the mantra we heard over and over from winemakers using organic and biodynamic methods when we asked if these methods “worked” and if the wines were different somehow. (I put “worked” within quotation marks to indicate that even this notion — farming methods “working” in some way — is ill-defined.) “More authentic,” of course, implies that a wine adheres to a standard, a profile of qualities imbued in and imparted by a particular vineyard; in other words, “more authentic” means that a wine exemplifies the terroir of a place, its “placeness,” better than it did before using organic or biodynamic methods. The unspoken question is: “So, why were you making and selling the ‘less authentic’ wines before? Just for practice?”

Anyway, my fellow tasters and I found the white wines we tried at Weingut Eymann — let’s save the reds for another day; they comprise a whole other set of issues — pleasant, lively and drinkable but not memorable. Of two sparkling wines and three still white wines, I rated two Very Good, one Very Good with a question mark, one Very Good+ with a question mark, and one a solid Very Good+. The latter was the Eymann Gonnheimer Sonnenberg Graubergunder (Pinot Gris) Trocken 2008, an enchanting, floral, spicy wine, redolent of almond and almond blossom and tasting of pear and melon in a cozily dense texture. Overall, the wines seemed quite high in acid, a fact pointed out by my colleague Ewa Wielezynska, from Magazyn Wino in Warsaw, and she asked Rainer Eymann about this perception.

“We are not a global player,” he replied. “We are a local player, and people like this style.” (The winery includes a popular restaurant, which, as we finished the tasting, was beginning to fill with patrons, most sitting outside on a beautiful late afternoon.) “We do not style wines for the international market,” he continued. “We make wines to be piquant and lively. These are practical aspects. People around here enjoy these wines for a meal.”

Well, that sort of precludes criticism, as “practical aspects” tend to do. If the locals appreciate and buy Eymann’s wines, if they come to the restaurant and drink the wines, if they like the wines for their piquancy, liveliness and pleasant qualities, who am I (or we) to say, “But, but, but … ”

The problem, however remains: Do organic or biodynamic methods — and Eymann went organic 27 years ago, way before most producers in Germany had ever heard of such a thing — make “better” wines or “more authentic” wines, and how can those standards or characteristics be measured, quantified and stated?

OPPENHEIM — I didn’t take my camera to the reception and dinner last night, thinking, silly me, “Well, it’s a reception and dinner, why would I need a camera.” I was wrong. We had a splendid dinner and excellent wines at l’herbe de Provence restaurant in Hotel Zwo, where many of the group are staying, and I wish now that I had some images for you.

I met my colleagues on this three-day tour of organic estates — we represent the UK, Finland, China, Japan, Korea, Belgium, Netherlands, Canada, the USA (that’s me), and the common language is English.

The wines for last night’s event came from Geheimrat Schnell, in a Rhein estate in Guntersblum. We began by sipping a pleasant and tart Chardonnay Brut, but the revelation was the Guntersblumer Weisburgunder 2007, a pinot blanc that was one of the most gorgeous wines I have ever encountered, bursting with camellia and jasmine, pears and yellow plums, limestone and dusty limes, all couched in a texture that was like powdered silk electrified by startling acidity. We drank this with the amuse bouche, a shot glass holding a little bread salad and a piece of sardine, and the starter dish, a brilliant combination of rouget barbet (that’s a fish) on braised apricots with tiny fried chanterelle mushrooms. Lord have mercy, the wine and the dish placed off each other beautifully.

A small “surprise course” from the kitchen brought a dollop of braised calves’ tail in a pastry shell. With it we drank Geheimrat Schnell’s Guntersblumer Eieserne Hand Spatburgunder 2007, a lovely, light, delicate pinot noir with a ravishing bouquet of plums and mulberries, dried spices and dried berries, a wine that pulls up spice, brambles and lilacs poised in a satiny texture. Not a profound pinot noir, but certainly one you (meaning I) could happily drink every day. The price for this wine around these parts is 8 eruos, about $10; the Pinot Blanc 07 mentioned above costs 6.5 euros, about $8. And the winery is right down the road. Can you imagine “drinking locally” like this at such prices?
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Oops, just got back from breakfast in the hotel lounge, a magnificent spread of a dozen salamis and other cured meats (some rather mysterious looking) and the most beautiful breads in the world (all of which demand trying), cereals, bowls of jams and jellies gleaming like dark wobbly jewels, tomatoes, pickles and so on, and not a pastry in sight.

The bus is waiting to take us to Geisenheim Research Institute, the only viticulture department in Europe devoted to organic studies. We’ll have a seminar with Prof. Dr. Randolf Kauer, have lunch at the institute, tour the experimental vineyard and then come back to Oppenheim for a tasting with ECOVIN, the association of German organic winegrowers. And then another estate visit and then dinner tonight.

More later, with pictures.

Readers, I’ll be writing extensively about cabernet sauvignon wines from California throughout the next month, including a major post on classically proportioned wines from some old-line wineries; debut wines that I thought should be embraced or avoided; and caberets from a series of younger producers.

We start today with two wines from a small producer in the Red Hills district of Lake County, the county just north of Napa. Red Hills was approved as an AVA (American Viticultural Area) in September 2004. Lying at the foot of Mt. Konocti and along the southwest shore of Clear Lake, Red Hills is an appellation encompassed within the Clear Lake AVA.

Snows Lake Vineyard offers two wines, called, appropriately, One and Two.
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The Snows Lake One 2005, Red Hills, Lake County, is 100 percent cabernet sauvignon. It ages 21 months in French oak, 64 percent new barrels. The bouquet offers an immediate burst of slate, lead pencil, cedar and tobacco leaf, smoky and toasty oak and hints of intense and concentrated black currants and black raspberries; given a few moments, the nose draws up touches of leafy, dried herbs, brambles and underbrush. All of these elements testify to the wine’s structural integrity and tannic power. In the mouth, though, Snows Lake One 2005 feels sleek and elegant; it’s packed with spice and black fruit flavors but it’s neither fleshy nor over-ripe. The wine gains depth and dimension in the glass, darkening, as it were, as more mineral, tannin and oaken qualities make themselves known. The finish concludes with another burst of spice and a wild high-note of foxy plums. This would be great with a crusty rib-eye steak just off the grill, but will drink best from 2010 or ’11 through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $45.
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Snows Lake Two 2005, Red hills, Lake County, is a blend of 72 percent cabernet sauvignon and 28 percent cabernet franc. The oak treatment is slightly different; the same 21 months aging in French oak, but 46 percent new barrels. The alcohol level is slightly lower, Two having 14.2 percent and One measuring 14.5 percent, which seems to be the standard nowadays. The cabernet franc lends Two a bit of a darker color and perhaps its sense of being a little denser; certainly the cabernet franc also contributes to the wine’s intensity of licorice and lavender, its touch of astringency balanced by a cleansing element of blueberry tart. Two is compelling in its vibrancy and resonance and the concentrated of its spicy black fruit flavors, but the tannins are rigorous, and they seem to grow more powerful, and the mineral quality grows more forceful, as the minutes pass. Tasted side by side, these cousins reveal, as they should, similarities of place and grape variety as well as the divergences that derive from different intent and treatment. Give Two a little more time, say 2011 or ’12 through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $45.
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