19 May 2009

Drink it forward

[press & amphora]I have some guests from France this week, and as is my usual practice I intend to serve them no French wines over the course of their stay. This time, however, I’m going to be a little more challenging than usual.

Most of my French friends and relatives are not wine geeks. They like it, they drink it with enthusiasm, they can comment intelligently on it when asked, but it’s not something they care or talk about away from the table. Not so the husband in the current pair, who – while he does not rise (or fall) to the level of oenophilic obsession required to, say, have more than one blog on the subject – likes to trot out his best stuff whenever I visit them, and who has a slightly more eclectic range of tastes than is typical among that particular set of friends.

So this week, I’m inspired to push the boundaries a bit. And the biggest push will probably come from one of the so-called “orange wines,” perhaps from someone like Radikon or Zidarich: an extended skin-contact white, cloudy and tannic, with an aromatic and structural palette likely to be completely unfamiliar to them (certainly, the grapes and regions involved will be). In planning this, I found myself wondering what my expectations were for such an experiment. Because, of course, there’s at least an even chance that they’ll find whichever wine I serve far too weird to enjoy, in which case this becomes a very expensive failed experiment (these wines, as their advocates know, are not exactly cheap).

Wine travel (that is, travel at least in part for the specific purpose of tasting wine) nearly always results in just this sort of encounter. Unless one adheres only to the tried-and-true, which seems an awfully restrictive way to approach such a diverse subject, there will eventually be a wine that first leads not to questions of good vs. bad, but of essence and intent. “What were they thinking here? Is this how the wine is supposed to taste?”

For some – me included – this is an essential, valuable, and often wonderful facet of wine exploration. And it doesn’t even matter all that much whether or not I actually like what I’m tasting, though weeks of slogging through bottles and barrels for which I don’t care would be a taxing experience. The tangible benefit is the experience, the palate-broadening encounter with something that’s actually new. (Even though many of the wines that engender this reaction are actually more akin to something old, like Gravner or Bea.) Often, the most difficult part of contemplating such wines is finding a vocabulary to describe them. I look back over all my Radikon notes, for example, and wonder at the near-complete disconnect between allegedly-identical bottles; is it the wine, or is it me? I’ve come to conclude that it’s a little bit of both, viewed through the lens of an imperfect language, in an ongoing effort to achieve some sort of actual understanding.

With this in mind, I’ve realized I have to let go of the hope – or even the notion – that my friends’ eyes will light up with excitement (as mine often do) when they taste whatever oddity I decide to serve them. Unlike the winemaker, I’ve no inherent interest in convincing others of the merits of the wine. After all, I’m not selling it. All I can do is transfer the experience…“drink it forward,” if you will…and I’m going to have to be content with that. Whatever happens after that is up to them, not me.

And if, as seems quite possible, they don’t like it? More for me. There’s no bad here.

16 May 2009

Language lessons

[giraffe tongue]We “brave” the evening’s newest and most aggressive downpour by taking a door-to-door taxi, joining the growing mini-throng in Pazzo’s back room.

Did I say “room?” No, not quite right. Shed? Tent? Lean-to? Look, I’m aware that wine folk can occasionally be rowdy, table-hogging miscreants, and on more than one occasion I’ve been in a restaurant that’s banished us to the hinterlands (I remember one, somewhere north of Boston, that set up our table in the storage room), but I’m not even sure that the area in which we’re dining counts as a structure. One thing’s for sure: it’s deafening, thanks to the rain that pounds on the corrugated metal roof (yes, really)…and later, a few soaked-through bags, boxes, and jackets indicate the formation of a brackish pond beneath our feet.

…continued here.

12 May 2009

The devolution will not be televised

[ribolla gialla]Thinking about the wines of Radikon, in both the context of the “orange wine” cohort and the greater world of regional and worldwide styles, I’m drawn to a musical analogy. Often, wines of this type are described as being akin to improvisational jazz. For me, that’s a valid way to think about the experience of tasting such wines, which can rarely be pinned down to just one or two coherent ideas or forms, but I think the analogy is insufficient as a description of the way these wines are made. Instead, I’m reminded of Miles Davis’ pre-hiatus electric period, for several reasons. First, this was music that improvised from a theme, but the theme was not always clear (or even revealed to) the listener, depending on the way recordings were edited. The start and finish of a given take was fairly arbitrary, and the actual form and flow of the music being created often had little to do with the finished version that was committed to vinyl; what the listener heard was a snapshot, different in each iteration, and never encompassing the entirety of perspectives on the theme. So it often seems with these wines, which offer windows into their varietal composition and their terroir, but never offer the full panorama in a single bottle. Each year’s version is a different view of the same landscape, as I think it must inevitably be with the most natural of wines.

…continued here.

03 May 2009

Feel the heat

[vineyard]Storrs 2007 Sauvignon Blanc (San Lucas) – Light, yet with a certain intensity of grapey fruit, plus melon. Nice balance. Tasty. (9/08)

Storrs 2007 Chardonnay (Santa Cruz Mountains) – Fig, peach, and ripe, velvet-textured apple. Very structured, with a long finish. There’s a little zing of alcohol and bit of oak, but this is the most balanced chardonnay I’ve yet tasted from Storrs, who often seems to craft much thicker versions of this variety. (9/08)

Storrs 2006 Chardonnay Christie (Santa Cruz Mountains) – Honeyed peach candy and thick butterscotch, long and huge. A wine of vivid neon. Huge. Let me say that again: HUGE. There are some nods to balance, but this is a stew rather than a broth; those who prefer that sort of texture will love it, others will most definitely not. Stylistic issues aside, it’s a very impressive wine. Personally, I could drink about a thimbleful of it. (9/08)

Storrs 2006 Pinot Noir (Santa Cruz Mountains) – Strawberry, red cherry, and plenty of heat (it’s 15.2% alcohol, which may theoretically be supportable in a much better-endowed pinot, but just doesn’t work here; excess heat has been a problem with many of the Storrs pinot noirs). There’s some crispness that makes an attempt at lightening, but overall the wine’s just too hot to enjoy. (9/08)

Storrs 2005 Two Creek (Santa Clara County) – Grenache, syrah, and grand noir, 14.4%. Smoke liqueur and red licorice with apple rind and a significant haze of heat. Eh. (9/08)

Storrs 2005 Zinfandel Rusty Ridge (Santa Clara County) – 15.2%. Plum, heather, lavender, plus the twists and tangles of wild vines. Chewy, with good acidity. Balanced. The finish is supple. Quite good. (9/08)

Storrs 2001 “BXR” (San Francisco Bay) – Plum soup, dark chocolate, and green tannin. There’s good length and palate presence, but the wine’s too thick for its own good, and then there’s that irritating underripe shade to the structure. I have never cared for this wine, in any vintage. (9/08)

Storrs 2006 Gewürztraminer Viento (Monterey) – Lychee soap, crystalline pear, honeydew melon, and plenty of acidity with just an edge of skin bitterness. Turns more floral as it lingers. Really nice. Balanced, with both tension and length. A return to the gewürztraminers I used to like so much from this producer, after a few weaker efforts. (9/08)

Storrs is a winery I visit anytime I’m in the area, and there’s always something good. The problem is that it’s rarely the same wine as it was the last time. Stylistically, I think that they’ve let alcohol levels get a little bit away from them; it’s one thing in zinfandel, a very different thing in a pinot noir or chardonnay.